Peshwa Bajirao v/s Mughals – Delhi , 1737 !

This post alludes to Peshwa Bajirao’s attack on Delhi in the spring of 1737 – the first time that Maratha armies actually attacked the Mughal capital.

Background :

Following successes in Malwa and Rajputana region during the 1730s , the Peshwa decided to pressure the Mughal emperor to grant him various provinces, places and tribute from other Mughal provinces.

Briefly , Bajirao’s demands were as follows : (May 1736)

1. Subhedari of Malwa.
2. Sardeshpande to be appointed by Peshwa to the six subah of the Deccan.
3. The forts of Mandavgarh, Dhar and Raisin.
4. Bundelkhand upto Chambal to be ceded to the Peshwa.
5. Fifty lakh rupee tribute to be paid by Bengal to the Peshwa.
6. The Mughals to hand over the holy places of Mathura, Prayag, Varanasi and Gaya to the Peshwa.
7. Dues of chauth from Gujarat.
In return , Bajirao agreed not to attack any other territory under the Mughal, station 500 Maratha troops at Delhi etc. But as soon as Bajirao turned south and left for Pune, the Mughal decided to renege on his word ! He continued Sawai Jai Singh as the subhedar of Malwa and consented to Bajirao being only a deputy subhedar.
Moreover, the Mughal decided to attack the Peshwa so as to prevent him from entering Malwa again. For this , the emperor sounded the Nizam of Hyderabad as well as Mughal sardars in the Ganga – Jamuna doab such as Sadat Khan, Mohammed Khan Bangash and Khan Dauran. A formidable force, stretching across the cow – belt of present day India was formed to attack the Peshwa. In September of 1736 , the Emperor sent a sanad , confirming Peshwa as deputy subhedar of Malwa. All other demands of Bajirao were entirely ignored.

Peshwa Bajirao moves north :

Peshwa moves north

Pune – Nandurbar – Bhopal – Bhelsa- Datia – Ater – Bhadavar
The Peshwa realised that mere negotiations would no longer help his cause. Unless he moved his armies to Delhi, the Mughal emperor would not budge. Accordingly, in October of 1736 (Palsolkar . Marathyancha itihas – G.H Khare , quotes this as November 1736) , Bajirao moved into Malwa via Nandurbar and joined Holkar , Shinde and Pawar who were already present there. Together they totalled over 50,000 troops. In January of 1737 Peshwa moved further north to Bhelsa near Bhopal and captured it. Then he moved to Datia (near Gwalior) as also Ater by February of the same year. The Raja of Bhadavar opposed Bajirao at both places, but was comprehensively defeated. The Marathas obtained 20 lakhs tribute from him. Thus by early 1737, Bajirao had extended Maratha influence almost to Delhi and were infact in the vicinity of Agra . He then ordered Malharrao Holkar and Baji Bhivrao to attack the Ganga – Jamuna doab region, so as to prevent any help reaching Delhi from that region as also to prevent the Pathan nawabs of the region from attacking the Marathas who had by then reached the precints of Agra.

The Mughal sardars :
As soon as the Mughal emperor received news of Peshwa Bajirao’s advance, he ordered Sadat Khan, who was at Faizabad to attack him at Agra. But the fall of Ater and Bhadavar meant that Baji Bhivrao now controlled the crossing places on the Yamuna. Early in the month of March 1737, Baji Bhivrao and Malharrao Holkar crossed the Yamuna with troops numbering 10,000 and raided the towns of Shikohabad, Ferozabad and Itimadpur. They then proceeded to Jaleshwar, where a contingent under Sadat Khan opposed Malharrao Holkar. But this was just an advance guard sent by Sadat Khan under Mansur Ali Khan , meant to draw the Marathas towards Sadat Khan’s main army which was far more numerous. Mansur Ali Khan controlled only 12,000 of Sadat Khan’s army which totalled over 60,000 ! Holkar unfortunately fell for this ploy and found himself in front of Sadat Khan’s large army. The Pathan Nawab’s forces outnumbered the Marathas, and in the fighting that followed, Holkar lost over a thousand men before managing to retreat and cross the Yamuna . Sadat Khan then moved north to Agra, which the Peshwa had already vacated for Gwalior. Malharrao Holkar joined Bajirao Peshwa at Gwalior around the middle of March.

The other Mughal sardars of the doab – Mohammed Khan Bangash and Khan Dauran joined Sadat Khan at Agra. From there, Sadat Khan sent messages to the emperor appraising him of how he had routed the ‘main’ Maratha army at Jaleshwar and that he would now proceed to finish Bajirao with the help of other Mughal sardars !

Malharrao Holkar’s attack on the doab :

Holkar attacks doab

Malharrao Holkar and Baji Bhivrao in the doab.

Bajirao attacks Delhi !

Bajirao now decided to directly attack Delhi, where the emperor, emboldened by Sadat Khan’s letters, had become slightly complacent. He moved from Gwalior, and keeping Agra 14 – 15 miles to his east, galloped to Delhi at a speed of over 70 miles a day. Passing Newataya , Barapula and the Kalika mandir (today’s Kalkaji Temple of Delhi) camped at Kushbandi on the 28th of March 1737. Kushbandi was in today’s New Delhi area.

On the 1st of April , Sadat Khan and the others received news of Bajirao’s march to Delhi. The three Mughal sardars started moving from Agra to Delhi via Mathura.
Bajirao now had the Red Fort well within his sights. His initial plan was to attack Delhi with all his troops to loot, pillage and burn the Mughal capital. But later on, he decided against such an act . His reasons being, that Delhi held a special place in the minds of many people, zamindars and sardars across the region and suddenly breaking the thread of politics might create insurmountable political problems. Moreover, the Marathas had more to gain by the politics involving the badshah and Khan Dauran. Lastly, dethroning the Mughal was frowned upon by Shahu . The Mughal armies were also numerous and the campaign would not be easy. As a result, Bajirao abandoned his plans to torch Delhi, and instead sought to menace the Mughal emperor and annex territories surrounding Delhi so as to tighten the Maratha grip over Delhi.
On the 29th of March, the Marathas looted some outlying areas near Delhi, forcing the emperor to station a force of a few thousand outside the Red Fort. Bajirao sent Malharrao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde, Tukoji Pawar and Yashwantrao Pawar to battle this Mughal force. The Maratha and Mughal armies, each numbering around 8,000 clashed near Rakab Ganj (near today’s Parliament House) . Over 400 Mughal soldiers were killed and an equal number were wounded, alongwith a number of their leaders. The Mughal contingent beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the Red Fort’s walls.
Peshwa Bajirao then shifted his camp to Malcha, a village near Talkatora. (today the venue of an indoor stadium). The Mughal emperor sent a force under Kamruddin Khan, who attacked from Patshahpur. In the skirmishing that followed, the Marathas captured a number of horses, guns and an elephant.

Bajirao in New Delhi

General area of operations. Camp was mentioned as ‘Kushbandi’, which was somewhere in New Delhi. I have presumed this map as a rough guide.
Bajirao moves south :
Bajirao’s mission had by the beginning of February been accomplished. He had reached the very walls of the Red Fort and defeated many different Mughal sardars. Peshwa Bajirao and other Maratha generals had, by dint of speed, managed to make the various Mughal sardars run around in circles – whether it be Malwa, Chambal, Doab or Delhi. That he now dictated terms was obvious.
Seeing that there was a large water body behind them, the city of Delhi some distance away and Kamruddin swiftly making his way to Talkatora, Bajirao decided to shift his camp once again. Another major reason being that the armies of Sadat Khan, Khan Dauran and Mohammed Khan Bangash were closing upon Delhi. The Peshwa moved south to Kot Putli, around a 100 km away. The Mughals had been sufficiently harassed, and would not dream of attacking the Peshwa again directly.

Effects :
The Peshwa had achieved his objective of menacing the Mughal emperor. This campaign showed once and for all, that the Marathas controlled the strings at Delhi and any adventure by the Mughal would be dealt with sternly. The Mughal emperor on his part, was shown his much diminished position in Hindustan. Moreover, the Khan Dauran agreed to pay 13 lakh to Bajirao as tribute.
A question must have arisen in your mind – what about the Treaty mentioned at the start ?

The Mughal emperor, understandably enraged at having been attacked in the Red Fort itself, decided to join the Nizam of Hyderabad in one last attempt to check the Peshwa.

Peshwa Bajirao’s response is the famous battle at Bhopal of 1738

This famous clash with the Nizam in 1738, cemented the Maratha’s place as the major power in India. Read about it here


© Aneesh Gokhale

Aneesh Gokhale is the published author of two books –Brahmaputra – The Story of Lachit Barphukan  and

Sahyadris to Hindukush – The Maratha conquest of Lahore and Attock.

He has also written various articles in newspapers and magazines and conducted public talks on numerous occasions.

////// Ref : 1. Bajirao – Outstanding Cavalry General – Col Palsolkar

2. Marathyancha itihas – Kulkarni & Khare

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