I, apart from writing, also do public talks on Maratha and Assamese history. I have on several occasions given talks on the Maratha conquest of Punjab or Bundelkhand and traced the politics and military manoeuvres which enabled the Maratha victories. In the talk on Punjab I have not mentioned Panipat and in the talks on Bundelkhand I have taken the entire sweep of time from Shivaji to Rani Laxmibai. After this, the presentation has always been thrown open for questions. Now, it has been my observation that a majority of the questions revolved around Panipat ! I find it perplexing that nobody asks questions pertaining to specifics about either campaign. Talk , post presentation, invariably veers around to discussion about the great defeat at the hallowed battlefield.
In the word’s of Grant Duff, “The fields of Panipat were not more fatal to the Marathas than the early demise of this excellent prince.”
Madhavrao Peshwa died at the age of 27 in 1772 , but not before he had re stamped Maratha authority to the north and the south and proven that even after Panipat the descendants of Shivaji called the shots in Indian politics. Madhavrao died in 1772 and our memory of him died soon after. There is a statue of him at Peshwe Park in Pune, photos of which have been liberally circulated on social media as “Bajirao’s statue” – just goes to show the rot. Liberally shared by well meaning Maharashtrians, rest of the country has not even heard the name !
The activities of Ahilyabai Holkar ran parallel to the military activities of Mahadji Shinde and Nana Phadnis. She built a great many ghats and temples until the year 1795, the year of her death. The last battle in which all the Maratha soldiers combined was not Panipat in 1761 but Kharda in 1795. Thirty four years after Panipat, that is a generation later, Shindes , Holkars , Gaikwads, Bhosales, the Peshwa and a host of others joined together and attacked the Nizam at Kharda.
You can read about the Battle of Kharda here.
The battle makes for fascinating reading ! The two battles – Wadgaon in 1779 when the Marathas worsted the British and Kharda and Rakshasbhuvan in 1795 and 1763 when the Marathas got the better of the Nizam should be more widely known, but they aren’t because of the Panipat fixation. Because we take it as a given that Maratha history ends in 1761, there is little attempt to look beyond. Perhaps the recovery wasn’t complete, but certainly it is worth mentioning.
So the reasons for the final demise were :
© Aneesh Gokhale