I gave a speech on Maratha history few years back at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan , Pune . Since there is no video recording of it , I have tried to make up with this post . ———
Respected Principal , teachers and all my dear friends , a very good morning to all of you . First and foremost , I would like to thank Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for having invited me here and giving me an opportunity to speak on one of my favourite subjects – Maratha history . Essentially I will talk to you about the rise of the Marathas , describe a few important battles and most importantly try and explain what Maratha rule means to us as Indians today .
Slide 1 – Mughal Empire
This is the Mughal empire in 1690 . The Marathas have been fighting for ten years by this point , but still the Mughal empire continues to dominate the country .They are weak , but can still draw large number of troops . All that is left of the Marathas are some forts in the Sahyadris and far away , the fort of Gingee in today’s Tamil Nadu . Everything else is Mughal . When we see the future achievements of the Marathas , this should be borne in mind . That these were the dire straits reached in 1690 . The Mughals had managed to reach very close to extinguishing Shivaji’s swarajya . Forts had been renamed from Marathi to Farsi for example Torna was renamed Futulghraib . Basically , all that we today recognise as ‘Maharashtra’ was in serious danger of being wiped out .
Slide 2 : Rajaram’s escape to Gingee .
Chhatrapati Sambhaji had been captured and killed . The heir was captive in Delhi , and so to save the Marathas Rajaram escaped to Gingee . This was a very brave thing to do , considering that the whole of Karnataka was in Mughal hands . From Gingee , Chhatrapati Rajaram began his counter attack . Let us not forget he was only twenty years old at the time . So the Marathas under sardars like Santaji and Dhanaji began fighting back using guerilla tactics and the tide began to turn . Slowly but surely , they chipped away at a weakening empire until finally in 1718 , the Marathas were strong enough under Balaji Vishwanath to sign a treaty with the Mughals .
Slide 3 :
Balaji Vishwanath – architect of Maratha – Mughal accord .
Around twenty five years after being nearly wiped out , it was the Marathas who were deciding a treaty with the Mughals .They had managed to procure the release of their Chhatrapati – Shahu . The swarajya which Chhatrapati Shivaji had fought for all his life , and which the Marathas bravely defended and sacrificed thousands for in the twenty seven year war of independence , was now a reality under Chhatrapati Shahu . The Marathas were free to be masters of their own fate , unhindered by anyone else . Their domain in the Sahyadris had been restored . All the forts were theirs , and they had a new base to begin afresh .
Slide 4 –
In 1720 , only a couple of years after the treaty was signed , Bajirao became Peshwa or Prime Minister to the Chhatrapati . Almost immediately upon receiving the robes , he is said to have loudly proclaimed –
” Let us transcend the barren Deccan and conquer central India. The Mughals have become weak indolent womanizers and opium-addicts. The accumulated wealth of centuries in the vaults of the north, can be ours. It is time to drive from the holy land of Bharatvarsha the barbarian. Let us throw them back over the Himalayas, back to where they came from. The Maratha flag must fly from the Krishna to the Indus. Hindustan ours ”
Peshwa Bajirao was suggesting that they thrust north , breaking free from the safe reaches of the hills . Given the times , it was an audacious plan . The Marathas had barely managed to stand on their feet in the Deccan , and here was Bajirao thinking about the whole of Hindustan ! . But it shows two things – the confidence the Marathas had in themselves , and more importantly , a fair idea idea of a ‘nation ‘. The actual conquest by Bajirao had many more profound effects on Indian politics , both of the times , and the future too 🙂 . I will come to that later .
But was Bajirao’s suggestion without protest ?
Ofcourse not . There was a sizable section who preferred to stay within the safe confines of the Sahyadris . At the most head south , since the Marathas were a ‘Deccani power ‘ . But Bajirao prevailed with the blessings of the Chhatrapati , and went on to change the Marathas and India’s fortunes ! . I do not have the time to delve deep into Peshwa Bajirao’s persona . I would just like to bring alive the ‘Battle of Bhopal ‘ for all of you . It was fought between the Nizam of Hyderabad and Bajirao for control of the crucial central Indian region . ( After this , I described the battle itself with the help of slides ) — the full description of ‘Battle of Bhopal ‘ under the “Unknown Battles” section on this website.
The battle of Bhopal confirmed Maratha supremacy in central India . They were transformed from being a regional power to one that influenced decisions all over the land . Others like Delhi , Awadh , the Rajputs etc now began taking decisions keeping the Marathas in mind . Moreover , these gains had come at the expense of the erstwhile Mughal empire . New , confident and capable leaders like Holkar , Shinde , Bhosale and Gaikwad were now on the rise .
Slide 5 – Extent of Maratha rule in central India , Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1740
. Thus , in two generations since Chhatrapati Rajaram’s escape from Raigad , the Marathas had not only managed to regain everything they had lost , but managed to build on it substantially . Thus , when Nanasaheb became Peshwa in 1740 , the Marathas had Holkar and Shinde in the Malwa , Dabhade and Gaikwad in Gujarat and Raghuji Bhosale in Nagpur .
Slide 6 :
Raghuji Bhosale . (not sure about this image though)
He is credited with having expanded the Maratha empire to the east . From Nagpur , Maratha armies brought much of Aliverdy Khan , the Nawab of Bengal’s kingdom under their sway . He also managed to bring Orissa under Maratha rule . Orissa remained in Maratha hands till as late as 1802 .
Slide 7 :
Slide 8 : Savanur campaign :
To the south , the Peshwa and his cousin Sadashivrao bhau expanded the Marathas by winning territory belonging to the Nizam and other Nawabs . Starting from their base in Pune , the Marathas conquered as far as Savanur , Kurnool and Cuddapah . You can see from the map , the probable route followed by Maratha armies .
( I can see a few faces in the crowd yawning , my colourful slides and battlescenes not withstanding ! )
Slide 9 : Shaniwarwada .
” I am sure all of you have seen this ? ”
A “yessss ” .. nicely drawn out the way only school kids can manage , rings out from the crowd .
” So the Shaniwarwada was also built at the same time . It was from here that decisions regarding Malwa and Gujarat and north and south India were made . Today unfortunately hardly anything except this ‘darwaja ‘ remains , but let us not forget the importance of this monument in Maharashtra’s as well as India’s history . Next time you visit , be sure to appreciate the fact that decisions affecting far flung lands were made at this very place . Shaniwarwada had to a large extent the same importance in India’s political affairs that New Delhi does today . It is matter of pride for me to have grown up in the same city .
Slide 10 : Holkar Rajwada
Just like the Shaniwarwada symbolised the growing hold of the Peshwas , the Holkar rajwada in Indore was a symbol of Maratha rule in the Malwa . Subhedar Malharrao Holkar ruled the vast plateau of central India . I would like to mention here , that Malharrao Holkar’s beginnings were truly humble . He was the son of a shepherd in Satara , before joining Peshwa Bajirao . By sheer dint of talent he had risen to be subhedar of the Malwa . In the building too , we can see the octoganal architecture typical of the Marathas , alongwith jarokhas etc more common with Mughal or Rajput architecture of the region .
Slide 11 : Afghan empire .
While the Marathas were expanding all over the country , at the expense of the Mughals , the Afghans had managed to coalesce under Ahmed Shah Abdali , and had started capturing Mughal territories in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan . By the mid 1750’s , this is what the Afghan empire had begun to look like .
Slide 12 : Ragho bharari .
I have already dwelved into how the Marathas became power brokers to the east , west and south of this country . As I mentioned before , they had been influencing decisions at Delhi too for a long time . Raghunathrao , a brother of Nanasaheb , led Maratha armies into the Punjab in 1758 . This was unique , because , they managed to stitch together an alliance with Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims for the purpose . The map shows the most probable route followed by them . Many prominent places like Sirhind , Lahore and Attock were captured during the course of this campaign . ( I keep referring to above pic in the course of this talk ).
Pic : Attock fort .
Slide 13 : Maratha empire at its zenith . + Mughal empire in 1690 .
In 1758 , this is what the Maratha empire looked like . For camparison I have also put the map of the Mughal empire , as it was in 1690 . Suffice to say , that the Marathas of the Sahyadris managed to replace the Mughals as the dominant power in the Indian sub continent . Before we move onto the big event – Panipat – I would like to speak about this means for Indian history in general , and for us as Indians today . The acheivement of the Marathas was unparalleled in nearly a millenium of history . Let us not forget , that the dwindling Mughal empire gave rise to a host of Afghan , Persian and Turkic kingdoms . Their court language was Persian mostly . Their nobility had been imported from far away , and were at odds with the prevalent ethos of the land . It was against such types that the Marathas fought to establish ‘ swarajya ‘ . Infact , it was during this time that Urdu , an entirely Indian language , became a language of the court . Granted that there was casteism amongst them to some extent . But given the times , Maratha rule was quite egalitarian . A person from the shepherd caste had become the subhedar of the Malwa . People of the kunbi castes like Shinde and Gaikwad were leading large armies on battlefields all over the nation . The leader of the Maratha artillery at Panipat was Ibrahim Khan Gardi while almost entirely Muslim pindaris were drafted into armies of Shinde and Holkar . Without conquering narrow parochial views , it would have been impossible to rule over nearly the whole country . And in this , we can today , as Indians find inspiration and perhaps a lesson too . A great many temples and ghats were built . This again , was a reflection of their political clout . I will speak more about this when we come to Devi Ahilyabai Holkar , but for now , let us turn back to history i .e Battle of Panipat .
Slide 14 : The battle of Panipat .
Once the Marathas had reached their zenith , they made a few mistakes strategically and otherwise . This ofcourse led to the battle of Panipat , in which the Marathas were defeated . Ahmed Shah Abdali was able to rally allies to his cause in greater numbers than the Marathas under Sadashivrao who had by then reached north . The end result , a decisive win for the Afghans . ( I steered clear of Najib and the works because of obvious reasons – my audience consisted of 13 year olds . ) That the Marathas went as far as Panipat to defend their idea of ‘nation ‘ , hundreds of miles from Pune is what makes them martyrs in the true sense of the word .
Now , what I have observed is that there is perhaps more written about this one day of defeat in 1761 than the 70 years of victory preceding it . Which I personally believe is rather sad . We can indulge in long conversations regarding ‘how Marathas were destroyed at Panipat ‘ , but can barely speak about Rajaram or Bajirao or Holkar or Shinde . Bajirao won 40 battles in his life , not losing a single one . I believe we ought to be more aware of our achievements , and the sacrifices made , rather than Panipat . This is not to say that knowing about defeat is unimportant , but one must see things in perspective . A defeatist mindset is a bigger defeat than being vanquished on the battlefield ! . Secondly , did the Marathas truly ‘ dissappear ‘at Panipat ? As has been written in many places ?
Slide 15 : Maratha empire in 1795 .
As you can see , even 34 years after Panipat , the Marathas continued to rule over most of Central , western , eastern and southern India . It was during this time that Ahilyabai Holkar , Malharrao’s daughter built a huge number of temples and ghats . It showed their resurgence politically . From being unable to undertake pilgrimages during the days of the Mughals , to building ghats at Varanasi and other places was nothing short of an achievement . Temple towns of those days brought livelihood to a large number of people , while ghats and dharamshalas also provided shelter and rest to the thousands making long journeys . The next slide shows the various places where ghats , temples etc were built .
Slide 16 : Temples by Ahilyabai Holkar .
As we can see , the area bound by them is roughly the area controlled by the Marathas at that point of time . Marathas fully understood that political power comes first , everything else automatically follows . Note the near abscence of any temple / ghat built by Ahilyabai Holkar in territory belonging to the Nizam of Hyderabad .
Pic : Another temple / ghat built by Bhosales of Nagpur at Varanasi .
Slide 18 : A ghat built by the Shindes ( Scindias ) of Gwalior at Varanasi .
In a 1789 letter to Mahadji Scindia ( Shinde ) mentions to Nana Phadnavis as to how Delhi and Satara are both under the Marathas . Thus first under Madhavrao Peshwa , then under Mahadji Shinde and Nana Padhnavis , the Marathas continued to be the dominant power in India for much after 1761 . It was the double blow of several leaders dying at the same time , with no replacement in sight that allowed the British to finally defeat them . Even so , Indore , Gwalior , Baroda etc survived as Hindu princely states . It was Bajirao who had first taken them away from Mughal hands . Given the antics performed by the Nawab of Bhopal at the time of partition , what might have been the shape of India if the entire Malwa had been under him , and not just a small jagir around Bhopal ? Ofcourse , many other events happened in between , but the flutter of a butterfly can create a storm halfway around the world ( or two centuries ahead in time ) . Thus I would like to conclude by saying that the 18th century belonged to the Marathas . It is a matter of pride , as an Indian , that an indeginious power was able to achieve something not heard of for the previous whole millenium . It was Chhatrapati Shivaji’s dream that got fulfilled in 1758 . The sacrifices made by the soldiers fighting the Mughals in the 27 year war of independence , when they refused bribes of money and land , because their cause of swarjya was much greater will continue to inspire us . Followed by ofcourse the northward thrust under Bajirao and others . I hope all of you have liked this presentation . Like said by maám when introducing me , I have written a historical novel – Sahyadris to Hindukush . The years between 1740 to 1758 have been dramatised in it . Once again I would like to thank all of you . ( privately congratulating myself coz none had fallen asleep ) . I reckon you enjoyed it . Thanks to BVB also once again . I had a wonderful time speaking to you and sharing my views and knowledge .
Thank you . ( amidst applause ) .