The resurrection of Hindu polity after the Vijayanagar Kingdom under the nomenclature of Hindu Pad Padshahi, all around established by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, accomplished shape during the ascendancy of the Peshwas.
An adroit swordsman, outstanding rider, ace strategist and leader by birth, Bajirao (|) succeeded his father as Peshwa when he was only twenty-two years of age, launching into an eminent military career that occupies its own special place in the history of Aryavarta.
Not often does one man flog his presence in an entire subcontinent and establish an empire that spreads across colossal Bharat’s landmass. His movements, from Delhi to Srirangapatnam and Gujarat to Berar over a twenty-year period of his reign as Peshwa in the 18th century, were inimitable in speed and distance.
It is usually considered, in error, that the Great Napolean Bonaparte never lost a Battle. However, that is not true. Napoleon had his share of loss at the ‘Battle of Waterloo’.
However, the fact remains that, the only Warrior-General-Prime Minister, who never ever lost even a single battle, in a groundbreaking career of 20 years was Peshwa Bajirao Ballal Bhat. He was a notable and only warrior in the world, who till his death remained undefeated.
Bajirao was the eldest son of Balaji Vishwanath, first Peshwa of Chattrapati Shahuji.
The bhat family of Bajirao belonged to the Chitpavan Brahmin or the Konkanastha Brahmin community of the Konkan region. The konkanastha brahmans, generally fair in complexion, they stood out due to their blue eyes.
Balaji (name Ballal, changed to Balaji as he picked up decency) Vishwanath Bhat, a Konkanastha or Chitpavan Brahmin from Srivardhan (South of Janjira) was the grandson of an inherited Deshmukh of this territory. The Srivardhan area on the west coast was ruled by the Siddi of Janjira. In view of provocation from the Siddi, Balaji left Srivardhan and moved to Pune to seek his fortune there.
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat, Bajirao’s father, was a brilliant Warrior and even more, an astute Diplomat. His diplomatic skills ensured that all fiefs of the faction-ridden Deccan of the day eventually accepted the dominion of Shahuji at the behest of Balaji Bhat.
His real diplomatic skills were tested and proved when Balaji, convinced formidable Admiral of Navy Kanhoji Angre to accept Shahu as King.
Shahu who always had an eye for talent and merit, in turn, rewarded Balaji and made him the Prime Minister over the claim of others.
Balaji Vishwanath died on 2 April 1720 at Saswad, near Pune, after a brief illness. He had two sons, Visaji who later became known as Bajirao and Chimnaji, popularly called Chimaji Appa. Bajirao was born on Wednesday, 18 August 1700, and Chimaji four or five years later. At the time of Balaji’s death, Bajirao was just under 20 years old, and Chimaji around sixteen.
Tall, fair in complexion, and with clear gray eyes, Bajirao stood out as a very handsome young man. He was fond of physical exercise and was a good horseman capable of riding long distances without fatigue. He had become adept at the use of weapons such as the sword, spear, bow and arrow, and dandpatta.
He clean – shaved his head, leaving around the crop of hair with a tuft in the center on the top. After a bath in the morning, he said his prayers before starting the day’s work.
He was courageous and thought nothing of incurring danger.
For his age, he was mature and religious. He was taught Hindu scriptures and learned Ramanayana and Mahabharat as all young Brahmin boys of his age did back then. He was intellectually active and learned to read and write at an early age. Brought up in the strictly austere environment of a deeply religious and orthodox Brahmin family, conscious of his varna and its attendant customs, his education was conducted under the watchful eye of his mother, Radhaibai, who was herself well educated. (Letters written by her were found and are preserved). Radhabai supervised the Peshwa household and was much respected by her sons, daughters-in-law, and other members of the family. Occasionally, she advised Bajirao in matters of state politics.
At the age of 20, Bajirao was appointed by Shahu as Peshwa (Prime Minister) upon the death of his extraordinary eminent father, keeping aside all other claimants.
Shahu had watched young Bajirao with admiration when he functioned as his father’s Mutalik (representative, generally with the rank of a deputy minister) at his court, and had recognized the qualities of leadership in him. When at Satara as the Mutalik of his father, he was able to perceive what needed to be done when others dithered. He could observe and marshal facts, and draw logical conclusions. Naturally venturesome, he was free from dread. He learned how to get the start of his foes and forestall them.
Bajirao had the advantage of the recklessness, daring, and courage of youth and a sharp intellect. Having accompanied his father to Delhi and watched him while conducting State business, he had acquired working knowledge of the problems of State adequately, in the eyes of Shahu to hand over this office to him. The official ceremony of his appointment took place at Masur (near Karad) on 18 April 1720.
When Bajirao donned the robes of the Peshwa, numerous senior statesmen at Shahu’s court attempted to dissuade him from designating this youth.
Little did they realize that young Bajirao was a man of sagacity. He was not only highly talented and possessed outstanding intelligence but, like Shivaji the Great, he was also endowed with an uncanny gift of intuition. Many of his actions seemed inexplicable and did not stand up to logical analysis.
Only the outcomes demonstrated that he was right. To cite an example, Bajirao’s moves before the battle of Palkhed can’t be elucidated by any rationale. But the result was there to see.
Bajirao was quick to act when confronted with troublesome circumstances while his adversaries wasted valuable time pondering and deliberating on their next course of action.
A man true to his word, scrupulously honest and brave, he became the epitome of manhood to the young and the old alike. His good looks added to his charm of personality. A conversation between a Rajput statesman, Deep Singh, and the Nizam in 1730 throws light on the character of Bajirao. Deep Singh had gone to Satara to assess the Maratha strength. On his return journey, he visited the Nizam at Aurangabad. When asked by Nizam who he thought was the most capable and mighty sirdar who could raise an army at short notice, and who was experienced, mature and seasoned at Shahu’s court, Deep Singh replied, “I have not found anyone other than Bajirao who is truthful, honest and a seasoned general”.
Bajirao’s family –
Bajirao’s wife, Kashibai, was the daughter of Mahadaji Krishna Joshi, who had accompanied Shahu when he left the Moghul camp. He (Bajirao) had five sons – Balaji (born 1721, succeeded him as Peshwa after his death in 1740), Ramchandra (died young), Raghunath ( became known as Raghoba Dada in Maratha history) and Janardhan (died young). His fifth son was Shamsher Bahadur, born in 1734 to his Muslim mistress.
Bajirao’s brother Chimaji, who suffered from asthma, married the sister of Trimbakrao Visaji Pethe. Chimaji was the epitome of a loyal younger brother, who was brave as Bajirao and took part in many campaigns including the one that led to the capture of Vasai. He died six months after his elder brother due to tuberculosis.
Only the fate knew at that point, that the young lad of 20, Bajirao was to even outdo his very intelligent father in the art of War and Diplomacy!
Even today the Military Tactics adopted by Bajirao are taught in the Indian Military Schools. His triumph in the Battle of Palkhed is supposed to be a study in itself for the Military Strategists.
Legend has it that standing before Shahuji Maharaj and his court, the young new Peshwa Bajirao is said to have roared –
“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 (India), the outcasts, and the barbarians. 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 (India) is ours”.
He is further supposed to have fixed his piercing gaze on Shahuji Maharaj and said,
“Strike, strike at the trunk, and the branches will fall off themselves. Listen but to my counsel, and I shall plant the Saffron flag on the walls of Attock”.
Emperor Shahu was deeply impressed and exclaimed,
“By heaven, you shall plant it on the Himalayas”.
His military campaigns were classic examples of his genius. In the disarray of the religious intolerance continued by the tottering Mughals after Aurangzeb, Bajirao stood out as the champion of Hinduism as he protected Hindu Dharma from the onslaught of Islamic rulers.
The Hindu Kingdom made by its founder, Shivaji, and later expanded by Bajirao reached its peak during his son’s hegemony twenty years after his death. After driving the Afghans out of Punjab, they raised the saffron flag of Hindus not just on the walls of Attock, but even beyond.
In December 1728, when Muhammad Khan Bangash occupied the Bundelkhand fort and it seemed a matter of time before his rule was consolidated in the all-important region.
Maharaja Chhatrasal Bundela (King Of Bundelkhand) decided to appeal to the Peshwa for help.
Chhatrasal Bundela invoked the tale of Gajendra and Shri Vishnu when asking Bajirao for help. Just like Shri Vishnu had saved Gajendra from the grasp of a crocodile, so must Bajirao save him from the grasp of Bangash.
The letter goes thus —
” जो गती ग्राह गजेंद्र कि , सो गति भई हैं आज
बाजी जात बुंदेलकि , राखो बाजी लाज ”
The intriguing part of this verse is the word ‘Baji’ which has two meanings. In the first instance, it means a pawn in a game of chess; while in the subsequent it directly insinuates Bajirao! The letter was sent in the hands of one Durgadas.
Responding to his call, Bajirao went to Bundelkhand and defeated Bangash in the battle of Jaitpur. When Bangash retreated, Bajirao and Chhatrasal met at Bharatpur, and Chhatrasal happy by the deeds of Bajirao declared him as the third son and awarded one-third part of his kingdom to him, also gifted his Muslim daughter ‘Mastani’ to him who became Bajirao’s wife.
When Peshwa and his troops had gone to collect Chauth in the south (1727), the Nizam’s forces made a surprise attack on Poona, whereby he proclaimed Sambaji (||) (stepbrother of Shahu) to be accepted Chattrapati. (Satara too came under threat and Chattrapati Shahu himself had to seek refuge in fort Purandar near Saswad).
Battle of Palkhed –
Hearing the news of the attack, Bajiraos troops proceeded towards Poona. The Nizam was already waiting for the Peshwa with a huge army and artillery.
But the clever Peshwa was obviously a step ahead of the Nizam as far as war machinations were concerned. Instead of confronting the powerful Nizam’s artillery in a pitched battle, he created a detour by plundering Nizams territories like Jalna, Khandesh, and proceeded toward Burhanpur a rich Mughal outpost in the control of the Nizam. Bajirao thus provoked the Nizam into leaving his base and give the Peshwa a chase. However, the Nizam had to leave behind his heavy artillery in order to catch up with the Peshwas army. This was precisely what the wily Peshwa wanted. As the Nizam’s army progressed towards the Peshwa, midway at Palkhed (a hill tract near Aurangabad) the Peshwa managed to trap and surround the Nizam.
The Nizam found himself in a precarious situation, surrounded as he was, without food and water supplies for days. The Nizam was soon forced to sign a humiliating treaty at Mungi Shevgaon (6th March 1728), whereby the Nizam agreed to accept Shahu as the sole Maratha Chatrapati and give up the cause of Sambhaji II forever. The Maratha rights for chauth were also recognized.
At Palkhed or Bhopal, Bajirao used tactical movements using a purely cavalry borne army and brought an enemy to submission. The Nizam escaped on each occasion due to Shahu’s injunction to let him survive.
By 1735, the Marathas, under Bajirao had virtually gained control over the entire Gujarat and Malwa. But, as the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah was dillydallying over passing an official order chartering Chauth and Sardeshmukhi (Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were the taxes collected in the neighboring territories of the Mughal empire or Deccan sultanates.) rights to the Marathas, efforts by Bajirao to seek an audience with the Mughal emperor were also ignored. The Marathas decided to assert themselves and started plundering the adjoining territories of Rajasthan. The Mughals also retaliated by sending troops under their Vazir. But both contingents were routed by the Marathas. The Peshwa then decided to teach the Mughal emperor a lesson of his lifetime. Bajirao personally marched towards Delhi with a large Maratha army in Dec 1737.
He divided the army into two. One contingent was led by Peshwa Bajirao and the other by Pilaji and Malharrao Holkar. The contingent of Holkar was, however, annihilated by a much larger army led by Sadat Khan. Malharrao Holkar himself managed to escape and reach the other group led by Bajirao.
Meanwhile, thinking that the Maratha threat was over, Sadat Khan sent the good news to Delhi.
That was when the contingent of Bajirao, in a swift movement, completely bypassed the encamped Mughal army and reached the outskirts of Delhi (28th March 1737), covering a ten-day journey in just FORTY-EIGHT HOURS.
What followed thereafter was the total loot of the suburbs of Delhi. The Mughal emperor himself hid in the safe confines of Red Fort, while Bajirao and his men plundered the countryside in glee abandon. An eight thousand strong Mughal army led by Mir Hassan did try to take on Bajirao, but they were outmaneuvered and Mir Hassan himself was wounded in the skirmish.
Then before the main Mughal army could gather their wits, Bajirao with his entourage returned back to the Deccan.
On 31st March 1737, the victorious Maratha army left Delhi with their large booty leaving behind Delhi, mauled and humbled.
The holy pilgrimage routes of the Hindus from Mathura, to Banaras to Somnath were thus, made free of harassment.
Bajirao, who fought over a record 41 major battles and many others, won all of them.
Battle tactics used by Bajirao –
· Bajirao’s success depended a great deal on his light foray tactics. He mainly used his cavalry.
· Two riders had three horses between them and while one horse was rested the other two, in turn, were ridden. As a result, his army could move forty miles in a day and sustain this rate of advance for many days. This was the highest speed of any army during his time. That’s why he used to attack the enemy before giving any hint about his whereabouts.
· It is said that his army moved two thousand miles in six months from the time he left Pune in Oct 1727 until the end of the Battle of Palkhed in March 1728.
· Only horse-mounted fighting troops went into combat. There were no followers or servants hanging around and encumbering the mobility of the fighting forces
· Furthermore, he had no use for infantry or artillery like the Mughals. His cavalry was lightly armed with a spear and dandapatta, the circular gauntlet sword of the Marathas useful for a close quarter battle or hand to hand combat favored by them.
· His main focus was always on cutting the enemy supply-lines with the help of rapid troop movement and knowledge of the local terrain. He revolutionized military tactics in his times. Encircling the enemy quickly, appearing from the rear of the enemy, attacking from an unexpected direction, distracting the enemy’s attention, keeping the enemy in surprise and deciding the battlefield on his own terms, were his trademark war-winning tactics.
· ‘Night’, said Bajirao ‘is not for sleeping but to engage an enemy superior in numbers’. Bajirao is said to have told his brother Chimaji Appa, “Remember that the night has nothing to do with sleep. It was created by God, to raid the territory held by your enemy. The night is your shield, your screen against the cannons and swords of a vastly superior enemy force.”
· The major reason of Peshwa Bajiro’s success lies also in his strong intelligence department. His intelligence agency was so strong that every moment he used to get all the information about his enemy’s whereabouts.
· Leading by personal example, his banner, a swallow-tailed saffron flag signifying sacrifice, held high he always moved into battle with the cry ‘Har har Mahadev,’ inspiring his troops to fight without fear.
Baji Rao died on April 28, 1740, while still in his prime, at the young age of 40.
He died of a sudden fever, possibly heatstroke, while inspecting his jagirs. (Fiefdoms)
There is no record of his having fallen ill except in 1740, just prior to his death.
He was en route to Delhi with one lakh (100,000) troops under his command at his camp in the district of Khargon, near the city of Indore. He was cremated on April 28, 1740, at Raverkhedi on the river Narmada, Khargone (MP). A memorial was built by the Scindias. Remains of his residence and a Shiva temple are also located nearby.
The Baji Rao Peshwa – In the eyes of Noted Historians:-
“He died as he lived, in the camp under canvas among his men, and he is remembered to this day among the Marathas as the fighting Peshwa and the incarnation of HINDU energy.”
—English historian Sir Richard Carnac Temple, Shivaji and the Rise of the Mahrattas
“The Palkhed Campaign of 1727–28 in which Baji Rao I out-generalled Nizam-ul-Mulk, is a masterpiece of strategic mobility.
—British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, The Concise History of Warfare
“Remember that night has nothing to do with sleep. It was created by God, to raid territory held by your enemy. The night is your shield, your screen against the cannons and swords of vastly superior enemy forces.
—Baji Rao was said to have told his brother Chimaji Appa –
“Bajirao was a heaven-born cavalry leader. In the long and distinguished galaxy of Peshwas, Bajirao was unequaled for the daring and originality of his genius and the volume and value of his achievements.
—Sir Jadunath Sarkar, foreword in V.G. Dighe’s, Peshwa Bajirao I and Maratha Expansion
More Quotes on Bajirao Peshwa –
J. Grant Duff says in the “History of the Marathas”
“Bred a soldier as well as a statesman, Bajirao united the enterprise, vigor, and hardihood of a Maratha chief with the polished manners, the sagacity, and address which frequently distinguish the Brahmins of the Konkan. Fully acquainted with the financial schemes of his father, he selected that part of the plan calculated to direct the predatory hordes of Maharashtra in a common effort. In this respect, the genius of Bajirao enlarged the schemes which his father devised; and it may be truly said- he had both- the head to plan and the hand to execute.”
Sir R. Temple says in “Oriental Experiences”
“Bajirao was hard to be surpassed as a rider and was ever forward in action, eager to expose himself under fire if the affair was arduous. He was accustomed to fatigue and prided himself in enduring the same hardships as his soldiers and sharing their scanty fare. He was moved by an ardor for success in national undertakings by patriotic confidence in the Hindu cause as against its old enemies, the Muhammadans and its new rivals, the Europeans that were rising above the political horizon. He lived to see the Marathas spread over the Indian continent from the Arabian sea to the Bay of Bengal. He died as he lived, in camp, under canvas among his men and he is remembered among the Marathas as the fighting Peshwa, as the incarnation of Hindu energy.”
Jadunath Sarkar says in his forward to “Peshwa Bajirao I and Maratha Expansion”
“Bajirao was a heaven-born cavalry leader. In the long and distinguished galaxy of Peshwas, Bajirao Ballal was unequaled for the daring and originality of his genius and the volume and value of his achievements. He was truly a Cavalry Hero as King- or rather as a Man of action.’ If Sir Robert Walpole created the unchallengeable position of the Prime Minister in the unwritten constitution of England, Bajirao created the same institution in the Maratha Raj at exactly the same time.”
A translation of a 19th century Marathi poem describing Bajirao encapsulates this daredevil Peshwa, who in two decades firmly established the Maratha power that was to spread soon from Peshawar to Orissa and from the hills of Kumaon to the Cauvery –
‘Atop a horse, with one foot in the stirrup, and the second straddled across, the horse trots along…
The reins were thrown over the neck, a spear on his shoulder, a smile beatifies a face of indescribable lustre;
A zadi turban on his head, a befitting robe on the body, the garment around the waist tied in Brahminical style,
He rubs the ear of corn with his own hands, and throws the grain in his mouth,
And the red chilies he carries, he chews – now and then’.
The Kingdoms of Scindias (Ranoji Shinde) of Gwalior, Holkars (Malharrao) of Indore, Gaekwads(Pilaji) of Baroda, and Pawars (Udaiji) of Dhar were Bajirao’s creation of a Maratha confederacy as he wreaked havoc on the disintegrating Mughal Empire and set up his jagirdars (fiefdoms).
“He had both, the head to think and the hand to execute”.
It is a pity that India did not produce an outstanding general of Bajirao’s calibre after 1740 – not to the present day.
· Bajirao I – An Outstanding Cavalry General – R.D. Palsokar.
· Baji Rao: The Warrior Peshwa – Book by E. Jaiwant Paul.
· Peshwa Bajirao I and Maratha Expansion – Dighe, V.G.
· Sivaji and the rise of the Mahrattas – Sir Richard Carnac Temple.
· History of the Marathas – by R.S. Chaurasia.
· Excerpts taken from articles authored by Hindujagruti and Dr. Uday Kulkarni.
by Shubham Vidua