The term Peshwa referred to the Chief Ministers Office of the Great Maratha Empire in India. One of the most famous Peshwa lines was Baji Rao Ballal a charismatic and great general who extended Maratha rule in four corners of India. He is credited with the title of the Founder of the Peshwa Dynasty.
At first, the Peshwas were one of the eight members who formed the advisory council called Asta Pradhan under Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who ruled during the years 1659 – 1680. But later, after Balaji Vishwanath, who was the fifth in line of appointed Peshwas, they became the real power behind the throne. Also, the Peshwa post became hereditary; the next ten Peshwas earned this position by the virtue of birth in the ruling Peshwa’s family.
The first Peshwa of note was Balaji Vishwanath Bhat who was a Chitpavan Brahmin appointed as Peshwa in 1714 by Emperor Shahu, the grandson of the illustrious Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. But the most popular and perhaps the founder of the Peshwa Dynasty is his son Baji Rao I who initiated the hereditary succession to the post of Peshwa.
Peshwa Balaji Viswanath – 1713-1720 AD
A series of events that 1699 – 1708 changed the fortunes of the Maratha Empire and ultimately Indian history. Balaji Vishwanath served under Dhanaji Jadava who was Senapati for Tarabai, the regent of the Maratha Empire for a short period.
Dhanaji later joined the service of Shahu, the Grandson of Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, who was then only a deputy Subedar of Daulatabad. Peshwa Vishwanath thus came under the services of Shahu in 1707. Both played a major role in the victory of the young grandson of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Battle of Kheda against Tara Bai and reclaiming the Maratha throne for him. On the death of Dhanaji, Shahu placed his faith on Balaji Vishwanath instead of Dhanaji’s own son Chandra Sen. Balaji Vishwanath thus became the first Peshwa to have a major influence in affairs of Maratha Kingdom.
During his tenureMaratha kingdom, which was troubled by civil war and the Mughals, saw an era of consolidation. To his credit also is the development of a complex tax collection systems from numerous Mughal provinces that continued till the end of the century.
Peshwa Baji Rao – 1720 – 1740AD
Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath had two sons Baji Rao I and Chimaji Appa. Chatrapathi Shahu placed faith in his 20-year-old first son Baji Rao and appointed him as the next Peshwa. At that young age itself, the new Peshwa was an ambitious and able General. He was brought up in Saswad. He gained experience in warfare when he accompanied his father on many military campaigns. He was even imprisoned once during these expeditions.
On appointment as the next Peshwa, Baji Rao was known to won every battle he undertook until his death 20 years later. But before achieving this he had to face numerous challenges…
- He had to face jealousy of some of his father’s contemporaries which he thwarted by promoting youngsters like himself to high positions.
- The gains made at Malwa and Gujarat before his accession to the post had to be consolidated. Some areas like Janjira Fort were only nominally under Maratha rule and had to be brought under control
- The Nizam-ul-Haq the Deccan viceroy of the Mughal was plotting to announce sovereignty and disregarding the duty to pay taxes to Shahu.
His exploits brought back glory to Maratha land many years after the lives and times of the great Maratha ruler Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj. He took full advantage of the weakening of the Mughal rule in India to accomplish this.
Some of his feats included
- Quelling of a succession dispute between Siddi brothers
The Siddis held the fort of Janjira in Western Konkan. Yakut Khan the chief died in 1733 which lead to a war of succession and one of his sons Abdul Rehman sought the help of Baji Rao. In the war and siege that followed, the Peshwa’s commander Sekhoji Angre lost his life and Marathas lost control of other areas like Raigad, Thal, Chaul, and Rewa. The issue was resolved by Baji Rao with a peace treaty that had conditions that Abdul Rehman would be the chief of Janjira and the Siddis will retain Gowalkot, Anjanvel and Under under their rule. But the Siddis tried to assert again. This offensive was countered by his younger brother of Baji Rao.
- Establishing supremacy of Shahu Maharaj in Konkan
- Gains in Bundelkhand
Maharaj Chatrasal was a warrior or Bundelkhand. He wanted independence from the Mughal rule and sought the help of Baji Rao Peshwa. In 1729, the Peshwa marched towards the region and forced the Mughal general Muhammad Khan Bangash, who had besieged Chatrasal’s fort and taken him, prisoner, to flee. Chatrasal recovered his kingdom and in return gave his daughter Mastani in marriage to Baji Rao along with 1/3 of territories to Maratha kingdom.
- The Gujarat Campaign
Baji Rao signed the Treaty of Warna that helped demarcate the kingdom’s boundaries of Sambhaji and Chatrapati Shahu while letting a powerful clan, Dabhade to collect revenue from Gujarat and receive half for Maratha treasury.
- Compelling the Portuguese to accept the overlordship of EmperorShahu.
- Making Nizam-ul-Mulk agree to a treaty of Mungeshigoan after two years of war between 1727 -1728.
At first, Nizam took the help of Marathas to thwart the armies of Mughals, but later his real designs of seeking an independent kingdom in the south rivaling the Marathas were revealed. He declared his deigns by not paying Chauth or tax to revenue collectors. The Nizam was then defeated at Battle of Palkhd and only then he recognized the sovereignty of Emperor Shahu.
- Quelling challenge from Malwa in 1722 and demanding Chauth
In 1728, Baji Rao sent a huge army under his brother, Chimaji Appa’s leadership to counter Giridhar Bahadur who was appointed the Governor of Malwa to counter Maratha Chiefs collecting Chauth. Both Girdhar Bahadur and his commander Daya Bahadur were defeated and killed in the battle of Amjhera and the region was brought under control of Maratha chiefs again.
Baji Rao Ballal’s Charisma worked wonders with his opponents. Some of great personalities of Indian history whose lives and times intertwined with the enigmatic Peshwa were Nizam Ul Mulk of Hyderabad State; Kanhoji Angre, an able naval commander, Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur, an astronomer and town planner, Raja Chattarsal of Bundelkhand, Malharo Holkar of Indore, Udaiji Pawar of Dhar, Ranoji Scindia of Gwalior and Pilaji Gaikwad of BarodaWith immense ambition and confidence, he managed to restore the pride of the Marathas previously experienced under the able rule of the great ruler Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj.
He was a genius for the fact that he used the denigrating power of Mughal power to full use to extend the power of Marathas towards the Northern regions of India. He was able to wrest many lands and impose Maratha supremacy on kingdoms of Gujarat, Bundelkhand, and Malwa. However, his desire to conquer regions beyond Indus River remained a dream to his premature death.
Baji Rao was also responsible for making Pune a small kasbah into a big city after he moved his operations from the city of Saswad and constructing the fortification of Shaniwarwada here. This place was the center of power of the Peshwas until it was lost to the British East India Company.
Another thing to note about Baji Rao is that he was the power behind the throne and Emperor Shahu remained so in name only. He achieved the name and fame even as he died a young and tragic death while still in the full form.
Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao 1740 – 1761 AD
The next Peshwa was Balaji Baji Rao, who was appointed to the post soon after his father’s death at the age of eighteen. Though he was not a great warrior, he concentrated on getting internal administration under control. He involved himself in dealing with the ambitious Raghuji Bhonsle and pacifying Scindias and Holkars.
Beyond 1752 and during the tenure of Balaji Baji Rao, the Maratha power in India reached its zenith. The once-mighty Mughal Empire lost all its glory with the fall of Aurangzeb. A mighty empire that ruled India for more than 3 centuries came down to its knees within the next 41 years. While one reason was ineffective rulers in Delhi, other stalwarts, statesmen and generals like the Maratha Peshwas knocked at its roots constantly to broaden their own territory and planted their saffron flag on regions from Indus in north India to Krishna River in South India.