Rule of the Peshwas (1713-1818)


Rule of the Peshwas (1713-1818) The Peshwa or the prime minister was the foremost minister in the Ashta Pradhan,the council of ministers of Shivaji. The Peshwas gained more powers and became dominant in the eighteenth Century. Balaji Viswanath was the first powerful Peshwa. Peshwa is a Persian word which means “Foremost” or the “First Minister”.

Balaji Viswanath (1713–1720)

Balaji Viswanath assisted the Maratha emperor Shahu to consolidate his control over the kingdom that had been plagued by a civil war. Kanhoji Angre was the most powerful naval chief on the western coast. During the civil war Kanhoji had supported Tarabai. The Peshwa convinced him of the common danger from the Europeans and secured his loyalty to Shahu. The practice of granting jagirs was revived. And the office of Peshwa was made hereditary.

Baji Rao I (1720–1740)

After Balaji Viswanath, his son Baji Rao I was appointed Peshwa in 1720 by Shahu. Baji Rao enhanced the power and prestige of the Maratha Empire by defeating the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Rajput Governor of Malwa and the Governor of Gujarat. He freed Bundelkhand from the control of Mughals and for this the Marathas got one third of the territories from its ruler. The commander-in-chief, Trimbak Rao, who troubled the Peshwa, was defeated and killed in the battle of Dabhai near Baroda in 1731. And the Peshwa assumed the office of the commander-in-chief also. By the treaty of Warna signed in 1731, Sambhaji of Kolhapur was forced to accept the sovereignty of Shahu.

Thana, Salsette and Bassein were captured from the Portuguese in 1738 and they were driven out of the Konkan coast. At the same time, the English made friendly overtures to the Marathas and got the right to free trade in the Deccan region.

Balaji Baji Rao (1740–1761)

Balaji Baji Rao succeeded as the Peshwa after the death of his father Baji Rao I. Known as Nana Sahib, he proved to be a good administrator and an expert in handling financial matters.

Carnatic Expedition

Chanda Sahib, son-in-law of the Nawab of Arcot, after capturing Tiruchirappalli threatened to lay siege to Thanjavur. Its Maratha ruler appealed to Shahu for help in 1739. Responding to this appeal, the Peshwa sent Raghoji Bhonsle (Sahu’s brother-in-law) to Thanjavur. Raghoji Bhonsle defeated and killed the Nawab of Arcot, Dost Ali, in 1740. Tiruchirappalli was captured and Chanda Sahib imprisoned. As the Peshwa was subsequently engaged in military expeditions in Bundelkhand and Bengal, Mohammed Ali, who succeeded Dost Ali, could easily retake Arcot and recapture Tiruchirappalli in 1743. The Peshwa then sent his cousin Sadasiva Rao to the Carnatic. Although the authority of the Marathas was reestablished, Tiruchirappalli could not be regained.

Battle of Udgir, 1760

A war of succession broke out after the death of Nizam Asaf Jah in 1748. Peshwa supported the eldest son of the Nizam. The army sent by Peshwa under Sadasiva Rao won the battle of Udgir in 1760. This success marked the climax of Maratha military might. The Peshwa took over Bijapur, Aurangabad, Dulatabad, Ahmednagar and Burhanpur. The Marathas had brought Rajaputana under their domination after six expeditions between 1741 and 1748. In 1751 the Nawab of Bengal had to cede Orissa and pay an annual tribute to the Marathas. As the Marathas were always after the Mughal throne they entered Delhi in 1752 to drive out the Afghans and Rohillas from Delhi. Imadul-Mulk who was made the Wazir with the help of Marathas became a puppet in their hands. After bringing the Punjab under their control, they expelled the representative of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of the Durani Empire in Afghanistan. A major conflict with Ahmad Shah Abdali became therefore inevitable.

The Marathas tried to find allies among the powers in the north-west. But their earlier deeds had antagonized all of them. The Sikhs, Jat chiefs and Muslims did not trust them. The Marathas did not help Siraj-ud-Daulah in the battle of Plassey in 1757. So no help was forthcoming from Bengal either. A move on the part of the Peshwa against the British, both in Karnataka and Bengal, would have probably checked their advance. But the Peshwa’s undue interests in Delhi earned the enmity of various regional powers. Ahmad Shah Abdali brought about the disaster at Panipat in 1761.

The Third Battle of Panipat, 1761

The third battle of Panipat, 1761 is one of the decisive battles in the history of India. The defeat in the battle dealt a severe blow to the Marathas and the Mughal Empire and thereby paved the way for the rise of the British power in India.


T he tottering Mughal Empire neglected the defence of the north-west frontier areas. T his prompted Nadir Shah, the then ruler of Afghanistan, to invade India. In spite of his repeated demands, the Mughal ruler, Muhammad Shah, provided asylum to the Afghan rebels. So, his invasions started in 1739. Delhi was plundered. The Kohinoor diamond and the valuable peacock throne were taken away by Nadir Shah. When Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747, one of his military generals, Ahmad Shah Abdali became an independent ruler of Afghanistan. After consolidating his position, he started his military expeditions. The Mughal emperor made peace with him by ceding Multan and the Punjab. Mir Mannu, appointed by the Mughal Emperor as the governor of Punjab, was to act only as an agent of Ahmad Shah Abdali.

On Mir Mannu’s death, the widow of Mir Mannu, with the help of the Wazir of Delhi, Imad-ul-Mulk, appointed Mir Munim as the Governor of the Punjab, without the consent of Abdali. Infuriated by this move Abdali invaded India and captured the Punjab. Mir Munim fled to Delhi. Pursuing him Abdali captured Delhi and pillaged it in January 1757. Mathura and Brindavan were desecrated. Before leaving Delhi, Abdali appointed Mir Bakshi as his agent in Delhi. Timur Shah, his son, was made the Viceroy of Lahore.

An expedition under Malhar Rao Holkar and Raghunatha Rao reached Delhi after Abdali had left. They removed the agent of Abdali at Delhi and appointed a man of their choice as the Wazir. Thereafter they captured Sirhind and Lahore in 1758. The Afghan forces were defeated, and Timur Shah deposed. So, Abdali returned to India in October 1759 and recovered the Punjab. The Marathas were forced to withdraw from Lahore, Multan and Sirhind. The wildest anarchy prevailed in the region. So, the Peshwa sent Dattaji Scindia, the brother of Mahadhaji Scindia, to the Punjab to set matters right. But Abdali defeated and killed him in the battle (1760). Malhar Rao Holkar was also defeated at Sikandara. Thereupon the Peshwa recruited a huge army under the command of Sadasiva Rao. Abdali responded by forming an alliance with Najib-ud-Daulah of Rohilkhand and Shuja-ud-Daulah of Oudh.

The Marathas could not find allies among the northern powers, as they had already alienated from the Nawab of Oudh, the Sikh and Jat chiefs and gained the distrust of the Rajputs. The Maratha army was under the nominal command of Vishwas Rao, the young son of the Peshwa. The real command, however, was in the hands of Sadasiva Rao. On their way, they were joined by the Holkar, Scindia and Gaikwar. Around this time, Alamgir II, the Mughal Emperor had been assassinated and his eldest son crowned himself as Shah Alam II. But the Wazir who manoeuvred the assassination enthroned Shah Jahan III. Sadasiva Rao intruded and deposed Shah Jahan III and proclaimed Shah Alam II as Emperor. After the preliminaries were settled, Sadasiva Rao, instead of attacking the forces of Abdali, remained quiet for a long time, until the scarcity of food became acute. Abdali stationed his troops in the fertile doab from where he could get food without interruption.

Effects of the Battle of Panipat

The third battle of Panipat was fought on 14 January 1761. The Maratha army was completely routed. The Peshwa’s son Viswas Rao, Sadasiva Rao and numerous Maratha commanders were killed. Holkar fled and the contingents of Scindia followed him. The Peshwa was stunned by the tragic news. The Peshwa died broken hearted in June 1761. After the battle of Panipat, Abdali recognized Shah Alam II as the Emperor of Delhi. He got an annual tribute. The Marathas, though they received a severe blow initially, managed to restore their power within ten years in the north by becoming the guardian of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam.

Peshwa Madhav Rao I (1761–1772) and His Successors

In 1761, Madhav Rao, the son of Balaji Baji Rao, became the Peshwa under the regency of Raghoba, the younger brother of Peshwa. Madhav Rao tried to regain the Maratha power which was lost in the battle of Panipat. In 1763 a fierce battle was fought with the Nizam of Hyderabad. His expeditions (1765–1767) against Haider Ali of Mysore were successful. However Haider Ali soon recovered almost all his lost territories. But Madhav Rao regained them in 1772 and Haider Ali was forced to sign a humiliating treaty.

The Peshwa reasserted control over northern India by defeating the Rohillas (Pathans) and subjugating the Rajput states and Jat Chiefs. Shah Alam II, the fugitive Emperor, was in Allahabad under the protection of the British. In 1771, the Marathas brought him back to Delhi. The Emperor ceded Kora and Allahabad to them. But the sudden death of Peshwa in 1772 brought an end to his glorious career. As Madhav Rao I had no sons, his younger brother Narayan Rao became Peshwa in 1772. But he was murdered the next year. His posthumous son Sawai Madhav Rao (Madhav Rao II) was proclaimed Peshwa on the 40th day of his birth. After the death of Madhav Rao II, Baji Rao II, the son of Raghunath Rao became the Peshwa and was the last Peshwa.

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