Saturday, 6 February 2016

Shivaji Maharaj and Peshwa Connection

Peshwas - The uncrowned Rulers of Maratha Empire

The Peshwas were a team of Maratha Chieftains who served as Prime Ministers to the Chatrapati or the Maratha King. They were invincible in their own way and earned laurels and battles for the mighty Maratha dynasty. The esteemed Shivaji maharaj  was a great warrior and leader. And the Peshwas were like a daunting feather to the glorious crown of this Maratha ruler.

The Era of the Peshwas

The era of the Peshwas started from 1713 and continued till 1818. However, this span is debatable. In this article we shall take a closer look at the golden time period when the Marathas owing to the Peshwas gave a befitting reply to the Mughal stronghold. Before delving deeper into the Peshwas it must be known that the word ‘Peshwa’ is of Persian origin meaning, the prime or the foremost.

Shivaji was not merely a great ruler, but he was also a visionary per se. He soon realised after assuming the helmthat the Mughals were a tough opponent to beat. Might can never be the sole weapon to put them down, rather it is important to have a strong base that could protect the Maratha Empire from all possible ends. This needed impeccable administration, and here came the need of the Peshwas.

Shivaji’s Golden Years

Shivaji assumed to power and gained several forts and places in Maharashtra back under the domain of the Marathas from the Mughal capture. During the rule of Shivaji most of Deccan was under the Marathas and he left the kingdom at the hands of the son before dying as a martyr. Under him Shivaji appointed Moropant Trimbak Pingle as the first ever Peshwa. And in the later years there was an elaborate rule of the Peshwa Dynasty. This has been discussed elaborately in the succeeding paragraphs.

The Peshwa Timeline - a brief

Moropant Trimbak Pingale (served from 1657-1683)

This noted Peshwa was the first officially appointed Peshwa who served Shivaji as a member of the Ashtapradhan Mandal. He was an able man of Shivaji’s troop and helped him win several battles. His role in defeating Bijapu’s Adil Shah is the most celebrated achievement. Apart from this he also aided in constructing and reconstructing several forts in Maharashtra. Trimbakeshwar Fort at Nashik was heroically captured by him. He also was one of the first persons to help Shivaji in establishing Maratha rule in Surat.

Note: Sonpant Dabir and Shyampant Kulkarni Ranzekar preceded Pingale as Peshwas. However, their roles and achievement as Peshwas were short stints. 

Moreshwar Pingale was the successor of Trimbak Pingale and served Sambhaji from 1683-89. Like his father he too achieved great feat. He built Shukravarpeth and Ravivarpeth in Pune which have great significance even to this day.

Ramchandrapant Bawdekar (1689-1708)

This skilled man was the next in line of the Peshwas. His time saw tough times including that of famine and scarcity of other valuable resources. However, with great administration he could improve situations. He was the man who helped Tarabai in setting her foothold at Kolhapur.

Bahirojipant Pingale (1708-11)

Younger son of Morepant Pingale, Bahirojipant Pingale served as a Peshwa under Shahuji I.

Parshuram Trimbak Kulkarni (1711-13)

He served as the Pratinidhi during the ruke of Chhatrapati Rajaram and Tarabai. His contribution as a warrior is considered vital.

Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt (1713-19)

He was the appointed Peshwa of Shahu. He belonged to Bhatt family of Chitpawan Brahmins. He strengthened the foothold of the Marathas not just by winning battles for the dynasty but also by starting many reforms and signing several treaties. He started the tradition of Peshwas for the Bhatt family and the legacy continued thereafter.

Note: It is said that from Vishwanath Bhatt’s tenure the control shifted from the Chhatrapati to the Peshwas, though they were never the officially declared kings. 

The successors of Vishwanath Bhatt were the Peshwas till the very end of the Maratha dynasty. Let’s go through the course of events during the Peshwas.

Peshwa Bajirao (1700-1740)

A born leader, Bajirao I put his feet into his father’s shoes (Balaji Vishwanath Rao) and sworn in as the next Peshwa of the Maratha dynasty. His life is a perfect example of valour, chivalry, skills. Not just this, he is known to be a big time strategist who sailed against the tide and attained victory.

Unlike the other veterans in the Maratha Empire, Bajirao resolved to conquer the North and establish Maratha rule not just in the Deccan, but also in the north Indian states of that time period. He made Poona as the capital city instead of Raigadh.  There were many foes not just outside the Maratha dynasty but also within the strong walls of the Empire itself. Attock, Deccan, Malwa, Gujarat, all saw the Maratha flag hoisted under the skilled leadership of Bajirao. He assumed and sustained his reign for about two decades (1720-40). His rule was brought to an end quite unexpectedly due to a deadly fever that struck him at Raver. Overlooking the Narmada river, Peshwa Bajirao breathed his last, and thus came an end to an eventful life.

He was soon succeeded by his eldest son, Balaji Bajirao, also known as Nanasaheb. However, his was a short tenure, because of his death after the Third Battle of Panipat.

The next in line was Madhavrao Peshwa. He came to power in 1761. However, after the death of Nanasaheb, the downfall had already begun. His successors could barely sustain the already achieved glory and power of their predecessors, let alone marking newer heights.

End of the Peshwas

So, with the advent of the next century, the stronghold of the Peshwas was gradually diminishing. Bajirao II was then the surviving Peshwa. There were ample reasons for this downfall. Though the Maratha dynasty saw heights of success during the rule of the Peshwas, there was this constant tension building up owing to the rigid caste system. On Jauary 1st 1818, near river Bhima at Koregaon, in Pune, commenced a fight between the Pehwas and a troop of 500 odd untouchable Sepoys. This war is important because it marked the end of the Peshwas.

Apart from this, there was also strife between the Peshwas themselves. Needless to say, a divided rule could hardly carry on any further.

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