Peshwa Bajirao – Hindu Warriors


Bajirao I (18 August 1700 – 28 April 1740) was a general of the Maratha Empire in India. He served as Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (king) Shahu from 1720 until Bajirao’s death. He is also known by the names Bajirao Ballal and Thorale (Marathi for Elder) Bajirao.

Bajirao is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire, especially in the north, which contributed to its reaching a zenith during his son’s reign twenty years after his death. In his brief military career spanning 20 years, Bajirao never lost a battle. According to the British Army officer Bernard Montgomery, Bajirao was “possibly the finest cavalry general ever produced by India”.

1.Early life
Bajirao was born into the Bhat family of Chitpavan Brahmin lineage. His father Balaji Vishwanath was the first Peshwa of Chhatrapati Shahu; his mother was Radhabai. Bajirao had a younger brother Chimaji Appa. Bajirao would often accompany his father on military campaigns. He was with his father when the latter was imprisoned by Damaji Thorat before being released for a ransom. When Vishwanath died in 1720, Shahu appointed the 20-year old Bajirao as the Peshwa. He is said to have preached the ideal of Hindu Pad Padshahi (Hindu Empire).

2.Early career as a Peshwa /strong>
By the time Bajirao became the Peshwa, Chhatrapati Shahu was almost a titular ruler, largely confined to his residence in Satara. The Maratha confederacy was run in his name, but the real power lay in the hands of the Peshwa. By the time of Bajirao’s appointment, the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah had recognized Marathas’ rights over the territories possessed by Shivaji at his death. In 1719, the Mughals had also recognized the Maratha rights to collect taxes (chauth and sardeshmukhi) in the six provinces of Deccan. Bajirao believed that the Mughal Empire was in decline, and wanted to take advantage of this situation with aggressive expansion in north India. Sensing the declining fortune of the Mughals, he is reported to have said, “Strike, strike at the trunk and the branches will fall off themselves.”However, as a new Peshwa, he faced several challenges:

His appointment as the Peshwa at a young age had evoked jealousy from senior officials like Naro Ram Mantri, Anand Ram Somant and Shripat Rao Pratinidhi Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah I, the Mughal viceroy of Deccan, had practically created his own independent kingdom in the region, and challenged the Maratha rights to collect taxes in Deccan The Marathas needed to assert their rights over the nobles of the newly gained territories in Malwa and Gujarat Several areas that were nominally part of the Maratha territory, were not actually under Peshwa’s control. For example, the Siddis controlled the Janjira fort.

3.Pune as capital
Bajirao moved his base of operations from Saswad to Pune in 1728 and in the process laid the foundation for turning what was a kasba into a large city. Bajirao also started construction of Shaniwar Wada on the right bank of the Mutha River. The construction was completed in 1730, ushering in the era of Peshwa control of the city.

4.Against the Portuguese
The Portuguese had captured several territories on the west coast of India. They had violated an agreement to give the Marathas a site on Salsette Island for building a factory, and had been practising religious intolerance against the Hindus in their territory. In March 1737, the Peshwa dispatched a Maratha force led by Chimnaji against them. The Marathas captured the Thana fort and almost all of Bassein, after the Battle of Vasai. They also managed to gain control of Salsette on 16 May 1739, after a prolonged siege. However, the Marathas had to turn their attention away from the Portuguese due to Nader Shah’s invasion of the Mughal Empire in the north.

5.Personal life
Peshwa Bajirao’s first wife was Kashibai; they had three sons: Balaji Baji Rao (aka Nana Saheb), Raghunath Rao and Janardan Rao (who died young).Nana Saheb succeeded him as the Peshwa in 1740, under the name Balaji Baji Rao.His second wife was Chhatrasal’s daughter Mastani. He was deeply in love with Mastani, and built a palace for her in Pune, which was called the Mastani Mahal. A reconstruction of it can be seen at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune, including remains from the original palace. The contemporary orthodox Hindu Brahmin society refused to accept the marriage because Mastani had a Muslim mother. This led to a crisis in the Bhat family. The historian D. G. Godse claims that Bajirao’s brother Chimnaji Appa and mother, Radhabai, never accepted Mastani as one of their own. Many attempts were made to take her life, presumably by Chimnaji Appa; she survived with the help of Chhatrapati Shahu.

In 1734, Bajirao and Mastani had a son, who was named Krishna Rao at birth. Bajirao wanted him to be accepted as a Brahmin, but because of his mother’s Muslim faith, the priests refused to conduct the Hindu upanayana ceremony for him. The boy was brought up as a Muslim, and came to be known as Shamsher Bahadur. Kashibai took the six-year-old boy, also named as Krushnarao, under her care and raised him as one of her own. He was bestowed upon a portion of his father’s dominion of Banda and Kalpi. In 1761 he and his army contingent fought alongside the Peshwa in the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and Afghans and he died during the same battle at the age of nearly 27. Shamsher Bahadur’s own son, Ali Bahadur, later ruled over Bajirao’s lands in Bundelkhand, and founded the state of Banda.

Bajirao died on 28 April 1740, at the age of 39 of a sudden fever, possibly heat stroke, while inspecting his jagirs. At that time, he was en route to Delhi with 100,000 troops under his command at his camp in the district of Khargone, near the city of Indore. He was cremated on 28 April 1740, at Raverkhedi on the river Narmada. The Scindias built a chhatri as a memorial at this place. The memorial is enclosed by a dharmashala. The compound has two temples, dedicated to Nilkantheshwara Mahadeva (Shiva) and Rameshvara (Rama).

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