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5] Panipat battle & Anglo Maratha Wars.

Important Events

1680Death of Shivaji MaharajFounder of Maratha empire
17613rd Panipat BattleSignificant Decline in Maratha strength.
1817-193rd Anglo-Maratha warDemise of Maratha empire.
Shivaji Maharaj Kingdom Map
Maratha Kingdom under Shivaji Maharaj [1680].

Timeline 1680-1761.

From 1660s to 1680s, under Shivaji’s leadership, Marathas made strong attempt to establish their formidable presence and empire in Deccan region. This empire paved the way for pan-India Maratha empire.

Marathas also contributed significantly to decline of Mughal empire. The Maratha king was irritant especially for Aurangzeb who spent his fortune in conquering Deccan. Aurangzeb spent his last 26 years Deccan, lost around 5th of his army and spent huge amount of Mughal treasure.

Shivaji Maharaj Family Tree

Shivaji Maharaj Family Tree

After death of Shivaji, his elder son Sambhaji became the king. However his tenure was short lived. He was captured along with his son Sahuji in 1687 after Battle of Wai. Sambhaji was tortured and killed in 1689, while his son Sahuji was held captive to be released in 1707.

Sambhaji’s younger half-brother Rajaram became king afterwards. After Rajaram’s death in 1699, his wife Tarabai ruled in name of their infant son (Shivaji II). This continued till 1707.

In 1707, following Aurangzeb’s death, Sahuji was released. Succession dispute emerged between Sahuji and Tarabai. It ended in 1715 and Sahuji was throned as a king of Maratha empire.

Balaji Vishwanath assisted Sahuji in this entire episode of civil war. Balaji Vishwanath was made Peshwa (Prime Minister) by Sahuji. However, from this period onward, the effective control of Maratha empire shifted to Peshwa & Maratha rules henceforward is also known as Peshwa rule.

Maratha empire witnessed another wave of expansion under Peshwas. From 1715 to 1719, Marathas demanded Chauth (revenue sharing agreement) of Malwa and Khandesh region from Mughal, which was granted. This also shows weak position of Mughals at that time i.e. Mughal decline had started well before Nadir Shah attacked in 1739.

After death of Balaji Vishwanath, In 1720, his son Bajirao I becomes next Peshwa. (The famous Bajirao Mastani Peshwa). He expanded Maratha kingdom further in north.

After death of Bajirao I, in 1740, his son Balaji Bajirao becomes Peshwa. Also known as Nana Saheb, he gained Chauth rights even from Bengal, Orissa. He also defeated Nizam of Hyderabad in Battle of Udgir (1760). In 1761, he died from the tragic news of defeat in Panipat Battle.

In 1749 king Sahu died and by his will left all management of kingdom in Peshwa’s hands.

Marathas would ask Chauth otherwise would have the state plundered by Pindaris. (Pindaris – A special group of people, mostly Muslims, infamous for their ruthless plundering).
Sardeshmukhi – additional 10% tax, to be paid by those areas which were explicitly under Marathas. (Sare deshon ka mukhiya – Sardeshmukh).

1720 – 61 is called Golden age of Marathas. Peshwas extended their empire till Bengal, Rajasthan, Hyederabad. Even Alivardi Khan was giving them 1/4th (Chauth) revenues. By 1750s, Marathas were collecting Chauth from Large part of North and Central India.

Peshwa empire map panipat battle
Maratha (peshwa) empire on the eve of 3rd Battle 1761

1761 – 3rd Panipat Battle.

Why so many battles at Panipat?

Panipat witnessed 3 major battles.
1526 – 1st Panipat battle. Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi.
1556 – 2nd Panipat battle when Akbar tried to recapture Delhi from Hemu.
1761 – 3rd Panipat battle where Marathas were defeated by Ahmed Shah Abdali.

Geographical, any major power coming from outside subcontinent had to pass through Delhi region. Since Arawalis and Himalayas obstructed other two sides.

Politically, during Mughal period, Lodhi dynasty and even from period before it, Delhi had been major centre of power in North India.

Vast economic surplus in Northern region was always lucrative for outside powers to seek control over the region. Also Panipat was a plain region, and open wars were often fought on plain fields.

1761 – 3rd Panipat Battle and its significance.

In 1761, battle of Panipat was fought between Marathas and Ahmed Shah Abdali (Durani Empire). Marathas lost the battle. It was a humiliating defeat and many prominent soldiers and leaders died in the battle. Around 1,00,000 Maratha soldiers were killed in the battle.

Causes of 3rd Battle of Panipat

3rd battle of Panipat saw Ahmed Shah Abdali join hands with Awadh’s Shuja-ud-Daula, Nawab of Rohilakhand in battle against Central Mughal rulers supported by Maratha troops.

The battle was triggered as the Afghans looking to plunder the Northern plains came into a direct conflict with the Marathas who aimed to expand their influence to large portions of North India including the Awadh region. In addition, Ahmad Shah Abdali wanted to avenge the expulsion of his viceroy Timur Shah by Marathas from Lahore.

Awadh had been previously plundered in 1751 by Marathas as they had refused to share the Chauth with Marathas. Thus Awadh and Rohilakhand sided with Afghans primarily with the view to repel future Maratha invasions.

The Panipat battle saw the Afghans imposed the crushing defeat on Marathas, whose 1,00,000 troops including top leadership was killed within the brief span of 3 weeks during the war.

Significance of 3rd Panipat Battle

The defeat of Marathas in 1761 Panipat battle busted the myth of Maratha invincibility and exposed their military weakness, particularly in warfare in the plain regions. It is often argued that the 3rd Battle of Panipat saw the beginning of decline of Marathas and in many ways decided that Marathas would not establish the next pan Indian empire.

With the decline of strong Peshawaship, position of Marathas became relatively weak. Moreover Maratha sardars asserted more autonomy and aimed to assert strong control over Peshawaship.

Anglo Maratha Wars.

Peshwa Family Tree
Peshwa Family Tree

In 1772, Madhav Rao dies of consumption. 1772 onwards a succession dispute emerged in the Peshwa clan as the young Narayan Rao whose Peshawaship was supported by Maratha sardars was overthrown and assassinated by Raghunath Rao.

Maratha sardars formed a united front which attacked Raghunath Rao, who approached British, seeking their assistance. The British, stationed in Salsette, readily agreed to intervene as they sought an expansion of trading presence in the region.

1775-82 1st Anglo Maratha War

Nana Phadnis played key role in keeping Maratha sardars together against British. Battle of Wadgaon (1st Anglo Maratha War) saw united Maratha response under leadership of Phadanavis and imposed crushing defeat on British, following which British sought peace with Marathas in Treaty of Salabai. It was ‘equal treaty’.

British agreed to give up all Maratha territories captured since 1775.
British agreed to not interfere any further within the domestic affairs of Marathas. Marathas agreed to grant more trading privileges to BEIC.

They agreed to join hands in any future conflict against Mysore with British.
Do not employ any other Europeans except British. Key architect during this treaty was also Nana Phadanavis. This treaty thus brought relative peace between the Marathas and British that lasted till 1802 i.e. next two decades.

1795 – Madhav Narayan (Sawai Madhavrao) commits suicide, probably due to high headedness of Nanasaheb Phadanavis.
1796 – Bajirao II becomes king, the only successor left.
1800 – Nana Phadanavis dies.
1802 – Bajirao II, who was Peshwa asserted his authority, which was opposed by Holkars, who attacked and plundered his territory in Poona.
1802 – Bajirao II approached the British and sought their assistance. The British forced Bajirao II, to sign the subsidiary alliance, resulting in the Treaty of Bassein (Vasai),(near Bombay) following which….

1803-05 2nd Anglo Maratha War

Treaty happened first and then war. In this war British imposed quick defeat on Holkars. Both 1st and 2nd Anglo-Maratha wars happened because of one of Maratha sardar approaching British and seeking their intervention.

1817-19 3rd Anglo Maratha War

Bajirao II made final desperate attempt to unite Maratha sardars and retake control from the British present in the region. However the attempt failed & Peshawaship itself was abolished.

In 1818 Britishers under Lord Hastings. also surrounded Pindaris by surprise and killed them all.

Significance of 3rd Anglo Maratha War.

Last formidable challenge to British presence in South Asia was removed, paving the way for strengthening its rule in India. The decline that began with the third battle of Panipat ended with the third Anglo Maratha war.

The British interest was recognised as paramount as British emphasised that Indian princely states could continue their rule as long as they recognised the principle of paramountcy.

Marathas had vast area under their control by 1760s yet the Marathas suffered rapid decline due to…

Major succession disputes arose, especially over Peshawaship from 1760s e.g. Succession dispute in 1770s over Peshawaship of Narayan and Raghunath Rao.

Structure of administration was confederal. It resulted in decline of strong Peshawaship after 1760s lead to Maratha sardars becoming more autonomous e.g. Holkars, Scindia, Bhonsale asserting autonomy after 1770s, thereby weakening the hold of Peshwas and central Maratha rule.

Maratha conquest would rarely go beyond the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi i.e. they only went for revenue collection and did not paid attention to consolidate the rule.

Marathas made no major efforts to increase agricultural productivity. Saranjami system of revenue collection was similar to Mughal Jagirdari system and often suffered from some of the same weaknesses.

Marathas had expertise in Gorilla warfare and they were able fighters themselves. But they were weak in plains. This was major reason for their defeat in Panipat battle of 1761 and eventual decline. They also did not introduced technological advancements in military.

Still why do we say that Marathas had opportunity to establish pan-Indian empire?

Mughals empire was on decline. There was no other major power in India at that time. And Marathas were able military warriors.

To learn about other contemporary kingdoms, please visit Bengal in 18th century, Mysore Kingdom, Hyderabad Kingdom, Decline of Mughal empire.

Posted in Modern Indian History

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