Indian history is replete with stories of valour, courage and military acumen. Notwithstanding the cause of their actions, warriors like Ajatashatru, Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya) and Krishnadeva Raya are a part of Indias coveted folklore of valorous kings.
Bajirao I, the Maratha Peshwa, can lay claim to upholding this legacy of steely warriors, and perhaps eclipsing them in terms of strategic propensity and speed of attacks. His expansionist designs ultimately resulted in the Maratha Empire extending itself swiftly in the course of two decades. By 1740, the year he passed away, the Marathas had become a great force to reckon with in the subcontinent!
The Maratha Empire was founded by Shivaji Maharaj, upon being coronated as the Chhatrapati in 1674. However, after his death in 1680, the empire passed into the hands of his son Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, who was captured, incarcerated and killed by Aurangzeb in 1689.
From 1680 to 1707, the Marathas and Mughals constantly fought each other; the former often managing to dent the Mughal camp, led by Aurangzeb. In this span, that is often obliterated from history textbooks, valiant commanders like Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav spearheaded the Maratha cause.
In 1707, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's grandson Shahu was released by the Mughals, ostensibly to stem discord in the Maratha kingdom that was being controlled at the time by Shivajis daughter in-law, Tarabai. In the civil war that ensued, Shahu received support from Balaji Vishwanath, who kept the astute naval commander Kanhoji Angre at bay. Thus, Shahu acceded to the throne, and made Balaji his Peshwa (Commander).
This revival of the Maratha Empire coincided with the rapid decline of the Mughals. In 1719, Balaji Vishwanath and his able troops were able to orchestrate the removal of the Mughal Emperor, Farrukh Siyyar. After this victory, the Marathas began exacting revenue from Mughals in the form of Chauth (one fourth of revenue from Deccan provinces) and Sardeshmukhi (additional ten percent)
In 1720, Balaji Vishwanath died. After much acrimony, his nineteen-year old son Bajirao Ballal donned the robes of the Peshwa, and ushered in an era of Maratha supremacy.
Bajirao inherited an empire that wasnt great in expanse. However, owing to his fathers brilliant efforts, the territory lost to the Mughals in the three decades of warfare, was won back over his tenure as the Peshwa.
Bajirao embarked upon fulfilling Shivajis dream of Hindavi Swarajya. This was no bigoted religious zeal, but a vision of liberating the peoples of India from oppressors. The Mughals had destroyed temples in holy sites like Kashi and Mathura, and the Marathas wished to revive the efflorescence of Indic culture. Bajirao was doubtless a warrior of phenomenal ability. But the driving factor across all his achievements was his vision, encapsulated in his own words:
Toward Delhi! Towards Delhi will we press and strike at the root of this growth of Mughal Swaraj.
He realized that Delhi was the seat of power in India, and conquering it would lend a lot of credence to the position of Marathas across the country. This very vision lasted through his lifetime, and brought a lot of success to the Marathas.
SILENCING THE NIZAM:
Nizam Ul-Mulk of Hyderabad too had expansionist designs, that were thwarted by his Mughal supremo in Delhi. Although the Marathas had serious differences with the Nizam, they allied with him in the Battle of Sakhar-kheda in 1723, where the Mughal army was crushed. This support made the Nizam bestow upon Bajirao robes (khilat), titles and financial support.
However, the Nizam did not relinquish his desires of conquest, as in 1727, he intervened in a dispute between the rulers of Satara and Kolhapur. Sambhaji Maharaj of Kolhapur defected to the Nizam camp, and together, they plundered Pune. However, Bajirao outwitted them, and in 1728, won a famous battle at Palkhed. This battle is a true example of intrepid warfare, wherein Bajirao moved from one location to another, and surprised the Nizam by blockading his forces. The Nizams army was considered to be extremely powerful, and tactfully defeating it was a feather in Bajiraos cap. After this victory, stories of Bajirao's bravery and guile were to be heard across Bharat.[ref]
GUJARAT: THE HEALING TOUCH-
It is a fact of polity that those wielding power do not get support from all quarters. There always would be a few who are incensed with the leadership, and have legitimate complaints. One such Senapati from Gujarat, Trimbak Rao Dabhade, was unhappy with being deprived of the right of collecting taxes from the Gujarat province. He allied with Muhammad Bangash and the Nizam. Together, they fought the Battle of Dabhoi in 1731, where they were comprehensively routed by Bajiraos forces.
Bajirao had wanted to peacefully negotiate with his Senapati, but a few exuberant soldiers in his army killed Trimbak. Bajirao did not want his relations with the Dabhade clan to sour in any way, and instated Trimbaks son, Yashwant Rao, as the new Senapati, with rights to conditionally collect Chauth from Gujarat.
This incident shows that Bajirao was not a ruthless marauder, but extremely benevolent and empathetic to the ambitions of those who were a part of his empire.
His noble intentions are also revealed through documents that show that he bore all the expenses of his wife, Mastani (daughter of the Raja of Chhatrasal). This is despite his confessions that he faced a perennial debt crisis.
A BROTHERS ASSURANCE-
When one looks back at the exploits of this great Maratha general, another individuals life often obscures into historical wilderness. This was none other than Bajiraos younger brother, Chimaji Appa.
It is said that if Bajirao was the warrior, Chimaji Appa was his shield. The Marathas fought battles on multiple fronts, and coordination was of paramount importance. They wrote many letters to each other, and this sustained an Empire of great expanse.
This was particularly seen in the wars against the Siddis of Janjira and the Portuguese at Vasai.
Bajirao prematurely died in 1740, purportedly of a sudden fever. However, he left a deep imprint on Bharat, and his Maratha warriors were able to uphold his legacy, although encountering multiple vicissitudes on the path.
Warriors like Malharrao Holkar, Tukoji Shinde and Sadashivrao Bhau built upon this checkered legacy. Balaji Baji Rao, or Nana Saheb, succeeded Baji Rao as the Peshwa, reigning through tumultuous times, but ensuring the sanctity of the Maratha Empire