The following points highlight the first three Peshwas of the Maratha empire. They are: 1. Peshwa Balaji Viswanath (1713-1720 A.D.) 2. Peshwa Baji Rao (1720-1740 A.D.) 3. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (1740-1761 A.D.).
1. Peshwa Balaji Viswanath (1713-1720 A.D.):
Between the period 1699- 1708 A.D., Viswanath was in the service of Dhanaji Jadava, the Maratha senapati of Tara Bai. When Shahu entered Maharashtra, he was the deputy subedar of Daultabad. He advised Dhanaji Jadava to take up the cause of Shahu which was accepted by him.
Therefore, both of them accepted service under Shahu in 1707 A.D. Dhanaji Jadava became primarly responsible for the success of Shahu at the battle of Kheda against Tara Bai. When Dhanaji died, the post of senapati was assigned to his son, Chandra Sen. But Shahu had no faith in his loyalty.
Therefore, he assigned the post of Senakarte to Viswanath so that he could manage the organisation of the army and keep an eye over the activities of Chandra Sen as well. Viswanath served Shahu faithfully. He attempted to strengthen the position of Shahu in Maharashtra. He became a party to the conspiracy against Tara Bai.
The position of Rajas Bai, another widow of Raja Ram was, thus, strengthened and she succeeded in imprisoning Tara Bai and her son, Shivaji II. She then declared her son, Shambhaji II as the Maratha Chhatrapati at Kolhapur but chose not to interfere in the affairs of Maharashtra. Thus, one strong contestant against Shahu was eliminated.
Shahu appointed Viswanath as the Peshwa in 1713 A.D. In 1714 A.D. Vishwanath met the Maratha naval chief, Kanohoji Angria who accepted Shahu as the Maratha Chhatrapati. Viswanath, by diplomacy and war, brought several other Maratha chiefs also in favour of Shahu.
Krishna Rao Khataukar, Dhamaji Thorat, Udaji Chauhan etc. were among those who submitted to Shahu. Thus, Viswanath succeeded in consolidating the position of Shahu in Maharashtra. He tried to improve the economic condition of the state. He, however, failed in this respect but this was his only failure. In all other fields, he succeeded.
The one good success of Viswanath was signing of the treaty with Saiyid Hussain Ali on behalf of the Mughul emperor in 1719 A.D. In fact, Emperor Farrukh Siyar was attempting to destroy the power of the Saiyid brothers. With a view to protect themselves, one of the brothers, Saiyid Hussain Ali desired help from the Marathas.
Viswanath advised Shahu to accept the offer and the result was the treaty between the two in 1719 A.D. By it, Shahu was accepted by the Mughul emperor as the master of Maharashtra and the territories conquered by him till then. Shahu was also given the right of collecting chauth and sardeshmukhi from the six provinces of the Deccan and the duty of maintaining peace there.
In return, Shahu agreed to serve the Mughul emperor at that time with 15,000 horsemen and pay him rupees ten lacs annually. This treaty was a grand success of Viswanath. By it, the Marathas became the sovereign power in the Deccan though indirectly. By getting the right of collecting chauth and sardeshmukhi, they got chances of extending their empire as well.
Besides, the Maratha soldiers, under the command of Viswanath and Khande Rao Ballal went to Delhi with Saiyid Hussain Ali, participated in dethroning Emperor Farrukh Siyar and, for the first time, came to know of the weakness of the Mughul empire. That inspired their ambition and, afterwards, encouraged them to move towards the North.
Viswanath himself neither planned it nor aspired for it. But, unconsciously, he became responsible for the Maratha-expansion towards the North. Viswanath died in 1720 A.D. By that time, the power of Shahu had consolidated in Maharashtra, the Mughul emperor had accepted him the Maratha Chhatrapati, the Marathas had got the right of collecting chauth and sardeshmukhi from the six subas of the Deccan and once the Marathas had directly participated in the politics of the Mughul court at Delhi. All this laid down the foundation of the greatness of the Marathas and its credit, primarily, went to Balaji Viswanath.
2. Peshwa Baji Rao (1720-1740 A.D.):
After the death of Viswanath, Shahu appointed his son, Baji Rao to the post of the Peshwa who was hardly twenty years of age at that time. Baji Rao proved himself a capable commander and an ambitious person. He made the Marathas the foremost power in India. Initially, he faced many difficulties.
Pratinidhi Sripat Rao opposed him on matters of policy, Senapati Trimbak Rao was jealous of him, Shambhaji II of Kolhapur disputed the rights of Shahu and, being misguided by Nizam-ul-mulk of Hyderabad divided the power of the Marathas, the Sidis and the Portuguese challenged the Marathas in Konkan, the Angria chief claimed friendly status with the Maratha Chhatrapati and Nizam-ul-mulk who established the independent state of Hyderabad in the Deccan posed a serious threat to the Maratha power.
Yet, Baji Rao met all these challenges successfully. Baji Rao was in favour of attacking the North while Pratinidhi Sripat Rao opposed it. He was in favour of concentrating the Maratha efforts only in the South.
However, when Baji Rao succeeded in defeating Nizam-ul-mulk, he came to his side. Senapati Trimbak Rao was jealous of the Peshwa. He also opposed the policy of the Peshwa of keeping the jagirs of Maratha chiefs under the joint ownership of at least two. Finally, the issue was settled by a battle.
In 1731 A.D., the Peshwa and the Senapati fought against each other at Dabhai. Peshwa won the battle while Trimbak Rao was killed. Thereafter, the position of the Peshwa became foremost among the ministers of Chhatrapati. Shambhaji II demanded from Shahu half of the territory of Maharashtra and a share from the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan.
Shahu, finally, despatched an army against him under the command of Sripat Rao. Shambhaji II was defeated at the banks of the river Varna in 1730 A.D. Thereafter, he accepted the treaty of Varna in 1731 A.D. By it, Shambhaji II accepted Shahu as the sole master of Maharashtra and also his suzerainty.
Baji Rao established the overlordship of Shahu in Konkan, settled the succession dispute among the Angria-brothers who also accepted the suzerainty of Shahu and forced the Sidis and the Portuguese for entering into treaty with Shahu. In 1724 A.D., Nizam-ul-mulk established the independent kingdom of Hyderabad. He proved the worst enemy of the Marathas particularly that of the Peshwa.
He instigated Chhatrapati Shahu and Pratinidhi Sripat Rao against him, encouraged Shambhaji II of Kolhapur to dispute the claims of Shahu over Maharashtra and the right of collecting chauth and sardeshmukhi and promised military support to Senapati Trimbak Rao against the Peshwa.
Yet, the Peshwa succeeded in foiling all his designs. Baji Rao engaged the Nizam in several minor skirmishes between 1727-28 A.D. and, finally, in 1728 A.D. besieged him at Palkhed. The Nizam became so desperate that he agreed for peace without fighting and the treaty of Mungeshigaon was signed.
By it, the Nizam accepted Shahu as the sole ruler of the Marathas and also agreed to pay chauth and sardeshmukhi to him. In 1737 A.D., the Nizam was deputed by the Mughul emperor to crush the Marathas. Again Baji Rao excelled him as a commander. He besieged Nizam near Bhopal and forced him to sign the treaty of Durai-Sarai without fighting.
By it the Mughul emperor handed over Malwa and the territory between the rivers Chambal and Narmada to the Marathas. Besides, the Marathas received rupees fifty lacs. This success of Baji Rao made him known all over India. Thus, Baji Rao succeeded against all his enemies.
The success of Baji Rao was, however, more than that. His one primary aim was to extend the Maratha power towards the North. He believed that the Mughul empire had become too weak and therefore, the Marathas should try to gain at its expense and extend their empire towards the North. The Marathas first attacked Malwa in 1722 A.D. Afterwards, they regularly demanded chauth from there.
Lastly, in 1738 A.D., Nizam-ul-mulk surrendered Malwa on behalf of the Mughul emperor to the Marathas by the treaty of Durai-Sarai. The Marathas started their attacks on Gujarat in 1723 A.D. and by 1735 A.D., entire Gujarat fell in their hands. In 1729 A.D., Baji Rao went to help Chattrasal, the ruler of Bundelkhand against the Mughuls.
In lieu of this help, the Marathas got a part of the territory of Bundelkhand including the cities of Kalpi, Jhansi, etc. which were very close to Agra.
Thereafter, the Marathas started raiding the territories of Doab, Rajasthan and neighbourhood of Delhi and, thereby, forced the Mughul emperor in 1736 A.D. to pay them rupees thirteen lacs per year for the safety of the territory South of the river Chambal, rupees thirteen lacs and sixty thousand annually for the safety of Rajasthan and 5 per cent of the income of the South to Baji Rao as Sardesh-Pandya.
Next Baji Rao asked the Mughul emperor to surrender the provinces of Avadh and Bengal and the holy cities of the Hindus like Gaya, Banaras and Allahabad to the Marathas. The demand, however, was rejected. In 1740 A.D., Baji Rao died. But before his death, he had made the Marathas the foremost power in India and added extensive territory of the North to their Empire.
Baji Rao has been regarded as one among the great Peshwas. He was a brave soldier and a capable commander. Nizam-ul-mulk was a great commander of his age who had participated in more than hundred battles. He came to fight against Baji Rao twice but had to accept defeat both times. Baji Rao placed a new and high ideal before the Marathas and that was the conquest of the North.
The Mughul empire was virtually on collapse and anybody who had the courage and the power of the sword could take advantage of it and create an empire for himself. Baji Rao understood it and attempted to create the empire of the Marathas. The weakness of the Mughul empire had created a vacuum in the political arena of India and somebody had to fill it up.
If the Marathas would not have attempted it under Peshwa Baji Rao, then somebody else would have attempted it. The attempt of Baji Rao in this direction was the proof of his practical wisdom and high ideal. He tried to achieve it with his sword which was the only successful means of achieving it during the medieval age, Baji Rao proved himself a capable commander.
Under his command the Maratha- horsemen established their supremacy practically all over India. He successfully defeated all those who stood for fighting against him. The Marathas became the greatest power not only in the Deccan but practically in India during his time.
But before he could complete his scheme of conquest, he died and nobody could know what he desired next. But whatever success he had already gained was sufficient to rank him among one of the great Peshwas.
H.N. Sinha writes:
“Baji Rao excelled as a general. His originality of plan, boldness of execution, and eye for strategy, marked him out as commander of no mean calibre. As chief minister of Shahu, he stands head and shoulder above his contemporaries in Maharashtra. His foreign policy of Maratha expansion was no less original than far reaching. Therefore, it has been rightly remarked that Baji Rao had the head to plan and the hand to execute.”
3. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (1740-1761 A.D.):
After the death of Baji Rao, Shahu appointed his son Balaji as the Peshwa. Balaji Baji Rao was only eighteen and a half years of age at that time. Balaji Baji Rao was not a capable commander like his father. But he, certainly, possessed practical wisdom. It has been expressed by many scholars that while Baji Rao had more enemies than friends, Balaji had more friends than enemies.
Balaji tried to consolidate internal administration and partially succeeded. But his greatest weakness remained in his failure to keep the Maratha chiefs under his control and forcing them to be cooperative with each other. He could not put a check on ambitions of Raghuji Bhonsle, he displeased Gaikwad and failed to stop the rivalry between Sindhia and Holkar.
In foreign affairs he pursued the policy of extending the Maratha empire and influence enunciated by his father. Chhatrapati Shahu also encouraged him to do this. He succeeded and, by 1752 A.D., the Marathas reached the zenith of their power.
The Maratha-cavalry ravaged all India, the Mughul emperor became a puppet in the hands of the Marathas, the Marathas captured extensive territory all over India and from the rest they collected chauth and sardeshmukhi. But the Marathas failed to shoulder their increased responsibility.
They spoiled their relations with the Hindu powers in the North, viz., the Rajputs and the Jats, interfered in the politics of the court at Delhi but failed to keep it under their control and pushed back the group of foreign nobles to the extent that it sought help from Ahmad Shah Abdali which, finally, resulted in the third battle of Panipat with disastrous results for the Marathas.
The defeat of the Marathas at the battle of Panipat weakened the Peshwa, destroyed the unity of the Marathas and the Maratha power moved towards its decline. Thus, Balaji started his career with grand success and the Marathas, at one time during his period, reached at the peak of their power. But, during this very period, the Maratha power began to decline and Balaji was held responsible for that.
An empire is strengthened not only by its military power but by establishing a just and strong administration. Balaji failed to provide this base to the growing Maratha power and, thus, failed to provide leadership to the Marathas which would have suited them best in the changed circumstances.
That became the primary cause of his failure and that of the Marathas. Balaji could not tolerate the shock of the defeat of the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat and died on June 23, 1761 A.D. But even at that time, the Marathas were a powerful force in Indian polity. Therefore, he too has been ranked among one of the great Peshwas.
Balaji paid back his family-debts, successfully helped Manaji Angria against his brother Tulaji Angria in the war of succession, entered into a treaty with the Mughul emperor and got Malwa by it, completed the conquest of Karnataka and snatched away Asirgarh, Burhanpur.
Daultabad and the territory in their neighbourhood from the Nizam of Hyderabad. Balaji had to contest against one of his own Maratha chief, Raghuji Bhonsle. Raghuji was assigned the right of collecting chanth and sardeshmukhi from the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
But he was not satisfied with that alone. He attacked Malwa and Bundelkhand as well which were the jagirs of the Peshwa. Therefore, Balaji and Raghuji fought against each other several times. Finally, a settlement was made between the two by Chhatrapati Shahu.
The Marathas interfered in the affairs of Rajput states of Rajasthan. The throne of Jaipur was contested by the sons of Sawai Mirza Raja Jai Singh after his death. The Marathas interfered in their dispute but, in the way they dealt there, they spoiled their relations with the Rajputs.
The Rajput states were weak at that time and the Marathas tried to take advantage of it for themselves. That was the primary cause which spoiled the relations of the Marathas with the Rajputs. The interference of the Marathas in the succession-issue of the state of Marwar also brought the same result. Therefore, the Marathas did not get any help from Rajput rulers in the third battle of Panipat.
The Marathas spoiled their relations with the Jat Raja of Bharatpur, Suraj Mal as well. They laid siege to the fort of Kumbher on behalf of the Mughul emperor but did not succeed. It was another serious mistake of the Marathas while interfering in the politics of north India.
Chhatrapati Shahu died in 1749 A.D. He had no son. Tara Bai declared a child named Raja Ram as her grandson. Shahu accepted him as such and nominated him his successor. In 1750 A.D., Raja Ram was, therefore, declared the Maratha Chhatrapati. But very soon Tara Bai disowned him and declared that he was an imposter and not her grandson.
The Peshwa, thereafter, asked Raja Ram to sign an agreement at Sangola. By it, the rights of the Chhatrapati were transferred to the Peshwa. The Maratha-Chhatrapati, thereafter, lived at Satara virtually as a prisoner. The head of the Maratha empire became the Peshwa, Balaji Baji Rao.