Read this article to learn about the relation of Alivardi with the Marathas.
It was in 1742 that the first Maratha invasion of Bengal took place. When Alivardi was returning from Cuttack after subduing Orissa and had reached Mubarak Manjil in the Arambagh subdivision of Hughli, information reached him that a Maratha army had raided Burdwan.
He forced his march to Burdwan reaching there on April 15, 1742. The next morning he found himself surrounded by the Maratha horsemen. Alivardi had only 3000 horsemen and a thousand foot soldiers with him, for he had earlier sent the bulk of his army back to Murshidabad from Orissa.
The Marathas cut off his grain supplies and one party under Bhaskar Pandit invested the town and the other party was indiscriminately plundering the country forty miles around. In desperation Alivardi cut through the Maratha line with the help of his artillery and musketeers and the brave Afghan cavalry.
As he marched with hi§ army the Marathas followed him and keeping themselves out of the range of muskets and began plundering the villages ten miles on both sides of the track. Alivardi somehow reached Katwa with his forces. Mir Habib who was the Deputy of Rustam Jang, son-in-law of Shuja-ud-din, was also a sworn enemy of Alivardi, guided the plan of operation of the Marathas. Under his advice Bhaskar Pandit with selected 700 horsemen invaded Murshidabad while Alivardi was still at Katwa and plundered the city for one full day without the least opposition.
The Marathas took three lakh rupees from the house of the banker Jagat Seth and retreated to Katwa which Alivardi had left in the meantime to reach Murshidabad. The Marathas made Katwa their headquarters. Mir Habib now acted as the chief adviser and agent of the Marathas. He secured for the Marathas the town of Hughli and its port where a Maratha garrison was put under Shesh Rao.
They gradually occupied the country from Rajmahal to Midnapur and Jaleswar. Shesh Rao became the Governor of the conquered countries. The Marathas also set up outposts in different places to strengthen their hold. Shesh Rao’s government and his officers’ polite and kind treatment to the people soon won the landholders and even the European traders to their side. Mir Habib who became the diwan called upon the zamindars to pay their land revenue to him, Alivardi’s rule practically ceased on the west of the Ganges but the eastern side of the Ganges which remained under Alivardi was also occasionally raided by the Marathas.
All rich and respectable people left their, homes and hearths and migrated to the eastern side of the Ganges. During the remaining month of 1742 the Marathas carried on depredations in Birbhum and other parts of Bengal putting a stop to all business. They looted the silk and cloth factories, putting people to flight for life. They even dragged beautiful women, killed, maimed people without discrimination. English merchant Holwell, Gangaram, an eye witness, and Salimullah, a contemporary writer, all testify to the loot and inhuman torture the Marathas perpetrated in Bengal.
They were called bargis by the people of Bengal and the coming of the bargis was a nightmare for them. Vaneswar Vidyalankar, the court poet of the Maharaja of Burdwan, described the inhuman cruelty of the Maratha horsemen. During the monsoon of 1742 the Marathas were at Katwa waiting for reinforcement. Alivardi also brought two contingents of forces from Patna and Purnea.
In the month of September the Maratha leader, Bhaskar Pandit, was busy in celebrating Durga Puja with great pomp. Enough money was raised by contribution from the zamindars. Early in the morning of the Navami Puja day (27th September, 1742) when the Marathas were unsuspectingly sleeping the 2,500 picked troops of Alivardi attacked them. The Marathas fled with their life leaving their baggages.
There was very little loss of life on either side. Bhaskar Pandit reassembled his forces and led them into Midnapur district, looted and burnt the famous silk producing centre at Radhanagar; one detachment of the Marathas captured Cuttack. But Alivardi at once marched to Cuttack, drove the Marathas from there and chased them beyond the Chilka. In February 1743, Alivardi returned to his capital in triumph.
Alivardi was not destined to live in peace. In March 1743 Raghuji Bhonsle, the Raja of Nagpur, arrived at Katwa along with Bhaskar Pandit. The Mughal emperor had promised to Raja Shahu, the right of chauth of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This right was assigned by Shahu to Raghuji Bhonsle. Raghuji came to Katwa to enforce his right to exact chauth from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The emperor of Delhi appealed to the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao in November, 1742, to prevent the Maratha from raid of Bengal. The Peshwa agreed to eject Raghuji from Bengal.
He had arrived to Bihar before Raghuji reached Katwa. His army was irresistible and along the entire route from Benares through Bihar to the Murshidabad the people had to save their life and property by paying him blackmail or presents. Alivardi met the Peshwa; after oath of fidelity and friendship had been exchanged between the two, it was agreed that the Nawab would pay the chauth of Bengal to Raja Shahu besides 22 lakhs of rupees to the Peshwa as his expense and the Peshwa undertook to effect settlement with Raghuji not to invade Bengal
The same year, 1743, the Maratha Ditch of Calcutta was dug at in future. After this the Peshwa chased Raghuji out of Bengal, the cost of Rs. 25,000 to protect the exposed part of the town from the raids of the Marathas.
Alivardi thought that he had succeeded in solving the Maratha problem. But he was surprised after a few months. Bhaskar Pandit again invaded Bengal by way of Orissa and Midnapur. Bhaskar Pandit was furious at the loss of all his spoils of his raids for previous two years and was further incensed at the news that the Peshwa had exacted 22 lakhs from Alivardi by short campaign. Naturally, he became more ruthless than ever before.
There was another reason behind his reappearance. Raghuji and the Peshwa met in presence of Shahu who settled the issues between them by dividing Bengal, Bihar and Orissa between them as a compromise. The Peshwa was to enjoy the portion of Bihar, west of Patna, including Shahabad and Tikari yielding 12 lakhs a year and Raghuji was to enjoy Bengal, Orissa and the portion of Bihar, east of Patna. Each was strictly forbidden to interfere in the sphere of the other.
Alivardi was utterly bewildered at the reappearance of the Marathas. His treasury had become empty due to repeated warfare during the past few years and payment of tribute to the emperor of Delhi. His army had been completely exhausted. Alivardi was desperately trying to avoid an armed conflict with Marathas. He was advised by his leading captain Ghulam Mustafa Khan to invite Bhaskar Pandit in a conference on the pretext of entering into an amicable settlement with him and to finish him.
The interview was arranged for in a tent near the modern Berhampur Cantonment. As the unsuspecting Maratha general with 21 of his captains entered the tent they were all massacred by the assassins who were hiding behind the screen. Only one captain Raghuji Gaikwar escaped. For fifteen months to follow from the .massacre of 31st March, 1744, there was peace and no Maratha invasion disturbed Bengal. But Raghuji although eager to take revenge of the death of his general and captains, could not do so immediately for want of funds.
In 1745, the Afghans who were so long Alivardi’s trusted supporters and allies became his bitterest enemies. Ghulam Mustafa Khan who was the architect of the massacre of Bhaskar Pandit and his captains was promised the governorship of Bihar. But Alivardi did not show any sign of this. Mustafa, therefore, resigned his services with the Nawab and left for Bihar with his armed followers. There he raised the standard of revolt.
He was, however, defeated by Zain-ud-din, Deputy Governor of Bihar, but he did not hesitate to invite Raghuji Bhonsle to invade Bengal. Alivardi went to Bihar and chased Mustafa out of Bihar to Chunar. But during his absence from Bengal Raghuji invaded Orissa and captured Orissa upto Midnapur.
He then entered Burdwan, seized seven lakhs of revenue and moved into Birbhum. Alivardi hastened to Murshidabad and began to guard it personally with his armed forces. Raghuji returned to Bihar where he was joined by Mustafa with 4000 Afghans. Ten thousand Maratha light horse and four thousand Afghan soldiers now began looting different places of Bihar. Alivardi hastened to Bihar where Mir Jafar surprised the Maratha camp but Raghuji made good his escape.
There were some fightings but Alivardi’s army had to be given rest, and action was halted for some days. The opportunity was taken by Mir Habib, enemy of Alivardi who marched to Murshidabad to loot the defenceless city. Alivardi followed Habib close on heels but his supplies were all looted by the Marathas on the way. Raghuji also had reached Murshidabad following a short-cut jungle route before the arrival of Alivardi .
But Alivardi reaching Murshidabad the day after chased Raghuji who repaired to Katwa. He was defeated by Alivardi in a fierce battle and left for Nagpur leaving 2,500 Marathas and 4000 Afghans under Mir Habib. Exhausted Alivardi did not venture to risk another battle with the troops left by Raghuji at Katwa, and returned to Murshidabad. Next year (1746) Alivardi again marched against the enemies and drove them out of Bihar.
In October, 1746 the Delhi emperor made a settlement with the Marathas by which he agreed to order payment of chauth of 25 lakhs from Bengal and 10 lakhs from Bihar to Raja Shahu. Alivardi disagreed on the ground that he would have to maintain a strong army since Shahu might not be able to prevent Raghuji’s invasion of Bengal or Bihar. Alivardi chose the wiser and more manly policy for the defence of his realm.
In 1747 Janoji Bhonsle, son of Raghuji, came via Cuttack and was joined by Mir Habib. Mir Jafar fled from Midnapur and took shelter in Burdwan. Soon after the and Ataullah, faujdar of Rajmahal began to hatch a conspiracy to murder their benefactor and kinsman Alivardi. The conspiracy was discovered in time and both Mir Jafar and Ataullah were dismissed. Alivardi, now already 71, proceeded against Janoji and defeated him near Burdwan (1747) but could not dislodge the Marathas from Orissa and Midnapur.
In 1748 when Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India the Afghan ex-soldiers of Alivardi thought that time had come for the re-establishment of Afghan rule in India. They rose in revolt and captured Patna killing Zain-ud-din, Deputy Governor. Haji Ahmad, father of Zain-ud-din and elder brother of Alivardi, was tortured to death. Bihar passed under Afghan rule. Alivardi had to march again to Bihar.
He defeated the Marathas under Habib and crushed the Afghans in a battle on the south bank of the Ganges. Patna was recovered. For a year from 1748 to 1749 Bengal and Bihar enjoyed a respite from Maratha raids. Orissa and Midnapur, however, remained under the Marathas.
In 1749 Alivardi marched to Orissa and recovered it after defeating the Marathas, but none of the Bengal nobles was willing to work there as Deputy Governor out of fear of the Marathas. A worthless person was left in charge of Orissa only to be driven out by the Marathas within a week of the departure of Alivardi. Alivardi, however, made a permanent encampment in Midnapur in order to prevent the Marathas from entering Bengal.
In 1750 the Marathas resumed their invasions of Bengal and Alivardi fell back from Midnapur to Burdwan and chased the Marathas who took shelter in the jungles. Desperate fighting’s for years made both Alivardi and the Marathas eager for peace which was signed in May, 1751, by which the Deputy Governor of Orissa was to pay the surplus revenue of Orissa to Raghuji towards the expenses of his army. A sum of 12 lakhs was to be paid to him as chauth from Bengal and the Marathas on their side would not set their foot on the dominions of Alivardi again.
In 1752 the Deputy Governor Mir Habib who was appointed by Alivardi was murdered by the Marathas and was replaced by a nominee of Raghuji, thus the theoretical control of Orissa that Alivardi had was now lost. Orissa was lost only to the Nawabship of Bengal but also to the Mughal empire. This was the final outcome of the Maratha invasions of Bengal. Midnapur was, however, finally joined to Bengal.