Praised as the greatest military leader of the 18th Century Peshwa Baji Rao a Chitpavan Brahman took the realm of the Marathas to its peak. The man who fought countless battles and stood victorious in all of them.
A keen observer of Indian politics, and military leadership, and an astute personality who kept the dream of Hindu Swaraja alive. The man who found out the loopholes in the Mughal court and used it as an opportunity to expand the Maratha dominions.
Under his leadership, the Marathas who slowly became the master of Deccan took the regions of Gujarat, Malwa, Bundelkhand, etc under their hegemony—born as the son of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath and Queen Radhabai Barve.
He is considered the ablest among all the Peshwa and from an early age he is believed to have given importance to the politics of Deccan and even the Mughal court. In this article, we will shed light on some of the most remarkable campaigns of Peshwa Baji Rao which made him the paramount military figure of the 18th century.
Military Campaigns of Baji Rao
Battle of Palkhed
The first big confrontation of Peshwa Baji Rao was initiated against the Nizam of Hyderabad. Known for his lightning-fast cavalry Baji Rao challenged the rising power of Nizam ul Mulk who had become a prominent political figure in Deccan.
Nizam wanted to take the political strife among the Shahu of Satara and Shambhaji of Kolhapur. The Nizam refused to pay Chauth and allied with the latter to defeat Shahu of Satara. Baji Rao wasted no time and assembled his troops to invade Nizam’s territories.
Both sides plundered each other’s territories before finally meeting at Palkhed. Nizam offered his surrender as his army was surrounded by Baji Rao and was completely exhausted after months of mobilization.
We have covered the story of the Battle of Palkhed and how Baji Rao who had only cavalry and lances defeated the Nizam forces which consisted of cavalry, and artillery.
Read Here The Battle of Palkhed
Against Siddis of Janjira
The Siddis took control over the region of Konkan and had control over the forts like Raigarh, Mahad Dabhol, etc. They even plundered Maratha territories which became a headache for the latter. They also desecrated the famous Hindu temples.
This act of barbarism forced the Maratha to adopt aggressive measures against the Siddis. It was in 1733 when the Marathas finally launched their attack on Siddis. Abdur Rahman who killed the successor of Siddhi’s king asked Maratha for support for establishing his power.
The Marathas marched against the Siddis and Baji Rao laid a siege on the fort of Janjira on 2 May 1733 CE. Furthermore, the territories lying on the coast were also seized by the Marathas. However, the siege of the fort of Janjira proved to be a difficult campaign.
It required resources like naval support backed up by artillery and mortars. It resulted in a tiring and fruitless campaign. Furthermore, the Siddis also gained the support of the English. To finish the matter Siddis Baji Rao decided to offer terms resulting in Abdur Rahman the nominee of the Peshwa becoming the master of Janjira.
The Marathas also captured the fort of Raigarh which was an historical region for them. It was in 1736 when the Marathas fully defeated the Siddis and forced the latter to serve under them.
Malwa which is regarded as the link between north and south India witnessed the Maratha incursion under Baji Rao in 1723 and 1724 CE. They collected Chauth on both occasions. For the Marathas and the Peshwa Malwa hold a prestigious place as establishing control over this region can help them manage the matters of Deccan efficiently.
In 1728 Chimaji Appa attacked Malwa and defeated Girdhar Bahadur the in-charge of the Malwa province. In 1729 Sawai Jay Singh was appointed as the governor of Malwa and he followed a friendly approach towards the Peshwa. This didn’t go well and the Mughals replaced Swai Jay Singh with Muhammad Khan Bangash as the governor of Malwa in 1730.
A Mughal Sardar called Muhammad Khan Bangash was appointed as the subedar of Allahabad province whose larger part was located in Bundelkhand. Ambitious new Subedar suggested his Mughal Badshah to retake Bundelkhand from Maharaja Chhatrasal.
Around 1717 Bangash launched a massive offense against the Bundelas. The Bundelas didn’t prepare for this and retreated towards the fort of Jaitpur. Ultimately after a gallant encounter the Bundelas surrendered to Bangash. The Mughal subedar rejoiced from this victory and sent a letter to the emperor at Delhi.
However, the Mughals in Delhi remained silent and didn’t reply to Bangash’s messages. This brought enough time to Maharaja Chhatrasal and he invited Peshwa Baji Rao to rescue him. Baji Rao wasted no time and immediately marched against Bangash.
The army of the Marathas was about 70,000 and in March 1729 Baji Rao laid a siege on the fort of Jaitpur and trapped Bangash and his troops inside. Marathas cut their supply lines and the situation inside the fort became severe.
Kaim Khan son of Bangash came to help to father but was defeated. In the end on August 1729 Bangash with all hopes lost finally accepted his defeat and surrendered in front of the Peshwa. The victory of Baji Rao increased his stature and the Marathas. Now Marathas became masters of Kalpi, Hata, Jhansi, Banda, Sironji, etc.
Attacking Mughals at Delhi (1737)
Delhi the centre of Mughal power was also attacked by Baji Rao in 1737. Peshwa demanded several terms like subhedari of Malwa, fort of Mandalgarh, and 50 lakh as a tribute but the Mughal emperor despite accepting some of the demands of the Marathas rejected most of their demands.
The time had come to teach the growing power of the Marathas. In early 1737 Baji Rao went from Malwa to all the way to Gwalior aided by Malhar Rao Holkar and others. To prevent any type of reinforcement reaching Delhi Baji Rao sent Holkar and Bhivrao to attack the precious Ganga Jamuna doab.
The Peshwa reached Kushbandi on 28 March 1737 and on 29 orders were given to loot the outer regions of the entire Delhi. Holkar, Ranaji Shinde, and Tukoji Pawar defeated a Mughal army in the battle of Rakab Ganj the defeat was so severe that the Mughal retreated towards Red Fort.
Later Peshwa defeated Kamruddin Khanat Malcha village near Talkatora and looted his entire army. This type of raid and defeat of the Mughals in their center was a big blow to their prestige. Baji Rao gave them glimpses of the rising Maratha power through his loot, plunder, and quick movement.
Battle of Bhopal (1737)
One of the most significant military campaigns of Baji Rao where he crushed the forces of Nizam ul Mulk. After raiding the territories of Delhi the Mughal emperor wanted to put an to Baji Rao once and for all.
The Mughal emperor invited Nizam ul Mulk Asaf Jah to finish the matter of the Marathas and Peshwa. Asaf Jah was given huge sums of money around 50 lakhs, artillery, cannons, and an army of around thirty thousand.
Furthermore, Safdarjung and other local Bundela and Rajput chiefs also joined the Nizam which increased the size of their army to seventy thousand. Their main aim was to stop and limit the Peshwa at Narmada. When Baji Rao got this news he mobilized his light quick cavalry joined by Yashwantrao Pawar and Malharao Holkar and moved toward Indore.
Furthermore, Baji Rao also ordered Chimaji Appa and Damaji Gaikwad to halt the advance of Nasir Jung and his men who were marching all the way from Deccan. Chimaji Appa and Damaji Gaikwad defeated the Nasir Jung which changed the course of the battle.
On the other hand in December 1737 Nizam reached Bhopal and camped his army between a lake and a canal. He also patiently waited for the reinforcement under Nasir Jung which never came.
Due to his helpless Nizam moved into the fort of Bhopal which was ruled by the Nawab of Bhopal. Marathas surrounded the fort and cut all their supply lines. The situation of starvation occurred inside the fort and Nizam’s men started killing their horses, camels, etc to fulfill their hunger.
Finally, on January 1738 Nizam offered his submission and granted the whole Malwa including the territory lying between Narmada and Chambal. Peshwa was also given a sum of fifty lakhs as a tribute.
Portuguese and the Battle of Vasai 1739
Portuguese who reached India as merely traders did countless evil practices. They forcefully conducted conversions, destroyed 280 temples on Shashthi island and in the Bardesh region, put banned Hindu festivals.
Enraged by these incidents and several other Baji Rao decided to open talks with the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa Conde-de-Sandomil. Vyankojirao Joshi was sent for this purpose but the Portuguese viceroy racially abused the Marathas and their Peshwa.
Baji Rao then decided to give the Portuguese their own medicine. In 1737 the Peshwa sent Chimaj Appa to attack the Portuguese stronghold at Vasai. The Vasai Fort is regarded as the strongest fort in India and was located on an island surrounded by rivers Vaitarna and Vasai Creek.
After conquering several forts around Vasai the Marathas bombarded the Vasai fort for continuous three months. It is suggested that a total of 45000 cannonballs were fired by the Marathas. On 17 April 1739, the Marathas dug tunnels and mines towards the base of the fort and destroyed two siege towers which changed the course of the battle.
Martinho-de-Sylveira continued to fight but all went in vain and on 5th May 1739 the Portuguese surrendered the fort of Vasai. The battle of Vasai tested the spirit of the Marathas and a big foreign was defeated at the hands of an Indian side.
Peshwa Baji Rao died at the age of only 39 which is regarded as a serious blow to the Maratha ambitions of Swaraj.
In his short span, he crushed the power of Nizam ul Mulk, harassed Mughal in their own backyard, silenced the Siddis of Janjira, annexed Bundelkhand, Gujarat, and even defeated the Portuguese for the misdeeds towards the local Hindu populace.
Through his success over various kings, the Maratha later became the master of the Indian subcontinent. They even reached as far as Attock in 1758 and made it their northern boundary. The amount of enthusiasm that Peshwa Baji Rao had generated among his Maratha emboldened the foundation of their empire.
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