Peshwa Madhav Rao: The Nightmare for Haider Ali, Nizam, and Rohillas: Resurrection of Marathas Power After Third Panipat

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After the third battle of Panipat, the Marathas were unable to hold their authority over Delhi. They lost their finest men, resources, advanced artillery, and ammunition which further mounted their loss.

Several neighboring kingdoms also refused to give them the necessary tribute and taxes which the Maratha collected in the name of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi. Furthermore, the threat of Nizam, Mysore, and the East Indian Company which had already absorbed Bengal into its empire emerged as a formidable force that might take down the whole country making the matter worse for the vulnerable Marathas.    

Peshwa Madhav Rao
Image of Maratha Peshwa Madhav Rao

Their capital city of Pune was threatened from all directions and all hopes looked lost. Amid this chaos, a leader emerged right in the heart of the Maratha capital though he was minor but possessed all the capabilities of a spirited leader.

He took charge of stabilizing the empire and resurrected their dream of Hindu Swaraj. He was none other than Madhav Rao Peshwa the man who took revenge of Panipat, defeated the force of Nizam, and crushed the power of Haider Ali and his Mysore hordes whenever they met on the battlefield. 

In his short career, Madhav Rao gained a significant amount of success. Madhav Rao Peshwa was the younger son of Balaji Baji Rao who ascended Peshwa’s throne at 17. He was a highly religious leader who never got distracted from his ambitions and worked for the betterment of the Maratha state.

Military Campaigns of Peshwa Madhav Rao: Maratha Resurrection

Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao after hearing the disastrous and tragic news of Panipat in which he lost his beloved son Vishwas Rao and commander Sadashiv Rao Bahu couldn’t able to bear the news of this shock.

On 23 June 1761 just months after the Panipat battle the Marathas lost their Peshwa too. The news of Peshwa’s death emboldened the ambitions of Nizam and he invaded the Maratha dominions. However, the Nizam forces were decimated by the Marathas but Raghunatha Rao who wanted to become the Peshwa signed very mild terms with Nizam to gain his support in the near future.

The emergence of Raghunath Rao and his rebellious attitude in the politics of the Maratha court proved to be an obstruction in the path of Maratha’s ambitions. However, after several skirmishes, young Peshwa finally ended his uncle’s ambitions of becoming Peshwa.

The young Peshwa defeated his rebel uncle Raghunath Rao and the latter was forced to sign a treaty on 10 June 1768 CE.   Furthermore, the Peshwa also defeated the Nizam in the year 1763 in the iconic battle of Rakshasbhuvan.

Karnataka Campaigns: Defeat of the Nizam and Haider Ali of Mysore

The greatest threat to the Madhav Rao was the kingdom of Mysore. Its leader Haider Ali had made himself the master of the Karnataka region. The news of Panipat made way for Haider Ali to establish his hegemony over the southern territories of the Marathas. It was in 1761-62 when Haider Ali captured several parts of Karnataka.

The regions of Kodikonda, Penukonda, Madakasira, and Raidurg fell under Haider’s rule. Furthermore, the rebellion of Raghunath Rao made matters worse for the Marathas. Initially, the Peshwa gained some success against Haider Ali but the civil war and Nizam’s invasion forced him to pay attention to Pune.

After crushing Nizam at Rakshasbhuvan Peshwa Madhav Rao led his army against Mysore. The young and energetic Peshwa crushed the Mysore army and its leader in May 1764. Later in November the Marathas again defeated Haider Ail in the battle of Jadi Anavati.

To make matters worse for the Mysore king the Marathas again humbled the former and signed a treaty in March 1765 in which Haider was forced to pay 30 lakhs rupees as tribute and a surrender of territory of Bankapur.  Unable to defend his kingdom from the onslaught of the young Peshwa Haider Ail even went to gain the support of the British for conquering the marathas.

Peshwa Madhav Rao
Image of Haider Ali of Mysore
Haider Ali ruler of Mysore kingdom

However, nothing came out between the two, and Haider was forced to face the brunt of the Marathas alone. In 1767 Madhav Rao subjugated the forts of Sira and Madgiri from Haider’s possession.

The Peshwa also liberated the Bidnur queen who had been imprisoned by Haider in 1763. Generous Peshwa freed the captive queen and took her under Maratha’s protection. Defeated by the young Peshwa Haider on May 1767 an armament was concluded in which the territories of Chennarayadurg, Madgiri, Dod Ballapur, Hoskote, and Sira fell under Maratha control.

Furthermore, the Mysore king had to pay a sum of 31 Lakhs to Peshwa and another 18 lakhs to the Nizam. However, these peace terms didn’t last long and after the end of the First Anglo-Mysore War Madhav Rao again sent an expedition against Haider in 1769.

With an army of 75 thousand backed up by artillery support, the Maratha marched towards Seringapatam in October 1769. Haider retreated to the forests of Udagani while the Marathas in January and February 1770 took Budihal, Kandikere, Handikere, etc.

The skirmishes between Mysore and Marathas continued for months. The forts of Devarayadurg and Nijgal fell under the Marathas. But due health of the young Peshwa becoming cirtical he left the campaign under the command of Trimbak Rao and others and retreated back to his capital.

Tirmbak Rao fought a decisive battle against Haider at Moti Talav on March 7, 1771, and the Marathas emerged victorious once again.

Revival of Marathas in North

After the defeat of the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat several kingdoms declared their independence and refused to pay the taxes and arrears to the Marathas. The Rajput states, Malwa, Gangetic Doab, and Bundelkhand openly revolted and freed themselves from Maratha control.

Maratha Resurrection
Peshwa Madhav Rao
Image of the Maratha Empire

It was a gigantic challenge for the young Peshwa to revive the Maratha supremacy in the north especially in Delhi. After his coronation, he was busy settling disputes with his rebellious uncle Raghoba and later with arch-enemies like the Nizam and Mysore. Settling the affairs of the south Madhav Rao then initiated the task to revive the Maratha power in the north.

Initially when the Pune court was settling the disputes in the south Malhar Rao Holkar managed the Maratha affairs in the north. But after his demise in 1766 once again things became vulnerable for the Marathas in the north.

But the daring Peshwa didn’t back down and wholeheartedly worked to revive the Swaraj of the Marathas in the north. Furthermore, the Afghani Rohillas that sided with Abdali and betrayed the Marathas were still ruling in the region of Rohillkhand and Delhi. Madhav Rao wanted to finish the Rohills once and for all and with the rise of Mahadji Sindia he in the year 1768 sent a huge army under the command of Ramchandra Ganesh and Visaji Krishna.

The Marathas crossed the Chambal and defeated the Jats of Nawal Singh to enter Delhi and punish Najib and his Rohillas. From here the Maratha plundered the districts of Etawa, and Kannauj and the route to Delhi became clear.

It was in the year 1771 when Mahadji Sindia and Visaji Krishna captured Delhi and defeated its ruler Zabita Khan. Within the span of ten years, the Marathas under there the leadership of young Peshwa became the master of the subcontinent. Mughal emperor Shah Alam II was established as the puppet ruler of the Marathas at Delhi.

From here the Marathas marched against the Rohillas and plundered their stronghold at Najibabad in 1772. They even desecrated the grave of Najib ud Daula the traitor who invited Abdali to invade India. The Delhi campaign of Peshwa Madhav Rao resurrected the Hindu Maratha power in the north.

The triumph of the Marathas under their Peshwa and leaders like Mahadji Sindia made the British rattled as their officials wrote on March 10 1771

From the present conduct of the Marathas both in the north and the south and from the genius spirit and ambition of Madhav Rao we are inclined to suspect that their designs are not confined to the mere collection of Chauth but to extend to the subjection of the whole peninsula.          

Quoted from R.C. Majumdar’s The Maratha Supremacy.

This message from the British authorities which closely observed the Maratha during Madhav Rao’s reign is enough to testify that the young Peshwa and his Maratha hordes emerged as the most dominant political figure of that period.

However, the untimely death of the young Peshwa at the age of just 27 changed the course of Indian history. The young Peshwa in his short but illustrious career made himself the master of the land between Delhi and Seringapatam. As the historian Grant Duff had said The fields of Panipat were not more fatal to the Marathas than the death of this excellent prince.   


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