The peshwas were the hereditary prime ministers of the
Maratha chatrapatis (kings), who later assumed the main position of
power in Maratha politics.
The word 'peshwa' has its roots in the Persian
language, meaning 'foremost'. The peshwas were all Brahmin ministers
who initially started out as the king's chief executive.
Sonpant Dabir (1640-1652) was said to be the first
unofficial peshwa. He was initially sent by Raje to advise
his son Shivaji in his administration at Puna. The word 'dabir'
however meant foreign secretary, but his most senior position
accorded him a role equivalent to that of peshwa.
Sonopant was said to have been granted the equivalent of his weight in gold coins at the Tuladaan
ceremony at Mahabaleshwar by Shivaji, to honour the old man for his
services to the kingdom.
Shyampant Kulkarni Ranzekar (1652-1657), was the second Peshwa,
and he was probably removed from his post by Shivaji following some
allegations of mismanagement.
Moropant Trimbak Pingale bore the official
title of pant pratinidhi (1657-1683). He was the third person to be
declared peshwa (and the first one officially)
during the coronation of Shivaji as chatrapati. Moropant was not
just adept with the pen, but also with the sword. In 1659, he was
part of the group of warriors that led an assault on the forces of Afzal Khan, the Bijapuri commander. Moropant
was instrumental in capturing Fort Trimbakeshwar at Nasik. He also assisted Netaji
Palkar during the Battle of Wani Dindori, and during the raid on Surat.
Moropant Pingale developed the Shaniwar Peth at Pune. He was also
instrumental in supervising the construction of Fort Pratapgad,
which was designed by Hiroji Indulkar. Moropant Pingale also
provided his services in the financial administration of the Maratha
kingdom. After the death of Shivaji in 1680, his son Sambhaji accused
Moropant of conspiring against him (during the time of
Sambhaji's power-struggle with his step-mother, Soyrabai. Sambhaji
accused Moropant of siding with his step-mother). Sambhaji had
him temporarily removed, only to reinstate him later. Moropant
died in 1683.
Nilkanth Moreshwar (Nilopant) Pingale (1683-89), the
son of Moropant, succeeded his father as the next peshwa to serve
Sambhaji. He had earlier served as Shivaji's Muzumdar. He was
instrumental in recovering Fort Purandar from the Mughals in
1670, and capturing its kiledar, Raziuddin. He later developed the
Shukrawar Peth and Rawiwar Peth in Pune.
Ramchandrapant (Bahutkar) Bawdekar (1689-1708) rose
from the rank of a kulkarni (accountant) to being an important
minister (amatya), serving under the rule of Shivaji, Sambhaji, Tarabai,
Rajaram and Shivaji II. When Rajaram escaped to Jinji in
1689, he gave Ramchandrapant the hukumatpanha (a position replacing
the peshwa) or the authority to administer the kingdom on his
In 1689, Rajaram replaced Ramchandrapant with Tarabai (the wife
of Rajaram) as the bearer of the hukumatpanha. But Ramchandrapant
was transferred to an equally important advisory position.
Ramchandrapant sided with Tarabai during the power struggle with
Shahu, which is when the latter sidelined Ramchandrapant and appointed
Bahirojipant Pingale as his peshwa. Ramchandrapant was an asset to
the Maratha empire during the difficult times and tackled many
adverse situations such as a shortage of resources and a scarcity of food with remarkable
skill. He penned his experiences with administration in his book, Adnyapatra.
Ramchandrapant died in 1716 at Fort Panhala.
Balaji Vishwanath Peshwa was one of the most important early peshwas
Note: During the time of Rajaram, the
post of pant pratinidhi was almost on a par with the post of peshwa.
The first pant pratinidhi was Prahlad Niraji.
Later this post was occupied by Parshuram Trimbak Kinhaikar, who later became
the first jagirdar of Aundh, a position which wasretained by his
descendents. He was instrumental in holding Fort Panhala against Aurangzeb
in 1689. Though he lost the fort that time, he
recaptured it in 1692. He also captured territories between Miraj
and Fort Rangana and took Bhudargad, Chandangad, Pavangad, Satara
and Vasantgad. He maintained his loyalty towards Tarabai much to the
chagrin of Shahu, who had him imprisoned twice between 1710-1714.
The second of these periods of confinement ocurred when his son Krishnaji joined the forces of Sammbhaji
But despite this, his life was spared by Shahu
due to the intervention of Khando Ballal (Shahu's personal assistant),
who reminded his king of Parshuram Trimbak's contribution to the Maratha cause. Parshuram
Trimbak continued holding the position of pant pratinidhi at the
time of Tarabai until his death in 1718. He was succeeded by his son,
Srinivasrao, otherwise known as Shripatrao, who continued
in his post, albeit as Shahu's vassal jagirdar of Aundh.
Bahirojipant Pingale (1708-1711) was the son of
Nilopant Pingale and Shahu's first peshwa. When Kanhoji Angre
attacked Satara in 1711, Bahiroji was taken prisoner by him. Shahu ordered Balaji Vishwanath to ensure
the release of Bahiroji, and also gave authority to Balaji Vishwanath in the form
of the post of peshwa, so that he could negotiate with Angre on the
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1713-1720) was the progenitor of the Bhat
peshwas who became the de facto rulers of the Maratha kingdom for
over a century. The Bhats (Balaji and his elder brother Tanoji) were
Chitpavan Brahmins hailing from Shrivardhan in the Konkan region.
They probably started in the service of the Siddis of Janjira and
later shifted their base to the ghats. There they took service, first
with Ramchandrapant (who acted as a sab suba, administrator, of Puna and later Daulatabad), and later with Dhanaji Jadhav, the
sarnobat of the Maratha army (following the recommendation of Abaji
Balaji Vishwanath Peshwa's native place
Dhanaji Jadhav sent Balaji Vishwanath (who was a diwan,
or revenue officer, at the time) on a confidential mission to ascertain
Shahu's credibility. Satisfied that Shahu was indeed a son of
Sambhaji, Balaji went back and persuaded his master, Dhanaji, to join
his forces to those of Shahu. Both Dhanaji and Balaji ensured the defeat of
Tarabai's armies and she had to retreat to Kolhapur where she formed
a separate minor kingdom, with Shahu ruling the main Maratha
territories from Satara.
On one occasion, a
person by the name of Dhamaji Thorat (a protégé of Ramchandrapant
Bavdekar) kidnapped Balaji, and Shahu had to pay Thorat a huge ransom
to get him released. Shahu then dispatched Dhanaji's son, Chandrasen
Jadhav (whom he had made his senapati after Dhanaji's death), along
with Balaji, to chastise Dhamaji Thorat. But Chandrasen, who resented
the ascendancy of someone like Balaji who was once his father's servant,
quarrelled with him over a minor matter. Seeing Shahu taking Balaji's side,
Chandrasen transferred his allegiance to Tarabai.
Chandrasen was replaced by his brother, Santaji, as the new
senapati. But Santaji also exposed himself as a turncoat and he too
went over to Tarabai's camp. This was a precarious time for Shahu.
But in this hour of trial, Balaji stood like a rock behind Shahu.
Balaji not only helped Shahu in his administration, but also
borrowed money from moneylenders on behalf of the king and rebuilt
the army so that it was once again strong.
In 1712, Balaji hatched a conspiracy with Sambhaji II, another son
of Rajaram, and helped him oust his step-mother, Tarabai, from the
throne of Kolhapur.
Tarabai, queen of Kolhapur
 Chandrasen Jadhav was beaten
in battle by Shahu's able commander, Haibatrao Nimbalkar.
Chandrasen later switched allegiance to the likes of Sambhaji II
and later Nizam ul Mulk. But every time his misadventures
against Shahu came to naught.
In 1713, Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha chieftain from Konkan, challenged
the supremacy of Shahu. He attacked Satara, and took away Peshwa
Bahiroji Pingale as a prisoner. In response, Balaji Vishwanath, who
had by now become Shahu's close confidante (and was also the mutaliq
to Amatya Amburao Hanmante), was entrusted by Shahu with the
responsibility of negotiating the release of Bahiroji. Balaji Vishwanath
requested more authority in order to negotiate better with Kanhoji Angre,
so he was made peshwa on 17 November 1713. 
Balaji Vishwanath then proceeded to Konkan with a large army, which
unnerved Kanhoji Angre to some extent. But Balaji was wise enough to
understand the importance of a person like Kanhoji Angre if he came
over to their side. Therefore, instead of attacking Kanhoji's
army, he started discussions with Kanhoji Angre. Eventually Kanhoji
agreed to accept Shahu as his overlord and in return Kanhoji Angre
was made sarkhel (admiral). He was also allowed autonomy in his regions.
In 1718, Dhamaji Thorat was also
defeated and taken prisoner. Many other enemies such as Udaji Chavan,
the Ghorpades, and Krishnarao Khatavkar were also subdued. Thanks to
his achievements, Balaji Vishwanath gained Shahu's trust and soon became his most important
Meanwhile, following the death of Aurangzeb, there were no major
skirmishes between the Marathas and the Mughals. In fact Prince Azam
had promised Shahu the sardeshmukhi of certain subahs. But Prince
Azam was killed during the war of succession and Bahadur Shah
ascended the Mughal throne. Bahadur Shah, though not hostile,
dillydallied over the issue of the viceroyalty of the Maratha subahs to
Shahu and was undecided on whether to support Shahu (though the
Mughal viceroy of the Deccan, Zulfikar Khan, did support Shahu's
cause), or support Tarabai instead.
 Balaji Vishwanath made Abaji
Purandare his mutalik and Ramajipant Bhanu (an ancestor of the
famed Nana Phadanvis, the chief minister of Sawai Madhavrao
Peshwa) his phadnavis.
During the reign of emperor Jahandar Shah, the Marathas
launched an attack on Mughal territories, forcing Daud Khan, the
Deccan deputy of Zulfikar Khan, to accept the passing of the rights of sardeshmukhi
to Shahu. In 1713, Farukhsiyar ascended the Mughal throne. Zulfikar
Khan was then assassinated in Delhi and his post was given to Chin
Qilich Khan, otherwise known as Nizam ul Mulk.
Nizam ul Mulk was
always hostile to the Marathas whom he viewed as impediments to his
proposed overlordship of the Deccan. He pushed Farukhsiyar to
refuse to adhere to the agreement of sardeshmukhi between Daud Khan
and the Marathas. He also tried to create an anti-Shahu
lobby by supporting Shahu's old rivals, such as Sambhaji II, Chandrasen
Jadhav, Rambhaji Nimbalkar, etc. But politics in Delhi took a new
turn and Nizam ul Mulk was substituted with Sayyad Hussain Ali Khan,
the brother of the wazir, Sayyad Abdullah Khan. The Sayyids were also
initially hostile towards the Marathas, but a sequence of events made
them change their strategy.
Matters had soured between the Sayyad brothers and Farukhsiyar. The
latter began to resent the growing power of the Sayyad brothers.
Farukhsiyar tried to persuade his commanders, such as Daud Khan, and the
Marathas against the Sayyid brothers. The Marathas, however, avoided
involving themselves in the power struggle in Delhi. The Sayyid
brothers then sought Maratha help in overthrowing Farukhsiyar.
In 1718 , they concluded a friendship treaty with the Marathas,
whereby the Marathas were to acknowledge the overlordship of the Delhi
throne in return for the viceroyalty of six provinces in the Deccan
(including Malwa, Berar, Bundelkhand, and Gujrat).
opposed this treaty as he sensed the growing friendship between
the Sayyids and the Marathas.
(Balaji Vishwanath was instrumental in streamlining the
administration of the Maratha kingdom. To enable the better collection
of the chauth (one fourth of the land revenue) and the sardeshmukhi (one
tenth of the chauth) rights, he patronised selected people who kept
their own armies in order to collect the revenue. They were allowed
to keep the major part of the revenue so as to maintain their armies
and rest was to be transferred to the state. Though this paved way
for legalising the sovereign rights of those individuals over their
regions, it also made the revenue collection system much more efficient
with little cost to the state's exchequer, as in order
to maintain their lifestyles and armies these people made a diligent effort to
collect the revenues from their regions of influence. This also lead
to the diaspora of talented Marathas in central and western India.
Nizam ul Mulk, the Mughal viceroy of the Deccan
Sayyid Abdullah Khan then urged the Marathas to march
on Delhi and depose Farukhsiyar. Balaji Vishwanath was dispatched to Delhi by
Shahu with a large contingent assisted by other Maratha commanders
such as Khanderao Dabadhe. Rajput Rajas of Marwar (Ajit Singh) and
Amber (Jai Singh) also offered their support to the Sayyid brothers,
as did Nizam ul Mulk, who resented Farukhsiyar's move to dislodge him
from Delhi. In 1719, Farukhsiyar was replaced by Rafi Ud Darjat as
the Mughal emperor of Delhi.
On his way back,
Balaji Vishwanath, also secured the release of Shahu's mother, Yesubai,
his wife Savitribai, half-brother Madan Singh,
and many Marathas who were earlier taken as captives by Aurangzeb.
On his return, Balaji Vishwanath established himself
at Puna (Pune), which became the headquarters of the
peshwas who succeeded him.
Balaji Vishwanath wasn't able to enjoy his success for long. He died
soon after in Saswad, near Puna, on 12 April 1720.
Balaji left behind a wife, Radhabai, two daughters and two sons, Bajirao I and Chimaji Appa.
He was succeeded by Bajirao I as the next peshwa.
Note: Kanhoji Angre (born 1667, died 4 June 1729),
also known as Konaji Angria, was the son of Tanoji Angria, a commander under
Chatrapati Shivaji. Kanhoji was born in Alibaug and was brought up
at Fort Suvarnadurg. He grew up to be a skilled sailor.
He was appointed sarkhel / darya sarang (admiral) of the Maratha navy and
controlled areas from Mumbai to Vengurla on the western Konkan
coast. He was induced into Shahu's services by Peshwa Balaji
Vishwanath, who declared him to be the sarkhel (earlier, Kanhoji was on the
side of Shahu's rivals and was initially hostile to Shahu). Kanhoji
also gained notoriety as a high sea pirate when he looted the ships
of the Mughals and the Europeans. Kanhoji left behind two legitimate
sons; Sekhoji and Sambhaji, and three illegitimate sons, Tulaji, Manaji,
After Kanhoji, his son Sekhoji continued the Maratha
exploits at sea until his death in 1733. After Sekhoji's death, the
Angre might was split between two brothers, Sambhaji and Manaji,
due to divisions in the family. With the Marathas neglecting the
navy the British soon found it easier to defeat the remnants of the
The Angre reign over the western coast ended with the
capture of Tulaji in a joint Anglo-Peshwa attack on the fort of Gheriah (now Vijaydurg)
in February 1756 (Balaji Bajirao was facing insubordination from the Tulaji Angre, who had become
very powerful and refused to accept the peshwa as his leader, and
made the short-sighted mistake of accepting English help to decimate
the strength of the Angres). Kanhoji was also said to have constructed three naval
forts, at Gova, Kanakdurg and Fatehgad.
Lal Mehta - Advanced Study in the History of Modern India
1701-1813, New Dawn Press, New Delhi
Gordon, Stewart - New Cambridge History of India: The Marathas, 1600-1818, Cambridge University Press
Kincaid, C A, and Rao Bahadur
D B Parasnis - A History of the Maratha People, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press