by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 4 April 2010. Updated 29
Part 1: Early Years
Peshwa Balaji Bajirao, also known as Nanaheb (born 12
December 1721 - died 1761) was the son of and successor to Bajirao I
His reign witnessed the zenith of Maratha power and also the
commencement of its decline.
Nanasaheb was the eldest son of Bajirao and his wife, Kashibai. After
Bajirao's death, Chatrapati Shahu declared his son to be the next peshwa
on 25 June 1740.
The crowning of a nineteen year-old in the post of
peshwa was met with
opposition from the likes of Raghuji Bhosale of Nagpur and Babuji
Naik Joshi, an influential Pune banker, who expressed scepticism
about the capability of a teenager to lead the nation. But Shahu was
keeping in mind the yeoman services of both Bajirao I (and of course
the persistence shown by Chimaji Appa, the uncle and guardian of
Nanasaheb), and Balaji
Vishwanath, to the Maratha kingdom, and he brushed aside all opposition.
Raghuji Bhosale hailed from the family of Mudhoji Patel of Deor, Satara. The family got its
Bhosale name from Bhosa (near Mumbai),
the village of their forefathers. Mudhoji had three sons; Bapuji, Parsoji and Sabaji. Raghuji was the grandson of Bapuji. All
these Bhosales had earlier distinguished themselves in Shivaji's
army. For that very reason, Parsoji, the son of Mudhoji, was given the right
to collect chauth from Berar, which later passed to Raghuji. Soon,
the Gond rajas of Berar fell under the influence of Raghuji and the
latter became all powerful in Berar. Raghuji established
himself in Nagpur, where he reigned nominally as the representative
of the Gond prince from 1743 to 1755.
By 1751 Raghuji had effected
the conquest of the Deogarh territories of Chanda and Chhattisgarh.
Ratanpur, the capital of the Haihaya kingdom, had fallen to the
Bhosales in 1741 on the advance of his general, Bhaskar Pant, and
four years later, the last Rajput raja of that dynasty was deposed.
The fort of Chanda was delivered to Raghuji by the treachery of
its diwan in 1749 and two years later was finally ceded to him. The
kingdoms that later came under Raghuji's dominion and paid him an
annual tribute extended from Bengal to Orissa. Raghuji died in
1755, and was succeeded by his son, Janoji.
Note: On one occasion, Balaji's rivals
had got the better of him and persuaded Shahu to dismiss him from the post of
peshwa (in 1746), but Shahu soon realised the innocence of Balaji in all
the alleged wrongdoings and reinstated him in a matter of months (in
1747). The reason was that Shahu's wives and relations used to spend
excessively. The money lenders began to be worried about the rising
levels of debt and complained to the peshwa. The peshwa tried to curtail
excessive expenditure as a result, and the affected parties ran to Shahu.
In a fit of anger, Shahu dismissed his peshwa, and instead of rebelling the
peshwa accepted his chatrapati's action unquestioningly. He returned the
official insignia and requested further orders. The chatrapati soon
realised that the peshwa wasn't at fault at all (after the bankers
vouched for the peshwa's honesty) and was also impressed by his loyalty
in spite of the provocation. He therefore reappointed Balaji as his peshwa.
Mhadoba Purandare, a senior bureaucrat, was made mutalik (deputy)
to the young peshwa.
In spite of his young age, Balaji Bajirao wasn't exactly a novice to
the reigns of power. He had accompanied his father and uncle on many
expeditions (not to mention Shahu's own expedition to Karnataka in
1737-1738, and an expedition to northern India with Pilaji Jadhav). He
was trained in the art of warfare and administration by the masters
When Balaji Bajirao became peshwa, he was bereft of
advice from his seniors. His uncle, Chimaji Appa, had also died
(just a year after the death of his own father) and his cousin Sadashivrao
and brother Raghunathrao were quite young. But the young peshwa
stood up for himself against pressure from several rivals.
War of succession
Shahu had no legitimate sons to succeed him. His only son
from Sagunabai had died in infancy. This started a succession
war between his queens, Sakwarbai and Sagunabai (died 1748), both of
whom wanted their nominees to succeed Shahu.
Peshwa Balaji Bajirao (otherwise known as Nanasaheb I)
 Chimaji Appa was said to be a
fatherlike figure for young Nanasaheb, especially after Bajirao
I was accused of neglecting his family for his beloved
concubine, Mastani. However, Chimajiappa died within a year of
his brother and Nanasaheb had to take over the reins of leading
the entire family at a very young age.
 Raghuji Bhosale from the clan
of the Nagpur Bhosales wasn't a blood relation of Shahu's, but
he was a kinsman as both had taken sisters from the Mohite
family as their respective wives. Shahu's wife, Sagunabai, was
the youngest of his queens. Thanks to this connection, Raghuji
wielded considerable influence in the Maratha court. To pacify
Raghuji, on 31 August 1743 Shahu demarcated the scope of
authority of both Raghuji Bhosale and the peshwa. The peshwas
were not to interfere in the region of influence of Raghuji
Bhosale, in Nagpur, Berar and the eastern parts of India (Bengal
and Orissa - and also Lucknow in the north), whereas Ajmer,
Agra, Prayag and Malwa were to remain within the peshwa's
Mudhoji Bhosale, son of Raghoji Bhosale, to
succeed Shahu. But Sakwarbai thwarted her efforts. There was also a
proposal made to install Sambhaji II of Kolhapur or his half-brother, Venkoji, as the successor. But eventually it was Shahu's old foe, Tarabai (wife of Shahu's uncle, Rajaram) who beat all
She managed to convince Shahu to adopt her grandson, Ramraja, and
declare him his successor. 
 Sakwarbai had to attain Sati
after Shahu's death, along with Shahu's concubines.
Tarabai tried to control Ramraja and even disallowed access for the
chatrapati to his peshwa. But soon Ramraja protested against his
grandmother's overbearing nature. As a result Tarabai declared
Ramraja to be an impostor (contradicting her earlier stand that he
was in fact her grandson).
Thereafter Ramraja worked in close unison with the
peshwa. In 1750, Ramraja signed the famous Sangola agreement, whereby he invested the
peshwa with more authority and reduced himself to a titular
king. This was in return for the continuation of his rights as a
chatrapati and protection from Tarabai and her henchmen.
But Tarabai, the wily old lady, instigated a coup d'etat at Satara and
confined Ramraja to prison. She then tried to upstage the peshwa
himself. But this time around, her efforts came to naught (the
king's confinement had also caused a lot of anger towards Tarabai and
she lost the support of the Marathas). Tarabai was eventually was
forced to declare Peshwa Balaji Bajirao the supreme authority in
the Maratha kingdom, in writing in September 1751.
Raghuji, the Maratha commander in Berar
Balaji's other foes, such as Yashwantrao Dabhade, were also subdued and
their properties confiscated. In Gujarat, Damaji Gaekwad who (like
Dabhade) had taken up his cudgels on behalf of Tarabai was also forced to
submit and he transferred his allegiance to the peshwa. Gaekwad later
helped bring all of Gujrat except Surat under Maratha rule. 
Balaji Bajirao continued his father's expansionist policy. He
patronised many Maratha commanders who ensured the steady expansion
of the Maratha dominions. These Maratha commanders were later to
carve out their own spheres of influence, which gained semi-independent status with allegiance to the
chatrapati and his
peshwa. These commanders had the right to collect chauth and
sardeshmukhi from various vassal kingdoms in India, who paid up in order to
prevent attacks from the Marathas in their respective territories. This led to a formation of a loose Maratha confederacy
Campaigns under Balaji Bajirao
Earlier in 1741, the young peshwa had come to an understanding with
Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber, whereby the latter secured the
continuation of the chauth and sardeshmukhi rights for Malwa (after
the death of Bajirao I) from the Mughal court.
In 1742-1743, the peshwa led an expedition to Bengal. This was done at
the behest of the Mughal court in exchange for the chauth rights of
Malwa. Raghuji Bhosale was acting independently of the peshwa's
control, and the Mughal emperor was perturbed by his repeated raids
on Bengal, so much so that he asked the peshwa to check Raghuji's growing influence in the
east. In return for his services, the grateful nawab of Bengal,
Alivardi Khan, paid the peshwa 2,200,000 rupees. 
 Ramraja remained Tarabai's
prisoner until her death in 1761 (Balaji Bajirao had also died
by then). The new peshwa, Madhavrao, then reinstated Ramraja as
chatrapati at Satara.
Other personal expeditions which were undertaken by Balaji Bajirao were
to Bhilsa (1744-1745)
and Newai (1747-1748).
From then onwards, Balaji Bajirao confined himself to the
administration of his kingdom from Pune and all of the later Maratha
expeditions were carried forward by his commanders (Sadashivrao Bhau, Ranoji
Scindia, Malharrao Holkar, Pilaji Jadhav, and Yashwantrao Pawar).
In December 1746, the peshwa sent a force under his cousin, Sadashivrao
(son of Chimajiappa), to chastise the nawab of Savnur in Karnataka.
Chauth was levied in the regions between the Krishna and Tungabhadra
rivers. The Nizan ul Mulk's army under his son Nasir Jung was also
defeated in May 1747.
As an aside, Nizam ul Mulk died in May 1748 and was succeeded by Nasir Jung,
who adopted a conciliatory approach towards the Marathas until his
assassination in 1750 by his treacherous ally, Muhammad Khan, the
nawab of Kadappa. He was succeeded by Muzzafar Jang in 1751 and then
soon after that by Salabat Jang, who renewed hostilities against the Marathas
at the instigation of the French agent, Bussy. The nizam's forces met
reverses at the hands of the Marathas on each occasion. However, Gaziuddin
(senior), brother of Salabat Jung, sought the help of the
toppling his father. In return, Salabat Jang supported the forces of
Sambhaji II and Tarabai against their common foe, the peshwa.
Meanwhile, Gaziuddin had become a victim of palace intrigues (he was
poisoned) and Salabat Jung came to power.
again the peshwa came out on top, concluding an
armistice. He even agreed to honour Gaziuddin's
commitment to the him, whereby the latter was to be paid 1,500,000
along with territory west of Berar from the Tapti to Godavari
rivers. Meanwhile, Sayyad Lashkar became Salabat
Jung's diwan and he weaned the nizam away from the influence of the French. (This proved short-lived
however, as the French agent, Bussy, had Sayyad Lashkar removed and
once again gained access to the nizam's court). Late in 1763, Salabat
Jung was deposed and murdered by his brother, Nizam Ali.
In 1753, the peshwa's forces under Sadashivrao Bhau renewed their
southern operations. They attacked Srirangapattan near Mysore. The
French and the nizam had already established their influence in the
Mysore court. They requested that the peshwa order the Maratha forces
spare Mysore from being plundered. The peshwa heeded their request and turned
In 1754-1755, the Maratha forces conquered Bagalkot, Harihar,
Mundalgi and Bidnur. In 1756, Murrarao Ghorpade of Gooty, who had
switched sides with the nizam, entered into an alliance with the
nawab of Savnur, Karnool and Kaddappa, and together they decided to
resist the Maratha attempts to collect chauth. However, all of them had to
submit, one by one, before the sword of the Marathas.
 Chatrapati Shahu later
brought about a reconciliation of sorts between Raghoji Bhosale
and Peshwa Balaji Bajirao by clearly demarcating their spheres
Nizam Ali, the Mughal viceroy in the Deccan
the Marathas freely collected chauth from all these regions in
Karnataka. In 1756, the Seven Years War between the English and
French had started. Much to the chagrin of Salabat Jung, his
protector the French agent Bussy was recalled and Salabat was feeling
vulnerable enough to switch sides to the English.
However, before the English could consolidate their hold over Hyderabad,
the peshwa ordered an attack on its dominions in October 1759. Burhanpur, Asirgad, Daulatabad, Ahmednagar, and Bijapur
all fell to the Marathas, and the final submission of the nizam was at Udgir
in 1760. Nizam Salabat Jung soon sued for peace.
Meanwhile in 1758, Hyder Ali had deposed the weak raja of Mysore.
The Marathas launched an assault on him and after a few skirmishes,
subdued him. 
Marathas in the north
With the weakening of Mughal power, the Marathas
were now looked upon as the most powerful force in India. The
services of the Maratha commanders were often sought by one kingdom
to subdue another. The trappings of power brought in a certain arrogance
to the Maratha attitude and a disregard for the sovereignty of
Marathas switched sides from one king to another, depending upon who was the
highest bidder. This mercenary attitude by the Marathas strained
relations with their northern counterparts. The Maratha chiefs owed
their loyalty to the peshwa for the autonomy he accorded to them,
but this made it difficult for the peshwa to control some of his
commanders, who acted independently at times and often despotically.
The Marathas looked upon the northern regions as their inheritance from
the Mughals. They often came into conflict with the Rajput and Jat
kingdoms. Anyone refusing to submit to their demands of chauth were
dealt with very ruthlessly . This alienated the Rajas from the
north, who started viewing the Marathas as just an extension of the
Mughals. This was to prove detrimental to the Marathas in the Third
war of Panipat.
In 1754, Raghunathrao, brother of the peshwa, and his deputy, Malharrao Holkar, led an army against the Jat
king, Raja Badan Singh and his commander Suraj Mal. In the ensuing battle, Malharrao lost his
son, Khanderao, to a stray cannonball fired from Kumher fort. A vindictive Malharrao came down heavily on the Jats,
who sued for peace, imploring Jayappa Scindia and
Raghunathrao to pacify Malharrao's ire. Eventually Raghunathrao
prevailed on Malharrao to come to terms with the Jats. The
Marathas reached a settlement with them which amounted to 3,000,000 rupees as war indemnity to be paid
in three instalments. In return the Jats were allowed to eat into
Mughal provinces. The Jats thereafter were forced to maintain
friendly relations with the Marathas (until the start of the Third
Battle of Panipat).
Surajmal, the Jat king during the Third Panipat War
 Peshwa Balaji Bajirao is also
criticised by many historians for taking English help to
suppress insubordination by the Angres, who were traditionally
the admirals of Maratha navy. This weakened the Maratha navy to
a great extent and also provided a foothold for the English (who
were until then fringe players) in Indian politics.
In 1750, the Rohillas and the Bangash pathans of Farukhabad had
risen in rebellion against their Mughal masters. As a result the
Mughal emperor's wazir (Safdar Jang, nawab of Awadh), sought the
help of the Marathas in suppressing these revolts.
The Shinde-Holkars sprang to Safdar Jang's rescue
and in the Battle of Farukhabad in 1751, they crushed the Rohilas.
However, the fickleness of the Marathas later came to the forefront
when, in return for emoluments, the Maratha sardars chose the side
of Gaziuddin the younger (grandson of Imad ul Mulk, who established
the kingdom of Hyderabad and son of his eldest child, Gaziuddin (the
elder). His eldest son, Gaziuddin (the elder) sought the help of the
Marathas in the succession battle against his brother, Salabat Jang,
but was fatally poisoned by his brothers). Gaziuddin the younger was
a new aspirant for the position of wazir of Delhi to their one-time
ally, Safdar Jang. Safdar Jang retired to Avadh. 
Malharrao Holkar (born 1693 - died 1766) was born in a dhangar (shepherd
caste) family at Jejuri (in Pune district) to one Khandoji Holkar from
Vir. He rose through the ranks of the Maratha army and served under Balaji Vishwanath, Bajirao I,
and Balaji Bajirao. He was one
of the commanders responsible for Maratha successes in the north. A
brave warrior and an accomplished commander, he was one of the
officers in charge of collecting revenue from Malwa.
his headquarters at Indore, which was to be the capital of the Holkar
dominion in years to come. Malharrao was one of many Maratha
successes in Delhi, Malwa, Rajputana and Bassein. Malharrao also took
part in the debacle of Panipat, where he is accused by many
historians of retreating at a crucial juncture (but some say it was
done at the behest of his commander-in-chief, Sadashivrao, after the
fall of Vishwasrao in the battle. It is said by some historians that
it was Sadashivarao Bhau who ordered Malharrao to prioritise the
safety of Parvatibai and the other civilians who were stuck in the
thick of the battle). But it was Malharrao who had advised
Sadashivarao to use guerrilla tactics instead of fighting a pitched battle
against the Afghan Abdali. But his wise counsel wasn't heeded and
the Marathas faced a humiliating defeat against the Afghans.
Malharrao had earlier lost his son Khanderrao in an campaign against
the Jats (although he was reconciled with them in the interests of Maratha
After Malharrao's death at Alampur he was succeeded
briefly by his grandson, Malerao, and because of Malerao's premature death
within a year, by his legendary daughter-in-law Ahilyabai Holkar,
who proved to be a capable and benevolent administrator, and a social
reformer, and a builder of many social welfare institutions and
temples. Ahilyabai is still deified in the areas that were ruled by the Holkars.
Prelude to the Third Battle of Panipat
One of the Maratha commanders, Malharrao Holkar
 Earlier, Gaziuddin had been
elevated to the position of mir bakshi by Safdar Jang himself,
the wazir at the time.
In 1752, the Afghan king, Ahmed Shah Abdali,
invaded Punjab and took possession of it. He then proceeded towards
Delhi and demanded 5,000,000 rupees as a tribute from the Mughal
emperor. The emperor pleaded to the Marathas for help and a formal treaty,
the Ahmadiya Pact, was signed
which included the
Maratha commanders, Malharrao Holkar and Jayappa Scindia. A total of 5,000,000 rupees
was to be paid to the Marathas along with the chauth of Punjab and Sind
(an even better price than that being demanded by the Afghans).
Thereafter Safdar Jang hastened to Delhi with a
fifty thousand-strong Maratha army. By then Abdali had already
Afghanistan after the panic-stricken Mughal emperor ceded Lahore
and Multan to him. This created bad blood between the emperor and his wazir, when the latter accused
the emperor of being duplicitous and acting
on the advice of his rival at the court, the eunuch Jawed Khan,
chief of the royal guard.
On the other hand, the Marathas refused to vacate Delhi unless the
emperor and his wazir honoured their agreement and paid them the promised
5,000,000 rupees. When this couldn't be arranged the Marathas
freely plundered Delhi.
By then Gaziuddin senior, the brother of Salabat Jang
and the new Nizam ul
Mulk, had staked a claim to Hyderabad and had sought the help of the
peshwas. The Marathas then forced the Mughal emperor to issue a sanad recognising Gaziuddin as the Nizam ul Mulk and Mughal subedar
in the Deccan. In return, Gaziuddin promised to pay 3,000,000 rupees to the
peshwa on behalf of the emperor as part payment towards the
previously agreed treaty. Also, he had been promised the governorship of Ajmer and Agra (these were in fact promised
earlier to the Rajputs
and the Jats). Furthermore, the promised chauth from Punjab and Sind
was also a part of Abdali's possessions. Hence the treaty between
Delhi and the Marathas still remained unfulfilled.
Ten thousand Maratha troops were left behind in Delhi under
the Maratha commander, Antaji Mankeshwar, while the rest returned
to their respective posts. The peshwa also sent Mahadev Pant
Hingane to the Delhi court to act as his representative.