Saturday, November 20, 2010

Peshwas (Part 1) : The Early Peshwas

Peshwas were the heridatory prime ministers of the Maratha Chatrapatis, who later assumed the numero uno position in Maratha politics.
The word Peshwa has roots in the Persian language meaning ‘foremost’. They were all Brahmin ministers who initially started as the chief executives to the king.

Sonpant Dabir(1640-1652) was said to be the first unofficial Peshwa . He was initially sent by Shahajiraje to advise his son Shivaji in his administration at Puna. The word Dabir however meant being the foreign secretary, but his seniormost position accorded him a role equivalent to that of a Peshwa. Sonopant was said to be weighed in gold coins at the Tuladaan ceremony at Mahabaleshwar by Shivaji, to honour the grand old man for his services to the kingdom.
Shyampant Kulkarni Ranzekar(1652-1657), was the second Peshwa . He was probably removed from his post by Shivaji following some mismanagement allegations.
Narhari Anandrao 
Moropant Trimbak Pingale (he was then officially titled as Pantpradhan or Prime minister. Post held from 1657-1683) was the third person to be declared the Peshwa (and the first one officially) during the coronation of Shivaji as a 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 the Trimbakeshwar fort at Nasik. He also assisted Netaji Palkar during the Wani Dindori battle and during the raid on Surat. Moropant was involved in the construction of fort Pratapgad as well.
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 had accused Moropant of conspiring against him (during the time of Sambhajis power struggle with his step mother Soyrabai. Sambhaji had accused Moropant of siding with his step mother) and had temporarily removed him, but 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 of Sambhaji.
He had earlier served as Shivajis Muzumdar.He was instrumental in recovering the fort Purandar from the Mughals in 1670, capturing its kiledar Raziuddin.He later served under Ch.Rajaram and Rani Tarabai.
He later developed the Shukrawar Peth and Rawiwar Peth in Pune.

Ramchandrapant (Bahutkar)Bawdekar (1689-1708) rose from the ranks of a Kulkarni (accountant) to being an prime minister (amatya).
He served 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 in his behalf. In 1689, Rajaram replaced Ramchandrapant with Tarabai(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.
Ramchandrapant was an asset to the Maratha empire during the difficult times and tackled many adverse situations like resources, food scarcity with remarkable skill.Rammchandra later helped Tarabai establish her throne in Kolhapur.
He penned his experience in administration, in his book, ‘Adnyapatra.’ Ramchandra pant died in 1716 at fort Panhala.Ramchandrapant later fell out with Rani Tarabai and is said to have been instrumental in installing Ch.Sambhaji (younger son of Ch.Rajaram and stepson of Tarabai) on the Kolhapur throne.

Note: During the time of Rajaram, the post of Pant Pratinidhi was almost on par with the post of Peshwa. The first Pant Pratinidhi was Prahlad Niraji. Later this post was occupied by Parshuram Trimbak Kinhaikar who (and his descendents) later became the jagirdars of Aundh state.He was instrumental in holding the fort Panhala against Aurangzeb (1689). Though he lost the fort then, he recaptured it in 1692. He also captured territories between Miraj and fort Rangana and also Bhudargad ,Chandangad, Pavangad, Satara and Vasantgad. He continued his loyalty towards Tarabai much to the chagrin of Shahu. Shahu imprisoned him twice between 1710-14. 14 (second time when his son Krishnaji joined the forces of Sammbhaji II).But his life was spared by Shahu because of the intervention of Khando Ballal (Shahus personal assistant ) who reminded his king of Parshuram Trimbaks contribution to the maratha cause. Parshuram Trimbak continued holding the position of Pant Pratinidhi in the time of Tarabai until his death in 1718. He was succeeded by his son Srinivasrao aka Shripatrao, who continued albeit as the feudatory jagirdar(Aundh) of Shahus .

Bahirojipant Pingale (1708-1711) was the younger son of Moropant Pingale and Shahus first Peshwa. 
When Kanhoji Angre attacked Satara in 1711, Bahiroji was taken a prisoner by him. That’s when Shahu ordered Balaji Vishwanath to ensure his release and also gave  Balaji Vishwanath authority in the form of the post of Peshwa, in order to negotiate with Angre on the kings behalf.

Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1713-1720) was the progenitor of the Bhat Peshwas who later became the de facto rulers of the Maratha kingdom for over a century. 
The Bhats (Balaji and his elder brother Janoji) were Chitpavan Brahmins hailing from Shrivardhan in the Konkan region.


Mahadjipant (Deshmukh-Dandarajapuri)
Shivaji Mahadev (Parshuram)- son ( brother- Naro Mahadev)
Vishwanathpant (a.k.a Visaji) - son (brothers- Krishnaji, Antaji)
Balaji Vishwanath - son (brothers-Janoji,Krishnaji,Rudraji,Vithal)

They probably started in the service of the Siddis of Janjira and after friction with the tyrannical Nawab, later shifted base to the ghats .
There they took up service with first Ramchandra pant (he acted as a Sab Suba or adminsistrator of Puna/Pune and later Daulatabad) and later with Dhanaji Jadhav , the Sarnobat of the Maratha army. (after recommendation from his friend Ghanshyam Shenvi of Rahimatpur).
Dhanaji Jadhav sent Balaji Vishwanath (who was a Diwan or a revenue officer then) on a confidential mission to ascertain the credibility of Shahu. Satisfied that Shahu was indeed a son of Sambhaji, Balaji went back and persuaded his master Dhanaji to join the forces of the true king. 
Both Dhanaji and Balaji ensured the defeat of Tarabais armies and she had to retreat to Kolhapur where she formed a separate kingdom (Shahu ruling from Satara). After Dhanajis death, his son Chandrasen was made the senapati and Balaji the Senakarte.But Chandrasen who basically resented the ascendency of someone like Balaji who was once his fathers servant, quarreled with the latter over a trifle. Seeing Shahu taking Balajis side, Chandrasen transferred his allegiance to Tarabai. Chandrasen was replaced by his brother Santaji as the new Senapati. But his loyalties toward Shahu also turned feeble and fell prey to Tarabais promises.

Note: Chandrasen Jadhav was beaten in battle by Shahus 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 a naught.

On one occassion,a person by the name of Damaji Thorat ( an protégé of Ramchandrapant Bavdekar) treacherously captured Balaji and Shahu had to pay Thorat a huge ransom to have him released. .Shahu then sent Haibatrao Nimbalkar along with Balaji to chastise Damaji Thorat.In 1718 ,Damaji Thorat was later defeated and taken a prisoner by Balaji.

There was a time when several maratha nobles deserted Shahus cause and joined Tarabai. Notable amongst these were Krishnarao Khatavkar, Udaji Chavan,Rambhaji Nimbalkar etc.
This was indeed a very 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 a strong army.

In 1713, Kanhoji Angre a Maratha chieftain from Konkan, challenged the supremacy of Shahu. He attacked Satara, and took away the Peshwa Bahiroji Pingale as a prisoner. That’s when Balaji Vishwanath ,who by now had become Shahus close confidante (and was also the Mutaliq to Amatya Amburao Hanmante) was entrusted with the responsibility (by Shahu) to negotiate the release of Bahiroji. 
Balaji Vishwanath requested for more authority in order to negotiate better with Kanhoji Angre. 
That was when Balaji Vishwanath was made the Peshwa , as on 17th Nov 1713.

Note: Balaji Vishwanath made Ambaji Purandare his mutalik and Ramajipant Bhanu (an ancestor of the famed Nana Phadanvis, the chief minister of Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa) his Phadnavis.

Balaji Vishwanath then proceeded to Konkan with a large army.
But Balaji was wise enough to understand the importance of a person like Kanhoji Angre and wished him to be on their side. 
He therefore, instead of attacking Kanhojis army, started discussions with Kanhoji Angre. He convinced Kanhoji that his main enemies were the Mughals, the Siddis and the Portuguese and promised help to the Angres on that front. Eventually Kanhoji agreed to accept Shahu as his overlord and in return Kanhoji Angre was made the Sarkhel or Admiral of the Maratha army. He was also allowed autonomy in his regions. 

Note: Kanhoji Angre (born 1667, died 4th June 1729) a.k.a 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 Maratha Navy and contolled areas from Mumbai to Vengurla on the western Konkan coast. He was induced into the services of Shahu by Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, who declared him the Sarkhel (Kanhoji was earlier on the side of Shahus 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; three illegitimate sons, Tulaji, Manaji, and Yeshaji. After Kanhoji, his son Sekhoji continued Maratha exploits at sea till his death in 1733. After Sekhoji's death, the Angre might was split between  brothers,Tulaji, Sambhaji and Manaji, because of divisions in the family. The Angre reign over the Western coast ended with the capture of Tulaji in a joint British / Peshwa (Balaji Bajirao who was facing insubordination from the Tulaji Angre( who had become very powerfull and refused to accept the Peshwa as his leader).
Kanhoji was also said to have constructed three naval forts Gova,Kanakdurg & Fatehgad.

 Many other enemies like Udaji Chavan , the Ghorpades, Krishnarao Khatavkar were also subdued. Thus Balaji Vishwanath gained Shahus trust and soon became the numero uno minister of Chatrapati Shahu.

In 1714, Balaji hatched a conspiracy with Sambhaji II , another son of Rajaram and helped him oust his step mother Tarabai from the throne of Kolhapur.

Meanwhile following the death of Aurangzeb, there were no major skirmishes between the Marathas and the Mughals. In fact Prince Azam promised Shahu the Sardeshmukhi of certain subahs.
But Prince Azam was killed in the battle of succession and Bahadur Shah ascended the mughal throne. 
Bahadur Shah, though not hostile, dillydallied over the issue of viceroyalty of Maratha subahs to Shahu and was undecided on whether to support Shahu (though the mughal viceroy of Deccan, Zulfikar Khan did support the cause of Shahu) or Tarabai. 
Subsequently, during the time of emperor Jahandar Shah, the Marathas launched an attack on mughal territories forcing Daud Khan, the Deccan deputy of Zulfikar Khan , in order to make him recognise Shahu's rights of sardeshmukhi . 
In 1713, Farukhsiyar ascended the mughal throne with the help of the Sayyed brothers. 
Zulfikar Khan was then assassinated in Delhi and his post was given to Chin Qilich Khan aka Nizam ul Mulk. 
Nizam ul Mulk was always hostile to the Marathas whom he viewd as impediments in his dreams for overlordship of the Deccan region. He instigated Farukhsiyar to refuse to adhere to the agreement of sardeshmukhi between Daud Khan and the Marathas. Nizam Ul Mulk also tried to create an anti Shahu lobby by supporting Shahus old rivals like Sambhaji II ,Chandrasen Jadhav,Rambhaji Nimbalkar etc. 
But politics at Delhi took a new turn and Nizam ul Mulk was substituted with Sayyed Hussain Ali Khan the brother of the wazir Sayyed Abdullah Khan. The Sayyeds were also intitially hostile towards the Marathas, but their own precarious position made them seek the help of Balaji Vishwanath.Both decided on a quid pro quo policy whereby the marathas help them in consolidating their power in Delhi and in return they will help the marathas cement their chauth and sardeshmukhi rights in the deccan.
Matters had already soured between the Sayyad brothers and Farukhsiyar. The latter beginning to resent the growing clout of the Sayyad brothers, tried to instigate his commanders like Daud khan, the Nizam, Ajitsingh  against the Sayyed brothers. Sayyed Hussain Khan was also sent by emperor Farrukhsiyar to the Deccan to reduce the power of the Sayyeds. That was when a maratha servant of Sayyed Hussain Khan, by the name of Shankarji Malhar advised him to take the help of the marathas.
 The Sayyids even devised a strategy to enter Delhi. They claimed that the marathas had in their possesion Munuddin a alleged son of prince Akbar (Aurangzebs son) whom they were willing to exchange for Shahus mother Yesubai who was since in a mughal prison. Farrukhsiyar fell to this ruse and allowed the Marathas (accompanied by Sayyid Husain Khan) to come over to Delhi for negotiations.
Balaji Vishwanath was despatched to Delhi by Shahu with a large contingent assisted by other Maratha commanders like Khanderao Dabadhe etc.Thats when the Marathas sought the official sanction from Emperor Farrukhsiyar over the earlier chauth/sardeshmukhi rights promised to the marathas (something which the Sayyeds had also agreed to while negotiating with the marathas). Farukhsiyar vehemently refused it and had a verbal altercation with the Sayyeds. Matters reached to a point where swords were drawn. Farrukhsiyar himself hid himself in his palace.

Note:  Nizam ul Mulk remained neutral all this time.

Farukhsiyars forces under Aminkhan were no match for the combined army of the Marathas and the Sayyeds.
In 1719, Farukhsiyar was replaced by a weak Rafi Ud Darjat as the Mughal emperor of Delhi who immediately certified the rights of the marathas below the Narmada river.
Farukhsiyar was later imprisoned, blinded and murdered by the Sayyed brothers.

Balaji Vishwanath on his way back from Delhi, also secured the release of Shahus mother Yesubai, wife Savitribai , half brother Madan singh and many Marathas who were earlier taken as captives by Aurangzeb.
Balaji also procured for his king the right of chauth (one fourth of the revenue) in six mughal provinces(including Malwa,Berar,Bundelkhand,Gujrat) in the Deccan , sardeshmukhi (one tenth of the revenue) and also swarajya (freedom) in Shahus own land.
This move endeared Shahu to his Peshwa whom he praised as an 'atul parakrami sevak' (a highly competant and valorous servant).

Note: Balaji Vishwanath was instrumental in streamlining the administration of the Maratha kingdom. To fill up the maratha coffers and to enable better collection of the Chauth (one fourth of the land revenue) and Sardeshmukhi (one tenth of the chauth )rights, he patronized selected people.
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.
This move was a departure from Shivajis earlier policy of keeping all his officers on a fixed payscale, and without any jagirs.
This move by Balaji Vishwanath has been critisised by some historians , as they felt that this paved way for legalizing the sovereign rights of those individuals over their regions.
But from Balaji Vishwanaths point of view, it made the revenue collection system much efficient with little cost to the states exchequer, as these people in order to maintain their lifestyles and armies, made an diligent effort to collect the revenue from their regions of influence. This also considerably increased the revenue of the King. 

On his return, Balaji Vishwanath established himself at Puna (Pune) ,which became the headquarters of the Peshwas to follow.Balaji Vishwanath is said to have funded the marathi translation of Skanda Purana.
His final battle was against Ch.Sambhajis (Kolhapur throne) forces whom he successfully pushed beyond Warna.
But Balaji Vishwanath wasn’t able to enjoy his success for long. He fell ill and died in a matter of days at Saswad near Puna on 12th April 1720.
Balaji left behind a wife Radhabai, two daughters (Bhiubai and Anubai) and two sons Bajirao I and Chimaji Appa.There is also a mention of an illegitimate son Bhikaji.
Balaji Vishwanath was succeeded by his son Bajirao I as the next Peshwa.

To be continued

1. New History of Marathas by G S Sardesai (Phoenix Publications).
2. Peshwa Bajirao and Maratha expansion by V G Dighe (Karnatak Publications).
3. Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1701-1813 .Jaswant Lal Mehta (New Dawn Press - New Delhi )
4. New Cambridge History of India: The Marathas, 1600-1818 By Stewart Gordon, Cambridge University Press.
5. A History of the Maratha People by G.A.Kincaid and Rao Bahadur D.B.Parasnis (Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press).
6. Balaji Vishwanath (Marathi) by M S Dixit (Devdeveshwar press).
7. Peshwe gharanyacha itihas (marathi) by Pramod Oak (Continental prakashan).

To follow, article on latter Peshwas like Bajirao I, Balaji Bajirao,Madhavrao,Narayanrao,Sawai Madhavrao,Raghunathrao,Bajirao II,Amritrao,Nanasaheb Peshwa.


  1. Hi,
    Did Peshwas had some kind of special seal/flag/some momento?

  2. "Bhagwa" or "Jari Patka" was the momento of Peshwas. Peshwas were servants of maratha kingdom.

  3. how can u be so sure about This statement "Shyampant Kulkarni Ranzekar(1652-1657), was the second Peshwa . He was probably removed from his post by Shivaji following some mismanagement allegations."