Baji Rao I

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Shreemant Peshwa[1]
Baji Rao I
बाजीराव बल्लाळ बाळाजी भट्ट
Baji Rao I
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Peshwa of Maratha Empire
In office
27 April 1720 (1720-04-27) – 28 April 1740 (1740-04-28)
Monarch Chhatrapati Shahu
Preceded by Balaji Vishwanath(Ballalpant)
Succeeded by Balaji Bajirao
Personal details
Born (1700-08-18)18 August 1700
Died 28 April 1740(1740-04-28) (aged 39)
Spouse(s) Kashibai
Relations Chimaji Appa (brother)
Bhiubai Joshi
Anubai Ghorpade
Children Nanasaheb
Shamsher Bahadur I (Krishna Rao)
Mother Radhabai Barve (later Bhat)
Father Balaji Vishwanath

Baji Rao (18 August 1700 – 28 April 1740) was a general of the Maratha Empire in India. He served as Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fifth Maratha Chhatrapati (king) Shahu from 1720 until Bajirao's death. He is also known by the name Bajirao Ballal[3]

Baji Rao is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire, especially in the north, which contributed to its reaching a zenith during his son's reign twenty years after his death. In his military career spanning 20 years, Baji Rao never lost a battle. According to the British Army officer Bernard Montgomery, Baji Rao was possibly the finest cavalry general ever produced by India.[4]

Early life[edit]

Bajirao was born into the Bhat family of Kokanastha Chitpavan Brahmin lineage.[5] His father Balaji Vishwanath was the first Peshwa of Chhatrapati Shahu; his mother was Radhabai. Baji Rao had a younger brother Chimaji Appa and two sisters, Bhiubai Joshi and Anubai Ghorpade.[6] He spent his childhood in his father's newly acquired fiefdom of Saswad.

Bajirao would often accompany his father on military campaigns. He was with his father when the latter was imprisoned by Damaji Thorat before being released for a ransom.[6] When Vishwanath died in 1720, Shahu appointed the 20-year old Baji Rao as the Peshwa.[7] He is said to have preached the ideal of Hindu Pad Padshahi (Hindu Empire),[8]

Bajirao intended to plant the Maratha flag upon the walls of Delhi and other cities governed by the Mughals and their subjects. He intended to replace the Mughal Empire and create a Hindu-Pat-Padshahi.[9]

Early Life as a Peshwa[edit]

Shaniwarwada palace fort in Pune, it was built as the seat of the Peshwa rulers during Bajirao's reign.

Bajirao succeeded his father as Peshwa of the Maratha Empire.By the time Baji Rao became the Peshwa, Chhatrapati Shahu was almost a titular ruler, largely confined to his residence in Satara[citation needed]. The Maratha confederacy was run in his name, but the real power lay in the hands of the Peshwa. By the time of Baji Rao's appointment, Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah had recognized Marathas' rights over the territories possessed by Shivaji at his death. In 1719, the Mughals had also recognized the Maratha rights to collect taxes (chauth or chauthaii and sardeshmukhi) in the six provinces of Deccan. Bajirao believed that the Mughal Empire was in decline and wanted to take advantage of this situation with aggressive expansion in north India. Sensing the declining fortune of the Mughals, he is reported to have said, "Strike, strike at the trunk and the branches will fall off themselves."[10][11] However, as a new Peshwa, he faced several challenges:[6]

  • His appointment as the Peshwa at a young age had evoked jealousy from senior officials like Naro Ram Mantri, Anant Ram Sumant and Shripatrao Pant Pratinidhi. This led Bajirao to promote young commanders such as Malhar Rao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde, and the Pawar brothers who were not from the families that held hereditary Deshmukhi rights under the Deccan Sultanates.[12]
  • Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah I, the Mughal viceroy of Deccan, had practically created his own independent kingdom in the region and challenged the Maratha rights to collect taxes in Deccan.[6]
  • The Marathas needed to assert their rights over the nobles of the newly gained territories in Malwa and Gujarat[6]
  • Several areas that were nominally part of the Maratha territory, were not actually under Peshwa's control. For example, the Siddis controlled the Janjira fort.[6]


Campaign against the Nizam[edit]

On January 4, 1721, Baji Rao met Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah I at Chikhalthan to settle their disputes through agreement. However, Nizam refused to recognize the Maratha rights to collect taxes from the Deccan provinces.[6] Nizam was made Vizier of Mughal Empire in 1721 , but alarmed at his growing power, emperor Muhammad Shah transferred him from Deccan to Awadh in 1723. Nizam rebelled against the order, resigned as the Vizier and marched towards Deccan. The emperor sent an army against him, which the Nizam defeated in the Battle of Sakhar-kheda. In response, Mughal emperor was forced to recognize him as the viceroy of Deccan. The Marathas, led by Bajirao, helped Nizam win this battle. In fact, for his bravery in the battle, Baji Rao was honored with a robe, a mansabdari of 7,000, an elephant and a jewel. After the battle, Nizam tried to appease both the Maratha Chhatrapati Shahu as well as the Mughal emperor. However, in reality, he wanted to carve out a sovereign kingdom and considered the Marathas his rivals in the Deccan.[13]

In 1725, Nizam sent an army to clear out the Maratha revenue collectors from the Carnatic region. The Marathas dispatched a force under Fateh Singh Bhosle to counter him; Baji Rao accompanied Bhosle, but did not command the army. The Marathas were forced to retreat. They launched a second campaign after the monsoon season, but once again, they were unable to prevent the Nizam from ousting the Maratha collectors.[14]

Meanwhile, in Deccan, Sambhaji II of Kolhapur State had become a rival claimant to the title of the Maratha Chhatrapati. Nizam took advantage of this dispute among the Marathas. He refused to pay the chauth or sardeshmukhi on the grounds that it was unclear who was the real Chhatrapati: Shahu or Sambhaji II (and therefore, to whom the payment needed to be made). Nizam offered to act as an arbitrator in this dispute. At the court of Shahu, Nizam's spokesman was Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi, a Deshastha Brahmin and a rival of Bajirao(who was a Chitpavan Brahmin). At the court of Sambhaji II, his supporter was Chandrasen Jadhav, who had fought Bajirao's father a decade earlier. Bajirao convinced Shahu not to accept Nizam's arbitration offer and instead launch an assault against him.[14]

On August 27, 1727, Baji Rao started a march against Nizam. He raided and plundered several of Nizam's territories, such as Jalna, Burhanpur and Khandesh. While Bajirao was away, Nizam invaded Pune, where he installed Sambhaji II as Chhatrapati. He then marched out of the city, leaving behind a contingent headed by Fazal Beg. On February 28, 1728, the armies of Bajirao and Nizam faced each other at the Battle of Palkhed. Nizam was defeated and forced to make peace. On March 6, he signed the Treaty of Mungi Shevgaon, recognizing Shahu as the Chhatrapati as well as the Maratha right to collect taxes in Deccan.[6]

Baji Rao moved his base of operations from Saswad to Pune in 1728 and in the process laid the foundation for turning what was a kasba into a large city.[15] Bajirao also started construction of Shaniwar Wada on the right bank of the Mutha River. The construction was completed in 1730, ushering in the era of Peshwa control of the city.

Malwa campaign[edit]

An equestrian statue of Peshwa Bajirao I outside the Shaniwar Wada (Shaniwar Palace) in Pune

In 1723, Baji Rao had organized an expedition to the southern parts of Malwa. The Maratha chiefs such as Ranoji Shinde, Malhar Rao Holkar, Udaji Rao Pawar, Tukoji Rao Pawar and Jivaji Rao Pawar had successfully collected chauth from several areas in Malwa.(Later, these chiefs carved out their own kingdoms of Gwalior, Indore, Dhar and Dewas States- Junior and Senior respectively). To counter the Maratha influence, Mughal emperor had appointed Girdhar Bahadur as the Governor of Malwa.[6]

After defeating Nizam, Baji Rao turned his attention towards Malwa. In October 1728, he consigned a huge army commanded by his younger brother Chimnaji Appa, and aided by the generals like Shinde, Holkar and Pawar. On 29 November 1728, Chimnaji's army defeated the Mughals at the Battle of Amjhera. Girdhar Bahadur and his commander Daya Bahadur were killed in the battle. Chimnaji also marched towards Ujjain, but had to retreat due to lack of supplies.[6] By February 1729, the Maratha forces had reached the present-day Rajasthan.[14]

Bundelkhand campaign[edit]

In Bundelkhand, Chhatrasal had rebelled against the Mughal empire and established an independent kingdom. In December 1728, a Mughal force led by Muhammad Khan Bangash defeated him and imprisoned his family. Chhatrasal had repeatedly sought Bajirao's assistance, but the latter was busy in Malwa at that time. In March 1729, Peshwa finally responded to Chhatrasal's request and marched towards Bundelkhand. Chhatrasal also escaped his captivity and joined the Maratha force. After they marched to Jaitpur, Bangash was forced to leave Bundelkhand. Chhatrasal's position as the ruler of Bundelkhand was restored. Chhatrasal assigned a large jagir to Baji Rao and also married his daughter Mastani to him. Before his death in December 1731, he ceded some of his territories to the Marathas.[6]

Gujarat campaign[edit]

After consolidating Maratha influence in central India, Peshwa Baji Rao decided to assert Maratha rights to collect taxes from the rich province of Gujarat. In 1730, he sent a Maratha force under Chimaji Appa to Gujarat. Sarbuland Khan, the Mughal Governor of the province, ceded to Marathas, the right to collect chauth and sardeshmukhi from Gujarat. He was soon replaced by Abhay Singh, who also recognized the Maratha rights to collect taxes. However, this success irked Chhatrapati Shahu's senapati(commander-in-chief) Trimbak Rao Dabhade. His ancestors from Dabhade clan had raided Gujarat several times, asserting their rights to collect taxes from that province. Annoyed at Bajirao's control over what he considered his family's sphere of influence, he rebelled against the Peshwa.[6] Two other Maratha nobles of Gujarat — Gaekwad and Kadam Bande — also sided with Dabhade.[14]

Meanwhile, after the defeat of Girdhar Bahadur in 1728, the Mughal emperor had appointed Jai Singh II to subdue the Marathas. However, Jai Singh recommended a peaceful agreement with the Marathas. The emperor disagreed and replaced him with Muhammad Khan Bangash. Bangash formed an alliance with the Nizam, Trimbak Rao and Sambhaji II. On April 1, 1731, Baji Rao defeated the allied forces of Dabhade, Gaekwad and Kadam Bande: Trimbak Rao was killed in the Battle of Dabhoi. On April 13, Baji Rao resolved the dispute with Sambhaji II by signing the Treaty of Warna, which demarcated the territories of Chhatrapati Shahu and Sambhaji II. Subsequently, the Nizam met Baji Rao at Rohe-Rameshwar on December 27, 1732 and promised not to interfere with the Maratha expeditions.[6]

Even after subduing Trimbak Rao, Shahu and Baji Rao avoided a rivalry with the powerful Dabhade clan: Trimbak's son Yashwant Rao was made the new senapati of Shahu. Dabhade family was allowed to continue collecting chauth from Gujarat on the condition that they would deposit half the collections in the Chhatrapati Shahu's treasury.[6]

Campaign against Siddis[edit]

The Siddis of Janjira controlled a small but strategically important territory on the western coast of India. They originally held only the Janjira fort, but after Shivaji's death, they had expanded their rule to a large part of the central and northern Konkan region.[14] After the death of the Siddi chief Yakut Khan in 1733, a war of succession broke out among his sons. One of his sons, Abdul Rehman, requested Baji Rao for help. Baji Rao sent a Maratha force led by Sekhoji Angre(son of Kanhoji Angre). The Marathas regained control of several places in Konkan and besieged Janjira. However, their strength was diverted after Peshwa's rival Pant Pratinidhi occupied the Raigad Fort near Janjira in June 1733. In August, Sekhoji Angre died, further weakening the Maratha position. As a result, Baji Rao decided to sign a peace treaty with the Siddis. He allowed the Siddis to retain control of Janjira on the condition that they would accept Abdul Rehman as the ruler. The Siddis were also allowed to retain control of Anjanvel, Gowalkot and Underi. The Marathas retained the territories of Raigad, Rewas, Thal and Chaul, which they had gained during the offensive.[6]

Soon after the Peshwa marched back to Satara, the Siddis launched an offensive to regain their lost territories. In June 1734, Bajirao dispatched a force to prevent them from taking over the Raigad fort. Subsequently, on April 19, 1736, Chimnaji launched a surprise attack on a Siddi camp near Rewas, killing around 1,500 of them, including their leader Siddi Sat. On September 25, the Siddis signed a peace treaty, which confined them to Janjira, Gowalkot and Anjanvel.[6]

March to Delhi[edit]

After death of Trimbak Rao, Bangash's alliance against the Marathas had fallen apart. Consequently, Mughal emperor recalled him from Malwa, and re-appointed Jai Singh II as the governor of Malwa. However, Maratha chief Holkar defeated Jai Singh in the Battle of Mandsaur in 1733. After two more battles, Mughals decided to offer Marathas the right to collect 22 lakh as chauth from Malwa. On March 4, 1736, Baji Rao and Jai Singh came to an agreement at Kishangad. Jai Singh convinced the emperor to agree to the plan and Baji Rao was appointed as Deputy Governor of the province. Jai Singh is also believed to have secretly informed Bajirao that it was a good time to subdue the weakening Mughal emperor.[6]

On November 12, 1736, the Peshwa started a march to the Mughal capital Delhi from Pune. On hearing about the advancing Maratha army, Mughal emperor asked Saadat Ali Khan I to march from Agra and check the Maratha advance. The Maratha chiefs Malhar Rao Holkar and Pilaji Jadhav crossed Yamuna and plundered the Mughal territories in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. Saadat Khan led a force of 150,000 against them, and defeated them. He then retired to Mathura, thinking that the Marathas had retreated. However, Baji Rao advanced to Delhi and encamped at Talkatora. The Mughal emperor dispatched a force led by Mir Hasan Khan Koka to check his advance. The Marathas defeated this force in the Battle of Delhi on March 28, 1737. Baji Rao then retreated from Delhi, apprehensive about the approach of a larger Mughal force from Mathura.[6]

The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah then sought help from Nizam. Nizam set out from Deccan and met Baji Rao's returning force at Sironj. Nizam told Baji Rao that he was going to Delhi to repair his relationship with the Mughal emperor. On reaching Delhi, he was joined by other Mughal chiefs and a massive Mughal army set out against the Peshwa. Peshwa also assembled a force of 80,000 soldiers and marched towards Delhi, leaving behind a force of 10,000 under Chimnaji to guard Deccan. The two armies met mid-way at Bhopal, where the Marathas defeated the Mughals in the Battle of Bhopal on December 24, 1737. Once again, Nizam was forced to sign a peace agreement, this time at Doraha on January 7, 1738.[16] The province of Malwa was formally ceded to the Marathas and the Mughals agreed to pay 5,000,000 as indemnity. This time, Nizam took an oath on Koran to abide by the treaty.[6]

Against the Portuguese[edit]

The Portuguese had captured several territories on the west coast of India. They had violated an agreement to give the Marathas a site on Salsette Island for building a factory and had been practising religious intolerance against Hindus in their territory. In March 1737, Peshwa dispatched a Maratha force led by Chimaji against them. Marathas captured the Ghodbunder Fort and almost all of Vasai, after the Battle of Vasai. They also managed to gain control of Salsette on May 16, 1739, after a prolonged siege. However, the Marathas had to turn their attention away from the Portuguese due to Nader Shah's invasion of the Mughal Empire in the north.[6]

Personal life[edit]


Peshwa Bajirao's first wife was Kashibai. They had three sons: Balaji Baji Rao(aka Nana Saheb), Raghunath Rao and Janardhan Rao (who died young).[17] Nana Saheb succeeded him as the Peshwa in 1740, under the name Balaji Baji Rao.

His second wife was Chhatrasal's daughter Mastani.[18] They were deeply in love and he built a palace for her in Pune, which was called the Mastani Mahal. A reconstruction of it can be seen at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune, including remains from the original palace. The contemporary orthodox Hindu Brahmin society refused to accept the marriage because Mastani had a Muslim mother. This led to a crisis in Bhat family. The historian D. G. Godse claims that Baji Rao's brother Chimaji Appa and mother, Radhabai, never accepted Mastani as one of their own. Many attempts were made on her life, presumably by Chimaji Appa; she survived with the help of Chhatrapati Shahu.

In 1734, Baji Rao and Mastani had a son, who was named Krishna Rao at birth. Baji Rao wanted him to be accepted as a Brahmin, but because of his mother's Muslim faith, the priests refused to conduct the Hindu upanayana ceremony for him.[6] The boy was brought up as a Muslim and came to be known as Shamsher Bahadur. Kashibai took the six-year-old boy under her care and raised him as one of her own. To him was bestowed a portion of his father's dominion of Banda and Kalpi. In 1761, he and his army contingent fought alongside the Peshwa in the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and Afghans and he died in the same battle[19] at the age of almost 27. Shamsher Bahadur's own son, Ali Bahadur, later ruled over Baji Rao's lands in Bundelkhand and founded the state of Banda.


Baji Rao memorial at Raverkhedi

Baji Rao died on April 28, 1740, at the age of 39 of a sudden fever, possibly heat stroke, while inspecting his jahgirs. At that time, he was en route to Delhi with nearly 100,000 troops under his command at his camp in the Khargone district, near the city of Indore. He was cremated on April 28, 1740, at Raverkhedi on Narmada River. The Scindias built a chhatri as a memorial at this place. The memorial is enclosed by a dharmashala. The compound has two temples, dedicated to Nilkantheshwara Mahadeva(Shiva) and Rameshvara(Rama).[20]

Expansion of the Maratha territories during Bajirao I's reign
Maratha and non-Maratha territories in India in 1720 
Maratha and non-Maratha territories in India, in 1740 

Battle tactics[edit]

An information plaque just below the statue of Bajirao Peshwa describes him as RannMard or Man of the battlefield

Baji Rao is famous for rapid tactical movements in battle, using his cavalry inherited from Maratha generals including Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav and Ananatrao Makaji. Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery, in his "History of Warfare"[21] likened Bajirao's approach to that subsequently made famous by U.S. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman during his 1864 March to the Sea: the use of rapid movements where his troops lived off the land, with minimal concern for their own supply and communication lines and employing "total warfare" on the enemy civilian population. He is often called a cavalry general. Two examples are the Battle of Palkhed in 1728 when he outmaneuvered the Mughal Governor of Deccan province and again in the battle against the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah at Delhi during 1739. British General Montgomery called Bajirao's victory at Palkhed as a "masterpiece of strategic mobility".[22]

Baji Rao concentrated on using local terrain to cut the enemy supply-lines with the help of rapid troop movement. He followed Maratha traditional tactics of encircling the enemy quickly, appearing from the rear of enemy, attacking from the unexpected direction, distracting the enemy's attention, keeping the enemy off balance and deciding the battlefield on his own terms.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Arvind Javlekar (2005). Lokmata Ahilyabai. Ocean Books (P)Ltd. 
  2. ^ James Heitzman (2008). The City in South Asia. Routledge. 
  3. ^ Sandhya Gokhale (2008). The Chitpavans: social ascendancy of a creative minority in Maharashtra, 1818-1918. Shubhi. p. 82. ISBN 978-81-8290-132-2. 
  4. ^ Why Bajirao is India's greatest cavalry general
  5. ^ Valentine, Sir Chirol (2012). Indian Unrest. tredition. p. 72. ISBN 978-3-8472-0599-9. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u G.S.Chhabra (2005). Advance Study in the History of Modern India (Volume-1: 1707-1803). Lotus Press. pp. 19–28. ISBN 978-81-89093-06-8. 
  7. ^ Shripad Rama Sharma (1951). The Making of Modern India: From A. D. 1526 to the Present Day. Orient Longmans. p. 239. 
  8. ^ B.N. Puri; M.N. Das (2003). A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of medieval India. Sterling. p. 212. ISBN 978-81-207-2508-9. 
  9. ^ Ashvini Agrawal (1983). Studies in Mughal History. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 23. ISBN 978-81-208-2326-6. 
  10. ^ S. N. Sen (2006). History Modern India. New Age International. p. 11. ISBN 978-81-224-1774-6. 
  11. ^ G.S.Chhabra (2005). Advance Study in the History of Modern India (Volume-1: 1707-1803). Lotus Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-81-89093-06-8. 
  12. ^ Gordon, Stewart (2008). The Marathas 1600-1818. (Digitally print. 1. pbk. version. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ Pr. pp. 117–121. ISBN 978-0521033169. 
  13. ^ P. V. Kate (1987). Marathwada Under the Nizams, 1724-1948. Mittal. pp. 11–13. ISBN 978-81-7099-017-8. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Stewart Gordon (1993). The Marathas 1600-1818. Cambridge University Press. pp. 120–131. ISBN 978-0-521-26883-7. 
  15. ^ Kosambi, Meera (1989). "Glory of Peshwa Pune". Economic and Political Weekly. 24 (5): 247. 
  16. ^ S.R. Bakshi and O.P. Ralhan (2007). Madhya Pradesh Through the Ages. Sarup & Sons. p. 384. ISBN 978-81-7625-806-7. 
  17. ^ B. P. Saha (1997). Begams, concubines, and memsahibs. Vikas. p. 88. 
  18. ^ "How Bajirao and Mastani became a byword for doomed romance". 
  19. ^ Henry Dodwell (1958). The Cambridge History of India: Turks and Afghans. CUP Archive. pp. 407jn–. GGKEY:96PECZLGTT6. 
  20. ^ "Brindaban dedicated to the memory of Shrimant Baji Rao Peshwa". ASI Bhopal. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  21. ^ A History of Warfare: Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (January 1983), ISBN 978-0688016456
  22. ^ M. R. Kantak (1993). The First Anglo-Maratha War, 1774-1783: A Military Study of Major Battles. Popular Prakashan. p. 12. ISBN 978-81-7154-696-1. 
  23. ^ Jha, Subhash K (19 October 2015). "Bajirao Mastani review: This gloriously epic Priyanka, Deepika and Ranveer-starrer is the best film of 2015". Firstpost. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  24. ^ "Peshwa Bajirao Review: Anuja Sathe shines as Radhabai in the period drama", India Today, 25 January 2017 

Further reading[edit]

  • Palsolkar, Col. R. D. Bajirao I: An Outstanding Indian Cavalry General, India: Reliance Publishers, 248pp, 1995, ISBN 81-85972-93-1.
  • Paul, E. Jaiwant. Baji Rao - The Warrior Peshwa, India: Roli Books Pvt Ltd, 184pp, ISBN 81-7436-129-4.
  • Dighe, V.G. Peshwa Bajirao I and the Maratha Expansion, 1944
  • N. S. Inamdar, Rau (1972), a historical novel about Baji Rao and Mastani. (in Marathi)
  • Godse, D. G. Mastani, Popular Prakashan, 1989 (in Marathi)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat
Succeeded by
Balaji Baji Rao