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Portrait of Pradhanpant Shreemant Madhavrao Ballal Peshwa at the Yale Center for British Art
|Peshwa of the Maratha Empire|
June 23, 1761 – November 18, 1772
|Preceded by||Balaji Baji Rao|
|Succeeded by||Narayanrao Peshwa|
|Born||February 15, 1745|
Savnur, Maratha Empire
|Died||November 18, 1772 (aged 27)|
Theur, Maratha Empire
Madhavrao Bhat I (February 15, 1745 – November 18, 1772) was a Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. During his tenure, the Maratha empire recovered from the losses they suffered during the Third Battle of Panipat, a phenomenon known as Maratha Resurrection. He is considered one of the greatest Peshwas in Maratha history.
Early life and ascendancy to Peshwa
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Madhavrao Bhat was second son of Peshwa Nanasaheb. He was born in Savnur in 1745. At the time of his birth, Maratha Empire was stretched across a sizeable portion of Western, Central and Northern India. On December 9, 1758, Madhavrao married Ramabai in Pune.
Nanasaheb had greatly expanded the Maratha Empire and had tried to establish better governance. However, he was held partially responsible for the severe defeat of the Marathas by Ahmad Shah Abdali at the Third Battle of Panipat in early 1761. The Maratha forces suffered heavy losses including Nanasaheb's eldest son and heir Vishwasrao Bhat and cousin Sadashivrao Bhau. He died on June 23, 1761 at Parvati in Pune.
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At the ascendancy of Madhavrao, the Maratha empire was in complete shambles as their defeat at Panipat had accumulated big debts to their wealth. At Shaniwar Wada, the prime residence of Peshwa, religious rituals and ceremonies were frequently being conducted. The discipline required for the smooth running of administrative affairs was almost non-existent. The security at the treasury was poor. When these weaknesses were brought to Madhavrao's notice, he introduced changes by personally looking into the administration, accounts and the treasury. He also reduced the religious practices being followed at Shaniwar Wada.
In February 1762, Peshwas set out to conquer Karnataka. This was one of the earliest wars against the Nizam when conflict arose between Madhavrao and his uncle Raghunathrao. Due to difference of opinion between the two, Raghunathrao decided to abandon the troop midway and return to Pune, while Madhavrao continued. Eventually, a treaty was signed with the Nizam and Madhavrao returned. Both Madhavrao and Raghunathrao had their preferences even over the Sardars (Generals). Madhavrao usually preferred the company of Gopalrao Patwardhan, Tryambakrao Mama Pethe, Nana Fadnavis and Ramshastri Prabhune; while Raghunathrao was dearer to Sakharambapu, Gulabrao and Gangoba Tatya.
Disputes with Ragunathrao
The discord between Madhavrao and Raghunathrao was increasing and on August 22, 1762, Raghunathrao fled to Vadgaon Maval where he started grooming his own army.
Raghunathrao's men started looting the nearby villages for warfare and this act angered Madhavrao. He decided to wage a war against his uncle Ragunathrao on November 7, 1762. However, Madhavrao didn't wish to battle against his own uncle and thus, proposed for a treaty. Raghunathrao agreed to sign the treaty with Madhavrao and asked him to move back to a non-attacking position. Madhavrao did so. However, Raghunathrao deceived Madhavrao. When the Maratha camp under Madhavrao was relaxed and unsuspecting of a battle, they were caught unawared as Raghunathrao attacked treacherously. Thus, Madhavrao was defeated in this war and on November 12, 1762 surrendered himself to Raghunathrao near Alegaon. After the surrender, Raghunathrao decided to control all the major decisions under the assistance of Sakharam Bapu. He also decided to befriend Nizam, but this proved to be a wrong masterplan as Nizam slowly started infiltrating the zones of Maratha Empire. As time slipped by, Madhavrao pointed out the gravity of the situation to his uncle. Eventually on March 7, 1763 the Peshwas, once again under Madhavrao's leadership, decided to attack Aurangabad to crush Nizam. After months of chasing, Peshwas faced Nizam's army on August 10, 1763 in the Battle of Rakshasbhuvan near Aurangabad. Nizam's army suffered huge losses in this war and Nizam retreated.
War against Hyder Ali and Mysore
In January 1764, for the second time, Madhavrao decided to gather up his defences and conquer Hyder Ali. This time his massive army included efficient generals like Gopalrao Patwardhan, Murarrao Ghorpade, Vinchurkar and Naro Shankar. Raghunathrao declined his offer to join him and instead chose to visit Nashik. This was a particularly long conquest which went for almost a year in and around the districts of Karnataka. However, Hyder Ali somehow managed to escape the clutches of the Peshwas. Eventually, Madhavrao decided to call Raghunathrao for his assistance, but Raghunathrao only signed a treaty with Hyder Ali, much to Madhavrao's disappointment. Raghunathrao intentionally made this move, since he was now fearfully aware of Madhavrao's burgeoning power. Additionally, his loyal assistant Sakharam bapu also warned him against the consequences of conquering Hyder Ali. Peshwa's failure to impose authority over Hyder Ali triggered a major setback on Madhavrao's health. In 1767, Madhavrao I organized a 3rd expedition against Hyder Ali and inflicted defeats on Hyder Ali in the battles of Sira and Madgiri and made a surprise discovery of Queen Virammaji the last ruler of the Keladi Nayaka Kingdom and her son who were kept in confinement in the fort of Madgiri by Hyder Ali. They were rescued by Madhavrao I and were sent to Pune for protection.
Alliance with Nizam
Peshwas were expanding their territory in the northern regions of India. Raghunathrao, Holkars and Shindes together marched towards Delhi with the intention of expanding the Maratha Empire in these territories. In the meanwhile, Madhavrao made a bold decision of bonding with his old rival, Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II. The Nizam also genuinely expressed his desire to increase the relationship and thus the two met at Kurumkhed on February 5, 1766. The next few days saw some cultural exchanges and open expressions of concern. The levels of mutual understanding alleviated and this relationship started growing stronger.
British meet Peshwas
On December 3, 1767, British officer Mastin arrived in Pune. The colonial rulers wanted to set up their armies in the regions of Vasai and Sashthi, but Madhavrao had anticipated their intentions. Mastin's repeated requests to acquire these regions in return for conquering Hyder Ali fell on deaf ears, and Peshwa never agreed to them.
Raghunathrao faces house arrest
Though Raghunathrao had marched to the north for expanding the empire, he failed to do so. Instead, he came back to Anandvalli and was again tempted to form an alliance with his generals and fight against Madhavrao. This time, however; Madhavrao was extremely agitated with his uncle's repeated attempts to overthrow him. On June 10, 1768 he waged a war against Raghunathrao, captured him and put him under house arrest at Shaniwar Wada along with his assistant Sakharam Bapu Bokil.
The incident occurred on the evening of September 7, 1769. Madhavrao was returning from the Parvati temple at Pune with his comrades, when one of his generals Ramsingh suddenly attacked him with a sword. Madhavrao was warned just in the nick of time and he suffered a blow from the sword on his shoulder as he tried to dodge Ramsingh. Madhavrao believed that this was Raguhnathrao's attempt to murder him, but he imprisoned General Ramsingh.
In June 1770, Peshwas set out to conquer Hyder Ali for the third time. However, Madhavrao was infected with tuberculosis which started deteriorating his health. Tuberculosis was also termed as “Raj-Yakshma” or the prince of diseases. Madhavrao had to return from Miraj as the effects of the disease had started becoming prominent. He was even recommended an English doctor for treatment of the terrible disease and he would follow the advice given by the doctor. However, there were no signs of improvement and slowly it started developing further. The disease had affected his intestine. There was no cure for tuberculosis in those times. Madhavrao decided to spend his last days in his favourite Ganesha Chintamani Temple, Theur.
On 6 October 1772, Raghunathrao tried to escape from the house arrest at Shaniwar Wada, but he was caught again. Madhavrao had become excessively weak, and he could no longer bear such incidents. He had constructed a garden, a wooden hall and a fountain outside this favourite temple.
18 November 1772, early morning approximately at eight: Madhavrao died at the temple premises of Chintamani, Theur. Thousands of citizens visited the site and paid their last respects. Madhavrao was cremated on the banks of the river which was about half a mile from the temple. A small memorial carved out of stone rests today at that place as a memorial.
His wife Ramabai chose to commit sati with his body at the time of cremation, even though Brahmin widows were not required to follow the ritual.
During this time, an interesting incident occurred. Madhavrao was busy managing the treasury of the kingdom and supervising the calculation of the expenses encountered during the war. One day, he noticed a large crowd anxiously waiting at the entrance of Shaniwar Wada. Upon summoning the guards, he discovered that they were the aggrievated citizens of Pune who had lost their families, house, land and wealth in the war. They had been visiting his residence for the past few days with hopes of expressing their unbearable losses. However, the guards had not allowed them to meet the Peshwa by excusing that his health had deteriorated. When he heard this, Madhavrao became furious with the guards; he immediately left all his tasks aside and stepped out of Shaniwar Wada. He personally met with the poverished families and patiently listened to each one of them. He made a note of every family's loss and personally saw to it that these losses were compensated from the empire's revenue. This speaks volumes about why the citizens always looked up to him with tremendous faith and respect.
Though there were rifts between him and his uncle Raghunathrao, Madhavrao always displayed concern for him on personal grounds. Madhavrao fined his own uncle, his mother's brother, Rastemama for allowing Nizam's men to plunder Pune while his own house was spared. Rastemama complained to his sister and Gopikabai urged Madhavrao to reconsider the fine, he simply refused and did not budge even when she threatened to move out of Shaniwarwada. Gopikabai decided to live separately in Gangapur near Nashik, the two always shared frequent written communication. He had great respect, love and regard for his mother, which is visible in the letters exchanged between the two.
Madhavrao was one of the most able administrators; he brought radical revolutions in the Maratha Empire in terms of efficiency and honesty. Corrupt and lethargic officials were flogged in the courtyard; this brought about the much required discipline in the administration. The judicial system was impartial and faithfully managed by Ram Shastri, who was considered as the supreme pillar of justice. The usage of revenues was maximized for the welfare of the citizens. Artillery and weapons were constantly upgraded and the strength of the empire was maintained at high standards.
Madhavrao was feared by his own servants, but he was approachable to the common man. He was always aware and made others in his fold realize that he is not the king. Justice Kashinath Trimbak Telang citing James Grant Duff narrates an amusing story that illustrates Madhavrao's ruthlessness, omniscience and disregard for religious restrictions.
"When he [Madhavrao] was arranging for his expedition against Hyder Ali, he sent a summons to the Bhonsle chief of Nagpur(Janoji Bhonsle) to come over to join the Maratha army. The Bhonsle's agent at Puna went to consult with the ex-minister Sakharam Bapu as to what should be done. The latter was afraid to give his counsel openly as the Peshwa's Karkun was present, but he managed to convey his advice to the Bhonsle's agent without the Karkun understanding the point. He suggested to one of two persons who were sitting near him playing chess that, as the pawns(pyaada in Marathi, meaning both pawn and soldier) of his opponent had advanced in force, he should take back his king a square or two. The Bhonsle's agent, taking the hint, at once wrote off to his master to advise that he should not come to Pune in pursuance of the Peshwa's summons, but should go back the one or two stages he had advanced from Nagpur. This was done accordingly, and Madhavrao, who had a great reputation for obtaining news of everything that was going on in which he was interested, heard of the Bhonsle's return to his capital; and he also heard of Sakharam Bapu's advice, which had led to it, though the latter was perceived only by him hidden under the facts he learnt from the cross-examination of the Karkun. Madhavrao was a man of very strong will. He at once sent for the Bhonsle's agent, and told him of his master's return to Nagpur on the advice of Sakharam Bapu, and added, "If your master is in Poona within fifteen days, well and good; if not, I will pay no heed to my being a Brahman, but will break his head with a tent-peg!"
Assessing the impact of the loss of Madhavrao, the writer James Grant Duff eulogised:
- Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1971). 1754-1771 (Panipat). 3d ed. 1966, 1971 printing. Orient Longman.
- SarDesai, D.R. (2007). India : the definitive history. Boulder, Colo. [u.a.]: Westview Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 9780813343525.
- Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707–1813 by Jaswant Lal Mehta p.458
- Transactions of the ninth International congress of Orientalists, Volume I (London, 1893) p268
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- Bakshi, S.R.; Sharma, S.R.; Gajrani, S. (1998). Contemporary Political Leadership in India: Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Chief Minister of Assam. APH Publishing Corporation. p. 64. ISBN 9788176480079. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
- Ranjit Desai, Swami (26th Edition March 2007, published by Mehta Publishers, Marathi Literature).
- Govind Sakharam Sardesai, A New History of Marathas
- James Grant Duff, History of the Marathas London, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green (1826)
- Maharashtra Times, माधवराव पेशव्यांचे चित्र आले उजेडात
- Ranjit Desai, Swami (in Marathi), a historical novel