Tarabai Bhonsle (1675 – 9 December 1761 at Satara) was a royal from the Maratha empire of India. She was the queen of Chhatrapati Rajaram Bhonsle, son of the empire's founder Shivaji. She is acclaimed for her role in keeping alive the resistance against Mughal occupation of Maratha territories after the death of her husband in 1700.
Commander of Maratha Forces
On Rajaram's death in 1700, she proclaimed her infant son, Shivaji II as Rajaram's successor and herself as the regent. As the regent she took charge of the war against Aurangzeb's forces. Tarabai was skilled in cavalry movement, and made strategic movements herself during wars. She personally led the war and continued the insurgency against the Mughals. A truce was offered to the Mughals in such way that it was promptly rejected by the Mughal emperor, and Tarabai continued the Maratha resistance. By 1705, Marathas had crossed the Narmada and made small incursions in Malwa, retreating immediately. The Maratha country was relieved at the news of the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who died at Khuldabad in Aurangabad.
Of the years 1700-1707, Jadunath Sarkar has opined: "During this period, the supreme guiding force in Maharashtra was not any minister but the dowager queen Tara Bai Mohite. Her administrative genius and strength of character saved the nation in that awful crisis."
Battle with Shahu
In order to divide the Maratha onslaught, the Mughals released Shahu, Sambhaji's son and Tarabai's nephew, on certain conditions. He immediately challenged Tarabai and Shivaji II for leadership of the Maratha polity. Shahu eventually prevailed thanks to his legal position and in part to the Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath's diplomacy, and Tarabai was sidelined. She established a rival court in Kolhapur in 1709 but was deposed by Rajaram's second wife, Rajasabai, who put her own son, Sambhaji II, on the throne. Tarabai reconciled with Chhattrapati Shahu in 1730 and went to live in Satara but without any political power.
Conflict with Peshwa Balaji Bajirao
In the 1740s, during the last years of Shahu's life, Tarabai brought a child to him: Rajaram II (also known as Ramaraja). She presented the child as her grandson, and thus, a direct descendant of Shivaji. She claimed that he had been concealed after his birth for his protection, and had been raised by a the wife of a Rajput soldier.
After Shahu's death in 1749, Rajaram II succeeded him as the Chhatrapati. When Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao left for the Mughal frontier, Tarabai urged Rajaram II to remove him from the post of Peshwa. When Rajaram refused, she imprisoned him in a dungeon at Satara, on 24 November 1750. She claimed that he was an impostor from Gondhali caste, and she had falsely presented him as her grandson to Shahu. Tarabai urged other ministers, such as the Pratinidhi and the Pant Sachiv, to rebel against the Peshwa, but they refused to help her. She also sought help from Ramdas, a Brahmin in the service of Nizam Salabat Jung, offering him to make the Peshwa. However, the Nizam's treaty with the Peshwa prevented him from dispatching a force to Satara.
Earlier, in October 1750, Tarabai had met Umabai Dabhade, who also held a grudge against the Peshwa. Umabai dispatched a 15,000 troops led by Damaji Rao Gaekwad in support of Tarabai. Gaekwad defeated a 20,000-strong force led by the Peshwa loyalist Trimbakrao Purandare at Nimb, a small town north of Satara. He then marched to Satara, where he was received by Tarabai. However, Trimbakrao re-formed his army and on 15 March, attacked Gaekwad's army, which was encamped on the banks of the Venna River. Gaekwad was defeated in this battle, and forced to retreat with heavy losses.
Menanwhile, the Peshwa returned from the Mughal frontier, reaching Satara on 24 April. He stormed the Yavateshwar garrison in Satara, defeating Tarabai's forces. He surrounded the Satara fort, and asked Tarabai to release Chhatrapati Rajaram II, whose physical and mental condition had deteriorated considerably. Tarabai refused, and the Peshwa left for Pune, since a siege of the well-provisioned and strong Satara fort would not be easy. Meanwhile, Damaji Gaekwad, Umabai Dabhade and their relatives were arrested by the Peshwa's men.
A section of Tarabai's troops in the Satara garrison unsuccessfully rebelled against her. She beheaded Anandrao Jadhav, the leader of the rebels. However, she realized that the she would not be able to fight the Peshwa, and agreed to meet him in Pune for a peace agreement. Janoji Bhonsle, also a rival of the Peshwa, was in neighbourhood of Pune with a strong army, and agreed to protect her against any harm. In Pune, the Peshwa treated her respectfully, and after some reluctance, Tarabai accepted the Peshwa's superiority. She agreed to dismiss her lieutenant Baburao Jadhav, whom the Peshwa disliked. In return, the Peshwa forgave her. On 14 September 1752, the two took oaths at Khandoba temple in Jejuri, promising mutual peace. At this oath ceremony, Tarabai also swore that Rajaram II was not her grandson, but an impostor from the Gondhali caste. Nevertheless, the Peshwa retained Rajaram II as the titular Chhhatrapati and a powerless figurehead.
Hailed as Bhadrakali, her name is still celebrated in the countryside in parts of Maharashtra. Noted historian Jadunath Sarkar has written about her, "In that awful crisis her character and strength saved the nation".
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