On the history trail: Balaji Vishwanath shows his mettle

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj made an aggressive start to secure the northern portions of his patrimony. He deputed Pratinidhi Gadadhar Pralhad and Senapati Dhanaji Jadhav to Baglan and Khandesh with his trusted aide Balaji Vishwanath. They decisively vanquished the local Mughal officers like Karim Beg of Junnar and plundered the city of its riches.


They were asked to return for the monsoon. On the way to Panhala, Dhanaji fell seriously ill and died in June 1708 at Wadgaon on the Warna River dealing a severe blow to Shahu Raje’s cause. Though Dhanaji’ son Chandrasen had already been conferred the position of Senapati, his allegiance lay with Maharani Tarabai.


Shahu Raje instead appointed Balaji Vishwanath as Senakarte (organizer of forces), a new office he specially created to safeguard himself. Balaji took his new position zealously by raising funds and enlisting men and brought much-needed discipline among the ranks. He soon rose above all the ministers and helpers of Shahu Raje with remarkable efficiency and speed of execution.


Shahu Raje conferred upon him the office of Peshwa, that would dynamically change the whole structure of the Maratha administration and government and even eclipse the position of Chhatrapati.


Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath’s contribution to Shahu Raje is nothing short of outstanding. From being a clerk under Ramchandra Pant Amatya, to working as Sar Subahdar of Poona and Daulatabad, to working as a revenue collector under Senapati Dhanaji Jadhav executing the orders of the Chhatrapati and playing a principal role in protecting the fort of Sinhgad in 1703, Balaji remained loyal to the Marathas and a staunch friend to Shahu Raje when in captivity.


Aurangzeb’s tyrannical campaign between 1699 – 1704 against the hill forts about Poona and Satara brought the two close to each other. Balaji rendered invaluable service on the eve of the Battle of Khed and guaranteed his ascendancy to the throne and in return, was awarded the position of Peshwa after a trial, during which Balaji exhibited a rare grasp of the rapidly developing political situation between the Marathas and Mughals and an uncommon shrewdness to turn it to the advantage of the Marathas.


It is therefore justified that Shahu Raje held Balaji in high esteem and history is a witness to his significant appointment as Peshwa.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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