On the history trail: Shankaraji Malhar and Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj’s position remained insecure for a few years after the passing away of Bahadur Shah I. He was unable to find a suitable candidate for the all-important position of Senapati and became increasingly dependent on Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath. Dhanaji’s son, Chandrasen who had been given the position was openly animus towards Shahu Raje and worked to bring him down.


His brother Santaji was given the office in 1711, but proved to be terrible at his job with zero competency to plan campaigns and keep the Mughals at bay. He was replaced by the faithful Mansinh More in 1712. Mansinh More, unfortunately suffered from many ailments and eventually gave up the position.


Shahu Raje then appointed Khanderao Dabhade on 11 January 1717. He was good at his job but age was against him and the growing intricacies of state administration and the ever-changing political situation was too much for him to handle. The biggest failure of Senapati Khanderao Dabhade was his inability to fall in line with the plans and schemes of the Peshwa. This gave an opportunity to young Bajirao to enter the fray.


Sayyid Hussain Khan worked hard in the Deccan to put down the Marathas and to counter the intrigues which the sitting Mughal ruler was indulging in to bring his ruin. His brother Sayyid Abdullah’s position in Delhi was none the better and became precarious as the days went by.


Fearing for his own life, he recalled Sayyid Husain Ali from the Deccan to save their position in the court. Sayyid Husain Ali consulted his friends and followers and arrived at the conclusion that the Maratha’s blessings were necessary for his survival. As the situation became untenable, he knew that he could no longer antagonise Shahu Raje if he were to remain absent from the Deccan.


When Sayyid Husain Ali was appointed as the Subahdar of the Deccan by Farrukhsiyar, he selected the well-respected and shrewd Maratha diplomat Shankaraji Malhar as his chief advisor. Shankaraji Malhar had served as Sachiv under Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj at Jinji and now resided at Benares.


Farrukhsiyar learnt about him and brought him to Delhi and sent him with Sayyid Husain Ali to the Deccan as an advisor. Provisions were made for his services as an ambassador and he soon made himself invaluable to the Mughals. Sayyid Husain Ali was a complete novice and possessed no knowledge and capacity to tackle the Marathas. Shankaraji Malhar on the other hand, was a true genius in political affairs.


Shahu Raje came to know of his presence and asked Peshwa to make contact through his personal agents and commanders. When Sayyid Husain Ali was called to Delhi, he decided to end all rivalry with the Marathas and instead gain their favour and military help for the future.


He deputed Shankaraji Malhar to proceed to Satara and secure a friendly arrangement with Shahu Raje. Shankaraji Malhar arrived in early 1718 and spent a great deal of time with Shahu Raje and his ministers.


This was exactly the opportunity that Shahu Raje was looking for to establish direct contact with Delhi to end all wars that were draining their resources and strength. Both Shahu Raje and Peshwa had tried for ten years to reorganize the Maratha administration with no result.


Squabbles, dissension, treason, disorder and unstable character of Delhi proved to be very costly for the Marathas who were unable to find the solution to help them revive themselves and restore the legacy and glory of the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The Marathas did not lack in brain, nerve or valour but the ever-growing aggression of the Mughals, small roving bands of Marathas fighting with each other for land and food and the responsibility to uphold the cause of Shahu Raje were the biggest problems they faced.


Shankaraji urged them to supply employment to the roving Maratha bands out of their accustomed routine and divert their attention to new prospects outside the Maratha heartland. He assured them that the Mughal power was rapidly declining and it was only a matter of time before the court fell into chaos and anarchy.


The chiefs of the provinces in the north were looking for a leader to relieve them of the Mughal oppression. He asked them to remember the lessons of adventure, gallantry and self-reliance of the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and insisted that they follow in his footsteps.


Shankaraji said, “Here, are the two powerful Saiyyads holding out their hand for friendship; grasp it by all means without hesitation, offer your own terms, they would be ungrudgingly granted, they are hard-pressed by danger at this moment. Your king is pious and generous at heart. He will not sanction a policy that would do harm to the emperor. This is an advantage in itself. The Saiyyads themselves do not personally contemplate any harm to the emperor; they are only anxious to set matters right in the administration which must run smoothly. They only seek to gain sufficient control over the government machinery. Shahu had given his solemn word to the dying Aurangzeb that he would never rise against the Empire, and that he would help it with all his power in its sore need.”


Thus, a peace treaty ensuring the interests of both parties was drawn up. Shahu Raje and his court was called upon to stand by the Saiyyad ministers as supporters.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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