On the history trail: Marathas on slippery ground after the fall of the Sayyid Brothers

The dramatic fall of the Sayyid brothers put the Marathas and their plans of obtaining the grants as per the treaty in doubt. It was well known that Nizam-ul-Mulk, the sitting ruler and his mother and many others in the Delhi court had particular disdain for the Marathas and Hindus.


Nizam-ul-Mulk was known never to forget a face, a betrayal and a slight of any kind. He was aware that the Marathas had helped Alam Ali Khan, cousin of the Sayyid brothers in Balapur. The Marathas decided to tread with caution.


Peshwa Bajirao’s cousin and agent Malharrao Barve wrote on 15 October 1720 from Delhi, “Saiyyad Husain Ali Khan has been murdered by Amin Khan. The field is now open. You must not allow your enemies to capture it.” He went on to write certain measures that needed to be taken at the earliest to protect themselves.


Mubariz Khan, the Subahdar of Gujarat and Hyderabad and later of Golconda wrote to the Nizam that the Marathas were relentless in their pursuit of collecting chauth in the Karnatak and needed to be put down. Nizam-ul-Mulk despatched Chandrasen Jadhav to Sambhaji of Kolhapur to instigate him to claim chauth for the very same regions that Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and Peshwa Bajirao were rightful claimants.


He then wrote to Peshwa that he had received similar demands of chauth from Sambhaji of Kolhapur and as it was unclear who the actual ruler of the Marathas was, he had decided to withhold all payments till the domestic dispute between them was resolved. This was a calculated move to split the Marathas and stop payments entirely.


Shahu Raje directed Sarlashkar Sultanji Nimbalkar to collect chauthai from the regions between the Godavari and Aurangabad. Nizam-ul-Mulk looked at this move as a challenge and sent Chandrasen, Rao Rambha and Muhkam Sinh against them. A fierce battle ensued on 15 December 1720 in which Sultanji delivered a decisive blow on the Mughals.


Shahu Raje and Peshwa held lengthy discussions about their next course of action if the Nizam continued to refuse to honour the terms of the agreement. Peshwa felt that war was imminent and the only option available with them. He went on to say, “It is the duty of the Peshwa to undertake such ventures. If I cannot assert myself, I have no right to the high dignity of that office. I only crave Your Highness’ commands. Do order me to go against the enemy, and see what I can do under your blessings. I will put down this Nizam-ul-mulk and assert our claims throughout north India, where my revered father had established political connections with the Rajput princes.”


Shahu Raje was most impressed by the earnestness of Peshwa and gave him the necessary permission. He advised him to meet the Nizam personally first to try to amicably settle the dispute. Anandrao Sumant, Shahu Raje’s foreign secretary went to the Nizam and arranged the meeting.


Peshwa was accompanied by Pilaji Jadhav, Khanderao Dabhade, Kanhoji Bhosle and Fateh Sinh Bhosle along with their troops. Peshwa proceeded to Chikhalthan to meet the Nizam on 4 January 1721. The meeting full of pomp and grandeur went on for four days where greetings and presents were exchanged and discussions were held. However, this was all to no avail as Peshwa rightly concluded that the Nizam had no intention of yielding unless compelled to do so by force of arms.


Shahu Raje and the Peshwa‘s mother were visibly anxious for his safety and expressed joy when he returned home. Nizam and his trusted lieutenant Mubariz Khan looked towards the Karnatak where the Marathas were slowly asserting themselves.


Mubariz Khan had personally been selected in the past by the Mughals to tackle the Marathas when he worked in the government of Malwa and Gujarat and looked upon them as his sworn enemies. Thus, two powerful chiefs, Nizam-ul-Mulk and Mubariz Khan came together in 1721 to check the progress of the Marathas.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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