On the history trail: Peshwa Bajirao’s expedition to the Karnatak

The decisive win for Nizam-ul-Mulk over Mubariz Khan in the Battle of Sakhar Kherda established his undisputed dominance over the Deccan. The Marathas had been watching the battle on the sidelines with keen interest knowing full well that the Nizam’s victory would dent their prospects of expansion in the south.


Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was deeply attached to his cousins of Tanjore where Maharaja Serfoji I Bhonsle was struggling to maintain his power in the midst of hostile surroundings.


Shahu Raje and Peshwa wished to create a harmonious government by resolving old conflicts. Peshwa paid a visit to Nizam-ul-Mulk after the Battle of Sakhar Kherda and suggested a joint expedition to the Karnatak to which the Nizam readily gave his consent. The matter was discussed at Satara during the latter part of 1725.


Shahu Raje instructed Peshwa to head out in the years of 1725 and 1726 with the first expedition between November 1725 to May 1726 and the second between November 1726 and April 1727. The first campaign was called Chitaldurg and the second Shrirangapattana. Both were led by Peshwa with Fatehsinh Bhosle given nominal command.


The Nizam decided to stay aloof and not actively involve himself in the campaign lest it affected his future prospects. He sent his agent to the Maratha Court apprising himself of the developments and intention behind the expedition. He sent his deputy Aiwaz Khan with a strong army to act independently of the Peshwa.


Fatehsinh Bhosle accompanied by Trimbakrao Dabhade, Sultanji Nimbalkar and the Pratinidhi in addition to the Peshwa and about 50,000 troops were joined by Murarrao Ghorpade from Gooty. Fatehsinh Bhosle proceeded to Tanjore to explain to Maharaja Serfoji the reason behind this undertaking.


The Marathas proceeded on to Chitaldurg via Bijapur, Gulbarga and Koppal. They collected tribute on the way, obtained promises of regular payment in the future, subdued those who challenged them and re-established the Maratha rule in places where they had been thrown out.


The Sondhe Raja was taken under the protection of Shahu Raje to safeguard him from possible attacks. The Marathas returned before the rains and began their next campaign in the winter of 1726. Shahu Raje had received letters that the Nizam had encroached on Maratha lands and was demanding chauth and harassing Hindus and their sacred temples.


Shahu Raje addressed a letter to the Deshmukh of Lakshmeshwara on 20 July 1726 that ran thus, “We have received your request for help against the tyranny that the Nawab Nizam-ul-Mulk has been practising upon you and your territories and have pleasure to inform you that we have arranged to send you the required succour about the next Dussehra season, when troop movements become practicable. The Senapati. the Peshwa and the Sarlashkar will proceed to the south, and you must try to defend your position till they arrive, with whatever resources you possess and prevent the Nawab’s entry into your state.”


Peshwa decided to take the western route via Belgaum and Lakshmeshwara onto Bednur. He then proceeded to Shrirangapattana, where he arrived on 4 March 1727 and went back to Satara by April after receiving urgent messages of the Nizam’s entry into Maharashtra.


The Marathas suffered terrible losses during 1727 with a sudden outbreak of cholera, lack of water and searing heat. Peshwa arranged a treaty of friendship and alliance with Nawab Saadatullah Khan I of Arcot settling the rights of the Tanjore Maharaja. This treaty was honoured by the Nawab for the next 15 years.


It showed the consistent pattern of the Maratha system of collecting chauth and offering their protection in return. Both Shahu Raje and Peshwa were determined to consolidate the Deccan and protect their feudatories from the Nizam.


Murarrao Ghorpade was fighting a lone battle at Gooty and finally accepted the Peshwa‘s offer and became a loyal member of the Maratha Empire. The chiefs of Surapura, Gadag, Lakshmeshwara and Chitaldurg came to meet the Peshwa and paid their tribute. The Raja of Shrirangapattana also paid a tribute of 21 lacs in cash.


The advancement of the Marathas had begun in the south and would define the course of history in the years to come.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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