On the history trail: Nizam-ul-Mulk challenges Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

The three years from February 1725 to February 1728 (Battle of Shakar Kheda to Palkhed) fairly established the nature of the relationship between the Marathas and the Nizam that would eventually be subjected to the paramountcy of the British. The Marathas were determined to enforce the rights granted to them in 1719.


However, the Nizam vehemently opposed them on the grounds that they had sided with the Sayyid brothers. The Nizam sat quietly for a year eagerly watching the movements of Peshwa Bajirao in the Karnatak. He construed these two successful expeditions as an encroachment upon his land.


The Nizam felt that the regions south of the Krishna belonged to the old kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkonda and were annexed by the Mughals while the Marathas maintained that these territories had been won by them after a gruelling battle against Aurangzeb.


This was indeed the origin of the whole dispute between them which resulted in a clash. Peshwa rightly anticipated this and suggested an immediate attack against the Nizam. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was hesitant to start hostilities when the Marathas had yet to consolidate their position.


When Peshwa was away in the Karnatak in the early months of 1727, the Nizam’s agents namely Aiwaz Khan, Turk Taz Khan and Ghias Khan were deployed to harass the citizens of Maharashtra and demand chauth. These three agents were guided by deserters like Chandrasen Jadhav, Rao Rambha Nimbalkar and Udaji Chavan whose principal ambition was to defeat Shahu Raje and the Peshwa.


The Nizam began intriguing with Shahu Raje’s inner circle of confidantes like Sena Saheb Subha Kanhoji Bhosle and Sarlashkar Sultanji Nimbalkar and slowly began to draw them to his side. Sambhaji of Kolhapur and his mother Rajasbai were envious of Shahu Raje’s growing popularity and the Peshwa‘s increasing ascendancy in the government.


Through the deserters, they fell into the hands of the Nizam. A letter written by Sambhaji of Kolhapur to the Senapati’s agent Rayaji Malhar on 23 July 1721 runs thus, “Chandrasen Jadhav must have already communicated to you the deep interest he takes in our affairs and the efforts he is making to promote our cause. We have no doubt that you too with your great attachment for us would do your utmost towards the same end.”


Soon, Bhagwantrao Amatya, son of Ramchandra Pant Amatya joined the conspiracy against Shahu Raje. Nilkanthrao Jadhav, one of Shahu Raje’s trusted commanders was captured and kept in confinement by the Nizam. Shahu Raje ordered the Peshwa to get him released immediately.


Peshwa wrote back, “I am perfectly aware of Your Highness’s intentions not to create suspicion in Nizam-ul-Mulk’s mind by my assemblage of troops near Pandharpur. These are meant for our Karnatak undertaking, and I am taking no action direct or indirect that would give offence to Nizam-ul-mulk. I cannot, however, omit to convey to you my strong suspicion that the signs are ominous and that I apprehend trouble.”


Sambhaji of Kolhapur wrote to Chandrasen in February 1726, “We are exceedingly happy to receive your letters and to learn that you have succeeded in inducing Nizam-ul-Mulk to espouse our cause and promote it in every possible way. Acting upon your valuable suggestion, we led an expedition towards the south right up to the river Tungabhadra, having been joined by the influential following of Hindurao and Sagunabai Ghorpade and of Piraji and Ranoji also. As Shripat Rao Pratinidhi has marched against us, please come quickly for our succour. Nizam-ul-Mulk has marched towards Adoni and asked us to send him our contingent. Accordingly, we have despatched our minister Nilkanth Trimbak with orders to join the Nizam quickly, and now we are waiting at Torgal to meet you. We cannot ourselves go and join the Nizam, as the Peshwa and the Pratinidhi are both coming to oppose us. You have indeed done us a great service by inducing Nizam-ul-Mulk to break off his relations with Shahu and take up our cause. We are confident that Murarrao Ghorpade, Udaji Chavan, Appaji Suro and others would soon join us. Aiwaz Khan has also earnestly commenced operations in a different direction. Thus, the moment is now ripe for action, and we are only waiting for you to join in as quickly as possible.”


Learning of all these intrigues, Shahu Raje continued to wean Sambhaji from his evil path. He even offered the following terms on 30 December 1725, “Let us both exert ourselves in cooperation to recapture Mughal territories and add them to our Swarajya in the way our ancestors did. You may work in the south; we will work in the north. We shall give you a fair share of what we acquire in the north and you should also similarly give us a share of what you would acquire in the south.”


But Sambhaji of Kolhapur was too weak and allowed himself to be carried away by his minister Nilkanth Trimbak Prabhu Mahadkar and Chimnaji Damodar Moghe, a faithful servant of Shahu Raje with twenty years of service behind him. Chimnaji had been ordered by Shahu Raje to meet with the Nizam to persuade him to desist from the harmful course he was following.


Sadly, Chimnaji was jealous of the Peshwa and had dreams of taking the prestigious spot of Peshwa from Bajirao. He neither possessed the tact nor the military stratagem to even challenge the Peshwa in a small matter. Out of spite, he accepted the position of Peshwa under Sambhaji of Kolhapur and ended up paying a dear price for it.


Shahu Raje was in a for rude awakening. A formidable opposition against him was building up on all fronts and the danger was now too close to home to ignore. On 24 September 1726, Bajirao’s absence in Maharashtra precipitated matters with Sambhaji formally joining the Nizam to begin military operations against Shahu Raje.


Turk Taz Khan committed unmentionable atrocities near Sangamner during the festival season of 1726 – 27. The other officers along with the deserters began to trouble the citizens of Satara. They attacked Rahimatpur, a few miles east of Satara in August 1726. Rayaji Jadhav, one of Shahu Raje’s commanders was killed.


Shahu Raje managed to convince Chandrasen’s brother Shambhusinh and Piraji Ghorpade, the Senapati of Kolhapur to end hostilities through his lieutenant Dharrao Nimbalkar. Vysarao, an old faithful of Dhanaji Jadhav brought about similar defections in the ranks of the Kolhapur government that greatly aided Shahu Raje.


In early 1727, Sambhaji of Kolhapur toured the district of Poona claiming to be the true ruler of the Marathas and granted sanads to the local officers. When Shahu Raje came to know of this, he realized the dangerous game the Nizam was playing. He immediately sent for the northern chiefs to come to his side.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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