On the history trail: Battle of Palkhed

With opposition building on all fronts, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was at his wit’s end. Peshwa Bajirao was still in the Karnatak and those close to him advised him to effect a compromise with the Nizam. Shahu Raje accepted their advice and instructed his Pratinidhi and Sumant to negotiate a peace treaty with the Nizam.


The Pratinidhi proposed a cash payment of the chauthai dues and the withdrawal of the Maratha agents deployed to collect chauth. He also advised him to be rid of the Peshwa who he deemed to be the main cause for rising hostilities.


Shahu Raje was almost ready to accept this proposal of cash payment when the Peshwa returned. He remonstrated with him strongly, reasoning that such a decision would adversely affect the prospects of the Marathas in the present and future. This would also mean that the Marathas were weak and unwilling to fight for the vision of the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Hindavi Swarajya.


As a lengthy discussion was on in the Maratha Court, Shahu Raje was informed that Sambhaji of Kolhapur had declared himself to be the true ruler of the Marathas and the head of the Maratha State and therefore, even the cash payment of chauthai could not be made. This was an open declaration of war by Sambhaji and threatened Shahu Raje’s rightful position as the Maratha sovereign.


He ordered Peshwa to go to war with the Nizam immediately. Peshwa left Satara on 27 August 1727. A letter written by Nizam-ul-Mulk to Sawai Jai Singh explains his evil motives, “It has been repeatedly reported to the emperor that these Marathas raid Gujarat and Malwa at my suggestion and instigation. I have performed all the necessary exertion in this matter. I have again and again written to Shahu Rajah giving him the good counsel that the Marathas should not plunder Gujarat and Malwa. Although thus pressed and threatened, nothing has resulted from it and the Marathas have not given up their raids. Therefore, with a view to carrying out the emperor’s order I have called to my side Raja Sambhaji, who is Shahu’s rival. I have conciliated him and engaged him in punishing and exterminating Shahu. Sultanji Nimbalkar, the Sarlashkar of the enemy’s army came and saw me and has been appointed to command Sambhaji’s army. By the grace of God, I am hopeful that the other partisans of Shahu would equally desert him. As at this time autograph letters from the emperor have repeatedly reached me, asking me to chastise Shahu, I have taken on my shoulders this grand enterprise, in order to satisfy the emperor and give him proof of my loyalty and devotion. Otherwise, it would be highly inexpedient for me to break my relations with the Marathas. And now that they have permanently planted their claws in all the imperial territory and their strength and power have increased beyond limit, I have challenged them to fight solely out of reliance upon the grace of God and the emperor’s favour.”


On 13 October 1727, Shahu formally began war preparations. The Nizam readily accepted the challenge. He kept his movements entirely secret giving out that he was going to Aurangabad, but instead headed towards Junnar and Poona.


On 21 September 1727, Purandare informed Peshwa that the Nizam was on his way to Satara via Mhaswad, guided by Sultanji Nimbalkar. In reality, Shahu Raje only had the Peshwa on his side. Many of Raje’s aides were in fact harbouring a grudge against the Peshwa and were envious of his increasing ascendency in the government. Senapati Khanderao Dabhade kept away watching the proceedings from a distance.


The battle lines were drawn with Turk – Taz Khan and Aiwaz Khan leading the charge on the side of the Nizam and Malharrao Holkar and Ranoji Scindia with the latter declaring that he “was ready for any eventuality, even to sacrifice his life if it became necessary. God is the protector of all.”  supporting the Peshwa. The Pawar brothers were loyal to the Peshwa and joined him in this expedition.


Aiwaz Khan marched towards Poona from Aurangabad but was opposed by Tukoji Pawar near Sinnar. The Deshmukh was loyal to the Mughals and was defeated and made to join the Marathas. Fatehsinh and Raghuji Bhosle defeated Chandrasen Jadhav in a bloody battle.


The Nizam had decided to make Poona his main objective and devastated the land. The deserters who served him attacked Lohagad and reached the outskirts of Chinchwad and Poona. Many of the Maratha generals had abandoned their posts and hence, Nizam-ul-Mulk entered the Poona district from Junnar along with Sambhaji of Kolhapur.


He captured several strategic posts on the way and took up residence at Poona. Sambhaji was declared as the Chhatrapati of the Marathas here in 1727. Fazal Beg was left behind by the Nizam to hold Poona. The Nizam headed to Loni, Pargaon, Patas, Supa and Baramati where he caused immeasurable havoc using his artillery.


The Peshwa relied heavily on his guerrilla tactics of long marches and sudden attacks upon the enemy at different points. He did not have any artillery and therefore, decided to proceed with caution. He left Poona in September and crossed the Godavari near Puntamba and plundered Jalna and Sindkhed defeating Aiwaz Khan on 5 November 1727 with relative ease.


He then proceeded to Berar, ravaged Mahur, Mangrol and Washim. He turned suddenly towards the north – west entering Khandesh, crossed the Tapti River at Kukarmunda and entered eastern Gujarat in January 1728. He then went on to Chhota Udaipur in Gujarat. Sarbuland Khan, the governor of Gujarat joined hands with the Peshwa.


On learning that the Nizam had turned towards Poona, Peshwa declared that he would devastate the prized Mughal possession of Burhanpur. He reached Betawad on 14 February 1728 with the intention of drawing away the Nizam from Poona.


He rightly calculated that the Nizam on hearing that the Marathas were heading towards Burhanpur and Aurangabad would rush to protect the wealthy northern regions. Chimaji Appa had been stationed to watch the Nizam’s movements and to manoeuvre him away towards the Peshwa‘s position.


Both Chimaji Appa and Shahu Raje had taken up their residence in the fortified enclosure of Purandar and kept an eagle eye on the Nizam. The Nizam found that his allies Sambhaji of Kolhapur and Chandrasen Jadhav did not possess sufficient funds or troops and instead were draining his resources and plugging his movements.


When he learnt that the northern territories were being ravaged, he left Poona in the middle of February 1728, marched towards the Godavari with the battle plan ready. He wanted to destroy the Peshwa and his light army in an open land where his artillery could be put into full use.


Both parties employed their own tactics and moved with caution gathering information through their respective spies. However, the Marathas were led by one of the shrewdest commanders the world had ever seen and like the late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj made excellent use of his network of informers.


The Nizam’s positions, tactics and plans were passed on to the able chiefs of the Marathas who then employed means to keep the Nizam off his guard and push him into an inextricable position. The Nizam left his heavy artillery behind and crossed the Godavari to find the Peshwa waiting for him near Aurangabad.


On 25 February 1728, the Nizam found himself trapped near Palkhed about 20 miles west of Aurangabad. The area was a difficult hilly place with no water and no provisions found. It was indeed a deadly maze with no exit points available. The Maratha chiefs quickly swooped in and surrounded him on all sides.


His communication was cut off and he soon found himself to be in an untenable position. The Peshwa has written, “Today I have come within sight of the Nawab. A distance of four miles separates us. Please point out to me the best route for bringing him to bay. Instruct all men to be extremely cautious and join me without a moment’s loss.”


Malharrao Holkar was stationed to watch and arrest the Nizam’s movements. Aiwaz Khan and Chandrasen Jadhav appealed to the Peshwa for relief as it became increasingly difficult to survive.


Peshwa demanded hostages before provisions and relief could be offered. Both parties moved to Mungi – Shevgaon where water and provisions were given to the Nizam in plenty. On 6 March 1728, a settlement was agreed upon with the following terms:

  • All administrative or diplomatic measures for the government of the six Mughal Subahs should be executed through the agency of the Marathas, who would fully guard the imperial interests.
  • Anandrao Sumant should not be employed as an intermediary for transacting political business, as he no longer enjoyed the Peshwa’s confidence.
  • The Nawab should withdraw his protection from Raja Sambhaji and allow him to proceed to Panhala.
  • Poona, Baramati, Khed and Talegaon and other places captured by the Nawab should be restored to Shahu. The previous grants of Swarajya and Sardeshmukhi should be confirmed.
  • Balavant Sinh and others should have their jagirs restored.
  • No more jagir should be bestowed on Sambhaji than had been already provided for him by Shahu Raja between the Krishna and the Panchaganga.
  • Sultanji Nimbalkar who had deserted to the Nawab should not be allowed to create mischief.
  • Tributes illegally collected by Sambhaji should be paid back to Shahu Raja.
  • The vatan and Patilki of Shahgad should be continued to Pilaji Jadhav as before.
  • The prisoners captured by Turk – Taz Khan out of the Maratha swarajya should be sent back.
  • The five villages of Nimbol should be granted to the Pawar brothers, Krishnaji, Udaji and Keroji.
  • Raja Sambhaji should not be allowed to collect chauth from districts north of the Krishna.’’


The agreement was formally ratified by the Peshwa and the Nizam with a formal acknowledgement by the latter of the Maratha claims ratified by the Sayyid brothers. The Nizam had to recognize the astuteness, military stratagem and capacity of Bajirao as an opponent.


Shahu Raje congratulated the Peshwa on his stunning victory and wrote thus, “You must on no account inflict any loss upon Nizam-ul-Mulk or injure his susceptibilities. We enjoin this on you as a sacred obligation to the memory of your revered father.” He also bestowed full control over the Maratha government and state upon Bajirao.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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