On the history trail: Battle of Amjhera

The military stratagem displayed by Peshwa Bajirao under difficult conditions in Palkhed proved his ability to take on a war veteran like the Nizam with relative ease. This notable victory helped the Peshwa secure the confidence of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and others.


Peshwa had already formed his own group of faithful followers both in the Maratha court and on the battlefield. He was determined to expand the Maratha dominion in the north as Fatehsinh Bhosle, the Pratinidhi, the Sumant and Shahu Raje himself had a vested interest in the south.


The political intrigues continued in the Maratha Court engineered by those who were envious of the Peshwa‘s status, ascendancy and leadership. The Peshwa decided to enter Malwa and Bundelkhand and deliberated with his brother, Chimaji Appa and his associates.


Shahu Raje had incurred considerable debts over the years that needed to be paid off immediately. Malharrao Holkar and Ranoji Scindia were well – acquainted with Malwa and revealed to the Peshwa the enormous wealth that lay in this land.


Gujarat was also wealthy but governed by a Mughal Subahdar, Giridhar Bahadur who was known to be resourceful and energetic. He was ably supported by his cousin Daya Bahadur. Both of them were determined to serve the Mughals and oust the Marathas from Malwa and received the desired support for the same from the ruler of Delhi.


The Peshwa had already despatched his trusted diplomat Dado Bhimsen to meet with Sawai Jai Singh to discuss a possible entry into Malwa. Sawai Jai Singh coveted Malwa and its riches and was agreeable to the proposal put forth by the Peshwa.


Dado Bhimsen wrote on 17 August 1728 from Jaipur communicating the advice of Sawai Jai Singh to enter Malwa with a proper plan in place. Both Peshwa and Chimaji Appa made their plans for an invasion of Malwa and started separately on an auspicious day from Poona.


Chimaji Appa took the western route through Baglan and Khandesh after Diwali while Peshwa took the eastern route through Ahmednagar, Berar, Chanda and Devgad towards Bundelkhand a little after Diwali. Baji Bhivrao Retharekar, Ganapatrao Mehendale, Naro Shankar, Antaji Mankeshwar and Govindpant Bundela accompanied Chimaji along with Malharrao Holkar, Ranoji Scindia and Udaji Pawar.


All three lieutenants had been given the task of making preliminary arrangements for a sudden attack on Malwa. The Peshwa was accompanied by Pilaji Jadhav, Davalji Somawanshi and the new Sarlashkar. Chimaji Appa reached the banks of the Narmada on 25 November 1728 and won a bloody battle on 29 November 1728 against the combined army of the Mughals in which Giridhar Bahadur and Daya Bahadur lost their lives.


This victory of Amjhera shocked the Mughals and brought joy to the Peshwa‘s camp that was still at Berar. The information that sent shockwaves across the lands ran thus, “Daya Bahadur marched to meet the Marathas and awaited their advance at Amjhera blocking the narrow pass of the Vindhya range. But the Marathas avoided that pass, ascended by the pass of Mandavgad and attacked the Mughals unexpectedly from behind. Daya Bahadur found himself in a fix but had no alternative, except to meet the onslaught. He faced it bravely and was killed along with many noteworthy followers. Elephants, horses, drums and all the standards were captured by the Marathas, and the whole Mughal camp plundered.”


Chimaji Appa wrote on 30 November 1728, “Giridhar Bahadur came treacherously upon us and a stiff battle raged for two prahars (six hours). He was routed and killed along with his whole army.”


Keshavrao Arzdast wrote to Sawai Jai Singh on 29 November 1728, “You must have already learnt the account of Malwa and I also intimate the same to you. Kantha Maratha (Kanthaji Kadam) with ten-thousand-horse wandered in Malwa and went to Gujarat. On hearing the news of his wandering, Raja Giridhar Bahadur who had encamped at Mandsaur, sent his personal staff to Ujjain and started in pursuit of the villain. When the Raja Bahadur was camping at Amjhera, Chimna Pandit, brother of Bajirao and Uda Pawar with a force of twenty – two-thousand-horse suddenly crossed the Narmada and travelling thirty kos in one day, left part of their troops at the fort of Dhar to prevent Muhammad Omar Khan, who was stationed to guard the fort, coming to join the Raja Bahadur, and with the rest, the Marathas fell upon the Raja Bahadur’s army. In an engagement that followed, first Rao Gulab Ram, and then Jamadar Salabat Khan were killed. Raja Anand Ram received two musket wounds and was captured by the Ghanim with his brother Shambhu Ram. The Raja Bahadur discharged arrows with his own hand until the four quivers became empty, when he suddenly received a shot in his breast and lost his life in his master’s service.”


Peshwa wrote back to Chimaji Appa, “I am happy to learn the news of your victory at Amjhera, which is due to the blessing of our Master and our revered father. May God continue to grant you similar victories ever more. You must take forethought about the future; press upon the capital Ujjain with all speed so as to obtain funds with which to pay the Chhatrapati’s debts. I note what you say about the strenuous services rendered by Udaji Pawar and others. We rely upon them all for following up this first achievement with equal persistence. Convey to them all my congratulations and an assurance of our good intentions. You must in particular be very circumspect. Allow no slackness in discipline, nor feel unduly elated by your success. Your first concern should be money and more money. We intend marching towards Bundelkhand via Chanda and Devgad.”


It soon became known that it was Malharrao Holkar and Udaji Pawar who had obtained important information beforehand about the dispositions of the Mughal forces and the suitable routes for crossing the river and the passes. This was yet another glorious victory for the Peshwa and Shahu Raje and raised the prestige of the Peshwa in the eyes of the Marathas, the Rajputs and the Mughals.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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