On the history trail: Battle of Bundelkhand

The invasion of Malwa by Peshwa Bajirao and Chimaji Appa on the advice of Sawai Jai Singh opened up new avenues for the Marathas and the Rajputs who were dissatisfied with the Mughals. The Bundelas in particular had been friendly with the Marathas for a long time and adopted their approach to fight for their independence.


Champat Rai’s son, Chhatrasal had established his capital at Panna after undergoing many trials and tribulations. He had waged many wars against the Mughals since the days of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Aurangzeb.


Muhammad Khan Bangash, a powerful Pathan in the service of the Mughals was the Subahdar of Allahabad and took an active interest in restraining the activities and movements of Chhatrasal. Open fights and bloody battles between them was the order of the day for several years.


Muhammad Khan Bangash attacked the Bundela Raja with a strong force in the early months of 1728 when Nizam-ul-Mulk and Peshwa were busy in the Deccan playing their game of wits. Chhatrasal was defeated on several occasions by Muhammad Khan Bangash who led the force himself and his three sons.


Chhatrasal retired to the fort of Jaitpur in June 1728 after a sanguinary campaign. Bangash arrived there immediately and besieged the fort. The siege was long and arduous. In December 1728, Chimaji Appa had laid siege to Ujjain after his decisive victory at Amjhera. Chhatrasal tried very hard to fight his way out of the fort but became severely wounded and was eventually captured along with the fort.


He sent urgent messages to Chimaji Appa and Peshwa asking for their help to save him and his fortune.

जो गति ग्राह गजेन्द्र की सो गति भई है आज ।
बाजी जात बुन्देल की बाजी राखो लाज ।। (Know you, Bajirao, that I am in that same sad plight in which the famous elephant was when caught by the crocodile. My valiant race is on the point of extinction. Come and save my honour.)


Muhammad Khan Bangash had been informed of the invasion of Malwa by the Marathas. He was however unaware that the Marathas had been called to come to the aid of the aging Chhatrasal. Not expecting the Peshwa to fight this battle and save the Bundela Raja, Muhammad Khan Bangash was caught unaware when Peshwa marched on the unfrequented eastern route towards Bundelkhand with a large army.


Chimaji Appa was busy with his operations of consolidating the Maratha positions in Malwa and trying to enter Ujjain. Peshwa was at Devgad and wrote to Chimaji Appa in January 1729, “Do not waste time and energy upon Ujjain. There are other places and surrounding districts equally alluring. Let me at once know if you require me to join you. If I do not hear from you, I shall go directly into Bundelkhand.”


Chhatrasal managed to send yet another urgent message through his confidential emissaries to Peshwa requesting him to come to his side without a moment’s delay. Peshwa received this at Garha in February 1729 and wrote at once to Chimaji, “I am proceeding to succour Chhatrasal. You may arrange your movements independently of me as suits you best.”


Peshwa Bajirao had about 25,000 horsemen with him and his trusted lieutenants namely Pilaji Jadhav, Naro Shankar, Tukoji Pawar and Davalji Somawanshi. On 12 March 1729, he reached Mahoba where Chhatrasal’s son met him.


The next day, Chhatrasal managed to escape captivity and brought him presents and marks of honour. Peshwa on hearing the dire conditions that the Bundela Raja and his men were subjected to decided to push forward against Bangash. He formulated a proper plan of attack to inflict several injuries upon his opponent.


Bangash was also up to the task and took on the challenge boldly. Bangash wrote to the ruler of Delhi asking for more men and requisitioned his son Qaim Khan to come with fresh troops. Peshwa learnt that Qaim Khan would be arriving soon and proceeded to oppose him before father and son could launch a united attack.


Qaim Khan was routed near Jaitpur and ran away from the battleground with just 100 people. Pilaji Jadhav described the action on the field, “Having conciliated the chief of Devgad, the Peshwa proceeded to Garha where he learnt of the Bangash coming to attack Chhatrasal with a strong force of 20 thousand well equipped troops. We then effected a junction with Chhatrasal’s men and have now surrounded the Bangash. In the meantime, Qaim Khan Bangash with a fresh succour of 30 thousand marched against us. We prevented him from effecting a junction with his father and handled him so roughly, that after a sanguinary action he was completely routed. A large amount of booty has been secured, among which are 3,000 horses and 13 elephants. Enclosed is a list of our killed and wounded. Please do communicate the news to their relations. We hope soon to finish this affair and return home. Muhammad Khan still remains besieged and will be vanquished if he ventures out. If to save himself from starvation he asks for terms, these will be granted in order to conclude operations quickly as the season is fast expiring.”


Muhammad Khan Bangash and his men were literally starving and left with no option but to beg for a truce. Bangash was allowed to return safely to his headquarters after giving a written undertaking that he would never again return to Bundelkhand or embarrass Chhatrasal in any way.


Bundelkhand gained its independence and the Mughals suffered yet another loss. Muhammad Khan Bangash was stripped of his powers and Sarbuland Khan was made the Subahdar of Allahabad.


The old Chhatrasal lavished honours and riches upon Peshwa Bajirao and entrusted his two sons Hriday Shah and Jagat Rai to his care. He assigned a large jagir out of his dominion to Peshwa and extracted a promise from the latter that he would look upon his two sons as his younger brothers and protect them from harm.


Peshwa readily agreed to these terms and left Jaitpur on 23 May 1729 for Poona. Chhatrasal’s agents Haridas Purohit and Asharam came to Poona to finalize points connected to the jagir. Chhatrasal passed away after two years on 14 December 1731 and his sons transferred the territory worth Rs One and a quarter lacs each. The following year, Chimaji Appa took charge of the assigned districts and appointed Govindpant Bundela to manage the acquisition.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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