Peshwa Madhavrao I is credited with stabilizing the Maratha Empire at a time when it was faced with numerous threats, both internal and external. On his 250th Punyatithi, we shall learn about the achievements of one of the greatest leaders who consolidated the Maratha Empire after acquiring the Peshwaship at the young age of 16. Peshwa Madhavrao I passed away on 18 November 1772 due to TB at the young age of 28.
Circumstances when Madhavrao became Peshwa
Madhavrao assumed Peshwaship following the death of his father Nanasaheb. He had to deal with the Nizam, Hyder Ali, British, and northern kingdoms while facing an internal power struggle with his uncle Raghunathrao who had allied with the Nizam. Despite his failing health, he succeeded in dealing with these difficult circumstances despite his failing health.
He became the Peshwa after the defeat of the Marathas by Ahmad Shah Abdali (Durrani) in 1761 in the third battle of Panipat when he was 16 years old. Following their defeat, the Marathas lost control of much of northern and north-western Bharat, including Punjab and Delhi. The Maratha Empire also ran into huge debts. However, the Maratha resurrection, which occurred between the period 1761 and 1773 after the Panipat debacle, marks the rise of the Maratha Empire to great glory after its darkest hour.
In the north and west, the defeat of the Marathas opened the floodgates for Central Asian invaders such as Afghans, Turks, Persians, and others who were invited by the Ulemas for jihad. Additionally, Marathas were faced with the Portuguese in the west, the English, Nizam and Hyder Ali (who had usurped the throne after overthrowing his masters the Wodeyars) in the south and east.
Madhavrao’s military successes
When Madhavrao assumed power, not only were the Marathas surrounded by enemies but they were short of both finances and manpower. The very first hurdle faced by Madhavrao was the combined forces of Raghunathrao and the Nizam who were marching towards Pune. Raghunathrao succeeded initially and put his nephew under house arrest. Malhar Rao Holkar came to Madhavrao’s rescue preventing his execution by Raghunathrao.
A year later, the young Peshwa successfully defeated his uncle and placed him under house arrest. Subsequently, he also defeated Nizam’s army which was thrice as that of the Marathas numbering 12000. Madhavrao inflicted a crushing defeat on the Nizam’s forces and signed a treaty securing the Maratha border on the Hyderabad side.
He then turned his attention north conquering Bundelkhand, Rohilkhand, and east Punjab. The Rajputs and Jats became vassals of the Marathas while the English were also subdued, warned off and not permitted to trade. The credit for re-establishing Maratha supremacy in the north goes to Mahadji Shinde (Scindia). Trimbak Rao led the Maratha forces against Haider Ali and decisively defeated Ali in the Moti Talao battle. Haider Ali wasn’t able to recover from this defeat for about a decade.
Madhavrao took over at a time when the administration was in total disarray with undisciplined officials and a heavily depleted treasury. Madhavrao faced the uphill task of bringing the administration back into shape. He was helped by Nana Fadnavis in this task. He checked corruption and indiscipline through public flogging of corrupt officials. Revenue was used for public welfare and weapons were upgraded and modernized. Madhavrao also personally attended to the grievances of the people.
Madhav Rao was struck by tuberculosis in 1770 when he was on his way to a campaign against Hyder Ali. As the disease slowly spread and there was no cure for it during those days, he decided to spend his last days at the Ganesh Chintamani Temple in Theur near Pune. On November 18, 1772, Madhav Rao breathed his last on the temple premises, at the young age of 27.
“Citizens of Pune turned out in large numbers to pay their respects to the Peshwa. Madhavrao’s contribution to the Maratha Resurrection will forever be remembered. Taking over it at a critical juncture, he managed to bring the finances on track, reformed administration, and militarily too bought the pride back”, writes Shri Ratnakar Sadasyula.
“And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent Prince”, says James Grant Duff about the impact of Madhavrao who overcame numerous hurdles and pulled the Maratha Empire out of the adverse situation created by the Panipat defeat to fulfil his dream of establishing a Hindu Pad Padshahi.
(Featured Image Source: Twitter)