Krishval Musings

Monday, 15 February 2016


It is distressing that this great Maratha hero well recognised for his valour and accomplishments is being exposed to the rest of India by a typical Bollywood movie.   

The 18th century was a period when the European military science became very popular and European trainers were in big demand for hiring by the Maharajas of the divided India.  However there was one great warrior who became the point of attention to the European military commanders was Bajirao Ballal Bhat of the Maratha Empire. The legendary British Field Marshal of the World War II Bernard Law Montgomery wrote in his book “The concise history of warfare”, “The Palkhed Campaign of 1727–28 in which Baji Rao I out-generalled Nizam-ul-Mulk, is a masterpiece of strategic mobility”. He also likened Baji Rao's approach to that subsequently made famous by U.S. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman during his 1864 "March to the Sea" campaign.

Bajirao, son of Balaji Viswanath, became the Peshwa(Prime Minister) at the age of 20 and proved his worthiness as a great strategist in the history of India.  Bajirao was said to be a very fine specimen of manly beauty and of exemplary courage and was hugely popular with his soldiers. He was praised as an inspiring General who lived like a soldier and led the battles from the front.   His victories paved the way for the Marathas to become a super power in the heart of India with almost 2.8 million sqkm of land under their control.  Sir Richard Temple wrote, “He lived to see the Marathas spread over the Indian continent from the Arabian sea to the Bay of Bengal.  He died as he lived, in camp, under canvas among his men and he is remembered among the Marathas as the fighting Peshwa, as the incarnation of Hindu energy."

World history has produced several military geniuses like Julius Caesar, Napoleon and George Washington but none of them had achieved the fame of undefeated like Bajirao. He fought 41 battles and won all of them, in his short span of 40 years of life, against the Nizams of Deccan, Moguls of Delhi, the Portuguese of Bombay and Siddhis of Gujarat coast.  He (1700-1740) was a Warrior-General- Prime Minister (Peshva) served for the Chatrapathi Shahu Raje Bhosle, the fifth Maratha Emperor after Shivaji.  The Maratha Empire during his period was almost 2/3rd of India stretching from Thanjavur in Tamilnadu in the south to Attock (now in POK, Pakistan) in Kashmir in the north and from Kolkata in the east to Mangalore in the west. The Scindias (Ranoji Shinde) of Gwalior, Holkars (Malharrao) of Indore, Gaekwads (Pilaji) of Baroda, and Pawars (Udaiji) of Dhar were Bhajirao’s creation of a Maratha confederacy. He fulfilled the dream of Chatrapathi Shivaji after 60 years. He completely rewrote the map of India in a span of 20 years.

                Maratha Empire
It was a great misfortune that when Nadir Shaw of Persia (Iran) invaded Delhi in 1739, massacred 50,000 innocent civilians of Delhi and looted 600 crores worth of armaments including the Peacock throne and Kohinoor diamond, Bajirao the one warrior who could have effectively countered Nadir Shaw was away in an expedition against the Portuguese in the South. He died due to a heat stroke in April 1740 on the banks of Narmada near Indore while marching with a mighty army towards Delhi probably to neutralize Nadir Shaw. Historians feel that had Bajirao made his march to Delhi 3 months before April 1740 the history would have been different.
The strategy of Bajirao:
1.     Only horse mounted fighting troops went into combat. 
2.     His main focus was always on cutting the enemy supply-lines with the help of rapid troop movement and knowledge of the local terrain. Encircling the enemy quickly, appearing from the rear of the enemy, attacking from an unexpected direction, distracting the enemy’s attention, keeping the enemy in surprise.
3.     ‘Bhajirao said, “Night  has nothing to do with sleep. It was created by God, to raid the territory held by your enemy. The night is your shield, your screen against the cannons and swords of a vastly superior enemy force."
4.      His intelligence agency was so strong that every moment he used to get all the information of his enemy’s whereabouts.
5.     He always moved into battle with the cry ‘Har har Mahadev,’ inspiring his troops to fight without fear.
History books talk about the third battle of Panipet in 1761 where Ahmedsha Durrani, the Afghan king  defeated the Maratha army but they hardly acknowledge that the Rohilla Afghans  were defeated by Madhavrao  Peshva in 1770 and brought Delhi under Maratha power. All restrictions imposed by Aurangazip on Hindus for their worship in the sacred shrines of Kasi and Mathura were all removed.  The Maratha power lasted from 1650 to 1820, finally, the English East India Company, encouraged by the growing disunity and infighting among Marathas, could subdue them and annexed their head quarters to the Bombay Presidency in 1848. History books inexactly project that India was  seized by the British from the Moguls, factually it was from the Marathas.

Bajirao’s premature death was a big blow to the empire. Marathas, however, failed to consolidate their victories and develop a sustainable empire with sound administration and control like the Guptas and Europeans.  It is due to the total absence of strategic culture which is prevailing even now in India.
Bajirao listed in the top ranking military commanders of the world by Western historians was not well known to the Indian public and government history book writers also downplayed his achievements. The government of India, however, issued a stamp in his name in April 2004 and his statue is erected in the Shaniwar Wade, a fort in the middle of Pune city. It is unfortunate that complete record of only 10 of the 41 battles are  available.

Bajirao , the Warrior  General who rode 5000 km vertically and 4000km horizontally  on horseback and fought 41 battles in different corners of India against the invaders and conquerors, is a rich material for producing big movies like “The Patriot, Braveheart, and Lawrence of Arabia”, probably Hollywood would have produced a better and more real Bhajirao.

Dr. Krishnan Arunachalam

Ref: www. India,

                         Samadhi- Bajirao in Raverkhedi   
(Published in Mylapore Club Magazine Feb/2016)