Wai is a small town located in the Satara district of Maharashtra, on the banks of the Krishna river. Surrounded by the Sahayadris, the town is famous for it’s numerous ghats on the Krishna river, and the old temples here. It also gave rise to two of the most important families in Indian history. One the Tambe family here , the daughter of Moropant Tambe, went on to become a certain Rani of Jhansi. The other from the Raste family, Gopikabai, was the wife of the 3rd Peshwa, Nana Saheb or Balaji Baji Rao. In more recent times, Wai has become the favorite location of Bollywood, whenever a movie was to be shot with a small town, rural backdrop, Swades, Gangajal being the more prominent ones. Just 3 km away from Wai, is a small village called Menawali, on the banks of the Krishna. One of the main attractions here is a huge wada built during the 18th century, having a large perimeter, with a six quadrangled wall. And on the bank of the Krishna here are two old temples dedicated to Vishnu and Meneshwar( Shiva).
The person who built that famous wada as well as the temple, also received the village of Menawali as a gift from Bhavan Rao Trymbak Pantof Aundh and Raghunath Ghanshyam Mantri of Satara. He was one of the most influential ministers of the Maratha era, Nana Phadnavis,the secretary to Sadashiv Rao Bhau, one of the few who survived the carnage at Panipat. As Prime Minister of the Maratha confederacy, he bought it back to the days of glory after the humiliating rout at Panipat. A man who defeated the British twice with his intelligence and diplomacy, prompting them to call him the Maratha Machiavelli.
This remarkable genius was born as Balaji Janardhan Bhanu in Satara district, Nana was his nickname. His grandfather Balaji Bhanu had migrated from the seaside town of Shrivardhan, in the Konkan region, and was a close friend of the first Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat. Balaji saved the Peshwa once from the Mughals, and in gratitude, he was conferred the title of Phadnavis. Later when the Peshwas ruled over Pune, he rose among the ranks as the Minister for Finance. In line with the tradition, Balaji Bhanu inherited his grandfather’s name and title. The Peshwa treated him on par with his sons Vishwasrao, Madhavrao and Narayanrao, ensured he had the best of education too.
The Maratha rout and massacre at the 3rd Battle of Panipat, was a shock too harsh to bear for the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao. And he died grieving the loss in a temple in Pune. It was a critical juncture in the history of the Maratha confederacy. Panipat was a blow not just to the Maratha Empire, but also to it’s honor and prestige. They lost the heir Vishwas Rao, as well as one of the finest commanders Sadashiv Rao Bhau. Jankoji Shinde was captured and executed by the Afghans. The empire was in a total financial mess with a whole lot of accumulated debts. There was no control over the administration, funds were being embezzled with no accountability. Madhavarao, who took over as Peshwa was just 17 years old. He inherited an empire that was coming to terms with a humiliating rout, as well as internal dissension and anarchy.
It was in such a situation that Nana Fadnavis, played a crucial role in guiding the young Peshwa. Along with Gopalrao Patwardhan, Tryambakrao Pethe and Ram Shastri, Fadnavis advised the Peshwa and steered the affairs of the state in the right direction. With the right guidance, from Fadnavis, the Peshwa began to look into the accounts and treasury. In no time, the treasury keeping was regulated, pilferage was bought down, and soon the Maratha empire came back to normal financial condition. Militarily too victories over the Nizam, bought back the lost pride of the Marathas post Panipat. However Madhava Rao passed away soon, and his younger brother Narayana Rao, became the next Peshwa. However Narayana Rao, unlike his brother was too immature and incapable of running the administration. The ambitious and scheming Raghunath Rao, the brother of Balaji Baji Rao and the uncle of Narayana Rao, saw this as a ripe opportunity to seize the throne for himself. Raghunatha Rao or Raghoba as he was called, had always wanted to succeed as the next Peshwa. During Madhav Rao’s time, he had constantly conspired against him, and even joined hands with the Nizam for overthrowing him. However Madhav Rao with able guidance from Fadnavis had managed to counter those plots and outwit Raghoba. Sensing an opportunity with the weak Narayan Rao, as Peshwa, Raghoba got him murdered in 1773.
With Narayan Rao’s wife, Gangabai, still pregnant then, Raghoba became the Peshwa for some time. However Nana Fadnavis never accepted a wicked, manipulative person like Raghoba becoming the Peshwa. In what was called the Baarbhai conspiracy, along with 11 other Maratha sardars, Fadnavis overthrew Raghoba and took over the affairs of the state. The other 11 Maratha Sardars were Tukoji Rao Holkar, Mahadji Scindia, Haripant Phadke, Moroba Phadnis, Sakarambapu Bokil, Trimbakraomama Pethe, Phaltankar, Bhagwanrao Pratinidhi, Maloji Ghorpade, Sardar Raste and Babuji Naik. These 12 men formed a Regency council known as the Baarbhai council, and in effect protected the infant Madhavrao II, who at 40 days was the youngest ever Peshwa. While Madhavrao II aka Sawai Madhav Rao was just a Peshwa in name, the actual power was in the hands of Nana Fadnavis and the council of 12.
Nana Fadnavis never cared for positions or titles, for him the interests of the Maratha confederacy were supreme. At a time of chaos and anarchy, when selfish Maratha sardars were looking for their own interests, Fadnavis stood out as a beacon of integrity and selflessness. Fadnavis was a visionary who knew the real enemies of the Marathas were the English and French traders. This was something overlooked often by Mahadji Scindia, a great warrior, but who did not have the foresight to see the danger posed by the British. Fadnavis set up one of the strongest intelligence departments and spy network ever. Such an efficient network it was, that any event in any corner of the empire would reach him within hours in his study room. He often warned Scindia, that if the British were allowed into the Maratha empire, India would soon be a subject nation.
The Britishers on the other hand feared Fadnavis, he was the only one in the Maratha empire who could read their motivations so well. They tried the typical dirty tricks to remove Fadnavis and appoint some one more pliable in his place. However with the public and Ashta Pradhans, fully backing Fadnavis, they were unsuccessful in their attempts. When the scheming Raghoba tried to take Poona, with the help of the British, Fadnavis responded by forging an alliance with the Nizam and the Bhonsles of Satara against them. Though the British signed a treaty with the Marathas at Surat in 1775, they could not take advantage of it, with Fadnavis at the helm. In desperation they forged another treaty at Poona in 1777, with the sole objective of removing Fadnavis. However Nana counter attacked the British forces and inflicted a crushing defeat on them in 1779 at Poona.
Knowing that the British gave no important to treaties, Nana Fadnavis forged an alliance with the Nizam, Hyder Ali, the Nawab of Arcot and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam against them. Knowing this meant the sure end of British rule in India, the then Governor Warren Hastings, applied his tactics of divide and rule, and got a treaty signed with Mahadji Shinde. The British once again had to eat humble pie, thanks to the tactics of Nana Fadnavis. It was due to the efforts of Fadnavis, that the Maratha confederacy once again regained it’s power, and they became the protectors of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam too. Nana Fadnavis passed away in 1800, and along with him so did the glory of the Maratha empire. After him the British took advantage of the selfish Maratha sardars and eliminated them one by one. The sun had set on the great Maratha empire post Fadnavis death, but his legacy in restoring it’s pride after Panipat and preserving it would forever be remembered.