Quite often, growing up in the shadow of a banyan tree can be quite inhibiting, however much you grow, and you shall always look small against the banyan. And it has been the case in Maratha history, Sambhaji often had to measure up to his more illustrious father, Shivaji. And on the other hand, we had Balaji Baji Rao aka Nana Saheb Peshwa, the son of the legendary Baji Rao and Kashibai. Nana Saheb presided over both the highest and lowest points of Maratha history. The Maratha Empire expanded all the way till Attock under his reign, Pune emerged as a great city, and yet the humiliating rout at Panipat took place in 1761. Much like Sambhaji and Sadashiv Rao Bhau, Nana Saheb too has been judged harshly by historians, who felt he was not as great a warrior as his father, nor a good diplomat either. Again a rather unfair assesment of him.
It was not an easy ascent to throne for Nana Saheb, he had to face stiff opposition from Raghoji Bhonsle on being made Peshwa in 1740 at just 19 after his father had passed away. Not to forget his rather scheming brother Raghunath Rao, whose greed for the throne got the better of him later on. It did not help matters that his wife Gopika Bai, alienated others, including his cousin Bhau, with her rather overbearing attitude.
Raghoji Bhonsle had played a role in expanding the Maratha Empire towards South and East. He had defeated and killed Dost Ali Khan, the Carnatic Nawab in his battle against Pratap Singh Bhonsle of Thanjavur, and became a bitter opponent of Nana Saheb. The Peshwa in turn expelled him from Odisha, forcing Raghoji to seek help of Chatrapati Sahu and taking charge of Eastern India, and by 1752 had secured his position there.
The other opponent Nana Saheb had to face was Tarabai, the widow of Raja Ram Chattrapati, who wanted to make her grandson Raja Ram II, as the next Chattrapati. When Shahu passed away in 1749, Rajaram II became the next Chattrapathi. However when Tarabai, asked Rajaram II, to depose Nana Saheb, who was then on a campaign against the Nizam, the latter refused and she threw Raja Ram II into prison. However she failed to get any support from the nobles or the Nizam against Nana Saheb, and she took the help of Umabai Dabhade, whose eldest son Trimbak Rao was killed by Baji Rao, in the Battle of Dabhol, where he had allied with the Mughals and Nizam. The Dabhades held sway over Gujarat, and though they had to share the revenues with the Peshwa, they never did it.
Balaji Baji Rao inherited an empty treasury, thanks to his father’s long military campaigns, in debt to tune of 14 lakh rupees, and he began to force all the provinces to pay up their dues, that included Gujarat too. Umabhai lent her support to Tarabai, and sent a large unit under her lieutnant Damaji Rao Gaekwad, who would later be the second Maharaja of Vadodara. Gaekwad reached all the way till Satara where he joined forces with Tarabai. However Trimbak Rao Purandare, routed Gaekwad in March 1751, on the banks of the Venna and forced him to flee from the battlefield.
Nana Saheb who was in the North, rushed back to Satara, covering around 650 km in 13 days, and stormed the Yavateshwar garrison, defeating Tarabai’s forces. He forced Gaekwad for a treaty, one of the conditions being half of the Gujarat territories. Later with Tarabai’s own troops rebelling against her, she agreed to sign a peace treaty with Nana Saheb, taking an oath in the famous Khandoba Temple at Jejuri in 1752. Raja Ram II was released and made as Chattrapathi later, though more of a figure head, the real power was with the Peshwa.
The Dabhades too were arrested, their jagirs taken over by the Peshwa. However with Yashwant Rao Dabhade, refusing to cede Gujarat, he had him Damaji Gaekwad locked up in Lohgad. He sent a military expedition under his brother Raghunath Rao to capture Gujarat, who however could go only up to Surat. Seeking to put an end to the conflict, he negotiated with Damaji, who finally agreed to abandon the Dabhades and join the Peshwa. Damaji was made Maratha in charge of Gujarat, and also would later play a role in expelling the Mughals from there. Balaji Baji Rao also managed to conquer Karnataka from the Nizam, thanks to his able general and cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau. Raghoji Bhonsle also came to peace ceding parts of Berar to him.
The other important episode was his relations with the Rajputs, when Sawai Jai Singh passed away in 1743, a war of succession broke out between his sons Ishwari and Madho Singh. While Mewar and Bundi supported Madho, Ishwari was initially backed by the Marathas. However Jagat Singh of Mewar, got Malhar Rao Holkar towards his side, while Jayappa Scindia backed Ishwari. It would mark the beginning of a long rivalry between the Holkars and Scindias, and also Maratha interference in Rajput affairs, which was one of the causes of the Panipat disaster too. Though Madho Singh managed to become ruler of Jaipur, he had no love lost for the Marathas, especially after his brother’s suicide. It sparked off a long round of conflict between the Rajputs and Marathas, forcing Madho Singh to seek help from Shuja Ud Daulah of Avadh and later Abdali too.
Again when another succession war broke out in Jodhpur between sons of Abhai Singh, however Ram Singh ascended the Marwar throne in 1749, sought help from Madho Singh, the Rohillas and Mughals against the Marathas. After another long conflict, Ram Singh agreed for a peace treaty, during which Jayappa Scindia was assasinated by emissaries of Vijay Singh. This again lead to another round of conflict between the Marathas and Rajputs, before Dattaji Rao Scindia bought around the two warring parties in 1756. There was also the long conflict with Jat ruler Surajmal, who had supported Ishwari Singh in the Jaipur conflict.
When the Mughal wazir Safdar Jung sought Suraj Mal’s assistance against the Mughal emperor, the other king maker Imad-Ul-Mulk sought the Maratha help, to which Raghunath Rao responded. Raghoba seeking a share of the revenues from Bharatpur state, sent Malhar Rao Holkar and after a 4 month long siege of Kumher Fort in 1754, Surajmal sued for peace, and agreed to pay around 30 lakhs to the Marathas. Balaji Baji Rao also managed to secure Malwa, when he proteced the Mughal emperor from internal revolt of Safdar Jung, who had allied with the Nizam. When the Rohillas rebelled against the Mughal emperor, and invited Abdali, once again the Marathas managed to sudbue the Rohillas, and by the 1752 treaty were granted Malwa.
One of Balaji Baji Rao’s major achievements would be the way he transformed Pune into a major city from a small settlement. It was under him that Pune grew into a city, and most of it’s current shape was due to his efforts. Most of the Peths in Pune, were developed by Balaji Baji Rao, esp Shaniwar, Budhwar, Ravivar, and that expanded the city even more. He also built Pune’s first wooden bridge over the Mutha River, I believe now the concrete bridge there is called Lakdi Pul. Another great achievement of Balaji Baji Rao was the reservoir at Katraj to supply water to Pune, as also the Parvati Temple on the hill, one of the city’s landmarks.
“2 pearls have been dissolved, 27 gold coins have been lost and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up”
Sadly however Nana Saheb’s rule would end in ignominy, due to Panipat, the rout there shattered him mentally. It was a shattering blow , he lost his cousin Sadashiv Rao and his son Vishwas Rao, never recovered from it. It’s said that he spent his last years on the Parvati hill in Pune, where he passed away heart broken. His samadhi is now located on Parvati Hill, where he spent his last years. The rout at Panipat though would never diminish the sterling work he did for expanding Maratha empire as well as developing Pune. If not for anything, Peshwa Nana Saheb, would forever be remembered for making Pune what it is today, giving it it’s basic shape.