Sutradhara’s tales: A new era dawns, as a Peshwa appears on the scene
Pune as a city has suffered its set of misfortunes before the tide changed and was effectively revived under able rulers and administrators. The political scene in Deccan at the start of the 18th century was the peak of the Maratha-Mughal conflict.
Rajaram Maharaj was left with two wives and two sons. The elder, Shivaji, was born of queen Tararani, a clever and resourceful woman. She immediately took steps to have her son, Shivaji II, set upon the throne and solemnly declared his father’s successor, with herself as Regent, the boy being 10-years-old.
The defining battle between the Mughals under the leadership of Emperor Aurangzeb and the struggling Marathas under the leadership of queen Tararani was in full swing.
With generous support and assistance from diplomats and commanders such Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bavadekar, Dhanaji Jadhav, Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi, Shankaraji Narayan Pant Sachiv, Tararani firmly took the reins of the Maratha kingdom in her hand.
At this time the Marathas were largely split up into marauding bands. They roamed the country harassing the Moghuls and plundering. The loot they stored in various mountain fortresses. A partial account of their gains was rendered to the head of the state, but the major portion was embezzled or dissipated. They appeared more like a scattered band of horseback troops. This very fact, however, rendered them all the more formidable and destructive; guerrilla warfare being best calculated to succeed in that distracted epoch.
Marathas were successful in conquering forts around Satara, such as Bhushangad, Parali-Sajjangad and also launched a camp in the north and conquered the area till the river Narmada. The joint efforts to keep Sinhagad fort however, did not succeed.
Many forts around Pune, including fort Purandar and Sinhagad were successfully taken over by Aurangzeb and his sardars by bribing the killedars. Inspite of encouragement by queen Tararani to hold fort, the forts were surrendered, sometimes to prevent the wanton loss of Maratha soldiers.
Purandar was named Azamgad and subsequently fort Rajgad and Torna were included in Mughal domains.
Meanwhile, Prince Shahu and his mother, Yesubai, wife of Sambhaji Raje, were in the custody of Emperor Aurangzeb since Sambhaji Raje’s assassination.
When the question of releasing Shahu was mooted, Aurangzeb arranged political marriages for the young prince, giving him as wives the daughters of the two most eminent Marathas in the imperial service, namely, the Shindes, patil of Kanherkhed and the Jadhavs of Sindhkhed. As the wedding present, Aurangzeb conferred the jahagirs of Akkalkot, Indapur, Supa, and Nevasa upon the bridegroom. Aurangzeb aimed to use prince Shahu effectively to subdue Maratha resistance in the Deccan.
The battle for succession finally compelled Aurangzeb to withdraw from the neighbourhood of Pune and retire to Ahmednagar.
History turned its page when Aurangzeb finally passed away in the spring of 1707, at the ripe age of 88, leaving a power vacuum and creating a tussle over succession amongst the Mughal princes. The ensuing war of succession resulted in accession of prince Muazzam, who ascended the Mughal throne with the title Bahadurshah.
Tarabai and her followers were quick to profit by the withdrawal of the imperial army. In 1707, Lodi Khan, the Moghul left in command of Pune city, was defeated by Dhanaji Jadhav, one of Tarabai’s generals, but the city of Pune still remained in possession of the Mughals.
Parts of Pune region witnessed alternative rule, by the Mughals and the Marathas. Mughal commanders feared the relentless Maratha attack under Dhanaji Jadhav as he took the fort Sangramdurg at Chakan.
In order to deter Maratha advances, governors of Deccan, Azam Shah and Zulfikar Khan, suggested that young prince Shahu, son of Sambhaji Raje be released to create political tussle in Maratha camp over succession.
Faction of Marathas such as Dabhades and Balaji Vishwanath Bhat were engaged in diplomatic talks at the Mughal court for release of Shahu Maharaj.
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat, a kokanastha Brahmin from Diveagar village, who served the Siddhis of Janjira, had migrated to join the Marathas under Sambhaji Raje and Rajaram maharaj in 1680s. Between 1699 and 1702, he was Sar-subhedar of some part of Pune jahagir around Khalad and Belsar.
He, later, was Subhedar of Daulatabad between 1704 and 1707. Balaji Vishwanath had a fallout with Dhanaji Jadhav’s son and went to join Shahu Maharaj as an assistant in 1708. He was instrumental in the diplomacy talks with Mughal camp and by lobbying with various Rajput and Mughal sardars, persuaded them to release Shahu Maharaj.
Shahu Maharaj’s mother, Yesubai, and his two wives were retained as hostages. The young Maratha was told that, should he establish his authority, and show himself a loyal ally of the Moghuls, he would be given the territory which his grandfather, the great Shivaji Maharaj, had wrested from Bijapur, with an additional tract between the rivers, Bhima and the Godavari.
Purandares, Balaji Vishwanath and many other Maratha Sardars rallied by Shahu Maharaj’s side to finally establish him firmly as a Maratha ruler in Satara in 1708. Queen Tararani was subjugated and her Kolhapur throne was brought under subordination in 1712.
Shahu Maharaj asserted own authority on Pune by nominating his commandant, Balaji Vishwanath to look after his family’s Poona jahagir. Balaji Vishwanath chose to rule Pune from the town of Saswad where he stayed with sardar Purandare who was his close ally and oversaw the jahagir.
With the success of the Maratha Empire and defeating the Siddis at Janjira, Balaji Vishwanath was awarded the title of Peshwa, the prime minister of the Maratha Empire on November 16, 1713.
Hyderabad’s Nizam-ul-Mulk’s sardar, Rambhaji Nimbalkar had captured Pune in 1707. He officially received the jahagir of Poona from Daudkhan Panni, a Mughal sardar in 1713.
It proved disastrous for Poona. Matters came to such a pass that the Mughal Governor actually ordered his troops to sack the place. On the order of “Rao Rambha”, Faujdar Baji Kadam and Shekdar (Mahalkari) Gundoji Naik looted Pune, mercilessly.
The dual rule of the Mughals and the Marathas continued in Pune till 1715.
Balaji Vishwanath managed to secure rights of chauthai (1/4th tax) and Sardeshmukhi, popularly known as “Swarajyachi Sanad” from newly crowned Mughal emperor, Faaruksiyar. However, Thanedar Rambhaji Nimbalkar refused to submit chauthai taxes to Marathas. Displeased with Rambhaji’s actions in 1715, Balaji Vishnwanath, on orders of Shahu, finally sent officer Vyankoji Dhamdhere to conquer Pune and over throw Rambhaji Nimbalkar. Balaji Vishwanath personally met Baji Kadam who was incharge of Pune then, and persuaded him to join the Marathas. Thus, without shedding blood or endangering masses, Pune was handed over to Marathas.
Thus, Balaji Vishwanath’s swift actions freed Pune from Mughal rule and Nizam-ul-mulk’s tyranny. Balaji Vishnwanath established his official hold on Poona under the “Swaraj sanad” issued by the emperor of Delhi, Farukhsiyar. Power over Pune was extremely crucial as it meant rule over entire area including twelve mawal. Peace was finally restored and Pune citizens heaved a sigh of relief.
In October 1719, Balaji Vishwanath obtained leave from Shahu Maharaj to retire to the village of Saswad. Balaji Vishwanath Bhat-Peshwa died on April 12, 1720 at Saswad.
Balaji Vishwanath was succeed by young Bajirao Ballal, aka Bajirao I who was conferred the Peshwa position in a hereditary capacity by Shahu Maharaj. The promising Peshwa Bajirao I was a boon for Pune as well as the Maratha Empire, as we shall see further.
In order to ensure everlasting peace for Pune, Shahu Maharaj ordered Bajirao I to make Poona his residence. It would then also become first line of defence for northern attacks and secure Satara, which was Shahu Maharaj’s headquarters. Pune was finally set on its course towards uninterrupted development, as the Peshwa decided to make Pune as his headquarters.