Bajirao's Strategic brilliance at the Battle of Palkhed
25 February 2022
"Bajirao was not only far-sighted but also possessed the capacity to fulfil the desired end-results....."
The battle of Palkhed, in essence was the culmination of the episodic Maratha-Nizam rivalry which had lasted for approximately three years from February 1725 to February 1728. In the years prior, Bajirao led two campaigns into the Karnataka, namely: - Campaign of Chitaldurg (1725-26) and Campaign of Shrirangapattam (1726-27). The Nizam misconstrued these Karnataka campaigns as Maratha efforts to infringe upon his territory as he considered all territories south of the river Krishna his by the rule of law.
The Nizam took to harassing the Maratha Chauth collectors by employing Aiwaz Khan, Ghias Khan and Turktak Khan. Further, Nizam was able to lure some of the Maratha defectors like Chandrasen Jadhav, Rao Nimbalkar, and Udaji Chavan as well as a few Maratha sardars like Kanhoji Bhosale and Sultanji Nimbalkar who had grown jealous of Bajirao’s growing influence and power. A few sources have stated that the conspiracy had been planned since the year 1721 but could not gain any material support. However, Sambhajiraje of Kolhapur soon joined the plot and the cause gained credibility. Bhagwantrao Amatya, son of Ramchandra Pant Amatya also joined the plot.
However, a letter sent by Sambhajiraje to Chandrasen Jadhav proves that Nizam was using Sambhajiraje as a bait, by promising him the Maratha kingdom (Dated February 1726) to lure Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj. Chhatrapati Shahu tried to persuade Sambhajiraje to break off his alliance with the Nizam, going so far as conceding to ruling in partnership where Chhatrapati Shahu would expand in the North and Sambhajiraje in the South. However, Sambhajiraje heeded the advice of two of his glory-seeking advisors, Nilkanth Trimbak Mahadkar and Chimnaji Damodar Moghe, who wanted to rival Peshwa Bajirao in both, warfare and diplomacy
Around the time of Dasshera 1726 (24 September), Sambhajiraje left Kolhapur and joined the Nizam, who was feigning friendship to Shahu. Immediately, hostile activities against Chhatrapati Shahu commenced in different districts of Maharashtra like Sangamner, Junnar, and Mahiratpur. In early 1727, Pune was almost overrun and Sambhajiraje toured through Pune as the monarch. After hearing this report, Chhatrapati Shahu called some of his northern Sardars as most of his troops were away in Karnataka.
Prelude to battle:-
At this critical juncture, Bajirao was away on an expedition in the Karnataka. Chhatrapati Shahu’s advisors advised him to come to terms with the Nizam and offer a cash payment, as none of them were as fore-sighted and bold as the Peshwa. Chhatrapati Shahu’s Deshastha advisers even tried to break his relation with the Koknastha Peshwa Bajirao. As Chhatrapati Shahu was about to agree with his advisors, Bajirao returned from his expedition and remonstrated to the Chhatrapati that coming to terms can have far-reaching effects on the Maratha kingdom and severely undermine his authority.
Chhatrapati Shahu declared war on the Nizam on October 13th, 1727.
1. Initial moves:-
Turktaz Khan and Aiwaz Khan were the most able lieutenants of the Nizam while the Peshwa’s most trusted commanders were Ranoji Scindia, Malharrao Holkar and the Pawar brothers. In separate engagements, Aiwaz Khan and Chandrasen Jadhav were severely defeated by Tukoji pawar and Raghuji Bhosale respectively.
Nizam made Pune his main objective and ravaged it severely by attacking Lohagad, Chinchwad and other suburbs. He was accompanied by Sambhajiraje as he personally entered Pune from the Junnar region and took up residence there. In February 1727, Sambhajiraje was married to a Rajput princess of the Sisodia clan at Ramnagar, post which he was openly declared as the Chhatrapati of the Maratha kingdom. After appointing one of his commanders to hold Pune, Nizam started ravaging Baramati province and slowly inching his way towards Satara.
On the other hand, Bajirao was not only far-sighted but also possessed the capacity to fulfil the desired end-results. He depended on his light and efficient Maratha cavalry to rapidly close large distances and swoop in on the enemy from all directions. He left Poona in September and after defeating Aiwaz Khan on November 5, proceeded towards Berar, Mangrol and Wasim in the Desh plateau. Suddenly, with lightning speed, he changed his course to the North-west and entered Gujarat in January 1728. Once he had learned that the Nizam was marching towards Pune, he spread the word through his spy network that he would be ravaging Burhanpur.
Bajirao rightly calculated that once Nizam would hear about the Peshwa’s march towards Burhanpur, he would be tempted to protect his rich northern provinces. Another fact that played into Bajirao’s stratagem was that Pune was hard to govern for the Nizam, draining all of his resources. Nizam left Poona around the middle of February to intercept and destroy Bajirao’s nimble-footed Maratha army.
Both Marathas and Nizam had a highly-functioning Spy-network. However, in this case, Bajirao’s spies proved more capable and he had assigned Chimaji Appa to closely watch Nizam’s movements. After reaching the Godavari River, Nizam left his artillery behind and crossed with only his infantry and cavalry to search for Bajirao.
February 25th :- On the course of his march, Nizam found himself suddenly surrounded on all sides by the Marathas near Palkhed between Aurangabad and Baizapur. The Palkhed region is hilly with no provisions by means of supply lines or water sources. His communication with the outside world was quickly shut off by means of a Full encirclement. The Marathas began to harass the Nizami troops into surrender. The Nizam quickly understood what this meant for him and his army: - Starvation and dehydration as his position grew more desperate every day.
On 6th March, a treaty was signed by the Nizam which stated:-
a) Nizam should withdraw his protection from Sambhajiraje and allow him to proceed to Panhalgad.
b) Poona, Baramati, Talegaon and other captured provinces to be returned to Chhatrapati Shahu.
c) All administrative grants for the 6 Mughal subhas to be run through the Imperial Maratha agency, who would be in-charge. (It meant that Chhatrapati Shahu would be formally recognised to collect Chauth from the 6 Mughal Subhas)
d) Previous grants of Sardeshmukhi and Swarajya to be recognised by Nizam
e) No more Jagirs to be bestowed upon Sambhajiraje than already done and he should not be allowed to collect Chauth from districts north of river Krishna.
f) Any illegal Chauths that have been collected by Sambhajiraje to be returned to Chhatrapati Shahu.
g) The 5 villages of Peta Nimbone to be bestowed upon the Pawar brothers for their loyalty.
The major outcome that came out of the Palkhed episode was the formal recognition of Chhatrapati Shahu as the collector of Chauth, restraint on rebellious Maratha Sardars and most importantly, political weakening of support for Sambhajiraje as Chatrapati.
Further, Bajirao proved himself as an able general and Peshwa in the eyes of the Chhatrapati, the Maratha kingdom and his enemies. Nizam, considered as the greatest strategist back in the day was humbled and overcome by Bajirao, 30 years his junior.
The Palkhed campaign of 1728 is notable as ‘A masterpiece of strategic mobility - Field Marshal Montgomery
1. ‘Marathi Riyasat’ by G. S Sardesai
2. ‘Peshwa Bajirao 1 and Maratha expansion’ by V. G Dighe