• By Uday S. Kulkarni
  • August 11 2019
  • @MulaMutha
Parshuram Bhau Patwardhan. Courtesy Shri Gangadhar rao Patwardhan, Rajasaheb of Miraj.
  • The Patwardhans of Miraj, Tasgaon, Sangli, Jamkhindi, Kurundwad and other places played a yeoman role in defending the Maratha territories in the south.
  • This concluding chapter covers a period of three decades from 1770 to 1799.
  • The chief Patwardhan sardar at this time was Parshuram Bhau Patwardhan and he was a chief participant in every battle fought in the south during this period.

Part One takes the story up to 1761. Part Two is about the life and struggles of Gopalrao Patwardhan. Part Three the events from 1763 until 1771 and primarily cover the times of Gopalrao Patwardhan and his two cousins Parshuram Bhau and Nilkanthrao who accompanied him on his campaigns.

At the end of part 3, in 1769, we saw that Madhavrao Peshwa appointed Trimbak mama Pethe as the commander of Maratha forces in the south with Gopalrao as his deputy. However, a two decade long life in military camps had worn out Gopalrao. Barely fifty, he fell seriously ill and just managed to reach home at Miraj, where he died within a few days in January 1771.

On Gopalrao Patwardhan’s death, his brother Vamanrao, afflicted by a chest ailment, assumed the responsibility of leading the Patwardhans into battle against Hyder Ali. He reached the camp at Kanakgiri and was summoned to Devdurg by Trimbak mama Pethe the Maratha commander in the south. On reaching there, Devdurg was quickly captured and Hyder Ali’s army that was in Magadi area began to flee. Perforce, Hyder had to plan on withdrawing to Srirangapatnam. He had a large army with many guns, a large gardi infantry and cavalry. 

As he began his move, Pethe sent Vamanrao to block his path while he followed close behind. Hyder Ali’s army formed into a defensive Square but the Patwardhan army stormed the defences of the Mysore chief. Sakharam Hari Gupte, at this time, cut off all the supplies coming to Hyder from his capital. Seeing this, Hyder took refuge among hills near a lake called Moti talao, now known as Tonnur kere, near Chinkurli. He climbed the hill with five to seven thousand men. His army was completely demolished. This battle barely ten miles north of Srirangapatnam is called after Moti Talav or Chinkurli. Pethe’s army completely defeated Hyder Ali and was fought on 8 March 1771.

A letter from Trimbak mama Pethe to the Peshwa said,

All chiefs charged the enemy army. Our flag almost reached Hyder Khan. Hyder went atop a hill with about 7 or 8000 men. His army was defeated. There was a big battle. We captured forty cannons, about 25 elephants, seven to eight thousand horses, plenty of treasure. The entire ‘saltanat’ was looted. About two thousand of his men were killed. Hyder tried to come down the hill but we charged him and he fled to the top of the hill. We reached the base of the hill. In the intervening period Hyder disguised himself and either on foot or a single horse ran away to Srirangapatnam.  The remaining troops on the hill surrendered. His eminent chiefs such as Lal miyan, Mir Reza, Lal Bakshi were all captured. His troops pleaded for mercy and were let off. This has been a great victory for the swami. I had a bullet injury to my right ear. The bullet went through the ear. Neelkanthrao Trimbak (cousin of Gopalrao) and Antoji Mane were killed. We suffered losses too with our horses and elephants perishing in the battle. However, the battle was won.’

A letter from Vasudeo Patwardhan gives more details,

The battle was unprecedented.  Neelkanthrao, (Parshuram) Bhau all fought bravely. However, Neelkanthrao died and that caused grief.

This remarkable unpublished letter gives the ‘casualty report’ of the battle of Moti talao and mentions that Neelkanthrao Patwardhan ‘khasa’ was killed in battle. Letter is courtesy Shri Bhalchandra rao Patwardhan, Rajasaheb of Kurundwad.

Vamanrao Patwardhan wrote,

Cannons and elephants fell into our hands. The entire enemy camp was looted. 8-9000 troops were looted and we obtained 2000 horses.’ Another letter says that 25000 gardis, 12000 strong army and 50 cannons were destroyed in a short time.’  

Along with Hyder was his son Tipu, who escaped at Moti Talav with his father, both disguised as beggars. The death of Neelkanthrao Patwardhan was a major jolt to the Patwardhans. He was hit on his chest by a musket ball. The Marathas naturally turned to Srirangapatnam and invaded the Mysore capital. Hyder still did not come to negotiate as he knew Madhavrao Peshwa was unwell and not present. He now possessed just his capital, Bengaluru and Bednur – renamed Hyder Nagar – in the deep forests north of Sringeri. The rest of his kingdom had been taken by the Maratha army.

The Peshwa wrote to Pethe asking him to get what he could and return. Sira, Hoskote, Balapur, Kolar was retained by the Marathas. A tribute of fifty lakh rupees and a compensation of ten lakh was promised by Hyder to the Peshwa. Of this, Hyder gave 32 lakh rupees in cash and provided guarantors for 28 lakh rupeesThis was the most successful campaign against Hyder and the Maratha army returned to their home base before the monsoon months, without completely exterminating their enemy. In two and a half years, Gopalrao, Madhavrao Krishna and Neelkanthrao Patwardhan either died or were killed in battle. Raghunath Dada, the son of Neelkanthrao now took charge of his father’s contingent. He was to serve the Maratha state for another twenty-five years. 

The four campaigns of Madhavrao Peshwa against Hyder Ali and his victories in all of them over a seven-year period showed a key Maratha strategy. Like the Nizam, they did not exterminate Hyder Ali. The weakness of the strategy was seen later when the Marathas had to face a civil war, however, the strength of having other Indian powers as allies was seen when the Nizam and Hyder Ali combined with the Marathas against the British in 1780 to fight the last part of the Anglo-Maratha war that ended in 1782.

In another development the Nawab of Arcot at this time attacked Thanjavur. Raja Tuljaaji of Thanjvaur sought help from Trimbak mama Pethe who decided to save that Maratha kingdom. He deputed Vamanrao to protect the mountain passes and descended to the plains towards Thanjavur. Seeing this, the Nawab of Arcot Muhammad Ali withdrew from Thanjavur.

Hyder tried to grab the opportunity to block Pethe in the passes but was countered by Vamanrao, and had to return to Srirangapatnam discomfited.  Pethe then sent an army to Cuddappa whose Nawab paid a tribute to the Marathas and sent an army to Coimbatore under Krishnarao Mehendale and Sakharam Hari. Here, Tipu came out to face them, but on 13 January 1772 was defeated near Salem. In June 1772, Hyder Ali submitted and agreed to pay the dues and hand over the territories demanded by Pethe. In turn, the Marathas agreed not to attack him again.

The last of the great rulers of Maratha history - Madhavrao Peshwa - died in November 1772 at Theur at the young age of twenty-eight, and his brother Narayanrao became the next Peshwa. In his nine-month rule, Narayanrao, just 17 years old – created powerful enemies including his uncle Raghunathrao. This led to the first assassination in the annals of Maratha history when the Peshwa was murdered in his own palace by the gardis. Raghunathrao was implicated in the deed, and soon after, a civil war ensued that the English entered by opportunistically occupying the Maratha possession of the island of Salsette near Mumbai. With Hyder Ali also using the opportunity to attack the Marathas, and a retreat of Maratha forces from the north, a siege like situation persisted in the corridors of power in Pune. 

With a strong resistance to Raghunathrao building up, the Pune ministers decided to bring him to justice. An army led by Trimbak mama and Hari pant Phadke was sent to confront him At Kasegaon, Raghunathrao surprised Trimbakrao Pethe’s small army and captured him injured. Trimbak mama died a few days later dealing a major blow to the Marathas. Haripant Phadke, once a clerk in Nana Phadnis’s administration, became the new chief of Maratha forces.

Hyder Ali, in the short administration of Raghunathrao, had been given territory between Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers for an annual contribution of merely 6 lakh rupees. In this manner, Raghunathrao ensured Hyder would support him as the next Peshwa. Hyder Ali cashed in on the opportunity and captured most Maratha posts south of the Tungabhadra. He imprisoned the old Murar rao Ghorpade, who also later died in his prison.

Nana Phadnis, Sakharam Bapu, Haripant Phadke formed the nucleus of those who opposed Raghunathrao. Holkar and Scindia did not openly take any sides and although Raghunathrao was in their custody for a while, they did not take steps to bring him to justice. The result was that Raghunathrao escaped and joined the British at Surat, and a fresh war was inflicted on the western coast. The British claimed Raghunathrao was the true heir to the Peshwa’s musnad. 

Meanwhile, in 1775, Vamanrao Patwardhan died of poor health. His younger brother Pandurangrao was not a warrior. However, the primacy Govind Hari dictated that a member of his family take over the command. Pandurangrao therefore remained the nominal chief and the overall military leadership moved from the house of Govind Hari to Parshuram bhau Patwardhan who became the most active member of the family along with Raghunath dada.

In 1775, Hyder Ali presented a major challenge in the south. Pandurangrao, the third son of Govind Hari, with Konher rao Patwardhan, led an army against Hyder Ali.  Pandurangrao had never led an army and Konherrao, Neelkanthrao’s younger brother had not done so either. After heading for Dharwad in January 1777, they found Hyder Ali had sent a strong army under an able chief named Muhammad Ali Kumdan to oppose them. Pandurangrao decided to attack the enemy at a place called Savshi. However, he walked into a trap. Konher rao Patwardhan was killed while an injured Pandurangrao was captured by Hyder Ali. Pandurangrao had three major injuries and was sent prisoner to Srirangapatnam where he died in November 1777 of a fever. Parshuram bhau thereafter formally became the chief of the Patwardhans.

The decade from 1770 had seen Gopalrao, Vamanrao, Pandurangrao – three sons of Govind Hari die of illness or in Hyder Ali’s prison, while Neelkanthrao Trimbak, Meghshyamrao and Konher rao Patardhan were killed in battle. The debacle was a severe one for the family. 

When the Maratha civil war began, the raja of Kolhapur had begun attacking the Peshwa’s territories as well as those of the Ichalkaranji Ghorpades. Parshuram bhau and Raghunath dada were then sent to tackle these challenges. Kolhapur was sacked, a few suburbs burnt and the lost territories reclaimed from the Kolhapur rulers. Yesaji Shinde, one of their chiefs tried to take the battle to the Peshwa’s forces, but was defeated.

Hyder Ali had send Muhammad Kumdan to face Parshuram bhau’s army in the north Carnatic. From Kolhapur, Parshuram bhau now moved towards Dharwad to oppose Kumdan. He was also the acknowledged head of the Patwardhan family at this time. Kumdan had a larger army than Bhau, and it was more of a defensive action that Parshuram bhau had to plan from a place called Manoli. However, a shortage of provisions forced his hand and his men began to approach Kumdan’s forces and loot the region around it. Seeing this Kumdan withdrew to Hubli. 

Meanwhile Hyder sent some help to the raja of Kolhapur who began ravaging the Patwardhan jagirs. The Pune ministers sent an army to help fight the Kolhapur army of Yesaji Shinde. This allowed Bhau to move towards Hubli. Kumdan now moved further back to Bankapur. A guerrilla war between these two forces ensued.

At Kolhapur, the Pune army under Ramachandra Ganesh Kanade defeated Yesaji Shinde in May 1777. Mahadji Scindia was also ordered to head towards Kolhapur. To tackle Hyder, the Pune darbar took the help of the Nizam who dispatched Ibrahim Dhausa towards Kurnool to help the Marathas. Haripant Phadke started from Pune and joined Bhau near the Tungabhadra at this time.

However, Hyder sent a large army under Mir Reza and Tipu to fight Dhausa who then asked Haripant for help, forcing him to head for Kurnool! Hyder then recalled Kumdan and opened the way for Parshuram bhau to move south into the territories lost to Hyder. The rulers of Chitradurg, Harpanhalli, Kurnool pledged their help to the Marathas.  Haripant was already running short of money to pay his troops. Parshuram Bhau raised loans of 4 lakh rupees, and another 2 lakh rupees came from Pune to ensure the army stays in Karnataka in the monsoons. During these monsoon months, Bhau took Shirhatti and Laxmeshwar – which was part of his jagir – and then headed for Savshi with Anandrao Raste’s army. Haripant headed for Savanur. The battle was thus one of changing frontiers and front lines.

Meanwhile Hyder came back and extracted a hefty tribute from Chitradurg for helping the Marathas. Phadke and Bhau had to cross the Tungabhadra and head for Chitradurg. However, despite a strong force at their disposal, Hyder kept hovering around their camp. Suspecting defections in their ranks, the Marathas withdrew north of the Tungabhadra. Here, an enquiry revealed that Manaji Phakde had distributed 4 lakh rupees from Hyder to the Maratha troops. Manaji was a loyalist of Raghunath rao – who was allied to Hyder Ali. The Marathas then found Manaji’s confederate named Yashwant rao Mane in their camp to be guilty and blasted him from a cannon, while another gardi chiefs was put to death. Two more chiefs were imprisoned and sent to Pune. Then they joined Dhausa and began to move south only to find that this officer of the Nizam had also been bribed by Hyder Ali.

The method of spending money to win battles was not unique for the 18th century. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s Generals had mastered the art of winning Maratha forts in this manner, only to see them lost as soon as the Emperor moved to the next fort. Cross loyalties and the lure of money plagued battles at the time, and the few chiefs who rendered loyal service to their ruler had to be on watch against such defections in their ranks.

The 1777-78 season was thus a tough one and Hyder Ali could not be controlled due to a variety of reasons. By mid-1778 a giant conspiracy to place Raghunath rao on the Peshwa’s musnad began in Pune with many of the nobles including Moroba Phadnis, Chinto Vithal Rairikar, Bajaba Purandare, Sakharam Bapu, Tukoji Holkar involved in overthrowing Nana Phadnis and Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa. The Pune administration therefore asked Bhau and Phadke to rush back to Pune. They also summoned Mahadji Scindia to help them. British envoy Thomas Mostyn and a spy named William Lewis were instrumental in working against Nana Phadnis in Pune itself. Mostyn precipitately left for Mumbai and soon the British sent their army over the Bor ghat to attack Pune.

During the first Anglo Maratha war, the 1778-79 British invasion of Pune failed abysmally. The British debacle in Talegaon en route to Pune is well documented. A humiliating treaty at Wadgaon forced the British to eat humble pie. No sooner had Raghunathrao been handed over to Mahadji Scindia and the English allowed to withdraw to Mumbai, came news that Raghunathrao had escaped and rejoined the British, leading to yet another war.

In 1780, Nana Phadnis and the Nizam with Hyder Ali formed an anti-English alliance at this time forcing Warren Hastings to sue for peace in 1782. Here, against Nana’s wishes, Mahadji Scindia forged a treaty with the British, thereby leaving Hyder Ali all alone to fight against them. To live up to his promise, Nana Phadnis at Pune did not ratify this treaty until Hyder was alive, but soon after his death it was ratified. It earned the Marathas the enmity of Tipu Sultan, the son of Hyder Ali.

The Patwardhans took part in all these battles against the British forces and later formed the frontline against aggression by Tipu. In 1786, the Maratha forces under Parshuram bhau Patwardhan were engaged in a struggle with Tipu Sultan at the fort of Badami. The fort was captured and a description by the British resident Charles Malet, who travelled there to present his credentials to Nana Phadnis, is available to researchers even today.

By 1790, Bhau along with his cousin Raghunath rao and Hari pant Phadke were the leading Maratha Generals in the Deccan while Holkar and Scindia, who were also rivals, dominated north India. The alliance with the British in 1790 against Tipu Sultan –who could not be controlled by the Marathas or the British alone – was signed at Pune and a large army under Parshuram Bhau, Raghunath dada and Hari pant Phadke left for the south, while a British force led by Lord Cornwallis began for Tipu’s territory from Chennai. 

Bhau had many assignments on the way and one finds the English letter writers complaining about his late arrival at the campaign. A tragic attack by some Pindaris and lamans from the Maratha van under Raghunath rao at this time went to Sringeri and attacked the math there for wealth hidden there by the rich chiefs in the area. Unknown to the Patwardhans, many atrocities were committed by the Pindari troops for which a long correspondence between the Patwardhans and Nana Phadnis ensued to bring them to justice and please the Sringeri swami* (a separate article on this under the heading ‘What exactly happened at Sringeri in April 1791’ is published here).

The British force hovered around Srirangapatnam running short of supplies, food and water, forcing them to withdraw towards Bangalore. At this time, Parshuram bhau’s army with its large bazar reached there and succoured the withdrawing British troops. The two armies together then attacked Srirangapatnam. Tipu Sultan was defeated and came to terms in 1792, however, his survival was due to Phadke stating he should not be completely destroyed and allowed to rule with diminished powers. This was a wise move because the removal of Tipu would give the British a clear path in the south, as happened later in 1799. A large part of territory that had earlier been captured by Madhavrao Peshwa was annexed to the Maratha Empire. Tipu was thereafter much reduced in power and could hardly trouble the Marathas. A few years of peace prevailed in the Maratha territories.

In 1795, long pending dues of the Nizam were demanded by Nana Phadnis. The Nizam’s minister Azim ul umara in his arrogance precipitated a war with the Peshwa after three decades of peace between them. The entire Maratha army under various chiefs came together under the overall command of Parshuram bhau Patwardhan. The battle of Kharda was won in March 1795. However, just when the Maratha Empire seemed at the zenith of its power, in October 1795 Sawai Madhavrao died of a fall from his terrace and a fresh civil war erupted in the Maratha ranks. 

Samadhi of Parshuram bhau Patwardha is at Pattankudi in north Karnataka. It was built at the spot where he was killed in 1799.

Parshuran bhau, who had initially allied with Nana, fell out with him over the choice of the next Peshwa. These turbulent times led to many side plots that weakened the Maratha power from within. Bhau’s territory was once again attacked by the raja of Kolhapur and the old enmity flared up. In late 1799, the Kolhapur forces pounced on Bhau’s army when it was much smaller in number and he was captured injured. He was cruelly treated and killed while he was a captive. This ignominious end of a person who served the Maratha state for four decades was a set back to the entire Empire.

The end of the Maratha power was not far when the rivalry between Holkar and Scindia reached Pune, forcing the Peshwa (who was supported by Daulatrao Scindia) to abandon his capital and seek British help. The year 1803 saw the second Anglo Maratha war and the end of the Peshwa’s independent authority. Bajirao II’s relations with the Patwardhans were vitiated due to the old enmity that prevailed between his father Raghunathrao and the Patwardhans. The tragic sequence of events in the next decade led to a gradually increasing stranglehold of the British on the Maratha power. By 1818, the Peshwa was defeated in the third Anglo Maratha war and pensioned to Bithoor thereby formally signalling the end of the Maratha Empire.

By the early part of the nineteenth century, the large Patwardhan family was divided into several branches such as at Miraj, Sangli, Tasgaon, Jamkhindi, Kurundwad and so on. They continued to govern their states in the British raj and some of them proved to be benevolent rulers who ensured the welfare of their subjects well into the twentieth century.

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