PATWARDHANS - Sword Arm of the Peshwai PART 2

  • By Uday S. Kulkarni
  • May 13 2019
  • @MulaMutha
Gopalrao Govind Patwardhan of Miraj. Pic credit Uday S Kulkarni
  • Part two is about life and struggles of Gopalrao Patwardhan, how the Marathas fought amongst themselves and against the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Part ONE told you about the origin of the Patwardhans near Ganapatipule, founder of the clan Harbhatji and how Patwardhans emerged as the principal supporters of the Peshwa’s army in the Deccan. Period cover was up to 1761. Now part two. 


An extremely complex period of history begins from 1760, due to wars with the Nizam, Hyder Ali, the reverse at Panipat and mainly, the schism in the Peshwa family after Nanasaheb Peshwa’s death. The Patwardhans went through a turbulent period and emerged from the crisis to serve the Maratha state for the next few decades.

Govind Hari’s four sons - Gopalrao, Vamanrao, Pandurangrao and Gangadharrao – along with Govind Hari’s brother Trimbak Hari’s son Neellkanthrao as well as Ramchandra Hari’s son Parshuram Bhau and their eldest brother Krishnabhat’s son Purushottam Daji - were all active in the military field. Of these, Gopalrao was born around 1721 and with his brothers, this generation participated in most battles in the Deccan in the second half of the eighteenth century. Of these, Gopalrao played a leading role in the times of Madhavrao Peshwa. It is to part of this story that we now turn.

The battle of Udgir against the Nizam was fought in early 1760 and Nanasaheb Peshwa sent Gopalrao to capture the strong fort of Daulatabad. Gopalrao tried to lure the garrison by a promise of money. Nanasaheb Peshwa chided him in private and asked him to attack instead of indulging in politics, he then captured the base of the fort and blockaded the garrison, forcing it to submit. A small jagir was promised to the killedar of the fort. Calling Gopalrao a ‘stern soldier’, the Peshwa then sent him a letter of approbation.

After Udgir, the Nizam ceded Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Daulatabad and Burhanpur – four principal Mughal capitals of the Deccan to the Marathas, pushing the Nizam into a corner. However, before he could be chastised and his territory taken over, there was a call of arms to the north. The Maratha reverse at Panipat happened in January 1761, changing power equations all over the country.

The dust had not yet settled on the defeat at Panipat when Nanasaheb Peshwa passed away on 23 June 1761 at Pune. Until his death, the prestige of the Peshwa held off his enemies; notably the Nizam and the rising chief Hyder Ali of Mysore. His death was followed by the appointment of his 16-year-old son Madhav rao as the next Peshwa with his uncle Raghunath rao as the Regent. Matters between the uncle and the nephew rapidly reached a new low, as Madhav rao was too strong a person to be led, and Raghunath rao too ambitious to let go. The enemies of the Maratha state were waiting for just such an opportunity and once the monsoon months were over, they began their moves.

In the midst of this civil strife, the Patwardhans led by Govind Hari and his son Gopalrao became partisans of Madhavrao. The divide in the top echelons of the Maratha power was not to remain hidden for long. Madhavrao’s mother Gopikabai had a natural aversion for Raghunathrao, who she felt dominated her son, and she did not hesitate to influence the young Peshwa’s mind. Although the Patwardhan clan supported Madhavrao, we shall see, in the years to come they had to fight a war against the Maratha raj itself.

Before Nanasaheb’s death, Raghunathrao had been sent there to check the Nizam, however he returned to Pune. In the south, Visaji Krishna Biniwale was facing Hyder Ali. The news of Panipat reached him and he hurriedly patched up a treaty taking an indemnity of just three lakhs from a pleasantly surprised Hyder and returned to Pune. After Panipat, Hyder Ali too came forward to take back the lost territories in the Carnatic. To compensate for this void in the south, the saranjams of the Patwardhan were increased and they were sent to defend the southern borders of the Maratha power.

The fort of Miraj had hitherto been with Madhavrao’s father in law Shivaji Ballal, however, the Peshwa did not let this come in the way of compensating for the losses sustained by the Patwardhans in the war with the Nizam and handed the fort to them. By 1762, the Patwardhans were firmly in charge of the fort of Miraj, and Govind Hari made this his base.

Govind Hari was nearly sixty-five by then, he was devoted to the deity of Pandharpur and he indulged in charity in the pilgrim town. Relations between Raghunathrao and Madhavrao progressively deteriorated and the split spread through the chiefs and ministers. Gopalrao had once refused to serve under Raghunathrao largely owing to the presence of his advisor Sakharam Bapu – who the Patwardhans did not trust. Gopalrao, therefore became the Peshwa’s natural ally against his uncle.

In the midst of this, the Nizam came with his army and destroyed the temples at Kaigaon Toka south of Aurangabad and began his march on Pune. The Marathas fought using their traditional methods and resisted the Mughal. Gradually, the Nizam reached Urali, not far from Pune. Here, the Nizam’s officer Ramchandra Jadhav, annoyed at the iconoclasm at Toka, came over to the Marathas. At Uruli, not far from Pune, the Nizam was blockaded, his army surrounded and starved of provisions. Gopalrao, Bapuji Naik and others felt this was the time to extract the maximum advantage from the Nizam. However, the negotiating team led by Raghunathrao and Sakharam Bapu, his advisor, gave the Nizam territory of 27 lakhs and signed a treaty. The outcome disgusted Bapuji Naik who left the army and walked away to his saranjam.

Seeing the discontent against his administration, Raghunathrao angrily retired from the administration. Sakharam Bapu was also removed as the Diwan and Madhavrao appointed Trimbak mama Pethe in his place. There were strong undercurrents at this time of a caste divide between the Kokanastha (led by Trimbak rao, Baburao Phadnis and the Patwardhans) and Deshastha Brahmins (led by Sakharam Bapu, with Aba Purandare, Vithal Shivdeo and Chinto Vithal). It was assumed that Raghunathrao gave the Nizam this territory to make use of him in future, in the event of a battle between Madhavrao and Raghunathrao.

In Pune, Raghunathrao asked Madhavrao for a personal jagir of 10 lakh rupees and said he would retire from the administration. The Peshwa refused and Raghunathrao left Pune for the nearby village of Vadgaon. A large train of chiefs including the Peshwa, Holkar and Gopalrao went to assuage him. Govind Hari scolded his son, ‘it is not your business to enter this field of mediation. Maintain an army and do your duty to your master’, he wrote. Raghunathrao however, went on to Ahmednagar and began gathering an army. Many Deshastha chiefs such as Sakharam Bapu, Aba Purandare and Vithal Shivdeo joined him. The Peshwa also gathered his army.

The two armies met at a distance from Pune on the banks of the river Ghod. Trimbak mama Pethe, Malharrao Holkar, Gopalrao Patwardhan and Raste were the chiefs the Peshwa trusted. As expected, Raghunathrao called the Nizam for help and his diwan Vithal Sundar joined with his army. Two battles were fought, the first at Ghodnadi and the second at Alegaon. The smaller army of the Peshwa was afflicted with many defections and defeat stared them in the face. ‘Gopalrao fought valiantly’, Madhavrao wrote to his mother Gopikabai, however with defections, they could not win the battle. Of the Patwardhans, Neelkanthrao was injured with a bullet on his forearm, and two other brothers – Narayanrao and Bhaskarpant - were also injured.

To prevent further bloodshed among his own people, Madhavrao personally went to Raghunathrao’s camp and submitted to him. However, his lieutenants were unwilling to serve Raghunathrao. Baburao Phadnis left the army as did Trimbak mama - who went to Sinhagad, while Gopalrao moved towards Miraj. Raghunathrao promptly confiscated their jagirs and distributed them among his own adherents. He also appointed his infant son Bhaskar as the Pratinidhi in place of Bhavanrao, who was aggrieved and went and joined the Nizam. In this manner, the fissures in the Maratha fold began to deepen.

Gopalrao’s departure from the battlefield at Alegaon was only after seeking permission from Madhavrao Peshwa, who asked him to go anywhere and protect himself from the actions of Raghunathrao. Raghunathrao and Sakharam Bapu were now in full control and confiscated the saranjams of Phadnis and Rastes. Govind Hari was asked to hand over Miraj and an army was sent to take over the fort from him. Govind Hari however, refused and said he would hand it over only after the debts incurred in his service were paid by the Government.

 Miraj Fort Banka Darwaza. Door was pulled down a few years ago by Miraj municipality for road widening.

A campaign against Hyder was planned and Raghunathrao planned to take over the fort at Miraj on his way south. Taking Madhavrao along, he placed the fort under a siege. When the fort was not handed over for a week, the attack commenced. Gopalrao who was on his way to Miraj was also attacked by a large army of ten thousand men led by Aba Purandare and in a battle further south at Jamkhindi, Gopalrao’s smaller army was defeated. Escaping capture and riding for several days at a stretch, Gopalrao reached the Nizam’s territory asking for help to save Miraj. Govind Hari’s brother Trimbak Hari went to the stronghold at Bankapur. Govind Hari with his nephews Purushottam Daji and Bhaskarrao decided to face the attack on Miraj fort.

Raghunathrao personally led the siege. There were just over fifteen hundred men in the fort to face Raghunathrao’s army of fifty thousand. Eight days into the siege the first attack by the gardis was returned owing to the valour of Purushottam Daji. The defenders then burnt the bridge over the moat and went inside the fort. A continuous fire with rockets and arrows began from the Maratha army on the fort’s walls and occupants. However, Govind Hari did not lose heart and continued to defend the fort. Night sorties were sent to cut down the attackers on the moat. Parts of the walls of the fort that were damaged were repaired promptly. Madhavrao, with no real powers now, was present in the besieging army.

After nearly a month of the siege, Raghunathrao on an elephant led an attack on the gate but it was returned by the defenders in the fort. The siege had begun on 28 December 1762. Within the fort however, there began a gradual trend of people defecting and joining Raghunathrao’s stronger army. Gopalrao’s efforts to get help from the Nizam came to naught. With no help, and defections inside the fort, Govind Hari began negotiations with Raghunathrao. It was agreed that his debt would be taken care of and Kurundwad, Kagwad and Mangalvedha would remain with the Patwardhans. On 3rd February 1763, Miraj fort was thus handed over to Raghunathrao after a defence of over a month. This was Govind Hari’s last battle. He was sixty-five years old and retired from active warfare after this.

Raghunathrao then proceeded to the south to face the threat of Hyder Ali. The Nizam saw an opening and began fresh moves to attack the Peshwa’s territory. Gopalrao and many other Maratha chiefs such as Gamaji Yamaji and Bhavanrao Pratinidhi were also with the Nizam. However, Gamaji – who was related to the Nizam’s diwan Vithal Sundar - went a step further by personally going to Nagpur and getting Janoji Bhonsle to join the Nizam in exchange for rewards later on. Janoji had hopes of being crowned the Chhatrapati at Satara – and this led to his joining this coalition. In this manner, the Peshwa’s army and territory were under threat from the large number of disaffected chiefs who had joined the Nizam.

The stage was set for a grand showdown. Madhavrao Peshwa was still a nominal prisoner in Raghunathrao’s camp. The Nizam’s force numbered a hundred thousand. Madhavrao summoned Holkar for help, and after being given a fresh jagir worth ten lakh rupees he joined the fray. Holkar decided on a guerrilla war and began by ravaging the territory of Janoji Bhonsle. As the Nizam could not chase the rapidly moving Marathas, he decided to attack the Peshwa’s territory and marched towards Pune.

Gopalrao at this time sent letters to Pune asking the citizens to take away all their valuables to the nearby hill forts. He protected some temples and tried to limit the damage to the Peshwa’s territory. The Nizam’s army burnt nearly half the dwellings of Pune, Nashik and Junnar. Seeing the Nizam’s acts, the Maratha army burnt all the Nizam’s territory right up to Hyderabad. These mutual acts of damage did not help either of the forces. Raghunathrao was furious at the attack on Pune and eager to come to grips with the Nizam. He abused Sakharam Bapu and pledged to take the fight to the Nizam. To Bapu and Holkar he said, ‘you are the people who abandoned Bhausaheb at Panipat’.

Holkar then began negotiations with Janoji Bhonsle. Mahadji Scindia – not yet appointed as the head of the Scindias – was summoned from Ujjain. Janoji’s brother Mudhoji joined the Peshwa and Janoji realised his folly of helping the Nizam. Raghunathrao’s infant son Bhaskar had died and Bhavanrao Pratinidhi was given back his post, so he switched his allegiance back to the Peshwa. Gopalrao was promised the fort of Miraj and he stayed aloof from the Nizam. The Nizam’s army was weakened when the monsoons of 1763 began. Many of the Maratha chiefs left the Nizam’s army and promised to return after the festival of Dassera.

The Nizam too decided to return to Aurangabad. In August, his army reached Rakshasbhuvan near Paithan, where the flooded river Godavari could be crossed. The Maratha army raced to intercept the enemy, but by then the Nizam himself had crossed over with part of his army. Raghunathrao ordered an attack on the remaining Mughal army led by Vithal Sundar. By then, Janoji had quit the Nizam’s army. Here, Vithal Sundar and another of the Nizam’s ministers were killed. Madhavrao was credited with directing his own guards at a critical stage of the battle when Raghunathrao’s elephant was surrounded by the Nizam’s army. Eighty-two lakh of territory was taken from the Nizam at this time and he was reduced to a secondary status by this battle.

Thereafter, there was no attempt by the Nizam to upset the status quo for over thirty years. Madhavrao by his own valour became his own master once again while Raghunathrao with his coterie was pushed to the background.

The Peshwa received Gopalrao back with honours along with all other dissidents. Gopalrao’s joining the Nizam at this critical time brought his reputation under a cloud for a while. However, his motives were to safeguard his own estate and not submit to the wrongs of Raghunathrao. At the first opportunity he returned to the Peshwa. During his time in the Nizam’s army he tried to minimise the damage done to the Maratha territory. His mettle was amply tested came in the years after Rakshasbhuvan, when he had to fight the battles that marked him out as a hero in the Maratha fold.

The Patwardhan families had settled at the southern frontier of the Maratha Empire and the task of keeping a check on Hyder Ali quite naturally devolved on them. Gopalrao’s valour in the coming years earned him the epithet of ‘the first Rao’ – or warrior – of the Peshwai.

To view the Patwadhan Family Tree click on PDF 

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Also read

1 Madhav Rao Peshwa the Great

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