PATWARDHANS - THE SWORD ARM OF THE PESHWAI PART 3

  • By Uday S. Kulkarni
  • June 13 2019
  • @MulaMutha
  • 1966 views
The map shows the places mentioned in the article and is given for an easy reference by the reader.
  • The fierce and prolonged conflict between the clan of the Patwardhans with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, comprise the bulk of Maratha history in the south from 1763 onwards. In this part we will see 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.

Patwardhan family tree

Part 1 takes the story upto 1761.  Part 2 is about the life and struggles of Gopalrao Patwardhan.

Having served the Maratha state from the time of Bajirao Peshwa in 1720, the Patwardhans had established their reputation of being warriors. The divide in the Peshwa family after Panipat - between 1761 and 1763, when Raghunathrao held the reins of state - led to Govind Hari defending the fort of Miraj against his attack and Gopalrao had to take shelter with the Nizam. 

Encouraged by the defections and to avenge the loss at Udgir in 1760, Nizam Ali, with his ambitious Diwan Vithal Sundar, attacked Pune itself. This led to a reconciliation of sorts with Peshwa Madhavrao’s quiet diplomacy weaning away most of the Maratha chiefs from the Nizam and inflicting a decisive defeat on the Nizam at Rakshasbhuvan in August 1763. Gopalrao Patwardhan rejoined Madhavrao Peshwa after this and for the next nine years, this Peshwa led the Maratha recovery to its pre-Panipat state. Principals in aiding this recovery in the south were the Patwardhans who were the Peshwa’s right arm. 

The main change in 1764 for the Patwardhans was the grant of a separate saranjam in the name of Govind Hari to cater for the expenses of his army. After this, Govind Hari was required to maintain a cavalry of 4600 men, Parshuram Bhau was to have 2400 men and Trimbak Hari 1000 horsemen ready at all times. Together, an army was 8000 was maintained by the family. In 1764, Gopalrao was the chief of the combined armies along with Parshuram Bhau and Nilkanthrao – the son of Trimbak Hari. 

In the year 1760, Hyder Ali had become the strong man of Mysore and taken all power in his hands from the Wodeyars and Nandraj, the kingdom’s Dalwai. Hyder’s great grandfather had migrated to the Deccan from the north and his father Fateh Muhammad had joined the army of the Nawab of Sira. Hyder was born in 1722. When Fateh Muhammad died, the Nawab drove out the family which went to their maternal uncle Ibrahim in Bengaluru. Mysore’s ruler was a young boy and his two chiefs Devraj and Nandraj managed all affairs of state. Nandraj was first impressed by the young Hyder in the siege of Devanaahalli fort and awarded him his first command of 50 men. Around 1750, Hyder participated in the Carnatic wars and observed the trained French infantry, prompting him to train 500 men in similar fashion. At this time, he also obtained considerable loot which helped him build a small army. A pleased Nandraj appointed Hyder as the faujdar of the fort of Dindigul.

The Marathas came into contact with Hyder in 1759, when they came sweeping down and took fourteen parganas of Mysore and the fort of Chennapatnam just east of Srirangapatnam. (see part 1). Hyder stoutly fought back and the Marathas released these districts for an indemnity of 32 lakh rupees, for which Gopalrao Patwardhan earned Nanasaheb Peshwa’s displeasure. Events from then until 1763, left the Marathas little time to visit the south, except for Visaji Krishna’s campaign against Mysore in 1760 that was cut short by the battle of Panipat. In 1764, with Madhavrao firmly in power as the Peshwa and the Nizam subdued at Rakshasbhuvan the previous year, it was time to deal with Hyder Ali. Madhavrao himself decided to take the lead in this campaign.

From 1761 to 1763, taking advantage of Maratha absence in the Carnatic, Hyder captured Sira, took many posts of the Maratha chief of Gutti Murar rao Ghorpade, before proceeding north and claiming the Maratha protected states of Chitradurg and Raidurg. He then attacked and occupied the small state of Bednur in the hills and marched on Sondha in 1763 on the border of Portuguese controlled Goa. All these states used to pay chauth to the Peshwa, who was obliged to protect them. Hyder also attacked the territory of the Patwardhans. He crossed the Tungabhadra and defeated the Nawab of Savanur, who was dependent on the Peshwa, as well as captured Bankapur fort. In Dharwad, Meghsham rao Patwardhan defending the region was defeated by Hyder’s commander Mir Faizullah, and was captured and sent to Hyder Ali.

Immediately after Rakshasbhuvan, Madhavrao Peshwa gathered an army to campaign in the Carnatic. He first came to Bijapur and bypassing Dharwad fort reached Hubli. Gopalrao, Parshuram Bhau, Nilkanthrao, Konher rao and Vamanrao Patwardhan accompanied him with 7000 troops. Gopalrao captured Hubli and his army moved to Shirhatti. The Peshwa came via Mulgund and camped opposite Savanur. The Nawab greeted the Peshwa and sought protection from Hyder who was in the forests of the region. The Peshwa therefore left Gopalrao with 1500 men to protect Savanur and moved on to Chitradurg.

Hyder now moved out to the edge of the forest of Anavatti near Masur and came to Rattehalli. Here, he attacked the armies of the Patwardhans and Vithal Shivdeo Vinchurkar. Gopalrao sent messages to the Peshwa who rapidly came there and over a thousand of Hyder’s gardis were killed forcing him to withdraw to the thick forest of Anavatti. Meanwhile, his chief Lal Miya who was at Bankapur – a place very close to Savanur – was threatening the Nawab there. The Peshwa therefore asked Gopalrao to return to Savanur. Hyder moved closer to Savanur and camped at Hangal. Aiming to surprise Gopalrao, in the dead of the night, Hyder moved from Hangal to Bankapur and with his guns took position in a canal near the Maratha camp, ready to attack at dawn. The alert Marathas sent an advance guard but did not cross the canal. The armies stood before each other with some cannonade, but Hyder could not attack due to the vigilance of the Maratha camp nor could he draw them out after him. Nilkanthrao wrote in his letter to his father, ‘a disappointed Hyder did not have dinner that night’. 

The Peshwa then began assembling his forces at Savanur. Vithal Shivdeo defeated Mir Faizulla at Haveri and Hyder once again withdrew to the forests of Anvatti where the Maratha cavalry could not operate. The Peshwa then attacked Dharwad and the fort was soon captured. The Maratha army then decided to attack Hyder at Anvatti. They first captured Hangal and commenced a massive cannonade on Hyder’s camp killing over a thousand of his men. Hyder Ali was wounded in his forearm by a bullet, and seeing the determined Peshwa before him, Hyder decided to quit Anavatti and made a dash for Bednur, further south. The Marathas chased him, killing a thousand of his men. The Peshwa then took tribute from Chitradurg, Harpanhalli, Bellary and Raipur. His army reached the thickly forested state of Bednur. Another army was also dispatched towards Srirangapatnam.

This complete encirclement forced Hyder Ali to seek terms. A sum of thirty-two lakhs was taken as indemnity from him. The entire north Carnatic was released, Savanur and Murar rao Ghorpade’s territory taken back. Meghshamrao Patwardhan was released from Hyder Ali’s prison. This treaty is called the treaty of Anantpur. The Peshwa then returned to Pune and Gopalrao stayed back to ensure the completion of all the terms of the treaty before returning to Miraj. Madhavrao Peshwa’s first campaign against Hyder Ali thus ended in 1764 with achieving all aims of the campaign. However, the fort of Bednur remained with Hyder and he renamed it as Hyder-nagar. Today, it is called Nagar and is located north of Sringeri.

The peace did not hold for long. In 1766, Hyder once again began to demand tribute from Chitradurg and placed Bellary under siege. After Dassera, Madhavrao Peshwa directed Gopalrao to lead an army south while he left from Pune. Hyder lifted the siege of Bellary and retreated southwards. Nilkanthrao Patwardhan joined him and both of them went towards Talikote collecting tributes from many places. At Talikote the Patwardhans joined Madhavrao’s main army. Hyder began empty negotiations that did not bear fruit. The Peshwa made a direct attack on Sira which Hyder had occupied and left his brother in law Mir Reza to look after. The Peshwa’s force defeated him and forced him to surrender the fort.  Gopalrao went ahead and took Chikbalapur before rejoining the Peshwa. The combined army then took Devanhalli, Kolar and Hoskote near Bengaluru, threatening Hyder’s main strongholds. 

As the year 1767 dawned, Hyder realised he could not face the Maratha army in the open nor retrieve lost ground. He agreed to pay a tribute of 37 lakh rupees and return all territory under Maratha control as held during Nanasaheb Peshwa’s time. For a couple of years after this Hyder Ali did not venture to invade Maratha territory again.

At this time, Gopalrao had planned a bold attack on Srirangapatnam, planning to free the Wodeyar ruler in order to re-establish him on the throne of Mysore. He sent a message to the Peshwa seeking his permission. However, at this time, with Raghunathrao still at large and Janoji yet to be subdued, Madhavrao felt the time was not right. A fresh development saw Murar rao sign a truce with Hyder Ali. Murar rao Ghorpade was now an old man and unable to face Hyder on his own, he agreed to meet him. Hyder received him honourably and had an independent treaty with him thereby hoping to neutralise his opposition in the Carnatic. Murar rao agreed to pay a sum of 50000 rupees to Hyder in exchange for being left alone. It was time therefore for yet another campaign in the Carnatic and after the monsoons of 1769, the Peshwa sent Gopalrao ahead and he followed him.

Meanwhile, the Peshwa’s uncle Raghunathrao, who returned from Malwa in 1766 after his chief supporter Malharji Holkar’s death, began asking for an annuity to take care of his expenses. Gopalrao joined Madhavrao in negotiations with Raghunathrao, with the Peshwa giving his uncle a few forts and an annual assured income. Gopalrao then went back to the Carnatic and obtained annual tributes from the states there. However, by then, Raghunathrao had once again begun collecting an army at the fort of Dhodap near Nashik. His aides comprised Gangoba Tatya Chandrachud. Once again the Peshwa took an army to Dhodap and forced his uncle to surrender. Gangoba was also punished and his jagir taken away. This time however, Raghunathrao was kept a prisoner in the Shaniwar wada under a strong guard.

Janoji Bhonsle of Nagpur had helped Nizam Ali in the months before Rakshasbhuvan. He also aided Raghunathrao against the Peshwa. Madhavrao therefore decided to bring him to heel. With a large army taking Gopalrao with him, he began towards Nagpur. The Peshwa captured the fort of Amalner and Chanda, while Gopalrao took Bhandara. Janoji escaped to Mahur with Gopalrao and Ramachandra Ganesh Kanade closely following him. A chase began and Janoji’s original intention to head for Pune failed. The two chiefs followed Janoji with an army of nearly 25000 men. Seeing that he could not shake off these two, Bhonsle finally agreed to accept terms.

Bastion of Miraj Fort. Pic courtesy author.  

Having thus consolidated the Maratha chiefs under his fold, Madhavrao now sent a large army north to regain the losses after Panipat, while he himself headed for his third campaign in the Carnatic, once again with the Patwardhans. The reason was that in the year 1767 and 1768 Hyder Ali had begun harassing Murar rao Ghorpade and the ruler of Chitradurg. Murar rao lost all his holdings to Hyder except the fort of Gooty.

In the year 1769, the Peshwa gathered an army of 75000 and began for the south. Gopalrao camped on the Tungabhadra, where the Peshwa joined him. It was decided that Gopalrao will face Hyder at his forest camp at Anavatti and follow him wherever he goes, while the Peshwa will head for Srirangapatnam. Seeing this, Hyder began for his capital with Gopalrao close behind him. Madhavrao captured ChikBalapur, Kolar and the district of Gurramkonda. The forts that he could not protect, the Peshwa destroyed entirely. Hyder was severely restricted in his movements with Gopalrao blocking his progress towards any of the places he wished to take back.

Hyder therefore decided to lay a trap for Gopalrao, whom he considered his most formidable opponent. Hyder pretended to move towards his capital Srirangapatnam. Then, secretly he backtracked towards the Maratha camp. On 24 February 1770, he left Kadur with a few thousand gardis and travelling day and night reached near the Maratha camp. The previous day Nilkanthrao and Parshuram Bhau had even received false intelligence that Hyder was in Srirangapatnam, and the Marathas did not expect an attack at this time. Now within a few miles of Gopalrao’s camp, Hyder prepared his guns and his army for a sudden attack. 

Just then one of Hyder’s gardi sepoys – who had served Nanasaheb Peshwa earlier – ran to the Maratha camp and warned them about Hyder’s oncoming attack. The Maratha guards refused to believe him but finally took him to Gopalrao. The gardi sepoy finally convinced Gopalrao of the seriousness of the intelligence, and he began to get his army in order. Just then, the first rockets and cannons fell on the Maratha camp. Gopalrao himself stood at the gate with his naubat beating the war drums. His cousins all assembled near him, and Hyder, hearing the naubat was aware that his element of surprise was lost. He concentrated his fire on the Maratha army that stood fast. Gopalrao’s entire camp was slowly moved to another place, even as the army stood their post. Madhav Krishna Patwardhan was injured – and died a few days later - while Parshuram Bhau’s horse was shot under him.

As summer began, food and fodder were not available, there was no water, and the Maratha army suffered. Gopalrao wrote that if need be, he might have to raid some of the Peshwa’s own territory to obtain necessities. He was asked to take the fort of Nijgal where the fire from the defenders was fierce. One of the bullets from the fort hit Narayanrao, the Peshwa’s brother who was taken to a safer place. 

A chronicle of the Patwardhans named Harivanshachi bakhar mentions an anecdote of this time. In the midst of the fire however, the Peshwa was said to be playing chess with Murar rao’s brother Daulat rao. Nobody dared to tell the Peshwa to leave. Finally, Murar rao went there and shouted at his brother, asking him to leave and told the Peshwa to look after his brother. The Peshwa said, ‘the fort is not being won’. Hearing this, Murar rao took some soldiers and placing ladders on the walls began an escalade, being the first to climb the ladder. Looking back, he was stunned to find the Peshwa right behind him. The Maratha army fought whole heartedly and the fort was captured that day.

Nearly a crore rupees worth of Hyder’s territory had been devastated and innumerable forts taken and destroyed. The monsoon months were near, and there were innumerable matters pending in Pune regarding the campaign in north India. The Peshwa therefore left for Pune. Gopalrao expected that the command of the forces would then be given to him. However, the Peshwa chose Trimbak mama Pethe as the commander of his forces in the Carnatic.

Moat Miraj Fort. Pic courtesy author.  

Incessant warfare had taken a toll on the Patwardhan armies by this time. There were loans to be paid and the army was in the field for the third straight year. Fed up with the singular responsibility he had to bear, Gopalrao wrote to Govind Hari that he will retire to Pandharpur. Govind Hari wrote back that he could not choose that option as his brother Vamanrao was not keeping good health and could not relieve him. In the twenty years that Gopalrao had spent in the Carnatic, he knew the territory extremely well. He also knew his adversary. Hyder Ali recognised his ability and would not stand against him in an open war. Inspite of all his achievements, the appointment of Trimbak mama as his superior was therefore more than Gopalrao could tolerate.

Just then, Hyder sent an army to take ChikBalapur. Gopalrao and Trimbak mama rushed to the spot and completely defeated them, looting their entire camp. Pethe then attacked Gurramkonda fort while Gopalrao took Hangal. There was a fierce battle between the Maratha army led by the three Patwardhan brothers – Gopalrao, Parshuram Bhau and Nilkanth rao - and Hyder’s army which was attacking Maratha posts in the Carnatic. Once again, the enemy was repelled and their camp looted. Considerable amounts of war supplies were obtained by the Patwardhans. 

Just as the monsoon months of 1770 began, Madhavrao Peshwa began preparations for the fourth campaign in the Carnatic. Gopalrao, now in Carnatic for three years under arms, was financially in a stringent position. In extreme difficulty, he raided on Basalat Jung at Adoni and obtained pending dues from the Nawab. This was reported by Pethe to the Peshwa as a case of insubordination. Gopalrao last campaign took him to the fort of Kanakgiri, and here, his health collapsed. Seeing that his end was near, he sought permission to return home to see his parents. His brother Vamanrao suffered from asthma, but left Miraj to take charge from Gopalrao. In January 1771, Gopalrao, now severely breathless, reached Miraj. He met his parents but succumbed to his illness on the third day of his arrival there. 

Gopalrao lived to an age of fifty years and spent nearly three decades in the field. He was recognised for his valour and is respected as the first Rao’ of the Peshwa period. His life consisted of incessant warfare at the front of the army. As the chief defender against Hyder Ali’s invasion and a loyal supporter of Madhavrao Peshwa, his death was deeply lamented, and his absence as a warrior acutely felt. His brothers took over the responsibility of leading the army thereafter with distinction. 

But that is another story.

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