Pilaji Jadhavrao-A brave Maratha Subedar

  • Know about the life and achievements of a brave and loyal Subedar who served the Maratha state for nearly 40 years and lived in the 18th century.

In the annals of Maratha history, there were many who managed subas, but just two men who were identified as ‘subedar’. The first was Pilaji Jadhavrao, who served the Maratha state from 1712 to his death around 1751, and the second was the redoubtable Malharji Holkar.


The period of 1680-1707, i.e. the Maratha war of independence against the Mughals, is the fate changing phase of Indian history. Many Maratha warriors and Sardars emerged as protectors and repulsed Mughal invasions successfully. After this phase, the new Mughal emperor released Chhatrapati Shahu in 1707 (grandson of Shivaji Maharaj. He was captured with his mother Yesubai and kept in captivity for about 17 years by Aurangzeb. Yesubai was released in 1719)


When Chhatrapati Shahu returned to Maharashtra and ascended the throne of Satara in 1708, he was opposed by Maharani Tarabai and her loyalists. Chhatrapati Shahu emerged victorious and expanded the Maratha Empire. During his reign many Maratha Sardars dedicated their lives for expansion of Hindvi Swaraj, Subedar Pilaji Jadhavrao was one of them. He became the sword arm of Maratha Empire just like the Patwardhans.


The period 1713-1753 was, for the Marathas, a period of wars. Pilaji was the main force behind many wars and achievements.


Not much is known about the childhood of Pilajirao. He was a descendant of Lakhuji Raje Jadhavrao, who was the direct descendant of Seunas of Devagiri. His father was a Patil (village head) of village Wagholi near Pune and had two sons Pilaji and Sambhaji. Pilaji lost his father when he was a child.


Pilajirao was one of the Maratha Sardars who went to Delhi for release of Chhatrapati Shahu (held in captivity by the Mughals) and played a key role in his release. Impressed with his wit and wisdom Chhatrapati Shahu rewarded him with land on Dive Ghat (in and around Pune).   


On his return from Mughal captivity the accession of Chhatrapati Shahu was not smooth. During 1707-1713 he faced opposition from Maharani Tarabai (wife of Shivaji’s son Rajaram (from his second wife, who ruled from Kolhapur) and her loyalists Maratha Sardars (for e.g. Damaji Thorat, Chandrasen Jadhav, Udaji Chavhan). Pilaji and Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath subdued these rebel chieftains and secured the throne for Chhatrapati Shahu.  


Hereafter, Pilaji turned his attention to the Portuguese. Kanhoji Angre was the arch enemy of foreign powers like British, Dutch and the Portuguese. After many unsuccessful attacks the British and the Portuguese joined hands to fight Kanhoji Angre. Their joint army, numbering more than 7500+ with skilled soldiers with lots of ammunition, started proceeding towards Kulaba.


When Kanhoji Angre got this news he immediately asked Chhatrapati Shahu for help. Shahu sent Pilaji with 2,500 soldiers. On 20 December 1721, Pilaji attacked the combined forces of British and Portuguese. In a decisive engagement Pilaji’s forces defeated the Portuguese and forced them to retreat. On the other hand, Kanhoji defeated British army.


Thus, the British and Portuguese had to retreat. At the same time Bajirao Peshwa arrived with any army of 20,000. Thus, the British and Portuguese had to agree to a peace treaty with the Marathas.


Credit must go to Pilaji and Angre, whose victories prevented these two European powers from capturing Kulaba.

Jadhavgarh Fort near Pune is now a hotel  

The Portuguese would harass the Hindu population in their dominion. This angered Chhatrapati Shahu, who ordered Subedar Pilaji to subdue them. So Pilaji attacked the Portuguese province of Thane in 1723. His march remained unopposed towards Vasai. He won many parts in this march. This worried the Portuguese who agreed to a peace treaty at Cambay in 1724. (Cambay is modern Khambat in Gujrat).


However, inspite of the 1724 treaty the Portuguese continued to harass the local population and began to challenge Chhatrapati Shahu. Once again, Pilaji defeated the Portuguese. Thus in 1730 he won cities of Daman and Diu. He also won Kohaj Fort (i.e. on the Palghar-Wada road) and in a fierce battle against the Portuguese at Manor, he emerged victorious. After this he laid siege on Cambay and won.


But now, the Mughals had started attacking Marathas in the North. The Marathas did not want to fight a two-front war. So a peace treaty was signed between the Marathas and Portuguese in 1732 at Bombay now Mumbai.


Still the Portuguese continued their earlier activities so the Marathas became determined to uproot the Portuguese.  Subhedar Pilaji marched towards Mahim (in modern day Mumbai) with an army of 7,000 and was later joined by warriors like the great Chimaji Appa and others. Eventually in the Battle of Vasai the Portuguese surrendered to the Marathas in 1739. Subedar Pilaji’s role in the Vasai campaign was noteworthy.


Against Siddi

Siddi of Janjira were a vassal of the Mughals. He held control of many important forts like Anjanvel, Gowalkot, Mandavgad, Raigarh etc. Siddi Saad, the chief of Anjanvel, held a grudge against Bramhendra Swami (Guru of Peshwa) so he destroyed Parshuram temple in 1727. Shahu sent Pilaji to subdue Siddi but movements in Malwa (Marathas were surrounded by Mughals and their allies in Malwa province) were restricted. So to avoid a two front war they dropped this campaign against Siddi.


In 1734-35, Chhatrapati Shahu sent Pilaji and Chimaji Appa to subdue Siddi. But due to pre-occupation in North India, the campaign against Siddi was discontinued. Later, Subedar Pilaji captured Bankot and defeated Siddi in the Battle of Mahad. Next with the help of Chimaji Appa, he besieged the strong fort of Gowalkot and decisively defeated Siddi in the Battle of Rewas (1745). With Gowalkot fort captured, it ended the supremacy of Siddi completely.


Post Shivaji there were two seats of Maratha power, Satara and Kolhapur. Chhatrapati Shahu ruled from Satara. Descendants of Queen Tarabai referred to above ruled from Kolhapur. The Peshwas were with the Satara rulers.


Against Nizam 

The Nizam of Hyderabad was an arch enemy of Marathas. Initially he dare not oppose them openly but later planned to attack and depose Shahu with the help of Sambhaji of Kolhapur. Aurangabad was under the Nizam. Many Maratha Sardars were unable to subdue the Nizam in Aurangabad. However, over a period of two months Pilaji engaged and defeated the Nizam. Thus, he added Aurangabad (1725) and areas such as Ambad, Uruki Kannad   to the Maratha Empire.


When Bajirao Peshwa engaged in the Battle of Palkhed (1728) Pilaji played an important role. He attacked Aurangabad which forced the Nizam to abort his plans of attacking Pune. The attack on Aurangabad by Pilaji was a strategic move because the Nizam was dependent on vast ammunition which he left behind. The sudden attack by Pilaji on Aurangabad forced the Nizam to give up his plans of destroying Pune. Later, the Nizam suffered defeat.


Campaign in North India 

After repulsing Mughals in 1707 and securing the throne for Chhatrapati Shahu, Marathas turned their attention towards the north. In 1722 and 1726 Pilaji and Bajirao Peshwa marched deeper in Malwa.


In 1728, Pilaji along with Chimaji Appa (brother of Bajirao) defeated Daya Bahadur (Mughal Subedar of Malwa) in the Battle of Ujni. While in Malwa Kayem Khan Bangash, son of Muhammad Bangash, attacked Subhedar Pilaji with an army of 3,000. But he was easily defeated by Subedar Pilaji and retreated to save his life. Pilaji got enormous amount of booty from the retreating forces.


In 1734, Pilaji subdued Datiya, Orchha (near Gwalior) etc. which frightened the Mughals since these areas are close to Delhi. The Emperor dispatched Mir Atish and Khan Durran to fight the Marathas in Malwa. In Sironj, Pilaji defeated the Mughal army and forced them to retreat. Because of these battles, the Mughal emperor experienced prowess of the Marathas.


In 1735 a Mughal army under Mir Bakshi and Kamruddin Khan attacked the Marathas. Subhedar Pilaji along with Ranoji Shinde and Ghorpade engaged them in continuous wars. 2-3 battles were fought between the two armies. However, in the Battle of Wodsha, the Marathas under Pilaji defeated the Mughals decisively and forced them to retreat. Khan sought refuge in the fort of Orchha and had to bribe the Marathas with five lakhs rupees before they retired. Pilaji made collections in the parganas of Shivpuri, Kolaras, Pohari and Narwar before returning.


Subedar Pilaji also played a great role in the first Battle of Delhi (1737), which was fought against the Mughals and the Battle of Bhopal (1738), which was fought against combined the armies of Nizam, Mughals and their allies. Both these battles were important as they ended the hegemony of Mughals/Nizam. Thereafter, Malwa became part of Maratha Empire.


The deaths of Bajirao Peshwa in 1740 and Chimaji Appa a few months later dealt a severe blow to the Maratha Empire. Nana Saheb became the new Peshwa. The enemies were still able and trying to uproot Marathas. During these difficult times Pilaji stood, like a rock, behind Nana Saheb and guided him in campaigns.


In the northern campaigns of Peshwa Nana Saheb, Pilaji helped in every possible way. In the Bhelsa/Bhilsa Campaign of 1744, Pilaji captured Ratangarh (near Datia in modern day Madhya Pradesh). This victory secured Maratha influence in Bundelkhand and Malwa.


He also accompanied the Peshwa in his Karnataka campaign and showed that at the age of 66-67 he could fight like young soldiers. Pilaji played the role of a mediator between Peshwa and Raghuji Bhosale of Nagpur. This is a separate topic by itself so beyond the scope of this article.  


Along with his military career, Pilaji was also a master in the art of peace. He was a friend to all Maratha Sardars, also known as Ajaatshatru (person who don’t have enemies). Peshwa Bajirao, Nana Saheb, Chimaji Appa and Sadashiv Bhau respected him as a fatherly figure. Pilaji was closest to Chhatrapati Shahu.  


Pilaji established a fort and village known as Jadhav Vadi. It had a population of up to 7000 then, many of whom were martyred in third battle of Panipat. He established Peth (business lines) at Vagholi, Jadhav Vadi , Saswad and Diwa. He was a devout Vaishnava, devotee of Panduranga of Pandharpur. He built numerous temples such as Vyaghreshwara temple. (Wagholi i.e. 20 kms from Pune. Pilaji’s memorial is situated here too)

Vitthala Mandir, Pandharpur.

Pilaji died in 1751 at the age of 71 after serving the Maratha Empire for about 40 years. During this period he defeated the British, Portuguese, Siddis, Mughals and the Nizam. He also helped expand the Maratha Empire.


Inspite of having large amount of land in various places he did not crave or create a separate state like the Holkars (Malwa) and Shindes (Gwalior). In fact his descendants are not spoken of today-no fancy palaces like those of the Holkars and Shindes. There is a Jadhavgarh Fort near Pune. Pilaji remained loyal to the Chhatrapati till his last breath.


It will not an exaggeration to call Pilaji Jadhavrao the “Sword Arm of Maratha Empire.”  


Sources and reference 

1. Contribution of Pilaji Jadhaorao to Maratha Power by S A Jadhavrao.

2. New history Of Marathas Volume 2 by G S Sardesai.

3. Military System of Marathas by S N Sen.

4. Kanhoji Angre Maratha admiral by M Malgonkar.

5. Maratha relationship with major states of Rajputana by R K Saxena.

6. History of Maratha people volume 2 by C A Kincaid.


To read all articles by author


Also read

1. 5 minute video on Pilajirao in Marathi

2. Bajirao Peshwa – The Empire Builder

3. The extraordinary exploits of Chimamaji Appa

4. The Maratha Century

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