Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 3

This is the 3rd and last part of regional powers in 18th Century where we discuss about the different Maratha powers and sardars in central India.


  • This greatest of Peshwas was described as “The greatest exponent of guerrilla tactics after Shivaji.”
  • He was the real founder of hereditary Peshwaship.
  • He formulated the policy of Northward expansion so that Maratha flag would fly from Krishna to Attock.
  • He declared “let us strike at the trunk of the withering tree and branches would fall of themselves”.
  • He put forward idea of Maratha Empire in form of Hindupad-Padshahi.
  • His arch rival in Deccan was Nizam-ul-mulk who continuously intrigued with Raja of Kolhapur against Bajirao and Shahu.
  • Bajirao defeated Nizam on both the occasions they fought at Palkhed and at Bhopal, and compelled him to grant Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of 6 provinces of Deccan.
  • After a long campaign against the Sidis of Janjira, he expelled them from the mainland.
  • He also captured Salsette and Bassein from the Portuguese.
  • It was during this period the Maratha families of Gaekwad, Holkar, Sindhia, and Bhonsle came into prominence and carved out semi-independent principalities.
  • By 1740, when Baji Rao died, the Marathas had won control over Malwa, Gujrat, and parts of Bundelkhand.
  • He transformed Maratha state from the kingdom of Maharastra to an Empire expanding in the North.
  • He, however, failed to lay firm foundations of an empire as new areas were conquered and occupied but little attention was paid to their administration. The chief concern of the successful sardars was with the collection of revenues.


  • Son of Baji Rao-I, he was also known as Nana Saheb.
  • King Shahu died in 1749 and by his will left all management of state affairs to the Peshwa.
  • With the Sangola agreement (1750) Peshwa, from being a de-facto ruler now became the official head of the administration.
  • As a symbol of this fact, Peshwa shifted government to Poona, his headquarters.
  • Under Balaji Baji Rao Maratha armies overran the whole of India.
  • In 1751, the Bengal Nawab Ali Vardi had to cede Orissa to Raghuji Bhonsle.
  • In 1760, the Nizam was defeated at Udgir and was compelled to cede vast territories.
  • In the North, the Marathas soon became the power behind the Mughal throne.
  • In 1752, they helped Imad-ul-Mulk to become the Wazir who was a puppet in their hands.
  • Peshwa sent his Brother Raghunathrao to Punjab campaign which was under control after expelling the agent of Ahmad Shah Abdali, ruler of Afghanistan.
  • Thus question of mastery over North India brought Marathas and Abdali into conflict.
  • Abdali formed alliance with Rohilla ruler Najib-ud-daulah and Shuja-ud-daulah of Awadh both of whom had suffered at the hands of the Maratha sardars.
  • Peshwa also sent a powerful army to the north under the nominal command of his minor son, Vishvasrao, actual command being in the hands of his cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau.
  • A contingent of European-style infantry and artillery of Peshwa was commanded by Ibrahim Khan Gardi.
  • The Marathas could not find any allies in north as they had already antagonized all northern powers such as Rajputs, Awadh, Sikhs and Jats by interfering in their internal matters like in Rajputana or by making territorial and monetary claims in other cases.
  • They had to fight Abdali all alone except for the weak support of Wazir Imad-ul-Mulk.
  • Infighting among senior Maratha commanders also proved to be a weakness.
  • The forces of Abdali and Marathas met at Panipat on 14th January 1761 where Marathas were completely routed out.
  • The Peshwa’s son, Vishwas Rao, his cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau and numerous other Maratha commanders lost their lives in the battle.
  • The Peshwa who was marching north stunned by the tragic news died in June 1761.
  • For Marathas, Panipat was a disaster they lost not only the cream of their army but also their political prestige also suffered a big blow.
  • Neither Marathas nor Afghans gained anything from battle of Panipat.
  • In fact it is said that, the Third Battle of Panipat did not decide who was to rule India but rather who was not to rule.
  • Maratha defeat gave an opportunity to the English East India Company to consolidate its power in Bengal & South India & paved way for rise of the British power in India.


  • After Panipat, Balaji Bajirao’s son Madhav Rao became the Peshwa in 1761.
  • He defeated the Nizam, compelled Haidar Ali of Mysore to pay tribute, and reasserted control over northern India by defeating the Rohelas and subjugating the Rajput states and Jat chiefs.
  • In 1772, the Marathas brought back Emperor Shah Alam to Delhi who became their pensioner.
  • But this remarkable Peshwa, who within the short period of 11 years, restored the lost fortunes of the Maratha Empire, died of consumption in 1772.


  • There was a struggle for power between Raghunath Rao, younger brother of Balaji Baji Rao, and Narayan Rao, the younger brother of Madhav Rao.
  • Narayan Rao became the Peshwa but was killed in 1773.
  • Narayan Rao was succeeded by his posthumous son, Sawai Madhav Rao who was supported by brilliant Nana Phadnis.
  • Out of frustration, Raghunath Rao went over to the British and tried to capture power with their help. This resulted in the First Anglo-Maratha war.
  • Power of Peshwa waned as constant intrigue went on between supporters of Sawai Mahav Rao, led by Nana Phadnis and allies of Raghunathrao.
BhonsleNagpurRaghuji (got Orissa from Ali Vardi Khan of Bengal)
HolkarIndoreMalhar Rao and Ahilya Bai (remarkable woman ruler)
SindhiaGwaliorMahadaji Sindhia
GaekwadBarodaSayaji Rao (gave scholarship to Dr. Ambedkar)
  • The big Maratha sardars were Gaekwad (Baroda), Bhonsle (Nagpur), Holkar (Indore) and Sindhia at Gwalior


  • Mahadji Sindhia of Gwalior was the most important of Marathas in North.
  • He organized a powerful European style army, consisting equally of Hindu and Muslim soldiers, with the help of French and Portuguese officers and gunners.
  • He established his own ordinance factories near Agra.
  • He established control over Emperor Shah Alam and secured the appointment of the Peshwa as the Emperor’s Deputy (Naib-i-Munaib) on the condition that Mahadji would act on behalf of the Peshwa. But he constantly intrigued against Nana Phadnis & was a bitter enemy of Holkar.
  • Mahadaji Sindhia (died 1794) and Nana Phadnis (died 1800) were the last of the great soldiers and statesmen who had raised the Maratha power to its height in the 18th
  • After Sawai Madhav Rao death in 1795, the utterly worthless Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao became Peshwa who signed the treaty of Bassesin with the British.

Also Read:

Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 1

Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 2

Print and Download PDF

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 3”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top