Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Battle of Palkhed 1728 AD- An overview

Following my previous attempts with map representations of troop movements during the Battle of Pratapgad and Pavankhind, I was getting a lot of positive feedback as well as demands for more such articles. On the top of the wishlist were Bajirao's Palkhed campaign, followed by Ragho Bharari and Conquest of Malwa. Today, being the occasion of birth anniversary of Bajirao Peshwa, Im attempting to write in brief about the Battle of Palkhed, after analyzing what I have read from the various sources at my disposal. If you find any mistakes, please forgive me for the same, and do let me know about them so I can correct them.

Background of the War

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughals were in decline, owing to the cost incurred in the Deccan wars, and a weak central government. The Marathas, then under the Prime Ministership of Balaji Vishwanath, had obtained the rights to collect chauth and sardeshmukhi over all the 6 provinces of Deccan. This was agreed to with the Sayyed Brothers who were controlling a weak Badshah- Farruksiyar. The deal had given Marathas to levy taxes on the following Deccan provinces:

1) Khandesh
2) Berar
3) Aurangabad
4) Bidar
5) Bijapur
6) Hyderabad.

However, after the fall of Sayyed Brothers, Nizam ul Mulk - who came to power in 1720, was not in favor of this deal and did not allow the Marathas to collect the tribute questioning the legitimacy of Shahu as the Maratha Chhatrapati by referring to two seats of power- Satara and Kolhapur. By 1726, the Nizam had established himself in the Deccan and was strong enough to now oppose Shahu and his ministers- a fire to which fuel was added by Chandrasen Jadhav. 

In words of Kincaid and Parasanis,
The Nizam's plan to humble Shahu was a subtle one.He first withdrew his headquarters from Aurangabad to Haidarabad and won the Pratinidhi's good-will by offering him a jaghir in Berar, as an equivalent for the chauth payable on his new capital. Bajirao indignantly protested but in vain. Shahu, who did not penetrate the schemes of his powerful neighbour, was induced by the Pratinidhi to approve the exchange, since, so he said, the Nizam would feel deeply the payment of tribute on his metropolis. Encouraged by this success, the Nizam next affected ignorance of the respective claims of Shahu and Rajaram's son Sambhaji. He declared himself unable to pay to the Maratha government its chauth and sardeshmukhi, until the matter had been settled. At the same time he removed Shahu's agents from his dominions and invited both Shahu and Sambhaji to send envoys to Haidarabad, where he would himself decide which of the two princes had the better right to the crown of the Marathas. The Pratinidhi blinded by his hatred for Bajirao, urged his sovereign to comply. But the Peshwa laughed his rival to scorn and so worked on Shahu's feelings that the king instantly declared war. The Nizam successfully invoked the aid of Sambhaji. The latter joined the Nizam's camp with a large Maratha force and the Nizam flattered himself that he would be able to destroy the power of the Marathas, forcing them into a civil war, which would never, if his efforts availed anything, be ended.
With this background in mind, we fast forward to 1727, when Bajirao under the generalship of Fatehsingh Bhosale was busy in the Karnataka campaigns of Trichanapalli and Shrirangapattanam. Eiwazkhan, an officer with the Nizam launched a campaign in Pune District, Turktazkhan attacked Nasik and Sangamner whereas Rambhaji Nimbalkar launched raids into Satara district itself. Shahu Maharaj by then had moved to Purandar fort, and Bajirao was called back from the Karnataka campaign to deal with the increasing nuisance of the Nizam.  

It would be worth, at this point, to comment on the strength of the Nizams army, which was its Artillery. His troops consisted of highly skilled Turkish and Persian horsemen along with the support of some local Maratha chiefs such as Chandrasen Jadhav and Rambhaji Nimbalkar. His plan though rested more or less on the usage of his impressive tophkhana or artillery. He thus wished to annihilate the fleet footed Marathas once and for all by drawing them onto the open fields, and blasting them with his guns. However, the Nizam overlooked the military genius of Bajirao.

Painting of Bajirao- at Parvati temple
On Dushera of 1727, Bajirao took arms against the Nizam and set out from Pune and rode with 10000 cavalry at lightening speed towards Punatambe where he crossed the Godavari river and absolutely looted the Nizams rich provinces on the opposite bank. Towns such as Sindakhed Raja, Jalna were stripped of their wealth. On seeing one of his most prosperous provinces at the mercy of Bajirao, the Nizam, Eiwazkhan and others set off after Bajirao on a long and unsuccessful chase. The Nizam and his troops were repeatedly unsuccessful in engaging Bajirao as he could not be caught up or found! Bajirao on the other hand was stripping the province of its accumulated wealth. On 6th November, a few skirmishers from Bajirao's main force were captured by Eiwazkhan, but this had little or no impact on the progress of Bajirao.

While the Nizam was busy searching for him in Khandesh, Rau suddenly made an appearance in Varhad region. On 4th December, Bajirao was in Poorna Parali region. On 6th December at Kasbe Naarsik, on 8th at Washim, 9th December Manglurpir, 10th December Hatgav, 11th December  Manjrakhed. By this blitzkrieg action, Bajirao had laid to waste the prosperous districts of Washim, Manglurpir, Mahur etc. Then, abruptly turning towards North west, he got down to the Tapi basin near Chopda and reached Kukarmunda on 18th of December. The events and span of mileage of these 14 days can be shown in the following Map:

On his way to Kukarmunda, Bajirao tricked the Nizam into thinking he was planning to plunder the prosperous town of Burhanpur. The Nizam concentrated all his forces for the protection of Burhanpur. Rau never turned up. Instead, he made a surprize appearance at Bhadoch. By 30th December, he was at Alimohan on banks of River Narmada. Gujrat province, then under the Mughals was then under the governorship of Sarbulandkhan, who was a political opponent of the Nizam. To Sarbulandkhan, Bajirao made it appear and believe that a combined army of Marathas and Nizam was wreaking havoc on the province. While the Marathas plundered as much as they could,  the person who had to take blame and ignominy was Nizam!

No one had predicted such blitzkrieg tactics from the Bajirao. The Nizam, his officers as well as Sarbulandkhan were taken completely by surprize. Over and above, the humiliation and defamation the Nizam had to face after Bajirao had plundered Gujarat rankled him. Recognizing that Bajirao was now out of his reach, he decided to counter Rau with a different strategy. He stopped chasing Rau, and instead marched straight on to Pune, which was Bajirao's headquarters. On the way, he captured places loyal to Shahu- Udapur, Narayangad, Khed, Pabal, Avasari and reached Pune. On reaching Pune, the Nizam started pillaging it to provoke Bajirao. When he saw no forthcoming response, he declared the Kolhapur Chhatrapati as the Maratha Chhatrapati(thereby giving credence to the Satara Chhatrapati as well) and gave him his full support. Not only this, but he also arranged a wedding for the Kolhapur Chhatrapati in Pune. The motive behind this move was to draw Bajirao towards Pune, and raze his army to the ground in the nearby plains of Pune by deploying artillery units against him. Rau was at Betwad when he learnt of Nizams presence in Pune. However, recognizing what the Nizam had in mind, Rau, instead of coming in the direction of Pune, turned his attention towards the city of Aurangabad. The Nizam, present near Baramati at this time, had no choice to turn back towards Aurangabad to save it from the sack.

It is worth noting here, that the very canons Nizam was planning to defeat Bajirao with, as well as the nature of his army was now becoming an increasing hindrance to his movement. Heavy artillery units, and heavily armored cavalry were becoming too slow to counter the rapid and light maratha cavalry. The Nizams army also included his Zanana, or womenfolk, which would ultimately slow it down. Over and above, this army also contained provisions which were meant to last for the entire duration of the war. This was really taking a toll on the speed with which the Nizam could operate. Thus leaving behind most of the heavy units and artillery behind at Ahmednagar, he marched towards Aurangabad. The Maratha army on the other hand traveled light and lived off the plunder. It gave them a great advantage in terms of speed, making risky and surprising maneuvers at great speed. Not only were they marching at great speed, but they were completely plundering the rich provinces of the Nizam and laying waste his country.

As Bajirao marched towards Aurangabad, he laid to waste  the towns of Gangapur and Vaijapur. The Nizam was on a move from Pune to Aurangabad and had abandoned his artillery at Ahmednagar, and now his every move was being reported to Rau by his spies. Rau had now set the trap at Palkhed and the Nizam walked right into it. Palkhed is a small town about 12 km from Vaijapur and about 28 km from Aurangabad and has a river to its east. Rau blockaded the access to the water, and arranged his troops in a Horse shoe formation cutting off all supply lines and access to potable water. He drew the Nizam towards himself and on 25th February trapped him into a tight spot. The artillery with which the Nizam wanted to destroy the Marathas was rusting away in Nagar, and was of no use to him now. The very marathas whom he had set out to destroy had now become his death and were staring him down from the fields of Palkhed. He was now caught up between dying of thirst and hunger and dying at the hands of Marathas- a terrifying prospect of digging his own grave in any case.Finally, accepting defeat, the Nizam opened negotiations with Bajirao via Eiwazkhan. 

This was the first major victory for Bajirao as a general. He would go on to fight over 40 Battles and not lose a single one. The Nizam had no choice but to surrender and accept whatever points were made by the marathas. In the end, a 17 point treaty was signed. The major point of interest were that the right of Marathas to obtain chauth and sardeshmukhi over all six provinces of Deccan was reinstated. The Nizam withdrew his support for the Kolhapur Chhatrapati, and Recognizing Shahu as the Chhatrapati of Marathas. The treaty also gave Akkalkot, Pune, Indapur, Khed, Narayangad, Baramati Talegaon and other regions back to Marathas. The Nizam was also forced to reprimand some of his Maratha Sardars of their actions, give Jagirs to a few others, and set free all prisoners taken by Turktazkhan. The Treaty was signed on 6th March at Mungi-Shegaon on the Banks of River Godavari.

This battle is not only a significant battle from an Indian history perspective, but also a  world history perspective. The Nizam was out generalled  by Bajirao. British General Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in his book "Concise History of Warfare" wrote 
The Palkhed Campaign of 1727-28 in which Baji Rao [I] out-generalled Nizam-ul-Mulk , is a masterpiece of strategic mobility  
It should be worth investigating whether Bajirao had planned the entire campaign from the outset or the campaign took its shape dynamically as it progressed. A detailed study of the same is high on the priority list.

A look at the overall campaign:

It is a tragedy that our so called "liberal and secular" school history books and the education board do not include these victories nor these undefeated generals in their syllabus, making their honour trivial and ultimately leaving an already ignorant population in even greater darkness. This is a small attempt to light a lamp and exterminate that darkness.


[1] मराठी रियासत खंड ३ (सरदेसाई)
[2] प्रतापी बाजीराव (म.श्री.दीक्षित)
[3] मराठ्यांच्या स्वारयांचे मुक्काम ( वि.गो. खोबरेकर)
[4] Bajirao 1- An Outstanding cavalry general (Col. R.D. Palsokar)
[5] History of Marathas- Vol 1 (James Grant Duff)
[6] History of Marathas- Vol 2 (Kincaid, Parasanis)
[7] Khare Jantri.
[8] Maps- Google Earth.
[9] Image- Chinmay A Datar.