Bajirao Peshwa`s dash to Delhi 1737

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Courtesy Rediff.com

Moving over 40 kms a day, without any warning the Maratha cavalry appeared out side Delhi in the first week of April 1737. Bajirao's dash to Delhi in 1737 was so sudden that panic gripped the city.  Boats were kept ready for the escape of the Mughal Emperor. On 9 April 1737, Bajirao and his cavalry had camped near Talkatora. The camp fires lit by the Marathas could be seen from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Delhi was not without resources. There was a substantial Mughal and Rajput cavalry numbering 12,000 and infantry armed with firearms, accounted for nearly 20,000. There were a substantial number of heavy guns close at hand. Mughal Generals experienced in fighting the Marathas  dissuaded the Emperor from personally taking charge by making disparaging remarks against the Marathas-dismissing them as mere farmers turned soldiers. Nearly 4,000 troops were left to guard the Emperor with arrangements made for a quick getaway.

The Mughal armies were led by Amir Khan , a favourite young courtier and the Mughal troops consisted of mainly Pathans, Turks and other Central Asian peoples. On the midnight of 9\10 April 1737, the Mughal forces began entrenching themselves from the gates of the city towards the Talkatora grove. Guns were placed at regular intervals to lend strength to the defences. By dawn the Mughals were ready to receive the Maratha attack. But none came as the fleet footed Maratha cavalry had already withdrawn southwards. The Mughal commander Amir Khan, was quite content to remain on the defensive but not many of the younger element.

One Mir Hasan Khan at the head of 2000 cavalry of the Imperial bodyguard, left the city without orders and came to the battle arena. Accusing the older men of cowardice, he along with a further addition of young courtiers rashly charged on the Marathas.

Bajirao let them come within the range of his light swivel guns that discharged arrows, and ordered the Marathas to retreat even further, thus drawing the Mughals more than 2\3 miles further from Talkatora into the open plains. At this point the Marathas suddenly turned back and fell on the Mughals with their lances and straight swords. It was a total rout. At the cost of very few Maratha casualties and only one officer being slightly wounded, Bajirao routed the charging Mughals. Over 12 Mughal nobles were killed and over 600  soldiers lost their lives.

Bajirao collected a war booty of 2000 horses , one elephant and several firearms. The Emperor immediately opened parleys and the Marathas virtually secured the provinces of Malwa as well as right to 1\4 income (chauth) of several provinces.

These daring feats of the Maratha cavalry caught the imagination of everyone in Maharashtra and led to an enduring attraction for this mode of warfare. Whenever pressed by adversity the Marathas were prone to repeat the example of Bajirao and his nimble footed cavalry. Yeshwantrao Holkar was to harass the British in a similar manner in 1804-5 and in the final Indian attempt to defeat the British militarily, Tantiya Tope, was to follow the same mobile warfare strategy in 1857-58 during  the Indian War of Independence.

Marathas could move swiftly as they had virtually no baggage and very few personal needs. The Mughals sent a spy to assess Maratha strength and the state of their provisions. The spy returned with the shocking (to the indolent Mughals) news that all that the troops subsisted on was dry bread and chillies; Bajirao included. This hardiness was the key to Maratha success in cavalry warfare.

Bajirao's campaigns in the north wiped out memories of the disaster that had befallen the Marathas in their first visit to the capital. In February 1719, nearly 15,000 Marathas had gone to Delhi at the invitation of the Vazir(Sayyad). On 28 February, caught totally off guard in the narrow lanes of Delhi, the Marathas were attacked treacherously by Mughal soldiers and fanatic Muslims who could not bear the sight of the Marathas. Nearly 2000 lost their lives.

Kafi Khan, the official Mughal historian was present at the spot and records with great satisfaction that a good lesson was taught to the Marathas, "or else they would boast in times to come that the Marathas had entered the Imperial capital." Shrewd Bajirao avoided the mistake of getting into a street fight inside Delhi.

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3. Maratha Supremacy in the 18th century