PATWARDHANS - the Sword arm of the Peshwai

  • By Uday S. Kulkarni
  • April 18 2019
  • @MulaMutha
Harbhat baba, founder of the Patwardhan family.
  • This article tells you about the Patwardhans, it takes the story up to 1761. This is part one of a three part series. The subsequent parts will deal with Gopalrao, Purushottam daji, Nilkanthrao and Parshuram Bhau - and their role in the wars over the next forty years.

The saga of the ‘southern jagirdars’ as they were labelled by the British has largely been neglected by mainstream narratives of Maratha and Indian History. This large family performed in the Deccan what the Scindias and Holkars achieved in the north.

Part 1

The story of the Patwardhans is similar to so many Brahmins who migrated in the 18th century from the impoverished coastal Konkan strip to the more prosperous Deccan plateau. The family hailed from the small village of Kotavade, not far from the Ganesh temple at Ganpatipule, in Ratnagiri district. Here, Harbhatji, the son of Balbhat, of a priestly family, found it hard to make ends meet in the meagre income earned of their priestly duties. Harbhatji therefore left home and decided he would devote his life in service to the Ganpati at Pule. Here, in the course of his stay, he married Laxmi bai, the daughter of Shende. With a family to support, he decided to migrate up the ghats to the Desh plateau of the Deccan.

Harbhatji was born around 1655 CE and when he came up the ghats he was nearly forty years old. He had seven sons, of which Govind Hari, Trimbak Hari and Ramachandra Hari attained considerable fame. Harbhatji was considered a holy man and people often visited him to ask for a boon. At this time, the valiant Naro pant Ghorpade was adopted as a son by the great Santaji Ghorpade, and given the principality of Ichalkaranji. As he grew older and had no offsring, he aspired for an heir. The couple approached Haribhatji who advised them to pray to Venkoba of Giri in north Karnataka. Soon after, the couple were blessed with a son who they named Vyankatrao after the deity. The happy couple also invited Harbhat to come and live in their estate thereafter.

Harbhatji soon began to manage most affairs of Ichalkaranji as Naro pant was away on campaigns. Vyankatrao’s wedding to Anubai, the daughter of Balaji Vishwanath Peshwa was also arranged by Harbhatji. The association with the Peshwa grew with time, and Harbhatji’s three sons – Govind Hari, Trimbak Hari and Ramachandra Hari - joined the military forces under the Peshwa and his two sons Bajirao and Chimaji Appa. Govind Hari accompanied Bajirao in many of his campaigns across the north and was with him in all his battles. Ramachandra Hari fought under Chimaji against the Siddi of Janjira. 

At this time, Sambhaji, the ruler of Kolhapur, without any provocation, attacked the adjacent town of Ichalkaranji. Vyankatrao was with Bajirao in the north and could not defend his estate. Bajirao at first sought the help of Chhatrapati Shahu, but when this did not stop the attack, he asked Ramachandra Hari to rush to defend Ichalkaranji. Ramachandra Hari quickly reached the place and defeated the army of Kolhapur. Sambhaji complained to Shahu who called them both before him and patched up a peace.

In the 1730s, the war with Janjira was followed by the war on the Portuguese occupied north Konkan where religious persecution against the local population created a situation where the Marathas had to intervene. Chimaji Appa took the lead and the war began in 1737 with all major Maratha chiefs participating in it. Salsette was liberated in 1737.

During this, Ramachandra Hari actively participated in the capture of the fort of Thana and the campaign of Kelwe Mahim was also carried out successfully, although Ramachandra Hari sustained a bullet wound at the time.  Chimaji Appa led the Maratha forces to a final victory over the Portuguese in May 1739. Ramachandra Hari as well as Govind Hari took part in this battle. It is said the honour of raising the Maratha flag at Vasai was given to Ramachandra Hari.

Ramachandra Hari’s military exploits had by then became the stuff of legends. It is mentioned that on one occasion he singlehandedly subdued an elephant in rage. There is another mention of a duel with an expert swordsman in an expedition to the north, where he emerged victorious.

Ramachandra Hari had no child till fairly late and for a while he took his brother Krishnabhat’s son Purushottam Daji to accompany him on his campaigns and manage his armies. Purushottam Daji thus received his military training under Ramachandra Hari. Later, a son was born to Ramachandra Hari who was named as Parshuram Bhau, and he served the Maratha state in the field until the end of the eighteenth century. Ramachandra Hari died in the 1740s, although the precise year is not known. His estate and his army was managed by Purushottam Daji on behalf of Parshuram Bhau who was still a minor.

 Govind Hari Patwardhan, son of Harbhat Baba, founder of Patwardhan family.

On Ramachandra Hari’s death, his brother Govind Hari, who had served in campaigns with Bajirao, managed to convince the Peshwa to hand over his brother’s estates to their family, and he asked Purushottam Daji and his son Gopalrao to manage them for Parshuram Bhau. Govind Hari and Trimbak Hari continued to serve in the Peshwa’s armies. Nanasaheb Peshwa went on a campaign to the north four times between 1741 and 1749, and was accompanied by both brothers. 

On the death of Shahu in December 1749, a civil war in the Maratha state divided the chiefs into those who favoured the Peshwa and those who favoured the elderly Tarabai. In support of Tarabai, the armies of Damaji Gaekwad attacked the Peshwa’s territories and even reached Satara, the capital of the Marathas. Nanasaheb was away battling the Nizam at this time. The small army of Nana Purandare could not stop Damaji. 

An anecdote of the time mentions that somebody taunted the widow of Ramachandra Hari about their army being a feeble one. Stung by the barb, she dispatched Purushottam Daji who swore he would not show his face until Gaekwad had been defeated. A letter from Purushottam Daji and Gopalrao about this battle says, ‘Ramachandra pant is no more. But we five or seven of us have taken his place. We may get killed, but we will not turn our backs on the enemy.’

The Peshwa’s armies with Trimbak mama Pethe, Purushottam Daji and Gopalrao Patwardhan finally defeated Gaekwad and reaffirmed the Peshwa’s trust in their abilities. Eventually, Damaji Gaekwad was arrested and brought before the Peshwa by Gopalrao Patwardhan.

The Patwardhans by this time emerged as the principal supporters of the Peshwa’s army in the Deccan. 

The Peshwa’s cousin Sadashiv rao Bhau led many campaigns in the south between 1746 and 1759. The campaign against the Nawab of Savanur was a difficult one as he was supported by a strong artillery. The Peshwa was assisted by Balwantrao Mehendale, Malharji Holkar, Gopalrao and Purushottam Daji Patwardhan. In the forefront of the battle guiding the siege of the fort of Savanur, Purushottam Daji was injured by an arrow and fainted on his horse. The Peshwa saw this from his elephant and ordered a palanquin be brought to take Purushottam Daji to the camp. By then, he had been lifted on a bed of lances. When the palanquin arrived, Purushottam Daji had recovered and said he would stay on the bed of lances, as befitted a soldier. However, Nanasaheb Peshwa sent a message that in recognition of his valour, he had been given the honour of riding in a palanquin.

The Peshwa’s campaign against Srirangapatnam in 1757, had all the Patwardhans in the Maratha army. This time, the Peshwa gave the town of Ambe near Mangalvedha as an inam to Purushottam Daji and his brother Narayan. This was also the first time the future hero Parshuram Bhau led an army into battle. The campaign ended successfully and a tribute was obtained from Mysore.

However, after the Peshwa returned, Hyder Ali drove a hard bargain and suddenly attacked Gopalrao’s camp, forcing him to release nearly fourteen parganas captured from Mysore and accepting a tribute of 32 lakh rupees instead. Nanasaheb disapproved this treaty and wrote to Gopalrao that ‘Hyder has taken your ‘swarup’ or dignity’. Gopalrao strongly remonstrated that he gave the territory due to just one surprise attack and called his action a practical approach to obtain ready funds. 

Note that the nidus of the Patwardhan – Hyder Ali rivalry can be traced from this event - as we shall see. The Patwardhans were later given the task of defending the territory north of the river Tungabhadra.

The Maratha power was now at its peak. 

In 1757, the victory over the Nizam was followed by the capture of Delhi by Raghunath rao and Malharji Holkar. The armies then swept into the Punjab and captured the city of Lahore from Taimur Shah Durrani, the son of Ahmed Shah. The armies further reached Multan, Attock and Peshawar. In the south, the French General Bussy left the Nizam’s service to defend Puducherry from the British. The Maratha forces took advantage of this by attacking the Nizam Salabat Jung. 

The Peshwa’s cousin Sadashiv rao Bhau’s refrain was to ‘clear the Deccan’ and the Nizam’s rule was the only obstacle in this objective. The Nizam’s diwan Salabat Khan at this juncture was estranged from the Nawab and holed up in the fort of Daulatabad. From here, he sought the help of the Peshwa. The Peshwa led his army and defeated the Nizam, obtaining territory yielding revenue of nearly twenty five lakh rupees. 

In 1759, Ibrahim Khan Gardi was recruited by the Peshwa with his trained French artillery. The ensuing battle at Udgir against the Nizam was decisive. The Patwardhans took part in this battle with all their contingents. On his defeat, the Nizam begged for terms and had to hand over territory worth sixty-two lakhs to the Marathas. The important cities of Daulatabad, Bijapur, Aurangabad were to be handed over to the Marathas. Gopalrao was sent to take charge of the fort of Daulatabad.

At Daulatabad, Gopalrao attempted to take the fort bloodlessly by negotiating with the fort’s killedar. However, this made matters more difficult. Nanasaheb then wrote to Gopalrao, ‘if you indulge in politics, the matter gets spoilt. Attack and take the fort.’ Gopalrao accordingly attacked the fort vigorously forcing the Nizam’s army to submit. The original letters written by both of them at this time make interesting reading.

Soon after the grand victory at Udgir, it seemed there was nothing that could stop the Marathas from becoming the masters of the entire Indian sub-continent.

However, matters in the north went wrong for the Marathas. Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked with a huge army defeating Holkar and killing Dattaji Scindia. He was aided by all the Rohillas, Shuja of Awadh and even the Rajput princes of Jodhpur and Jaipur. The catastrophic defeat of Scindia and Holkar, and the loss of Delhi, was a huge loss of prestige for the Marathas. Moreover, all the gains of the previous two decades were lost. At the same time, in the south the Wodeyar ruler of Mysore was deposed and power was wrested by the new entrant Hyder Ali. He began invading Maratha territory to the south. A multi front war was to erupt shortly even before the Nizam was completely subdued. The Peshwa himself was in poor health. The crisis in the Empire was further accentuated by a shortage of funds as the gains at Udgir had not yet been realised.

Nanasaheb Peshwa therefore had to divide his armies. He sent a large contingent north with Sadashivrao Bhau, while his brother Raghunathrao was entrusted with keeping the Nizam at bay. Another army led by Visaji Krishna, Trimbak mama Pethe and the Patwardhans was sent south and a fourth army was held in reserve under his own command. The Bhonsles of Nagpur were feuding over their own succession and did not take part in these battles until it was too late. When there was no news from Panipat, the Peshwa started for north with an army of thirty thousand men, taking Gopal rao with him. However, he heard of the Maratha defeat at Panipat on his way and stopped near Jhansi.

The battle of Panipat was fought on 14 January 1761 and the Marathas were defeated. The defeat emboldened all their enemies and they began to march on Maratha territories from all directions. The battle of Panipat is therefore an important event in Maratha history, however, it was also the time when the rise of the Patwardhans began. The story of the next four decades of the eighteenth century were truly a time when the Patwardhan families helped the Maratha power emerge from its lowest point.

The story will be taken up in the next part of this series.

To read all articles by author

Also read

1 The migrant rulers of Jamkhandi –‘The Patwardhans made Jamkhandi their home, ruling the jagirs of Miraj, Sangli and Kurundwad. Two centuries later, Dr B D Jatti was influential in getting the principality to be among the first Princely States to merge with the Indian Union’.

2 Third Battle of Panipat by author

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