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Baji Rao II
Baji Rao II
Peshwa of Maratha empire
Personal details
Born (1775-01-10)January 10, 1775
Died January 28, 1851(1851-01-28) (aged 76)
Bithur near Kanpur
Spouse(s) Saraswati Bai
Religion Hinduism

Baji Rao II (10 January 1775 – 28 January 1851), also Rao Pandit Pandham, was Peshwa of the Maratha Empire, and governed from 1796 to 1818. His reign was marked by confrontations with the British.


Bajirao II

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Baji Rao was the son of Peshwa Raghunathrao and Anandibai. Raghunathrao defected to the English and caused the First Anglo Maratha war that the English lost. Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao committed suicide in 1796, and died without an heir, and with the assistance of Daulatrao Scindia and Nana Phadnavis, Baji Rao became Peshwa. Writes Manohar Malgonkar, the versatile English novelist of India in his book The Devil's Wind:

"Only someone perversely gifted could have succeeded in squandering so vast an inheritance in so short time or disgraced a noble name so thoroughly. He was mean, cruel, vindictive, avaricious but surprisingly well-read and shrewd in financial dealings. He was above all a moral and physical coward, the only Peshwa held in contempt by his subjects" A popular song about him ran as follows:

We emptied the well
And drained the land dry,
To grow a tree of thorns,
'Running' Baji Rao

Continues Malgonkar:

"As a Peshwa he made a deplorable overlord, a man delighted in humiliating his feudatories, seizing their estates on flimsiest of pretexts and what worse, someone imagined that their womenfolk too belonged to him".

Dr.Suman Vaidya,has written a well researched book "Akhercha Peshwa" which totally contradicts what Manohar Malgaonkar has written.

He was born in 1775 when both his parents were kept in imprisonment by the then Peshwa's cabinet. Till the age of 19, he along with his brothers were kept in confinement denying even basic rights of education. He lost both his parents early and had to carry the unfortunate legacy of his parents who, despite from same Brahmin family, were suspected to be involved in the murder of young fifth Peshwa Narayanrao in 1774 AD. As such, being son of suspected murderers, he was looked down upon by his ministers, nobility and even by his subjects. His every action was viewed with prejudice and it is said that though regarded as a good administrator and builder of modern day Pune, he was often labeled as incapable and a coward Peshwa. Being a thorough Brahmin, he was averse to risks and bloodshed and tried to achieve his goals through crafty diplomacy rather than direct head-on confrontations.

After the death of Phadnavis in 1800, the Maratha leaders Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore and Daulat Rao Sindhia of Gwalior contested for control of the empire; their rivalry made its way to Pune, seat of the Peshwa. Holkar ultimately triumphed, and Baji Rao II fled west to Bombay in September 1802 to seek the willing hands of the British who were waiting for this opportunity with great patience. They were profuse with offers of assistance- after all, the fountain head of Maratha confederacy, the biggest power in land then, had come to them seeking aid! There, he concluded the Treaty of Bassein in December 1802, in which the British agreed to reinstate Baji Rao II as Peshwa, in return for allowing in Maratha territory- a force of 6000 infantry troops complete with guns and officered by British, paying for its maintenance and accepting the stationing of a permanent British political agent (Resident) at Pune. Holkar and Sindhia resisted the British intrusion in Maratha affairs, which resulted in the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803-1805. The British triumphed, and the Marathas lost and were forced to accept losses of territories due to internal rivalries between Holkars and Scindias and treachery at all the battles done by Scindia's French and other European officers, who mostly handled the imported guns in Maratha army- the Marathas failing to train their own men in sufficient number to handle imported guns.

The raids of the Pindaris, irregular horsemen who resided in the Maratha territories, into British territory ultimately led to the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1817-1818 which ended in the defeat of the Bhosles, Holkars and other maratha feudatories. On Nov 5, 1817, the British Resident at Pune was attacked by Baji Rao II's army led by his Attorney Mor Dixit. Bajirao II could have won this battle had he not halted progress of his forces by succumbing to the request of British Resident Elphinstone for a ceasefire. Baji Rao watched the battle that ensued between his troops and the British from a hill now called Parvati . This battle is referred to as Battle of Khadki. Later his troops moved to Garpir on outskirts towards present day Solapur road to block the British troops coming from Jalna but treachery of one of his chief, Sardar Ghorpade Sondurkar, led to his force withdrawing . Later he captured Chakan Fort from British troops and repulsed the attack of Ghodnadi's Company Regiment at Korgaon, where lots of company officers as well as soldiers were killed including loss of guns at the hands of his feudatory Tryambakji Dengle. Five British columns set out after Baji Rao II in full cry, slavering at the thought of the 'Prize money' that lay at the end of the chase. After running for five months from one fort to another, awaiting the promised help from Scindias, Holkars and Bhosles that did not come, Baji Rao II surrendered to Sir John Malcolm. Much to the chagrin of the Company's Governor-General Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (no relation to Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India), Malcolm was prepared to keep him a lifelong prince, allow him to retain his personal fortune and pay him an annual pension of £80,000 (£100,000 according to some sources) every year. In return, Baji Rao II would have to live in a place assigned by the British along with his retainers on the condition that he would never return to his homeland at Pune. He would also have to forsake all his claims to his heritage and could not style himself as Peshwa but there was no objection to call himself as 'Maharaja'. The only reason why Francis Rawdon-Hastings ratified the treaty made by Malcolm was his conviction that Baji Rao II would not live long as he was already above 40 and many of his ancestors did not live much beyond that age.

To keep Baji Rao II under watchful eyes, the British selected a small village on the right bank of Ganges at a place called Bithur near Kanpur, where they had a large military establishment then. The place selected was exactly six square miles in area and in it, together with his relatives and others who moved from Pune along with him in 1818, there were about 15,000 inhabitants. He had once ruled 50 million. There Baji Rao added 5 more wives and led an empty life, spending the day time in religion and night time in orgies[citation needed]. Contrary to the Company's wishes, he lived for another 33 years and died in 1851 at Bithur.

There were many stories making the rounds in the Court of Gwalior about Baji Rao II, where Malgoankar’s grandfather P. Baburao was a minister. One such story was about the ghost of a slain Peshwa, Narayan Rao, haunting Baji Rao throughout his life that was widely known to many people due to Baji Rao II’s unceasing efforts to exorcise the ghost. Narayan Rao was the fifth Peshwa who was allegedly murdered with the connivance of Baji Rao’s parents as was mentioned earlier. In order to get rid of the ghost, Baji Rao employed the priests of Pandharpur, a temple town of Maharashtra on the banks of a local river. Initially the priests succeeded in driving away the ghost and in gratitude, Baji Rao II ordered the building of a riverside embankment in Pandharpur, which still bears his name. However when Baji Rao II was exiled to Bithur the ghost re-appeared and started haunting again. Since he was forbidden to visit his homeland, he performed religious penances prescribed by the priests of Benares (Varanasi) and was extravagant in distributing alms to Brahmins. He built temples, bathing ghats, performed endless poojas (religious prayers), underwent countless stringent fasts, fell at the feet of sadhus and soothsayers, etc., but the ghost wouldn’t leave him. It stayed with him till end warning him that his line will end with his successor, his house will burn to ashes and his clan will perish. Incidentally after the flare-up of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, company troops in July that year, after their successful re-capture of Kanpur, under Major-General Henry Havelock initially and later under the then Brigadier James Hope Grant sacked and burnt down Bithur, including the residence of Baji Rao II (wada) where many members of his extended family except his adopted son, Nana Sahib, resided.

See also

  • Nana Phadnavis


  • Malgonkar, Manohar; Devil’s Wind, Orient Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1972
  • Vaidya, Dr. SG; Peshwa Bajirao II and the downfall of the Maratha power (5th ed.) 1976, Pragati Prakashan, Nagpur, India.

Dr.Suman Vaidya,"Akhercha Peshwa" (Marathi) Pragati Prakashan, Nagpur

Further reading

  • The Marathi historical novelist N. S. Inamdar has written two books on the career of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The last Peshwa has been much-maligned by historians. In these novels, Inamdar tries to show the Peshwa in different light. A person who was imprisoned in his childhood for a crime which was supposedly committed by his mother Anandibai, a person who came to the Peshwai not knowing the ABC's of politics, and a person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • The first of the books is "Jhep" (1963) is actually based on the life of Trimbakji Dengle who was a guard of the Peshwa and rose to become his chief minister (Karbhari). He helped the Peshwa resurrect the Peshwai from the ruins after the Second Anglo Maratha War. He also tried to form a sort of coalition with some kings to try to overthrow British rule. In this he failed and the British framed him in a murder of an eminent man Gangadhar Shastri (chief minister of the Gaekwad) and he was arrested. The Peshwa wasn't willing to give up his much-valued prime minister and was willing to start a war against the British but Trimbakji asks him to lie low and wait until the right time has come.
  • The second book is "Mantravegala" (1969) is a sort of continuation of "Jhep". The difference is that "Jhep" deals more with the personal life of Trimbakji whereas "Mantravegala" deals with the personal life of Bajirao between the years 1817-1818 and the Third and last Anglo Maratha war. In the initial part of the book Baji Rao is very angry that the English are constantly interfering in the affairs of the Maratha kingdom to a great extent. He is secretly making plans to destroy the British once and for all. He knows it will not be possible but still wants to attempt it nonetheless. He frees Trimbakji from the prison in which the British have imprisoned him but refuses to acknowledge to Mounstuart Elphinstone that he is behind it. Also some Maratha chieftains are aiding marauders called the Pindaris who have harassed the British. They ask the Peshwa to stop the chieftains from aiding the Pindaris which he says he cannot do. Finally the Pindari War takes the form of the Anglo maratha war. In the initial part of the war Baji Rao wins some battles as the British are caught unawares. But the British manage to defeat the Maratha chieftains and finally Baji Rao himself. He is made to give up the Peshwai (which is abolished) and is exiled to Bithur (near Kanpur). The book very beautifully captures the Peshwa's feelings and thoughts. His hatred of the British, his acknowledgement of his past mistakes (like refusing to accept Yashwantrao Holkar), his sadness at not being able to father any children (all his children died very early or were stillborn) and also his last tearful farewell to Trimbakji at the end of the book.
Preceded by
Madhavrao II
Succeeded by
Nana Sahib

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