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Balaji Vishwanath Bhat
Preceded by Parshuram Trimbak Kulkarni
Succeeded by Baji Rao I
Personal details
Born (1662-01-01)1 January 1662
Shrivardhan, Konkan
Died 12 April 1720(1720-04-12) (aged 58)
Saswad, Maharashtra
Spouse(s) Radhabai
Religion Hindu

Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1662–1720), better known as Peshw Balaji Vishwanath, was the first of a series of hereditary Peshwas (Marathi for Prime Minister) hailing from the Brahmin family who gained effective control of the Maratha Empire during the 18th century. Balaji Vishwanath assisted a young Maratha Emperor Shahu to consolidate his grip on a kingdom that had been racked by civil war and persistent attack by the Mughals under Aurangzeb.

Early life

Balaji Vishwanath Bhat was born into a Marathi family. The community hailed from the coastal Shrivardhan, Konkan region of present-day Maharashtra. He was named "Balaji," which is a form of the given name Ballal.[1] His family was of modest means, and Balaji began his career as an accountant for the Maratha general, Dhanaji Jadhav, at Janjira.[2] According to Kincaid & Parasnis, Balaji Vishwanath entered the Maratha administration during the reign of Chhatrapati Sambhaji or the regency of his brother, Rajaram. Between 1699 and 1702, he served as the Sar-subhedar or head-administrator at Pune and from 1704 to 1707 as Sarsubedar of Daulatabad. By the ti, ruler of the Marathas, took note of his abilities and appointed Balaji as his assistant (c.1708).

Early Life[3]

  • Started as a petty clerk at salt works at Chiplun, owned by the Siddi, while his elder brother Tanoji performed herediatary functions of Deshmukh at Shrivardhan.
  • Having persecuted by Siddi, went out in search of employment to the upper regions of western ghats and worked as a mercenary trooper under various Maratha sardars.
  • After capture and cruel execution of Sambhaji by Aurangzeb in 1689, became revenue official or writer in Maratha court under Ramchandra Pant Amatya.
  • Pertaining to period 1695–1707, a number of letters refer Balaji as the Sar Suba( Chief administrator) of Pune and later of the district of Daulatabad.
  • Held a junior command on the personal staff of the Senapati Dhanaji Jadhav and also acted as his revenue agent or Diwan.

Maratha Civil War

  • Since the death of Chhatrapati Shivaji, his two sons Sambhaji and Rajaram continued the Maratha rebellion against the Mughal Empire. Emperor Aurangzeb entered the Deccan in 1686, hoping to put an end to the fledgling Maratha state. Aurangzeb spent the next 21 years in the Deccan in ceaseless warfare against the Marathas. Despite the cruel executions of Sambhaji and early death of Rajaram, Rajaram's widow Tarabai continued the resistance while Sambhaji's son Shahu was captured at a very young age and held captive of the Mughals. Aurangzeb died at Ahmednagar in 1707 at the age of eighty eight, with the Mughal armies exhausted and the treasury empty. The ensuing war of succession in the Mughal Empire resulted in accession of the aged Prince Mu'azzam, who ascended the Mughal throne under the title of Bahadur Shah.
  • In the intrigues following the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal governor of the Deccan released Shahu from captivity, hoping to keep the Marathas locked in an internecine struggle between the partisans of Shahu, and Tarabai who governed in the name of her son Shivaji and denounced Shahu as an impostor substituted by the Mughals for the son of Sambhaji.
  • Tarabai sent the Maratha senapati Dhanaji Jadhav to attack Shahu. Balaji Vishwanath was despatched by Dhanaji Jadhav to meet secretly with Shahu and verify his bona fides. Balaji is believed to have persuaded his master to support the cause of Shahu. Dhanaji's forces met Shahu's at Khed, in Pune District. Instead of attacking Shahu, Dhanaji Jadhav declared him to be the rightful successor to the Maratha throne. Dhanaji's confidence in Balaji Vishwanath however aroused the jealousy of his son and successor, Chandrasen Jadhav.
  • At the time of Shahu's coronation at Satara in January 1708, Balaji Vishwanath received appointment as mutaliq or deputy to Amburao Hunmante, Amatya of Shahu, to ensure his presence at the Maratha court and maintain personal contacts with monarch all the time.
  • After death of Dhanaji Jadhav in June 1708, Shahu appointed Dhanaji's son Chandrasen Jadhav as Senapati, but the rivalry between Chandrasen and Balaji led the former to intrigue with Tarabai, while seeking and opportunity to eliminate Balaji. A dispute over the conduct of a junior officer in Balaji's employ led Chandrasen to attack Balaji, who fled to the fortress of Purandar. Chandrasen besieged Purandar whereupon Balaji fled again to Pandavgad whence he sent an emissary to plead for help from his sovereign. Shahu had Balaji Vishwanath brought under escort to his capital Satara and asked Chandrasen to make the case against Balaji Vishwanath before him. Instead of obeying Shahu Chandrasen defected to the cause of Tarabai in April 1711. Haibatrao Nimbalkar, who Shahu had dispatched against Chandrasen, also defected to Tarabai, and Shahu's fortunes were a at their lowest. Bereft of his experienced generals, Shahu turned to Balaji Vishwanath, who undertook to raise a new army in the cause of Shahu. For this the monarch gave Balaji Vishwanath the title of Senakarte or Organiser of Maratha armies (20 August 1711).
  • Balaji "next turned against Tarabai her own armoury of intrigue".[4] The fall of Tarabai at Kolhapur in 1712 was the outcome of a conspiracy hatched by Balaji Vishwanath in connivance with the disgruntled elements of Tarabai's court. Balaji Vishwanath induced Rajaram's other widow, Rajasbai to install her son, Sambhaji, on the throne of Kolhapur, dethroning Shivaji II, the son of Tarabai. This brought the ruling house of Kolhapur under protection and subordination of Shahu.

Ascent to Peshwa

Next Shahu turned to subdue the Angres. Tukoji Angre had commanded Chattrapati Shivaji's navies and was succeeded in 1690 by his son Kanhoji Angre. Kanhoji received from Tarabai the title of "Sarkhel" or Admiral of the Maratha fleet. Kanhoi seized the opportunity of war between Tarabai and Shahu to effectively free himself of the suzerainty of either. Instead he captured the major trading center of Kalyan and the neighboring forts of Rajmachi and Lohgad. Shahu sent a large force under his "Peshwa" or Chief Minister, Bahiroji Pingale . Kanhoji defeated Pingle and imprisoned him at Lohgad, and started to advance towards Shahu's capital Satara.

Shahu commanded Balaji again to raise another army to subdue Kanhoji. Balaji preferred the path of negotiation and was appointed as Shahu's plenipotentiary to negotiate with the admiral. Balaji convinced Shahu to alter Shivaji's old constitution of the Maratha state, whereby the nobles were salaried employees of the ruler. Henceforth, nobles would be feudatories with grants of land over which they ruled as vassal princes. In doing so, Balaji planted the seeds of the both the rise and the decline of the Maratha empire/confederacy. (Granting the nobles vast territories enabled the rapid expansion of the empire from 1713 to 1760 and then onwards.

Balaji and Kanhoji met at Lonavala. The newly appointed Peshwa appealed to the old sailor's patriotism for the Maratha cause. Angre agreed to become the Sarkhel (admiral) of Shahu's navy with control of the Konkan. Balaji and Angre then jointly attacked the Muslim Siddis of Janjira. Their combined forces captured most of the Konkan coast, including Balaji's birthplace of Shrivardhan, which became part of the Angre fiefdom. Delighted with Balaji's success, Shahu dismissed Bahiroji Pingale and appointed Balaji Vishwanath as Peshwa on 16 November 1713.[5]

In 1716, Chhatrapati Shah's army chief Damaji Thorat arrested Balaji. The reason for this two-year imprisonment is unknown.

Northward Expansion of the Maratha Power

There existed a power vacuum in the Mughal empire, caused by the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, and that of his successor Bahadur Shah, leading to continual internecine conflict within the imperial family and the leading Mughal grandees. Farrukhsiyar came to the throne in 1713 with the help of the two powerful nobles, Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan and Sayyid Abdullah Khan. Claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, the Sayyid Brothers had turned king-makers in the Mughal court. Soon after, differences soon arose between them and the Emperor Farruksiyar. And while the Mughals were intriguing in the civil war between the factions of Shahu and Tarabai, the Marathas themselves became a major factor in the quarrels between the Emperor and the Sayyids.

To rid himself of the tutelage of the Sayyids, in 1718 Farrukhsiyar dispatched Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan as Viceroy of the Deccan with orders to restore Mughal authority over the south. Behind the Sayyid's back, Farrukhsiyar urged various Maratha chieftain's to attack his own viceroy. Hussain Ali Khan found himself harried by the Marathas who resorted to their traditional guerilla tactics. Unable to defeat the Marathas in a pitched battle and weary of chasing after constantly marauding Maratha horsemen, Hussain Ali Khan sought to make peace with the Marathas.

In July 1718 Balaji negotiated a Maratha-Mughal treaty with Hussain Ali Khan, demanding the Maratha right of "chauth" (literally: 1/4th of revenues) and "sardeshmukhi" (an additional 10% of revenues) of the old Mughal provinces of the Deccan. To this Balaji Vishwanath added the demand of chauth and sardeshmukhi over the rich provinces of Gujarat and Khandesh, and the restoration of Chattrapati Shivaji's conquests in Karnatak, in return for which Balaji promised that Shahu would acknowledge the nominal overlordship of the Mughal Emperor, and the Marathas would provide a force of 15,000 armed horsemen to the Mughal Empire. To these egregious demands Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan readily agreed, with a view to use the Maratha soldiers to their advantage in their struggle with the Emperor.

Farrukhsiyar refused to ratify this treaty and sought to depose and murder the Sayyids. The plot was betrayed to Sayyid Abdulla Khan who was in Delhi, who succeeded in neutralizing other powerful Mughal nobles like Chin Qilich Khan (later Nizam-ul-Mulk and Sarbuland Khan (governor of Patna) with promises of rich governorships of Malwa and Kabul respectively. In September 1718, accompanied by Balaji Vishwanath and supported by (now) sixteen thousand Maratha horsemen commanded by the gallant Parsoji Bhosale Hussain Ali Khan arrived in Delhi. Most of Farrukhsiyar's supporters fled but the Emperor's partisans resisted but were overcome at the cost of two thousand Maratha soldiers.

Farrukhsiyar was dethroned, blinded and imprisoned by the Sayyid's, who substituted in his place a more pliable puppet, Rafi-ul-darjat in February 1719. (This hapless prince was dying of tuberculosis and was in turn replaced after a reign of only three months by his older brother Rafi Ud-Daulah.) Rafi-ul-Darjat duly ratified the Maratha treaty. Shahu and his successors were recognized by the Mughal Emperors as the rightfully heirs to Chattrapati Shivaji.

End of Balaji Vishwanath

Balaji returned in triumph from Delhi to Satara, having also secured the release after decades of Mughal captivity, the mother (Yesubai), wife (Savitribai) and half-brother (Madan Singh) of Shahu. Weary from his labors and the tiresome journey back from the imperial capital, Balaji Vishwanath's health began to fail. In October 1719 he obtained leave from Shahu to retire to the village of Saswad near Pune that had been granted by Shahu to the Peshwa. On 11 March 1719 he celebrated the marriage of his son Visaji, the future Peshwa Baji Rao I with Kashibai.

Balaji Vishwanath died on 12 April 1720. He was succeeded by his elder son, the celebrated Baji Rao I, who was appointed Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahu.

Administrative Achievements

Balaji Vishwanath also laid the foundation for the complex administrative system of the Marathas that held sway for a century after his death. The Maratha tax collection system from a wide swathe of nominally Mughal provinces was based on a wide spread network of agents and collectors. "To it as much as to their victories in the field the Marathas owed the spread of their empire" ([6]). The mechanism of revenue collected was supported by credit facilities from established banking families.

Personal life

Balaji married Radhabai Barve(1700–1752) and had two sons, Baji Rao I and Chimaji Appa. He also had two daughters. The older, Bhiubai married Abaji Joshi of Baramati, brother of the banker Balaji Naik famed as Bajirao I's "most tormenting creditor". The younger, Anubai married Venkatrao Ghorpade of Ichalkaranji. Their heirs ruled the state of Ichalkaranji till 1947.


A statue of Balaji Vishwanath stands at his ancestral village of Shrivardhan near Raigad in coastal Maharashtra.

Preceded by
Bahiroji Pingale
Succeeded by
Baji Rao I



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