Military Wiki
Maratha conquest of North-west India
Part of Afghan-Maratha Conflicts
LocationNorth-west part of Indian subcontinent
Marathas successfully capture Punjab, Kashmir and Nwfp from Durrani.
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg
Maratha Empire
Flag of the Emirate of Herat.svg
Durrani Empire
Commanders and leaders
Raghunath Rao
Malhar Rao Holkar
Adnina Beg Khan
Tukoji Holkar
Narsoji Pandit
Timur Shah Durrani
Jahan Khan
Karim Shah
Wazirullah Khan
Ahmad Samad Khan

The Maratha Conquest of North-west India, which occurred between 1757 and 1758, was an epoch making event. Though it was short lived, it had long lasting effects upon the politics of the Indian subcontinent.


After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the 27 Years War ended in Maratha's victory. This was followed by the phase of rapid expansion of the Maratha Empire for the next 50 years under the Peshwas Baji Rao I and Balaji Baji Rao. They conquered Gujarat, the whole of Central India and Orissa, subdued Rajputana and raided into Bengal and Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, and imposed chauth upon these areas. Their ambition pushed them further northwards than Delhi into Punjab, which collided with the ambitions of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of Durrani Empire. In 1757, Ahmad Shah Abdali raided Delhi and captured Punjab and Kashmir with the help of Rohilla chief Najib Khan. He installed his son Timur Shah Durrani in Lahore and went back to Afghanistan.[1]

The Campaign

The Maratha Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao sent his brother Raghunath Rao along with Shamsher Bahadur, Gangadhar Tatya, Sakharambapu, Naroshankar and Maujiram Bania and a large army towards Delhi and Punjab. They were accompanied by Malhar Rao Holkar of Malwa who had a long experience of North India and its rulers. The Marathas captured Delhi in August 1757. They decisively defeated the Rohillas and Afghans near Delhi in 1758. The defeat was so decisive that Najib Khan surrendered to the Marathas and became their prisoner.[1]

Initial campaign of Sirhind

In Punjab, Adina Beg Khan, along with Sikhs was already in revolt with Ahmad Shah Abdali who had invaded Punjab multiple times. He decided to call Marathas for help. On 7 March, Raghunathrao had encamped at Rajpura where he received Adina Beg Khan’s envoys, and was informed that the latter, accompanied by 15,000 Sikh fighters, belonging to the bands (the jathas) of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Baba Ala Singh of Patiala had closed upon Sirhind from the other side of Satluj. A concerted attack on the fort of Sirhind was made by the Marathas and their associates on 8 March 1758. Ahmad Samad Khan, with his 10,000 Afghan troops, held out for about two weeks before his capitulation on 21 March. After the victory, the town was thoroughly sacked by the victors. After defeating the Afghan-Rohilla forces, the Marathas pursued the Afghans into the Punjab.[2]

Further conquest of North-west

File:Marathas India (1758).jpg

Maratha Empire (in orange) at its peak in 1758.

The fall of Sirhind alarmed Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan at Lahore. The Afghan chiefs lost their heart and fled to Peshawar, leaving behind their troops in Lahore under Aziz Khan. On 20 April 1758, Malharrao Holkar and Raghunathrao attacked and conquered Lahore. Tukoji Holkar conquered Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Kashmir, Attock and Peshawar by 8 May 1758.[2][3] Thus, by May 1758, Timur Shah Durrani, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani was ousted and the Afghans were chased beyond the Khyber pass. Thereafter a strong body of Maratha troops, commanded by Datta Patel was left on the bank of Indus to protect the Indian borders from Afghan intruders before Raghunathrao and Adina Beg Khan returned to Lahore with the bulk of their armies. Tukoji Holkar with 10,000 Maratha soldiers in Peshawar, Narsoji Pandit with 4000 Maratha troops at Attock, Babuji Trimbak with 6000 Maratha troops at Multan and Nekaji Bhosle with 3000 Maratha troops in Dera Ghazi Khan were posted to guard the strategically important forts.[2]

This incident has a special importance in Indian history, particularly Hindu history since, after nearly seven and a half centuries when the last Hindu King of the region Trilochan Pal Shahi had been defeated by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1020 C.E., Indus river came under Hindu rule due to the Maratha conquest of Punjab in 1758. This campaign of the Marathas led by Raghunath Rao is hailed as Raghu's Bharari - i.e. whirlwind campaign in Maharashtra even today.[4]

In Lahore, as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players. The Maratha Empire had reached its peak, the empire's territories covered much of South Asia. By 1760, with defeat of the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power under Chhatrapati Shahu reached its zenith with a territory of over 2,800,000 km2. The last frontier of the Marathas at this time was at Peshawar in today's Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa on the Afghanistan border.

Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subahs on this side of Attock are under our rule for the most part, and places which have not come under our rule we shall soon bring under us. Ahmad Shah Durrani's son Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan have been pursued by our troops, and their troops completely looted. Both of them have now reached Peshawar with a few broken troops . . . So Ahmad Shah Durrani has returned to Kandahar with some 12-14 thousand broken troops.. Thus all have risen against Ahmad who has lost control over the region. We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.

Raghunathrao's letter to the Maratha Peshwa, 4 May 1758[3]


Administration of Punjab

The Maratha commander Raghunathrao and Malharrao Holkar entrusted the government of Punjab on lease to Adina Beg Khan on the promise of 75 lakh rupees of annual tribute to the Marathas before their retirement to south after about three months. As regards as Sikhs, the Marathas left it to Adina to deal with them as pleased. Adina Beg Khan who earlier served as governor of Punjab for Mughals was now governor for Marathas. Several junior Maratha officers were also appointed for his assistance in governance.[2]

Change of Maratha guards in the North-West

Adina Beg didn't feel at home in Lahore. It was because he didn't envoy the confidence of all Muslim ruling elite at Lahore, who were sharply divided in loyalty towards Durrani and Marathas. Adina Beg, therefore, entrusted his administration of Lahore to his son-in law Khwaja Mirza and set up his own headquarters in Batala. Adina Beg died on 15 September 1758.[2]

Adina Beg's sudden death threw Punjab into turmoil. Many of his soldiers, particularly Afghan mercenaries deserted his army camp and added to the number of freebooters, thus creating chaos and anarchy everywhere. Sikhs too started revolt against Muslim ruling elite, which had failed to make any permanent settlement with them. Khwaja Mirza who was now the Maratha governor of Punjab could not cope with the situation. He sent an express appeal to the Peshwa for reinforcements, alerted all the junior Maratha officers to help him restoring law and order in the state and recalled Maratha detachments from Peshawar and Attock to safeguard his position in Lahore. Tukoji Holkar and Narsoji Pandit,the Maratha commandants of Attock and Peshawar had to withdraw their troops from the frontier posts. Sabbaji Patel was now given the charge of Peshawar.[2]

Raghunathrao and his deputy Malhar Rao were not interested in holding the position in the north for long. On their request, Peshwa had to find their substitutes. He gave supreme command of north India to Dattaji Scindia, whicle Jankoji Scindia was appointed his deputy. They procedded towards Delhi separately at different times. The new Maratha commanders were not familiar with the topology, climate and political conditions of Delhi and Punjab.[2]

A massive army of Marathas under their new commanders, Scindias reached Machhiwara in March 1759. Like Raghunathrao, Dattaji also didn't want to stay in Punjab for long. As there was no news of Abdali's invasion, Dattaji deferred appointment of any permanent governor in Punjab and left it to the Peshwa for decision at his convenience. After deliberations with his advisors, Dttaji deputed Sabbaji to take care of Punjab and Nwfp along with assistance of Bapu Rao, Dadu Rao and Sena Pandit for time being and himself left Punjab for the suppression of Najib-ud-Daula in the Ganga valley. Bapu Rao took the charge of Rohtas Fort, while other officers were appointed on the frontier posts.[2]

Taking advantage of Sabbaji's absence from Peshawar post, the Afghans marched to Peshawar. The Peshawar fort was taken by Afghans with heavy losses to the besieged Maratha garrison. Thereafter the Afghan invaders, under Jahan Khan overran Attock and threatened the Rohtas Fort. By that time, Sabaji Patel reached the place with fresh troops and a large number of Sikh fighters, who had once again allied with Marathas. The combined forces of Marathas and Sikhs defeated Afghan garrison in which Jahan lost his son and was himself wounded. The Afghans quickly vacated the forts of Attock and Peshawar and retreated west to Afghanistan. So, Peshawar once again fell to Marathas.[2]


Decline of Maratha power in North-West

It was unbearable for Abdali to overlook this defeat. The Rohilla chief Najib Khan invited Abdali to avenge his defeat. He, along with his commander Jahan Khan invaded Punjab for the fifth time with a massive force of 60,000 accompanied by heavy field-guns. The small garrisons of Marathas in Peshawar and Multan were defeated and Abdali moved inwards towards southern Punjab. Trimbak Rao's 6000 strong Maratha garrison of Multan was massacred and only 500 of them could cross river Satluj. Lahore, the capital of Punjab was also fell to Afghans. The remaining Marathas retreated straight to Batala. Jahan Khan captured Sirhind on 27 November 1759 defeating the small Maratha garrison.[2] On 24 December 1759, a battle was fought between Deattaji and Abdali in which Dattaji was defeated with a loss of 2500 Maratha soldiers. As a consequence of victory, Abdali managed to join forces with Najib-ud-Daula.[1]

Najib defeated and killed Dattaji at Burari Ghat near Delhi in January, 1760. Abdali followed him. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao sent his cousin Sadashivrao Bhau to repel Abdali which finally resulted in the Third Battle of Panipat where Abdali decisively defeated Marathas.[5] Panipat debacle was such a blow to the Maratha Empire that it could not enter the north India for a decade and could never really recover from the enormous losses they sustained during the whole campaign against the Durrani Empire.[5]

Reasons for Decline

The Marathas had failed to befriend the original inhabitants of Punjab, particularly Sikhs. They couldn't make any formal treaty with Sikhs, who along with Adina Beg had assisted them in their conquest of north-west. Marathas treated Sikhs as a non-entity in Punjab affairs According to an assessment, the Sikhs were ever ready to co-operate with the Marathas, but it goes to the discredit of the Marathas that they could not make a proper confederacy with Sikhs. Kirpal Singh writes:[2]

Unlike Ahmad Shah Abdali who subsequently raised a cry of jihad, the Marathas couldn't mobilize their resources and make a common cause with the Sikhs in order to pay the Afghan Emperor in his own coin.

Besides, the political leadership of Marathas was also poor. They failed to recognise their friends and fores in Punjab. Ignoring all the claims of Sikh leaders, Raghunath Rao appointed Adina Beg Khan as the governor. Finding the Maratha leadership completely off their guard against their political foes, many Afghans who were earlier taken captives by Marathas quickly changed their loyalty towards Adina Beg and got recruited in his army. However later on they betrayed him and joined Abdali's forces during his fifth invasion.[2]

The Marathas had started losing interest in the north-west. Peshwa, again and again ordered retirement of experienced Maratha generals from Punjab with their troops as he considered Deccan more important than distant Punjab. The Peshwa was alarmed by the growing French and British influence in the Deccan.[1] When Abdali invaded Punjab for the fifth time, the Marathas didn't try hard to save the frontier posts and instead started planning to save Delhi from another invasion.[2]


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