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Narayanrao Peshwa
A memorial commemorating the great Peshwa, Pradhanpant Shrimant Madhavrao (Ballal) Peshwa I, at Peshwe Park in Pune, India
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg Peshwa of Maratha Empire

In office
Monarch Ramraja 1
Preceded by Nanasaheb Peshwa
Succeeded by Narayanrao Peshwa
Personal details
Born February 14, 1745
Died November 18, 1772
Nationality Indian
Religion Hinduism

Madhav Rao I (or Pradhanpant Shrimant Madhavrao (Ballal) Peshwa I aka Thorle Madhav Rao Peshwa ) (14 February 1745 – 18 November 1772) was fourth Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. During his tenure, Maratha power recovered from the losses suffered during the Panipat Campaign, a phenomenon known as "Maratha Resurrection". He is considered as one of the greatest personalities of the Maratha history.

Early life and ascendancy to Peshwa

Madhavrao was the son of Nanasaheb Peshwa. He was born in Savnur in 1745. At the time of his birth, the Maratha Empire was stretched across a sizeable portion of Western, Central and Northern India. On 9 December 1753, Madhavrao married Ramabai in Pune.

Nanasaheb had expanded the Maratha rule to a great extent and had tried to establish better governance in the empire. However, during the Third battle of Panipat which was held on 14 January 1761, he was responsible for certain decisions which were partially responsible for the defeat of the Marathas against Ahmad Shah Abdali. The [Marathas] suffered heavy losses including Nanasaheb's eldest son Vishwasrao and edlest brother Sadashivrao Bhau. Unable to bear the sufferings, he died of depression[citation needed] at Parvati in Pune.

After the death of Nanasaheb, on 23 June 1761, the seventeen-year-old Madhav Rao was made the next Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. Nanasaheb's brother Raghunathrao was to assist him in the administrative affairs.

Early days of reign

At the ascendancy of Madhavrao, the Maratha empire was in complete shambles as their defeat at Panipat had accumulated big debts to their wealth. At Shaniwar Wada, the prime residence of the Peshwa, religious rituals and ceremonies were frequently being conducted. The discipline required for the smooth running of administrative affairs was almost non-existent. The security at the treasury was poor. When these weaknesses were brought to Madhavrao’s notice and he introduced changes by personally looking into the administration, accounts and the treasury. He also reduced the religious practices being followed at Shaniwar Wada.

In February 1762, the Peshwas set out to conquer Karnataka. This was one of the earliest wars against the Nizam when conflict arose between Madhavrao and his uncle Raghunathrao. Due to difference of opinion between the two, Raghunathrao decided to abandon the troop midway and return to Pune, while Madhavrao continued. Eventually, a treaty was signed with the Nizam and Madhavrao returned. Both Madhavrao and Raghunathrao had their preferences even over the Sardars (Generals). Madhavrao usually preferred the company of Gopalrao Patwardhan, Tryambakrao Mama Pethe, Nana Fadnavis and Ramshastri; while Raghunathrao was dearer to Sakharambapu, Gulabrao and Gangoba Tatya.

Disputes with uncle

The discord between Madhavrao and Raghunathrao was increasing and on 22 August 1762, Raghunathrao fled to Vadgaon where he started grooming his own army. Raghunathrao's men started looting the nearby villages for warfare, and this act angered Madhavrao. He decided to wage a war against his uncle Ragunathrao on 7 November 1762. However, Madhavrao didn't wish to battle against his own uncle and thus, proposed for a treaty. Raghunathrao agreed to sign the treaty with Madhavrao and asked him to move back to a non-attacking position. Madhavrao did so. However, Raghunathrao deceived Madhavrao. When the Maratha camp under Madhavrao was relaxed and unsuspecting of a battle, they were caught unawared as Raghunathrao attacked treacherously. Thus, Madhavrao was defeated in this war and on 12 November 1762 surrendered himself to Raghunathrao near Alegaon. After the surrender, Raghunathrao decided to control all the major decisions under the assistance of Sakharam Bapu. He also decided to befriend Nizam, but this proved to be a wrong masterplan as Nizam slowly started infiltrating the zones of Maratha Empire. As time slipped by, Madhavrao pointed out the gravity of the situation to his uncle. Eventually on 7 March 1763 the Peshwas, once again under Madhavrao's leadership, decided to attack Aurangabad to crush Nizam. After months of chasing, the Peshwas faced Nizam's army on 10 August 1763 in the Battle of Rakshasbhuvan near Aurangabad. Nizam's army suffered huge losses in this war, but Nizam himself fled away. On returning, the Peshwas received a grand welcome back in Pune for their victory over Nizam.


During this time, an interesting incident occurred. Madhavrao was busy managing the treasury of the kingdom and supervising the calculation of the expenses encountered during the war. One day he noticed a large crowd anxiously waiting at the entrance of Shaniwar Wada. Upon summoning the guards, he discovered that they were the aggrievated citizens of Pune who had lost their families, house, land and wealth in the war. They had been visiting his residence for the past few days with hopes of expressing their unbearable losses. However, the guards had not allowed them to meet the Peshwa by excusing that his health had deteriorated. When he heard this, Madhavrao became furious with the guards; he immediately left all his tasks aside and stepped out of Shaniwar Wada. He personally met with the poverished families and patiently listened to each one of them. He made a note of every family’s loss and personally saw to it that these losses were compensated from the empire’s revenue. This speaks volumes about why the citizens always looked up to him with tremendous faith and respect.

An information plaque commemorating Shrimant Madhavrao I and describing his greatness on display at Peshwe Park in Pune, India

Though there were rifts between him and his uncle Raghunathrao, Madhavrao always displayed concern for him on personal grounds. Madhavrao fined his own uncle, his mother's brother, Rastemama for allowing the Nizam's men to plunder Pune while his own house was spared. Rastemama complained to his sister and Gopikabai urged Madhavrao to reconsider the fine, he simply refused and did not budge even when she threatened to move out of Shaniwarwada. Gopikabai decided to live separately in Gangapur near Nashik, the two always shared frequent written communication. He had great respect, love and regard for his mother, which is visible in the letters exchanged between the two.

Madhavrao was one of the most able administrators; he bought radical revolutions in the Maratha Empire in terms of efficiency and honesty. Corrupt and lethargic officials were flogged in the courtyard; this brought about the much required discipline in the administration. The judicial system was impartial and faithfully managed by Ram Shastri, who was considered as the supreme pillar of justice. The usage of revenues was maximized for the welfare of the citizens. Artillery and weapons were constantly upgraded and the strength of the empire was maintained at high standards.

Madhavrao was feared by his own servants, but he was approachable to the common man. He was always aware and made others in his fold realize that he is not the king. Despite being a Brahmin he raised his sword to the call of duty and was no less in valour than any Maratha. Justice Kashinath Trimbak Telang citing James Grant Duff narrates an amusing story[1] that illustrates Madhavrao's ruthlessness, omniscience, and disregard for religious restrictions.(ref)

"When he [Madhavrao] was arranging for his expedition against Hyder Ali, he sent a summons to the Bhonsle chief of Nagpur (Janoji Bhonsle)to come over to join the Maratha army. The Bhonsle's agent at Poona went to consult with the ex-minister Sakharam Bapu as to what should be done. The latter was afraid to give his counsel openly, as the Peshwa's Karkun was present, but he managed to convey his advice to the Bhonsle's agent without the Karkun understanding the point. He suggested to one of two persons who were sitting near him playing chess that, as the pawns ("pyaada" in Marathi, meaning both pawn and soldier) of his opponent had advanced in force, he should take back his king a square or two. The Bhonsle's agent, taking the hint, at once wrote off to his master to advise that he should not come to Poona in pursuance of the Peshwa's summons, but should go back the one or two stages he had advanced from Nagpur. This was done accordingly, and Madhavrao, who had a great reputation for obtaining news of everything that was going on in which he was interested, heard of the Bhonsle's return to his capital; and he also heard of Sakharam Bapu's advice, which had led to it, though the latter was perceived only by him hidden under the facts he learnt from the cross-examination of the Karkun. Madhavrao was a man of very strong will. He at once sent for the Bhonsle's agent, and told him of his master's return to Nagpur on the advice of Sakharam Bapu, and added, "If your master is in Poona within fifteen days, well and good; if not, I will pay no heed to my being a Brahman, but will break his head with a tent-peg!"

(emphases not in Justice Telang's original text)

War against Hyder Ali and Mysore

In January 1764, for the second time, Madhavrao decided to gather up his defences and conquer Hyder Ali. This time his massive army included efficient generals like Gopalrao Patwardhan, Murarrao Ghorpade, Vinchurkar and Naro Shankar. Raghunathrao declined his offer to join him and instead chose to visit Nashik. This was a particularly long conquest which went for almost a year in and around the districts of Karnataka. However, Hyder Ali somehow managed to escape the clutches of the Peshwas. Eventually, Madhavrao decided to call Raghunathrao for his assistance, but Raghunathrao only signed a treaty with Hyder Ali, much to Madhavrao’s disappointment. Raghunathrao intentionally made this move, since he was now fearfully aware of Madhavrao's burgeoning power. Additionally, his loyal assistant Sakharam bapu also warned him against the consequences of conquering Hyder Ali. The Peshwa’s failure to impose authority over Hyder Ali triggered a major setback on Madhavrao’s health. In 1767 Madhavrao I organized a 3rd expedition against Hyder Ali and inflicted defeats on Hyder Ali in the battles of Sira and Madgiri and made a surprise discovery of Queen Virammaji the last ruler of the Keladi Nayaka Kingdom and her son who were kept in confinement in the fort of Madgiri by Hyder Ali.[2] They were rescued by Madhavrao I and were sent to Pune for protection.[2]

Alliance with the Nizam

The Peshwas were expanding their territory in the northern regions of India. Raghunathrao, the Holkars and Shindes together marched towards Delhi with the intention of expanding the Maratha Empire in these territories. In the meanwhile, Madhavrao made a bold decision of bonding with his old nemesis, the Nizam. The Nizam also genuinely expressed his desire to extend the relationship, and thus the two met at Kurumkhed on 5 February 1766. The next few days saw some cultural exchanges and open expressions of concern. The levels of mutual understanding alleviated, and this relationship started growing stronger.

The British meet the Peshwas

On 3 December 1767, the British officer Mastin arrived in Pune. The colonial rulers wanted to set up their armies in the regions of Vasai and Sashthi, but Madhavrao had anticipated their intentions. Mastin’s repeated requests to acquire these regions in return for conquering Hyder Ali fell on deaf ears, the Peshwa never agreed to them.

Raghunathrao faces house arrest

Though Raghunathrao had marched to the North for expanding the empire, he failed to do so. Instead, he came back to Anandvalli and was again tempted to form an alliance with his generals and fight against Madhavrao. This time, however; Madhavrao was extremely agitated with his uncle’s repeated attempt. On 10 June 1768 he waged a war against Raghunathrao, captured him and put him in house arrest at Shaniwar Wada. Raghunathrao's assistant Sakharam Bapu Bokil was also put in house arrest. The relationship between Madhavao and Raghunathrao had deteriorated to great extents.

Assassination attempt

The incident occurred on the evening of 7 September 1769. Madhavrao was returning from the Parvati temple at Pune with his comrades, when one of his generals Ramsingh suddenly attacked him with a sword. Fortunately, Madhavrao was warned just in the nick of time and he suffered a blow from the sword on his shoulder, as he tried to dodge Ramsingh. Madhavrao believed that this was Raguhnathrao’s attempt to murder him, but he imprisoned General Ramsingh.

Declining health and death

The cremation of Madhavrao and the sati of his wife Ramabai.

In June 1770, the Peshwas set out to conquer Hyder Ali for the third time. However, Madhavrao was infected with tuberculosis which started deteriorating his health. Tuberculosis was also termed as “Raj-Yakshma”, or the prince of diseases. Madhavrao had to return from Miraj, as the effects of the disease had started becoming prominent. He was even recommended an English doctor for the treatment of the terrible disease, and he would follow the advice given by the doctor. However, there were no signs of improvement and slowly it started developing further. The disease had affected his intestine. There was no cure for tuberculosis in those times. Madhavrao decided to spend his last days in his favourite Ganesha Chintamani Temple, Theur.

On 6 October 1772, Raghunathrao tried to escape from the house arrest at Shaniwar Wada, but he was caught again. Madhavrao had become excessively weak, and he could no longer bear such incidents. He had constructed a garden, a wooden hall and a fountain outside this favourite temple.

18 November 1772, early morning approximately at eight: Madhavrao died at the temple premises of Chintamani, Theur. Thousands of citizens visited the site and paid their last respects. His wife Ramabai performed sati during his cremation later that day. Madhavrao was cremated on the banks of the river which was about half a mile from the temple. A small memorial carved out of stone rests today at that place as a memorial.


Assessing the impact of the loss of Madhavrao, the writer James Grant Duff eulogised:

"And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince…" [3][4]


  1. Transactions of the ninth International congress of Orientalists, Volume I (London, 1893) p268
  2. 2.0 2.1 Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707–1813 by Jaswant Lal Mehta p.458
  3. Kapoor, S. (2002). Indian Encyclopaedia. 1. Cosmo Publications. p. 5611. ISBN 9788177552577. Retrieved 2015-01-01. 
  4. Bakshi, S.R.; Sharma, S.R.; Gajrani, S. (1998). Contemporary Political Leadership in India: Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Chief Minister of Assam. APH Publishing Corporation. p. 64. ISBN 9788176480079. Retrieved 2015-01-01. 

Further reading

  • Ranjit Desai. Swami (Marathi), a historical novel

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