The Pendharis (also spelled as Pindaris) or Free Companions (Marathi language: पेंढारी ; Hindi piṇḍārī, पिण्डारी / पिंडारी) were dispersed throughout the Maratha states and were countenanced and protected by the Maratha chiefs to whom they acted as agents for supplying all the commissariat required by their armies. They were composed of different tribes who congregated solely for purposes of plunder. They came into existence during the 18th century when the Mughal Empire was breaking up. The Pindaris were loosely organized under self-chosen leaders, and each group was usually attached to one or other of the Maratha leaders. Their main characteristic was that they received no pay, but rather purchased the privilege of plundering on their own account.
The term Pindar may derive from pinda, an intoxicating drink, or from Pandhar, a village in Nimar, or from pinda, a bundle of fodder carried by the Pindara. Another possible derivation is from pindā-paṛna (to follow close by) or pindā-basne (to stick close to).
Alternate spellings include Pindara, Pindarah, Pendhari.
When the regular forces of the Marathas had been broken up in the campaigns conducted by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Lord Lake in 1802-04, the Pindaris made their headquarters in Malwa, under the tacit protection of Maratha Dynasties like Sindhia and Holkar. They were accustomed to assemble every year at the beginning of November, and sally forth into British occupied territory in search of plunder. In one such raid upon the Masulipatam coast they plundered 339 villages, killing or wounding 682 persons, torturing 3600 and carrying off property worth a quarter of a million pounds. In 1808-09 they plundered Gujarat, and in 1812 Mirzapur. In 1814 they were reckoned at 25,000 to 30,000 horsemen.
The Pindari War
Lord Hastings, with the approval of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, decided to exterminate and eliminate the Pindaris. The approval was received in September 1816 and Hastings put into place a plan by the end of 1817. To begin with, he entered into an understanding with several other powers active in India, and then commenced precise military planning and preparations to encircle and eliminate all the Pindaris. This organized campaign, known as the Pindari War, became the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
This was an elaborate military plan: to attack the Pindari forces from the north and east from Bengal, from the west from Gujarat, and from the south from the Deccan. Hastings committed 120,000 men and 300 artillery pieces to the command created and entrusted with the task to eliminate the Pindaris. The command consisted of the Northern Force, of 4 divisions under his personal command; the Deccan Force of five divisions under the command of Thomas Hislop with Sir John Malcolm as his principal lieutenant. The forces moved swiftly, and by January 1818, the Pindaris were expelled from the regions of the Malwa and the Chamba.
The Pindaris were surrounded on all sides by the great army, which converged upon them from Bengal, the Deccan and Gujarat under the supreme command of Lord Hastings in person. Sindhia was overawed and forced to sign the treaty of Gwalior, consenting to aid in the extirpation of the Pindaris, whom he had hitherto protected. Since the Pindaris gave a portion of their loot to Maratha leaders, the Peshwa at Pune, the Bhonsle raja at Nagpur and the army of the infant Holkar of Indore each took up arms, but were separately defeated. The Pindaris themselves offered little opposition. The three strongest Pindari contingents were under the command of three leaders namely Karim Khan Pindari; Chitu Pindari and Wasil Muhammad Pindari.
Karim Khan Pindari had tried to convince other Pindari leaders to join him in a plan for defense but disagreements among the Pindari leaders, particularly with Chitu Pindari, destroyed any hope of a concerted effort even in the face of the impending war with the British. With the arrival of the British, Karim Khan and Wasil Muhammad headed for Gwalior. Chitu Pindari joined Holkar's forces in the meantime. Several engagements with the retreating Pindaris took place and despite defeating them, the British were unable to strike a decisive blow. All Pindari parties eventually returned south near their bases, with the British in close pursuit. During the last part of December, at the invitation of Jaswant Rao Bhau, Karim Khan Pindari had ridden north from Holkar's camp, while Chitu Pindari had come west from Kota into the area around Jawar. British forces surrounded them on all sides. Both Chitu and Karim Khan began moving south toward their bases at the Narmada. Chitu had evaded British troops and proceeded to the ghats. Chitu fled to Bhopal, where he tried to reach an agreement with the British through the Nawab. The British rejected his plans as too extravagant.As for Karim Khan Pindari, he too was hotly pursued.In February 1819 most of the Pindari leaders surrendered to the British authorities. Namdar Khan one such leader gave himself up on 3 February 1819, and Karim Khan Pindari surrendered to John Malcolm on 15 February 1819. Others gradually followed their example. Only Chitu Pindari had managed to elude capture. But eventually he fled to the jungle when deserted by his followers. Near the end of February 1819 his body was brought to the British; he had been attacked and killed by a tiger.
John George arranged for the Pindari leaders and their families to settle in northern India at Gorakhpur with pensions and land. To prevent any resurgence of the Pindaris, the British permitted only Namdar Khan, Karim Khan's nephew, to settle in Bhopal near the old banes of the Pindaris.
In popular culture
A fictionalized version of Pindaris is depicted in Salman Khan starrer Bollywood movie Veer.
- Historical studies and recreations, Volume 2-By Shoshee Chunder Dutt; pg 340
- Pindari Society and the Establishment of British Paramountcy in India
- Pindari in The tribes and castes of the central provinces of India, Volume 1, by R.V. Russell, R.B.H. Lai
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