The Great Maratha, the greatest ruler ever of the Scindia
dynasty, who expanded his kingdom, routed the Rohillas and was one of the
most powerful Maratha rulers in the North.
The 3rd Battle of Panipat, had dealt one of the worst blows ever to the
Maratha empire, Balaji Baji Rao, the Peshwa, could not recover from the
debacle and died broken hearted in the very city of Pune, that he so lovingly
The Marathas lost the entire Northern territories of India from Delhi onwards,
and the empire ran up into huge debts. It was at such a critical juncture that
Madhavrao I, became the Peshwa on June 23, 1761, at a very young age of
Madhavrao I managed to bring the administration back into track, and also
secured the treasury that was being looted. He had the unenviable task of
rebuilding the Maratha Empire that had suffered a body blow, after Panipat
and setting right the rot in the administration.
Madhavrao I’s reign however would be remembered for the creation of
the semi autonomous Maratha states in the Deccan and the North, it was a
tactical decision to keep the Maratha empire intact.
While the Peshwas ruled over Pune, in the Western part of India, Pilaji Rao
Gaekwad captured Baroda from the Mughals in 1721, leading to the
establishment of the Gaekwad dynasty there.
In Maharasthra itself, the Bhonsle’s established semi autonomous fiefs at
Nagpur, Satara and Kolhapur. In Indore, Malhar Rao Holkar founded the
Holkar dynasty, that would be a powerful kingdom on it’s own.
And in Ujjain, one of the holy cities of Hinduism, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga
Kshetras, a village patil from Kannerkheda in Satara dist, would found one of
the more powerful kingdoms in 1731.
Ranoji Scindia, one of the 3 senior most commanders under Baji Rao, during
the invasion of Malwa in 1723. The Scindias, or Shindes were Kunbis, one of
the lower peasant communities, who were a significant part of Shivaji
Matter of fact even the Gaekwads of Baroda, were Kunbis too, and they are
mostly concentrated in Vidarbha. They served as shilledars or cavalry men in
the Bahmani sultanate, and later under the Peshwa, which accounts for their
The greatest of the Scindia rulers, would however Ranoji’s illegitimate son,
his youngest one, Mahadji Scindia. None of Ranoji’s immediate successors,
had a distinguished reign, Jayappaaji Rao was killed in a clash with the
Maharaja of Jodhpur.
While Jankoji Scindia, took part in the disastrous battle at Panipat, and was
killed by Bakhurdhar Khan, after being taken prisoner by him. And for 2
years, they had no leader either, till Kadarji Rao Scindia, was appointed.
It was not an easy ascent to power for Mahadji Scindia, Jayappa’s widow
Sakhubhai, Raghunath Rao were both against him. Raghunath Rao even
tried making Mahadji’s nephew Kedarji as the ruler, however the latter
refused to conspire against his uncle whom he greatly respected.
It was the siege of the Jat fortress of Gohad, that tilted the balance in favor
of Mahadji. Gwalior was under the Jat ruler of Gohad, and the Marathas had
planned a long siege in 1767.
Mahadji intervened and managed to bring about a settlement between the
Marathas and Jats, which impressed the young Peshwa Madhavrao. After
due consultation with Nana Fadnavis, Malhar Rao Holkar and Haripant
Phadke, he declared him to be the true ruler of the Scindias in 1768.
Mahadji had earlier given indications of his prowess, capturing Mathura from
the Jats in 1755, when he was just 25. A devotee of Shri Krishna, he rebuilt
many temples in Mathura and also established a Sanskrit school there.
He was fluent in both Sanskrit and Persian, not to mention the fact that he
was a great warrior. He was one of the few who escaped the carnage at
Panipat, thanks to a water carrier named Rane Khan, who pulled him to
safety and later became his close aide.
Ascending the throne, he made Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor in 1772,
who out of gratitude appointed him as his vakil ul mulatuk or honorary
In the meanwhile Madhav Rao Peshwa passed away, and the ambitious
Raghunath Rao, egged on by his scheming wife Anandi Bai, murdered the
young successor Narayan Rao, his own nephew.
However Nana Fadnavis formed the Barabhai council of which Mahadji was
a part, taking matters into his own hands, and Raghunath Rao was deposed,
making Sawai Madhav Rao, the next Peshwa.
Raghunath Rao, meanwhile sought the help of the British, to become
Peshwa again, and the first Anglo Maratha War began . Leading the Maratha
forces, Mahadji encircled the British army at Wadgaon and routed them in a
bloody battle in 1779.
He forced the British to sue for peace, where they would not support
Raghoba, and have several regions adjacent to Bombay. However the then
Governor General, Warren Hastings, refused to honor the treaty, and series
of conflicts broke out.
Capt Goddard in west, Capt Poham in North attacked many of the Maratha
provinces, making Mahadji counterattack. With neither side gaining much,
the conflict was becoming a stalemate.
This led to the Treaty of Salbai in 1782, by which British ceased all support to
Raghunath Rao and pension him off. Sawai Madhav Rao would be the
legitimate Peshwa, while Mahadji would no longer be a vassal of the Peshwa,
but an independent ruler in his own right.
While Mahadji would be the legitimate ruler of the Northern areas, the
Peshwa would still rule over the Deccan. This move though however sparked
off a long rivalry between Mahadji Scindia and Nana Fadnavis, it also did not
help that both had no love lost for each other.
Fadnavis was wary of Mahadji’s growing influence in the North, and felt he
would be more powerful than the Peshwa soon. He also had to face
opposition from the Holkars, a rivarly that went back to the days of the
Maratha campaigns in Rajputana.
Fadnavis sent Tukoji Holkar and Ali Bahadur, Baji Rao’s grandson from
Mastani, to undermine Scindia in the North. Mahadji however managed to
rout Holkar at Lakheri in 1793, while Ali Bahadur would later form the
princely state of Banda in Bundelkhand.
Mahadji by now had become a powerful force in the North, wresting Gwalior
in 1783 from the Jat ruler Chattar Singh and securing it as the Scindia capital.
He also built a professional army on European lines with the help of Benoit
de Boigne, a former French commander.
He had some real trusted people around him, like Ambuji Ingle, Rana Khan,
Rayali Patil, Jivbadada Baksh and Ladoj Deshmukh. When the Mughal
Emperor, Shah Alam II, was blinded and deposed by the Rohillas under
Ghulam Qadir in 1788, he rushed to his aid.
The Rohillas were routed at Delhi and Shah Alam II was placed on the
throne. Mahadji struck terror among the Rohillas with a series of raids, and
their capital at Najibabad was sacked too.
Mahadji also defeated a combined army of Jaipur and Jodhpur at the Battle
of Patan in 1790 and later at the Battle of Merta, forcing the Rathores to
cede Ajmer to him. He also defeated the Nizam, restricting them to the
Deccan, while Tipu Sultan had to sue for peace in 1792.
Also inspite of his rivalry with Nana Fadnavis, he remained loyal to the
Peshwa all his life. While the Peshwa through Mahadji’s friend Haripant
Phadke, managed to bring about a truce between Scindia and Fadnavis.
Mahadji Scindia passed away at Wanwadi near Pune on February 12, 1794,
where there is a magnificent chattri built in his honor. A 3 storied building in
typical Rajput style with a Shiva temple and memorial, worth a visit.
Mahadji Shinde was the last great ruler of the Scindia dynasty, who
expanded the kingdom in the North, built up Gwalior, into a powerful city.
Unfortunately the gains were wasted by his successor Daulat Rao Scindia.
Mahadji’s succesors neither had his foresight nor ability, and their alliance
with the British later on is the reason, why the Scindias have that rather