Peshwa Baji Rao, the great Maratha general and statement, changed the map of India in the mid-eighteenth century. His military campaigns were classic examples of his genius. In the mayhem of the religious intolerance continued by the tottering Mughals after Aurangzeb, Baji Rao stood out as the champion of Hinduism. He conquered Gujarat and most of central India and even shook the foundations of the Mughal Empire by attacking imperial Delhi. Though he had sworn to plant his flag on the Indus, death robbed him of this honour. His sons, however, fulfilled their father’s pledge. After driving the Afghans out of the Punjab, they raised the swallow-tailed flag not just on the walls of Attock, but even beyond.
E. Jaiwant Paul is a man of varied interests, having authored two books earlier: ‘By My Sword and Shield’ – Traditional Weapons of the Indian Warrior and Rani of Jhansi: Lakshmi Bai. A hard-core corporate, he initially worked for Hindustan Lever and was later a director of Brook Bond India for several years. Thereafter, he headed the National Mineral Water Company in Muscat. A keen cricketer and tennis player, he lives in Delhi and still serves as a Director of a few companies.
This is the story of Peshwa Baji Rao, the great Maratha general and stateman, who in the mid-eighteenth century changed the map of India. He transformed the Maratha nation state into an empire. His military genius and policy of extending the Maratha power towards north India had far reaching and spectacular results and enabled the Marathas, within the next 25 years, to plant their bhagwa or swallow-tailed, deep orange coloured flag on the Indus.
Brave as a tiger and handsome as a god, Baji Rao was also a fascinating character. A man like him is difficult to explain in terms of heritage, training or upbringing. He was perhaps endowed with unusual yearnings of the life-force or with an unquenchable ambition and fervour that spurred him to struggle with destiny. In medieval times, conquests and victories in battles were the most charismatic of accomplishment. Born with a sword in his hand, Baji Rao became a legend while still a young man and tragically died while still in his prime.
Baji Rao had a galaxy of contemporaries both friends and adversaries, who have left their make on history. This is, therefore, necessarily also the story of the other great personages like Nizam ul Mulk, the distinguished founder of Hyderabad state; Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur, general, stateman, astronomer and town planner; Kanhoji Angre, the daredevil naval commander who made life a misery for the English and the Portuguese; Raja Chattarsal, the heroic king who carved out an independent kingdom in Bundelkhand; and this is also the story of Mastani, Chattarsal’s daughter and Baji Rao’s great love. The paths of all these remarkable and dramatic people crossed, but each one of them was overshadowed by Baji Rao’s achievements and they owe their place in history mainly in relation to him. Other players in the drama are Ranoji Scindia, Malharrao Holkar, Udaiji Pawar and Pilaji Gaikwad, distinguished generals and founders of the great states of Gwalior, Indore, Dhar and Baroda.
In this account the markers of history are not ignored; sometimes, however, the stories of these great men, whose lives intertwined, come to the fore and dominate. But then history walks into these stories and steals the scene without the thunder of a cannon or beat of a kettledrum. Occasionally, the chronological order of events has been ignored to make the storytelling better.
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the fortunes of the Marathas, particularly Baji Rao, become closely linked with those of Delhi. The later Mughals, who were nearing the end of their journey, therefore, provide the historical backdrop for this pageant. Here was one of the greatest empires on earth declining slowly into hopelessness and tragedy. The reigns of the six Mughal Emperors after Aurangzeb extended to a mere 41 years. Some were imbeciles, others degenerates, and they only hastened the demise of the dynasty. The country was at the crossroads of history and at that critical juncture, Peshwa Baji Rao marched on to the stage. Over the next two decades he dominated the scene conquering Gujarat, Malwa and Bundelkhand and even leading his army to imperial Delhi, while the Mughal Empire sank into decay and decline. Though Baji Rao had sworn to plant his flag on the Indus, death robbed him of this honour. His sons, however, after driving the Afghans out of the Punjab, fulfilled their father’s pledge.
This book is about war; of battles on land and battles at sea; of the thundering peal of cannons and the hailstorms of musket shots; of brilliant-bladed talwars and razor-sharp lances; of heroism and glory and cowardice and intrigue; of places and fortresses; and even of love. But then that was Baji Rao – the Warrior Peshwa.
Back of the Book
Baji Rao also played on Shahu’s religious fervour, ‘It is time to drive from the holy land of Bharatvarsha the outcaste and the barbarian. It is the time to throw them back over the Himalayas. Back to where they came from. The Maratha flag in your reign must fly from the Krishna to the Indus. I jest not, Hindustan lies in fragments, the Emperor cannot think beyond the skirts of his concubines and his blood is sluggish with opium. The Mughal nobles and generals are men of straw and the arm is defeatist. The Rajputs, the sword arm of the Mughals, are disaffected and can be won over. This is the opportunity of the century, of two centuries. Let us not miss it. Hindustan is ours.’
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