This Day in History (14-Jan-1761) – Third Battle of Panipat: Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan, defeats the Marathas

Under Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat, Malwa and Mughal territories south of Delhi came under Maratha control. Baji Rao’s son, Balaji Baji Rao (popularly known as Nana Saheb) invaded Punjab. To counter Maratha advances, Durrani empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali joined with the Rohilla Afghans of the Gangetic Doab and Shuja-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 45,000–60,000, which was accompanied by roughly 200,000 non-combatants and started their northward journey in March, 1760. The slow-moving Maratha camp reached Delhi in August, 1760, and took the city. However, Abdali daringly crossed the river Yamuna on the 25th of October at Baghpat, cutting off the Maratha camp from their base in Delhi. This eventually turned into a two-month-long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas in the town of Panipat. Food in the Maratha camp ran out by late December or early January and cattle died by the thousands. On the 13th of January the Maratha chiefs begged their commander, Sadashiv Rao Bhau, to be allowed to die in battle than perish by starvation. The next day the Marathas left their camp before dawn and marched south towards the Afghan camp in a desperate attempt to break the siege. The two armies came face-to-face around 8:00 a.m., and the battle raged until evening.

The battle involved over 125,000 troops. One of the bullets took the life of Vishwas Rao, the 17 year old son of the Peshwa. The commander Sadashiv Rao fought like a lion but ultimately cut down by Afghan sword. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. Between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting, while the numbers of injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. The cryptic message sent to Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao states “Two pearls (Sadashiv Rao and Vishwas Rao) have been dissolved, twenty seven gold mohurs (Janokoji Rao and other commanders) have been lost, and of the silver and copper (soldiers and camp followers) the total cannot be cast up”. The result of the battle was the halting of further Maratha advances in the north, and a destabilization of their territories, for roughly 10 years until Peshwa Madhavrao revived Maratha domination.





This Day in History (10-Nov-1659) – Chattarapati Shivaji Maharaj Begins the Maratha Empire at the Battle of Pratapgad

To curb Shivaji’s activities in Maval, Adilshahi court sent Afzal Khan, general of Bijapur. On the way Afzal Khan damaged Tuljapur and Pandharpur temples, trying to entice Shivaji out of the mountainous areas. Shivaji had encamped at Pratapgad. Unable to incite him, Afzal Khan moved his army to Pratapgad.  Shivaji sent an emissary to Afzal Khan, stating that he did not want to fight and was ready for peace. A meeting was arranged between Shivaji and Afzal Khan at a shamiyana at the foothills of Pratapgad. It was agreed that the two would meet unarmed, but would bring ten personal bodyguards each. Nine of these guards would remain ‘one arrow-shot’ away from the pair, while a single bodyguard would wait outside the tent.

As the two men entered the tent, the 7′ tall Khan embraced Shivaji, swiftly drew his hidden dagger and stabbed Shivaji in the back. The dagger was deflected by his armour, and Shivaji responded by disembowelling the Khan with a single stroke of his wagh nakhi. Khan rushed outside shouting for help, and was defended by Krishanaji Bhaskar Kulkarni, his emissary, who was himself then killed by Shivaji. Thereupon Afzal Khan’s bodyguard Sayyed Banda attacked Shivaji with swords but Jiva Mahala, Shivaji’s personal bodyguard fatally struck him down, cutting off one of Sayyed Banda’s hands with a Dandpatta.This event is remembered in a Marathi idiom: Hota Jiva Mhanun Vachala Shiva – ‘Because there was Jiva, Shiva lived’. Shivaji sped up the slope towards the fortress and his lieutenants ordered cannons to be fired. It was a signal to his infantry, hidden in the densely forested valley, to raid the Adilshahi forces. In the war,  Adilshahi forces lost their artillery, 65 Elephants, 4000 Horses, 1200 Camels, jewels worth 300,000 Rupees, 1,000,000 Rupees, heaps of precious cloths, tents to the Marathas. The Marathas lost 1,734 soldiers, while 420 soldiers were wounded.

Khan’s death dealt the Adilshah’s rule a severe blow. A quarter of his territory, forts and a fifth of his army were captured or destroyed, while Shivaji doubled his territory, losing a tenth of his army. Having established military dominance and successfully beaten back a major attack by a powerful empire, Shivaji had founded the nucleus of what would become the Maratha Empire.


This Day in History (15-Oct-1888) – Gopal Ganesh Agarkar started daily newspaper ‘Sudharak’

Agarkar became associated with Lokmanya Tilak while studying in college. By then, they were both fired with the idea of serving their motherland. In 1881, Agarkar and Tilak together started the English newspaper Maratha and the Marathi newspaper Kesari, with Agarkar as the editor of Kesari. Later they also formed the Deccan Education Society and under its auspices started the Fergusson College in 1885. Agarkar started teaching in this college and later became the Principal of the College, holding the office until his death. He believed that social revolution should occur first, that all undesirable social practices like child marriages and untouchability should first be expelled before attaining political freedom. This led to differences between him and Lokmanya Tilak, who gave supreme priority to attaining freedom.

Unable to work together anymore under these differences, Agarkar resigned from the editorship of Kesari in October 1887 and started his own newspaper Sudharak (reformer) in 1888. He propagated individual freedom, rationalism and social justice through the medium of Sudharak. He also strongly voiced his opposition to unfair social practices like the Caste System (unequal treatment to people of lower castes), child marriage, making widows bald and Grantha-Dharma-Pramanya (blind following of religious scriptures and practices without present day context). Sudharak was published both in English as well as Marathi languages. Namdar Gopal Gokhale shouldered the responsibility of the English version of Sudharak for a brief period of time.

Agarkar was a staunch supporter of individualism. He also presented modern views about women’s dressing, before the society. He was a secular rationalist. He considered equality, consent and freedom to be important factors in the political and social context; that manmade social inequality should be kept to a bare minimum. He defined social progressiveness simply as having a system that provides reasonably equal comforts for all. He believed that intellectual debate is essential for social health.  Agarkar expired unexpectedly, at the young age of thirty-nine years.