200 years ago, when sun set on the Maratha Empire

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Nov 2017 09:25:37




















By Rajendra Diwe,

On November 26 and 27, 1817, the Battle of Sitabuldi between Mudhoji alias Appasaheb Bhonsale and the British resulted in the end of Maratha Empire. The battle is popularly referred to as the Third Anglo Maratha War

IT WAS November 26, 1817. A fierce battle, popularly referred to as the Third Anglo Maratha War, ensued between the British and the Bhosala of Nagpur. The brave army of Mudhoji Bhosale emerged victorious on the first day. However, the British ploy to lure the Arab soldiers of the Bhosalas to their side proved successful and the very next day, on November 27, 1817, the Battle of Seetabuldee (Sitabuldi) was over. The battle also marked the end of Maratha Empire.

Exactly 200 years since that day the Sitabuldi Fort, that witnessed the momentous battle, stands tall in the middle of Nagpur. However, most Nagpurians do not know, or did not bother to know, about the historic Battle of Seetabuldee that saw sun setting on the vast Maratha Empire. The fort area is since being taken care of by the military. Of course, the military allows people to visit the fort on a few occasions in a year. But again, the number of people visiting the fort even on these occasions is very little. Nonetheless, the Battle of Seetabuldee still remains an important part in history of not only Nagpur but also India.

According to city-based noted historian Dr B R Andhare, “The Third Anglo Maratha War (1817-18) was the final and decisive conflict between the British and the Maratha Empire in India, which left the British in control of most of India. It began with an invasion of Maratha territory by the British Governor-General Lord Hastings, in the course of operations against Pindari robber bands. The forces of the Peshwa of Pune, the Bhosala of Nagpur, and the Holkar of Indore, rose against the British. But, the British diplomacy convinced the Scindia of Gwalior to remain neutral, although he lost control of Rajasthan. The British victory was swift, and resulted in the break-up of the Maratha Empire and the loss of Maratha independence to the British.”

In his book ‘Dusare Mudhoji alias Appasaheb Bhosale (1796 to 1840)’, Dr Andhare has highlighted the life and work of Mudhoji Bhosale who fought against the British.
Quoting from the book, Dr Andhare says, “Mudhoji-II Bhosale, also known as Appasaheb, ruled the Kingdom of Nagpur in Central India from 1816-18. His reign coincided with the Third Anglo-Maratha War between the Maratha Confederacy and the British, which ended with the defeat of the Marathas. On the death of Raghoji-II in 1816, his son Parsoji was soon supplanted and murdered by Mudhoji-II. A treaty of subsidiary was signed on May 27, 1816.”

After the death of Parsoji on Feb 1, 1817, Appasaheb -- who was at Chandrapur -- became the head. After Appasaheb’s succession to the throne, his views about the British Government changed.

In 1817, on the outbreak of war between the British and the Peshwa, Appasaheb accepted an embassy and title from the Peshwa. Peshwa Bajirao-II sent the royal robes for Appasaheb and appointed him as the ‘Senapati’ (Commander) of the Maratha Army. November 24, 1817, was fixed as the date for acceptance of the title. Resident Jenkins was told to attend the ceremony. However, Dr Andhare quotes in his book, Jenkins learnt about the hostility of Appasaheb and this culminated in war.

Appasaheb’s troops attacked the British, and were defeated in the action at Seetabuldee (now spelt as Sitabuldi) in the historic battle.

“Appasaheb was reinstated to the throne on January 6, 1818, but shortly afterwards was discovered to be again conspiring, and was deposed and forwarded to Allahabad in custody while the British placed his successor Raghoji-III, a minor, on Nagpur throne. At Raichur near Jabalpur on May 13, 1818, however, he escaped to Mahadeo Hills. He gathered an army and launched guerrilla warfare against the British for nearly six years. Subsequently, he reached Jodhpur and Raja Mansingh, the king of Jodhpur, gave shelter to Appasaheb. Mudhoji remained at Manmandir, Jodhpur for 14 years and died on July 14, 1840,” Dr Andhare says.

Though it was an end of a warrior, the Maratha Empire had already started setting after the Battle of Seetabuldee.
Sitabuldi is now a crowded market-place. Everyday many people pass by the Sitabuldi Hill, but very few know about its historic significance. Social and voluntary organisations as well as the civic body and the administration have not cared to remember the dates on which the battle was fought. Except for a few people including historians like Dr Andhare, no one knows about details of the battle. The battle is almost lost from public memory.

It is not taught to younger generation in school text-books. Not even for the sake of drawing lessons from the defeat or knowing about the Third Anglo Maratha War, and importance of Nagpur in the course of history.

The Maratha Empire

November 26 and November 27, 1817, were the historic dates when a newly built Seetabuldee Fort of Mudhoji-II Bhosale alias Appasaheb Bhosale of the Kingdom of Nagpur became witness to the high and low in the history of the Maratha Empire.

While discussing the Battle of Seetabuldee, it is necessary to get a brief historical background of how the British through their ‘divide and rule’ policy had weakened the Maratha Empire and subsequently controlled India.
The great Maratha Empire came into existence in 1674 with the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The great warriors, soldiers and dedicated rulers of Hindavi Swarajya expanded their kingdom and dominated two-thirds of India. A map dating back to 1760 reflects the growth of Maratha kingdom. However, the unbeaten Maratha rulers lost their vigour, strength, bravery, and a sense of commitment after the British invasion.

It is really surprising to study that how the great Maratha warriors had surrendered to the shrewd and cunning tactics of British who entered India as traders and went on to rule the country. The Maratha Empire ended in 1818 with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao-II.

The accounts of three Anglo Maratha Wars fought between the Maratha and the British reveal how the British split the Maratha Sardars and made them fight with each other.
The ‘divide and rule’ game of the British started in 1775 after British East India Company, from its base in Bombay, intervened in succession struggle in Pune on behalf of Raghunathrao (Raghobadada), who wanted to be a Peshwa of the empire. The Maratha forces led by Tukojirao Holkar and Mahadji Shinde fought against the British at Wadgaon and defeated them.

Despite the defeat, the British continued to fight as British authorities in Bengal disavowed the heavy surrender terms that included the return of annexed territory and a share of revenue. “The first Anglo Maratha War ended in 1782 with restoration of the pre-war status quo and East India Company’s abandonment of Raghunathrao’s cause,” says historian Dr Andhare.

“After the death of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Marathas continued their fight against the Mughals (Aurangzeb). Chhatrapati Sambhaji, Rajaram, and then the Shahu (son of Sambhaji) continued with the fight. The Maratha Empire was under the governance of the Peshwas of Pune under the flagship of Chhatrapati Shahu of Satara, who had appointed the Gaikwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore, the Scindias of Gwalior,” Dr Andhare says.

The Bhosalas of Nagpur were Independent. The Maratha confederacy, as the five families were known, was still a formidable force. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Marathas tried to overcome the gradual supremacy of the East India Company while the British prepared to suppress the Marathas.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, during the Second Anglo Maratha War, the victorious British annexed territories of the Marathas, Dr Andhare says.
“Later, the third Anglo Maratha War proved to be a decisive one, and the Battle of Seetabuldee has to be studied from that angle,” he adds.