Two hundred and thirty six years ago, on 18th November 1772, a fine young ruler and Prime Minister of the Maratha empire passed away. Born on February 15, 1745, his life spanned a very short walk of twenty-seven years. But what a majestic walk it was!
Madhavrao I also called as Thorale (Eldest) Madhavrao ascended to the Peshwa (Prime Minister) throne at the young age of 16. His complete name was Madhavrao Balaji (Nanasaheb) Bhat. The Maratha empire had lost much of its pride and glory in the recent battle of Panipat. Over a hundred thousand of its soldiers had died while defending the motherland along with many fine “sardars” or knights. The then Peshwa Nanasaheb could not bear the brunt of this loss including the loss of his eldest son and younger brother and passed away in Pune. Madhavrao took the reigns of this broken house in 1761 while his own uncle was conspiring against him to steal the Peshwa position.
Over the next 11 years, Maharashtra and India saw the resurgence of fresh blood and bold ideas from the plateaus of Deccan. Pune regained its position as the center of military and political intelligence. The blade of the Maratha sword was once again reiterating its vigour and valour. From the plains of river Yamuna in the north to the southern parts of India, Maratha empire once again flourished. Part of it was also due to the powerful Maratha “sardars” who had settled in the north.
But it would be immature to judge Madhavrao only by his military conquests. He was very good in accounting and extremely particular about even minute details of the state treasury. He was an art lover. The most important thing that I respect about him is his character. Himself and his wife Lady Ramabai represent an ideal royal couple. He was very disciplined and expected nothing short of it from others. He was just and spared not even his maternal uncle when he found that he had colluded with the enemy during the attack on Pune. This cost him dearly as his mother left him after this incidence. Strict with the higher-ups, he was very caring towards the common man.
Once incidence clearly depicts his political smartness and how he had recognized the real and devious intentions of the British to rule India. An English officer Mr. Mastin met Madhavrao. He requested that two ports, Vasai and Sashti be given to the East India company to set up a military base so that they can protect their trading ships. In exchange, he offered his assistance to fight against Madhavrao’s domestic enemies in the south. Madhavrao flatly told Mastin that even though he had domestic enemies, they were Indians first, but the British who came under the disguise of trade, had quickly thrown the scale and taken the sword. The gem of this conversation is that Madhavrao asked Mastin to give the Marathas two equally good ports in the British territory where the Marathas could keep their army, build base and conduct trading. No need to say, this meeting was not fruitful for the British. Alas, if only all the leaders of India had the same foresight and vision for our country.
If you look at his life and character, he could be described as a true “karmayogi”. He took charge of an empire in shambles and devoted his life to the well being of it and its citizens. He did not rest until the Maratha power was re-established. Even though the Peshwas were the de facto rulers for all practical purposes, he was always loyal to the Maratha King at Satara and always maintained his position of Prime Minister with dignity.
Sadly he was diagnosed with T.B. or as was known “Raj-Yakshma” or “kshay” in Marathi. Slowly and painfully his health deteriorated. He passed away on today’s date 236 years ago.
A few years ago, I visited the Ganesh Mandir (Temple) in Theur where Madhavrao breathed his last. I also visited his and his loving wife’s “samadhi” a short walk away from the temple. What I saw pained my heart and bled my soul. The “samadhi” of this great ruler and prince was covered in wild grass with no caretaker, no lamp, no shed and certainly no gratitude. The only visitors other than myself were a few stray dogs.
I read this somewhere, “A country that forgets its history has to forget its geography”. We should never forget our proud and glorious past as it gives us our values, principles and most importantly it gives us hope and resolve that we will recreate the same in our future regardless of the difficulties of the present.
I will conclude this with what the famous British historian Grant Duff said about Madhavrao
And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince…
-Grant Duff. [Source – Wikipedia]