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Maratha conquest of North-west India

The Maratha Conquest of North-west India, occurred between 1757 and 1758. Though it was short-lived, it had long-lasting effects upon the politics of the Indian subcontinent.

Maratha Rule
Part of Afghan-Maratha Conflicts
North-west part of Indian subcontinent
Marathas successfully capture Punjab, Kashmir and Nwfp from Durrani.
Flag of the Maratha Empire.svg
Maratha Empire
Flag of Herat until 1842.svg
Durrani Empire
Commanders and leaders
Raghunath Rao
Malhar Rao Holkar
Adnina Beg Khan
Tukoji Holkar
Narsoji Pandit
Timur Shah Durrani
Jahan Khan
Karim Shah
Wazirullah Khan
Ahmad Samad Khan



After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the 27 Years War ended in Maratha victory. This was followed by the phase of rapid expansion of the Maratha Empire for the next 50 years under patronage of Shahu and his appointed Peshwas Baji Rao I and Balaji Baji Rao. They conquered Gujarat, the whole of Central India and Orissa, subdued Rajputana and raided into Bengal and Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, and imposed chauth upon these areas. Their ambition pushed them further northwards than Delhi into Punjab, which collided with the ambitions of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of Durrani Empire. In 1757, Ahmad Shah Abdali raided Delhi and captured Punjab and Kashmir with the help of Rohilla chief Najib Khan. He installed his son Timur Shah Durrani in Lahore and went back to Afghanistan.[1]

The CampaignEdit

The Maratha Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao sent his brother Raghunath Rao along with Shamsher Bahadur, Gangadhar Tatya, Sakharambapu, Naroshankar and Maujiram Bania and a large army towards Delhi and Punjab. They were accompanied by Malhar Rao Holkar of Malwa who had a long experience of North India and its rulers. The Marathas captured Delhi in August 1757. They decisively defeated the Rohillas and Afghans near Delhi in 1758. The defeat was so decisive that Najib Khan surrendered to the Marathas and became their prisoner.[1]

Initial campaign of SirhindEdit

In Punjab, Adina Beg Khan, along with Sikhs was already in revolt with Ahmad Shah Abdali who had invaded Punjab multiple times. He decided to call Marathas for help. On 7 March, Raghunathrao had encamped at Rajpura where he received Adina Beg Khan’s envoys, and was informed that the latter, accompanied by 15,000 Sikh fighters, belonging to the bands (the jathas) of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Baba Ala Singh of Patiala had closed upon Sirhind from the other side of Satluj. A concerted attack on the fort of Sirhind was made by the Marathas and their associates on 8 March 1758. Ahmad Samad Khan, with his 10,000 Afghan troops, held out for about two weeks before his capitulation on 21 March. After the victory, the town was thoroughly sacked by the victors. After defeating the Afghan-Rohilla forces, the Marathas pursued the Afghans into the Punjab.[2]

Further conquest of North-westEdit

The fall of Sirhind alarmed Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan at Lahore. The Afghan chiefs lost their heart and fled to Peshawar, leaving behind their troops in Lahore under Aziz Khan. On 20 April 1758, Malharrao Holkar and Raghunathrao attacked and conquered Lahore. Tukoji Holkar conquered Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Kashmir, Attock and Peshawar by 8 May 1758.[2][3] Thus, by May 1758, Timur Shah Durrani, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani was ousted and the Afghans were chased beyond the Khyber pass. Thereafter a strong body of Maratha troops, commanded by Dattaji Shinde was left on the bank of Indus to protect the Indian borders from Afghan intruders before Raghunathrao and Adina Beg Khan returned to Lahore with the bulk of their armies. Tukoji Holkar with 10,000 Maratha soldiers in Peshawar, Narsoji Pandit with 4000 Maratha troops at Attock, Babuji Trimbak with 6000 Maratha troops at Multan and Nekaji Bhosle with 3000 Maratha troops in Dera Ghazi Khan were posted to guard the strategically important forts.[2]

This incident has a special importance in Indian history, particularly Hindu history since, after nearly seven and a half centuries when the last Hindu King of the region Trilochan Pal Shahi had been defeated by the Muslim invader Mahmud of Ghazni in 1020 C.E., Indus river came under Hindu rule due to the Maratha conquest of Punjab in 1758. This campaign of the Marathas led by Raghunath Rao is hailed as Raghu's Bharari - i.e. whirlwind campaign in Maharashtra even today.[4]

In Lahore, as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players. The Maratha Empire had reached its peak, the empire's territories covered much of South Asia. By 1760, with defeat of the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power reached its zenith with a territory of over 2,800,000 km2. The last frontier of the Marathas at this time was at Peshawar in today's Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa on the Afghanistan border.


Administration of PunjabEdit

The Maratha commander Raghunathrao and Malharrao Holkar entrusted the government of Punjab on lease to Adina Beg Khan on the promise of 75 lakh rupees of annual tribute to the Marathas before their retirement to south after about three months. As regards as Sikhs, the Marathas left it to Adina to deal with them as pleased. Adina Beg Khan who earlier served as governor of Punjab for Mughals was now governor for Marathas. Several junior Maratha officers were also appointed for his assistance in governance.[2]

Change of Maratha guards in the North-WestEdit

Adina Beg didn't feel at home in Lahore. It was because he didn't enjoy the confidence of all Muslim ruling elite at Lahore, who were sharply divided in loyalty towards Durrani and Marathas. Adina Beg, therefore, entrusted his administration of Lahore to his son-in law Khwaja Mirza and set up his own headquarters in Batala. Adina Beg died on 15 September 1758.[2]

Adina Beg's sudden death threw Punjab into turmoil. Many of his soldiers, particularly Afghan mercenaries deserted his army camp and added to the number of freebooters, thus creating chaos and anarchy everywhere. Sikhs too started revolt against Muslim ruling elite, which had failed to make any permanent settlement with them. Khwaja Mirza who was now the Maratha governor of Punjab could not cope with the situation. He sent an express appeal to the Peshwa for reinforcements, alerted all the junior Maratha officers to help him restoring law and order in the state and recalled Maratha detachments from Peshawar and Attock to safeguard his position in Lahore. Tukoji Holkar and Narsoji Pandit, the Maratha commandants of Attock and Peshawar had to withdraw their troops from the frontier posts. Sabbaji Patil was now given the charge of Peshawar.[2]

Raghunathrao and his deputy Malhar Rao were not interested in holding the position in the north for long. On their request, Peshwa had to find their substitutes. He gave supreme command of north India to Dattaji Scindia, while Jankoji Scindia was appointed his deputy. They proceeded towards Delhi separately at different times. The new Maratha commanders were not familiar with the topology, climate and political conditions of Delhi and Punjab.[2]

A massive army of Marathas under their new commanders, Scindias reached Machhiwara in March 1759. Like Raghunathrao, Dattaji also didn't want to stay in Punjab for long. As there was no news of Abdali's invasion, Dattaji deferred appointment of any permanent governor in Punjab and left it to the Peshwa for decision at his convenience. After deliberations with his advisors, Dattaji deputed Sabbaji to take care of Punjab and Nwfp along with assistance of Bapu Rao, Dadu Rao and Sena Pandit for time being and himself left Punjab for the suppression of Najib-ud-Daula in the Ganga valley. Bapu Rao took the charge of Rohtas Fort, while other officers were appointed on the frontier posts.[2]

Taking advantage of Sabbaji's absence from Peshawar post, the Afghans marched to Peshawar. The Peshawar fort was taken by Afghans with heavy losses to the besieged Maratha garrison. Thereafter the Afghan invaders, under Jahan Khan overran Attock and threatened the Rohtas Fort. By that time, Sabaji Patil (Sabaji Scindia) reached the place in the Battle of Lahore, (1759) with fresh troops and a large number of Sikh fighters, who had once again allied with Marathas. The combined forces of Marathas and Sikhs defeated Afghan garrison in which Jahan lost his son and was himself wounded. The Afghans quickly vacated the forts of Attock and Peshawar and retreated west to Afghanistan. So, Peshawar once again fell to Marathas.[2]


Decline of Maratha power in North-WestEdit

It was unbearable for Abdali to overlook this defeat. The Rohilla chief Najib Khan invited Abdali to avenge his defeat. He, along with his commander Jahan Khan invaded Punjab for the fifth time with a massive force of 60,000 accompanied by heavy field-guns. The garrisons of Marathas in Peshawar and Multan were decimated and Abdali moved inwards towards southern Punjab. Trimbak Rao's 6000 strong Maratha garrison of Multan was massacred and only 500 of them could cross river Satluj. Lahore, the capital of Punjab was also fell to Afghans. The remaining Marathas retreated straight to Batala. Jahan Khan captured Sirhind on 27 November 1759 defeating the small Maratha garrison.[2] On 24 December 1759, a battle was fought between Deattaji and Abdali in which Dattaji was defeated with a loss of 2500 Maratha soldiers. As a consequence of victory, Abdali managed to join forces with Najib-ud-Daula.[1]

Najib defeated and killed Dattaji at Burari Ghat near Delhi in January, 1760. Abdali followed him. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao sent his cousin Sadashivrao Bhau to repel Abdali which finally resulted in the Third Battle of Panipat where Abdali decisively defeated Marathas.[5] Panipat debacle was such a blow to the Maratha Empire that it could not enter the north India for a decade and could never really recover from the enormous losses they sustained during the whole campaign against the Durrani Empire.[5]

Reasons for DeclineEdit

The Marathas had failed to befriend the important party of Punjab, particularly Sikhs. They couldn't make any formal treaty with Sikhs, who along with Adina Beg had assisted them in their conquest of north-west. Marathas treated Sikhs as a non-entity in Punjab affairs. According to an assessment, the Sikhs were ever ready to co-operate with the Marathas, but it goes to the discredit of the Marathas that they could not make a proper confederacy with Sikhs. Kirpal Singh writes:[2]

Besides, the political leadership of Marathas was also poor. They failed to distinguish between friends and foes in the Punjab. Ignoring all the claims of Sikh leaders, Raghunath Rao appointed Adina Beg Khan as the governor. Finding the Maratha leadership completely off guard against their political foes, many Afghans who were earlier taken captives by Marathas quickly changed their loyalty towards Adina Beg and were recruited in his army. However, later on they betrayed him and joined Abdali's forces during his fifth invasion.[2]

The Marathas had started losing interest in the north-west. Peshwa, again and again ordered retirement of experienced Maratha generals from Punjab with their troops as he considered Deccan more important than distant Punjab. The Peshwa was alarmed by the growing French and British influence in the Deccan.[1] When Abdali invaded Punjab for the fifth time, the Marathas didn't try hard enough to save the frontier posts and instead started planning to save Delhi from another invasion.[2]

Re-establishing Maratha primacyEdit

Immediately following the loss at Panipat, the Marathas under the leadership of Madhavrao I began planning and organising for the re-establishment of Maratha supremacy. Ten years after Panipat, he sent a large Maratha army into northern India in an expedition that was meant to re-establish Maratha domination in that area and punish refractory powers that had either sided with the Afghans, such as the Rohillas, or had shaken off Maratha domination after Panipat, the result of which was the Maratha Resurrection resulting in the Capture of Delhi in 1771 and the capture of Nazibabad in 1772 and the installation of Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II to the nominal throne under Maratha suzerainty. The success of this campaign can be seen as the last chapter of the long story of Panipat.


  1. ^ a b c d e War, Culture and Society in Early Modern South Asia, 1740-1849
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Advanced Study in the History of Modern India
  3. ^ a b Roy, Kaushik. India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil. Permanent Black, India. pp. 80–1. ISBN 978-81-7824-109-8.
  4. ^ Hindu History by Sudhir Birodkar
  5. ^ a b Far East Kingdoms- South Asia