Maratha invasions of Bengal
The Maratha invasions of Bengal (1741-1751), also known as the Maratha expeditions in Bengal, refers to the frequent invasions by the Maratha forces in the Bengal Subah (Bengal, Bihar, parts of Modern Orissa), after their successful campaign in the Carnatic region at the Battle of Trichinopoly. The leader of the expedition was Maratha Maharaja Raghoji Bhonsle of Nagpur. The Marathas invaded Bengal six times from August 1741 to May 1751. Nawab Alivardi Khan succeeded in resisting all the invasions, however, the frequent Maratha invasions caused great destruction in the Bengal Subah, resulting in heavy civilian casualties and widespread economic losses.
|Maratha invasions of Bengal|
|Part of Battles involving the Maratha Empire|
|Maratha Empire||Nawab of Bengal|
|Commanders and leaders|
Raghuji Bhonsle |
Bhaskar Pandit †
Alivardi Khan |
Gopal Singha Dev
Chitrasen Rai 
Ghulam Mustafa Khan
Syed Ahmed Khan
40,000 (in 1742) |
12,000 (in 1748)
|15,000 Cavalry and 8,000 Musketeers (in 1748)|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown||400,000 civilians deaths|
During their occupation, the Bargi mercenaries of the Marathas are said to have perpetrated massacres against the local populations. According to estimation of Chief of Dutch Factory Jan Kerssebom's memoirs perhaps close to 400,000 people in Bengal and Bihar were killed.
The Nawab of Bengal agreed to pay Rs. 1.2 million of chauth from the revenue of Bengal and Bihar, and the Marathas agreed not to invade Bengal again. Following the conclusion of hostilities and disbanding his forces, Alivardi Khan became immensely wealthy even though he had lost one dominion of his estate to the Marathas. The Nawab of Bengal also paid Rs. 3.2 million to the Marathas, towards the arrears of chauth for the preceding years. The chauth was paid annually by the Nawab of Bengal up to 1758, until the British occupation of Bengal.
Invasions of Bengal
From 1741 to 1751, the Marathas under Raghuji Bhonsle invaded Bengal six times. The first one in 1741, as also the third in 1744, were led by Raghuji's general Pandit Bhaskar Ram Kolhatkar or Bhaskar Pandit. The second in 1742 and the fourth in 1745 were led by Raghuji himself. The fifth in 1747 and the sixth in 1748 were undertaken by Janoji and Sabaji respectively. These invasions caused heavy destruction in Bengal, however, each of the invasions was repelled by the armies under Nawab Alivardi Khan. But the continuous conflict took a heavy toll on the population of Bengal.
First invasion (1741)
After the inauguration of Alivardi Khan as the Nawab of Bengal, the provincial governor of Orissa, Zafar Khan Rustam Jung, more commonly known as Murshid Quli II, revolted against him. The revolt was crushed by Alivardi in March 1741, but Murshid Quli II escaped with his family and took shelter of Raghuji Bhonsle, the Maratha ruler of Nagpur. Raghuji agreed to assist Murshid Quli II in regaining Orissa. Murshid Quli II's son-in-law Mirza Baker, assisted by Maratha troops and the rebel forces of Orissa (who were dissatisfied with the governor of Orissa), invaded Orissa in August 1741. Orissa's governor, Syed Ahmed Khan (a nephew of Alivardi Khan), was defeated and captured along with his family.
Hearing of this, Alivardi rushed to Orissa and Alivardi's commander Mir Jafar freed Syed Ahmed and his family. Alivardi regained control of Orissa and returned to Murshidabad. Marathas retook Orissa in 1749.
The Hindu Maratha warriors invaded and occupied western Bengal up to the Hooghly River. During that period of invasion by the Marathas, warriors called as "Bargis", perpetrated atrocities against the local population, against Bengalis. As reported in Burdwan Kingdom's and European sources, the Bargis are said to have plundered villages, and Jan Kersseboom, chief of the Dutch East India Company factory in Bengal, estimated that perhaps 400,000 civilians in Bengal were dead owing to the invasion of Bargis. The resulting casualties of Bargi onslaught against in Bengal are considered to be among the deadliest massacres inIndian history. According to the 18th-century Bengali text Maharashtra Purana written by Gangaram:
They shouted over and over again, 'Give us money', and when they got no money they filled peoples' nostrils with water, and some they seized and drowned in tanks, and many died of suffocation. In this way they did all manner of foul and evil deeds. When they demanded money and it was not given to them, they would put the man to death. Those who had money gave it, those who had none were killed.
According to the Bengali text Maharashtra Purana:
Durga ordered her followers to be gracious to the Muslim Nawab and oppose the Marathas, because the evil-minded ones had killed Brahmans and Vaisnavas.
The Bargi atrocities were corroborated by contemporary Dutch and British accounts. Jan Kersseboom, chief of the Dutch East India Company factory in Bengal, estimated that perhaps around 400,000 people were killed due to the Bargis during their occupation of western Bengal and Bihar. This devastated Bengal's economy, as many of the people killed in the Bargi raids included merchants, textile weavers, silk winders, and mulberry cultivators. The Cossimbazar factory reported in 1742, for example, that the Bargis burnt down many of the houses where silk piece goods were made, along with weavers' looms.
British writer Robert Orme reported that the Marathas caused so much distress to the local population that many of them "were continually taking flight" in large numbers to Calcutta whenever they heard rumours of the Marathas coming. Many of the Bengalis in West Bengal also fled to take shelter in East Bengal, fearing for their lives in the wake of the Maratha attacks.
End of hostilities
In 1751, the Marathas signed a peace treaty with the Nawab of Bengal, according to which Mir Habib (a former courtier of Alivardi Khan, who had defected to the Marathas) was made provincial governor of Orissa under nominal control of the Nawab of Bengal. It made The Nawab of Bengal a tributary to the Marathas who agrees to pay Rs. 1.2 million annually as the chauth of Bengal and Bihar, and the Marathas agreed not to invade Bengal again. The Nawab of Bengal also paid Rs. 3.2 million to the Marathas, towards the arrears of chauth for the preceding years.
The chauth was paid annually by the Nawab of Bengal up to 1758, until the East India Company took over.
- Nitish K. Sengupta (2011). Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib. pp. 158–163. ISBN 9780143416784.
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