Review of the condition of the Mahratta states – and of the British policy in regard to them – Holkar’s proceedings – insanity – confinement – death and character – Regency under the control of Umeer Khan – factions – embarrassments and anarchy – State of Sindia’s territory – Death of Shirzee Rao Ghatgay – Affairs of Rughoojee Bhonslay – Rise of the Pindharees – their mode of assembling and conducting an expedition – their progress – general anarchy in central India – alarming increase of predatory power
In the preceding chapter we have brought to a close the detail of those important events in Mahratta history, which immediately followed the treaty of Bassein. It now becomes requisite to survey the condition of the Mahratta states, before and at the conclusion of those arrangements with the British government, to review briefly the policy which actuated that government, and to explain the effects resulting from it on the various Mahratta states. It will then only remain to detail the principal causes which led to the last great revolution, and entirely subverted the dominion of the Peishwas.
The treaty of Salbye, by which Mahadajee Sindia was acknowledged by the British government as head of an independent state, and the policy of Warren Hastings, which permitted him to extend his power on the side of Hindoostan, had a great effect in weakening the power of the
Peishwa, and in hastening the decline of the Mahrattas, by dissolving that community of interests which was the main-spring of their union. Previously, however, to the treaty of Bassein, if we except the engagements entered into by the Gaekwar with the English, the visible changes in the Mahratta government were wrought by domestic feuds, originating in the intrigues of some of its principal members: first, of Nana Furnuwees and Sindia to supplant each other; next, of Bajee Rao to overturn the power of both; and finally, of the Mahratta chiefs, Sindia and Holkar, to obtain by force, a control over the Bramin court, similar to that, which the Peishwa’s had established by policy, over the head of the empire.
By the treaty of Bassein, and the subsequent treaties on the part of Rughoojee Bhonslay, Sindia and Holkar, with the British government, a still greater and far more obvious change had taken place in the condition of the Mahrattas, than that which resulted from the treaty of Salbye. The Peishwa had ceded a large tract of country; he was controlled in his foreign relations, and upheld in his musnud by a British force. The territories of the other Mahratta chiefs had been dismembered; the Moghul emperor had fallen into the hands of their great rival; and they sat down exhausted and dismayed, sensible of some of their errors when too late; but with no plan, or even sentiment of union, except hatred to that nation by which they had been subdued.
The inconsistencies observable in the British policy, were produced by the different views entertained
by successive governors-general, each influenced in a greater or less degree by opinions in England. Lord Cornwallis, before the close of his first administration, perceived the necessity of some measures of precaution to secure the territories of the Company, and to preserve the peace of India. He hoped that the native powers would become sensible of the integrity and advantage of the plan he suggested, for ensuring a common alliance, and that they would embrace it with the same candour with which it was proposed; but he failed in completing the treaties of general guarantee, which he had contemplated as a remedy for the evils with which the country was threatened.
The Marquis Wellesley, looking equally to the security of British India from foreign invasion, and from wars with the native powers, believed that such security was only attainable by establishing an ascendancy in the councils of the native states, so as to be able to direct their resources to their own advantage, and to that of the British nation; hence, his policy tended to the control of all the native powers, from Cape Comorin to the gulf of Kutch, and from Kutch to the Sewalick mountains. How far; and with what success he carried his measures into effect, has been detailed. His extensive plans, the effect which their prosecution had upon the commercial interests of the East India Company, and the obstacles he encountered, alarmed the authorities at home; some of whom, doubting the justice of the measures pursued, and dreading a rapid extension of dominion,
were desirous of at least impeding the conquest of all India; and others, whose views extended little further than the obvious increase of debt, and the irregularity of furnishing the Company’s investments, sought a change of policy, as essential to prevent or repair these apparent evils. The Marquis Cornwallis was accordingly, as we have seen, again sent out, and an instant stop was put to the system of defensive alliances. His successor, Sir George Barlow, inflexibly pursued the same line of policy, without regard to various circumstances, which he considered unimportant in attaining a general end; but his measures were as short-sighted and contracted as they were selfish and indiscriminating.
The Nizam, the Peishwa, and the Gaekwar, were already bound by the defensive and subsidiary alliances of the Marquis Wellesley; Nit British protection was withdrawn from the petty states in Hindoostan, excepting the Rajas of Bhurtpoor and Macherry. Rughoojee Bhonslay, Sindia, and Holkar, were each left in possession of considerable tracts of territory; but under their management, the net revenues of each state, after deducting enams and Jagheers, did not exceed sixty lacks of rupees; that of Rughoojee Bhonslay was considerably less, but his military followers were fewer, and of an inferior description. The treaties with these three states were mere instruments of general amity; their intercourse was completely unrestrained, and no control, except in relation to the allies of the British government, was to be exercised over them. Plausible reasons were not wanting,
for supposing that the whole pacification was wise and politic. The progress of conquest was at least impeded; a considerable territory, pretty equally balanced, remained to each of the chiefs; and it was expected that their domestic wars, the plunder of their neighbours, and the fear of losing what they possessed, would deter them from hostile proceedings against the British government. In the armies which they maintained, a portion of the unemployed soldiery, numbers of whom were entertained in the British service during the war; and discharged from it immediately afterwards, would still obtain a livelihood; and it was even hoped, that these chiefs would find it their interest to establish order in their revenue collections, gradually to reduce their military establishments, and turn their attention to cultivate the arts of peace. Until these desirable reforms could be effected, the vigilance of the British government, and the power of its allies, would, it was supposed, be quite sufficient to quell disorders or inroads occasioned by the plundering hordes, which, after every war in India, disturb the general tranquillity.
It is not the object of this work to enlarge on this subject, it is sufficient to state the policy embraced, and the ends expected by the British government; but the consequences, as they tended to hasten the decline of the Mahrattas, and the leading events antecedent to their fall, it is our province to explain.
When Jeswunt Rao Holkar returned from Hindoostan, he intimated to his army his intention of discharging about twenty thousand of his horse,
chiefly Deccanees128; but large arrears being due to them, which Holkar could not immediately pay, they placed him in Dhurna, when he gave them Ms nephew, Khundee Rao, as a pledge that their demands should be satisfied. The advantage of having the admitted head of the Holkar family in their custody, was not overlooked by a turbulent soldiery, already disaffected and mutinous; they immediately hoisted the standard of Khundee Rao, declared him the only legal representative, and refused obedience to Jeswunt Rao. But the overawing power of the infantry, and the payment of their arrears, to defray which, Holkar exacted a large sum from the Raja of Jeypoor129, had an immediate effect in quashing the sedition.
But the innocent instrument of the mutineers fell a sacrifice to his enraged uncle, who secretly put him to death; and the ferocious jealousy of Jeswunt Rao, once roused, could not be allayed until he had also decreed the death of his brother, Khassee Rao, who was in like manner privately murdered.
Those atrocious deeds were the fore-runner of a state of insanity, which was further evinced by extraordinary military preparations, carried on with an ardour and violence proportionate to the derangement of his intellects; until at last, in 1808, his extravagant conduct led to his being put under restraint; in which state he continued in his camp for the space of three years, until the 20th October 1811, when his miserable existence terminated.
The chief feature of Jeswunt Rao Holkar’s character was that hardy spirit of energy and enterprise, which, though like that of his countrymen, boundless in success, was also not to be discouraged by trying reverses. He was likewise better educated than Mahrattas in general, and could write both the Persian language and his own: his manner was frank and could be courteous, and he was distinguished by a species of coarse wit very attractive to the Indian soldiery. He had few other commendable qualities; for although sometimes capriciously lavish, he was rapacious, unfeeling, and cruel, and his disposition was overbearing, jealous, and violent. In person, his stature was low, but he was of a very active strong make; though his complexion was dark, and he had lost an eye by the accidental bursting of a matchlock, the expression of his countenance was not disagreeable, and bespoke something of droll humour, as well as of manly boldness.
When Holkar returned from the Punjab, after signing the treaty with Lord Lake, the Rajas of Jeypoor and Joudpoor were at war on account of a princess of Oudepoor, for whose hand both were pretenders.
Each party solicited aid from Sindia and Holkar Sindia sent them Shirzee Rao Ghatgay and Bappoo Sindia, with 15,000 horse; and Holkar allowed Umeer Khan to join the Raja of Jeypoor with his Patans. This Raja was for a time successful, until Umeer Khan left him, commenced plundering the Jeypoor and Joudpoor districts indiscriminately; then changing sides, reversed the probable issue of the contest by joining the Raja of Joudpoor. At last, interposing between them, he put an end to the contest by horrible deeds of treacherous assassination130.
When Holkar’s state of mind rendered it necessary to place him under restraint, Umeer Khan was just disengaged from his Rajpoot warfare, and proceeded with all speed to Rampoorah. It was there settled that the government should be administered by a regency controlled by Umeer Khan, but under the nominal authority of Toolsee Bye, the favourite mistress of Jeswunt Rao, a woman of profligate habits, and of most vindictive disposition, totally unfit for high station, or the exercise of the power with which she was vested. On the death of Jeswunt Rao, she adopted Mulhar Rao Holkar, a boy of four years old, the son of Jeswunt Rao by another concubine, and in his name continued to govern. Umeer Khan was soon recalled to Rajpootana in the prosecution of his own views, which
were solely bent upon the extension of predatory power, for the interest of himself and his ferocious band of Patans; over whom he maintained an authority by superior art, but in whose hands he was sometimes a mere instrument. When it suited his views of plunder, Umeer Khan sometimes advanced claims in Holkar’s name, but those claims, were not pressed, where the consequences might involve the state of Holkar with the British government. At his departure from Rampoorah, he caused a Jagheer to be conferred on his relation Ghuffoor Khan, whom he left as his agent and director with Toolsee Bye.
The conduct of the administration was worthy of such a regency; there was no regular collection of revenue, the government had not the power of reducing its army, and the finances of the state, even under the most skilful management, were inadequate to the support of the establishments. Bodies of troops, under various commanders, were therefore sent to collect or extort subsistence from the provinces, without much regard to the rights of neighbouring states: many of them became disobedient; one body of Holkar’s troops under Mohummud Ally Khan Bungush went into rebellion at a very early period, plundered the districts in Candeish, and would have forced their way through the Nizam’s territory into Holkar’s district of Amber, but the subsidiary forces of Poona and Hyderabad were called out to oppose them, when the rebels were dispersed, and Bungush was sent as a state prisoner to the fort of Bombay.
The government, if such it may be designated, 20
of Holkar, was alternately swayed by two factions, the Mahrattas and the Patans, who were constantly intriguing against each other, and nothing could exceed the state of anarchy which prevailed throughout the country. At the court, bribery, executions, and murders; in the provinces, violence, rapine, and bloodshed.
Sindia’s territory was nearly as much disturbed as that of Holkar. His military establishment far exceeded his financial means, and to rid himself of the clamours of his troops he was obliged to send them out to subsist upon the districts in the manner which was adopted by Holkar; but some found employment in reducing several refractory Zumeendars and Rajas, who were Sindia’s tributaries. Armies accustomed to rapine and violence in extensive regions, were now confined to tracts comparatively small; the burden of their exactions became, in many places, intolerable, and districts before cultivated and populous, were fast running to waste and wretchedness. For the supply of personal exigencies, Sindia was obliged to have recourse to a banker, who, at large rates of interest, furnished him with occasional advances of money; and of all his pecuniary resources the pensions which he and his family derived from the British government were the security most acceptable.
On the death of Ambajee Inglia, Sindia proceeded to reduce the territory in Gohud, held by Ambajee’s family, and having established his camp at Gwalior in 1810, though he frequently went on pilgrimages and expeditions, he never moved his head-quarters from that spot; hence Sindia’s
camp, as it is called, has become a great city. His authority was considerably strengthened by the reduction of Inglia’s Jagheer; and the death of his father-in-law, Shirzee Rao Ghatgay, having happened during the preceding season, was important both in tranquillizing the domestic feuds and public dissensions, which that turbulent man was perpetually exciting. The articles of the treaties with. Sindia and Holkar respecting Shirzee Rao were subsequently annulled by the British government. He afterwards exercised considerable power, and frequently dictated to his son-in-law in the most audacious manner: the circumstances which led to his death originated in a violent altercation respecting a Jagheer, which Shirzee Rao, in opposition to Sindia, wished to confer on some rich Sillidars131, the Nimbalkurs of Watar. Sindia unable longer to endure his violent and contumacious behaviour, ordered him to be arrested, when Shirzee Rao having refused to obey the mandate, Anund Rao Sindia, the son of Mannajee Phakray, transfixed him with his spear, and thus rid the world of a being, than whom, few worse have ever disgraced humanity. Doulut Rao, if he did not order, approved of the deed, and it is said that he
has all his life been a prey to remorse for the atrocious actions to which he was induced to lend his sanction, when under the influence of the monster Ghatgay132.
The state of affairs at Nagpoor, under the government of Rughoojee Bhonslay, partook of the weakness and confusion prevalent in the territory of Sindia and Holkar; with this difference, that the troops of Rughoojee were inferior, and the country became, in consequence, more exposed to the attack of freebooters from without. Invited by these circumstances Umeer Khan, in 1809, after establishing himself in Rajpootana, made a pretext of some alleged claim of the Holkar family, to carry his ravages into Berar, and to let loose the Pindharees, as well as his own followers, to plunder the territory of Rughoojee; but the British government, glad, at the moment, of an opportunity to employ its troops, gratuitously interposed, and forced these predatory bands, which no state acknowledged, to recross the Nerbuddah.
The Pindharees, a class of the lowest freebooters, whom we have already had frequent occasion to mention, were early known in the Deccan. Great numbers of them followed the army of the first Bajee Rao;, and it probably was an object, of that great man’s policy to draw them out of the Mahratta country. It is certain, that he left his Pindharees in Malwa, with his officers Sindia and Holkar, that they always attended their armies
when they invaded the Moghul provinces, and that the Pindharees of each of these leaders distinguished themselves, as Sindia Shahee, and Holkar Shahee; or the respective followers of Sindia and Holkar.
In 1794, Sindia assigned some lands to the Pindharees near the banks of the Nerbuddah, which they soon extended by conquests from the Grassias, or original independent landholders in their neighbourhood. Their principal leaders, at that time, were two brothers named Heeroo and Burrun, who are said to have been put to death for their aggressions on the territory of Sindia and Rughoojee Bhonslay. The sons of Heeroo and Burrun became Pindharee chiefs; but Khureem Khan, a Pindhara, who had acquired great booty in the plunder of the Nizam’s troops after the battle of Kurdla, and was distinguished by superior cunning and enterprise, became the principal leader of this refuse of the Mahratta armies.
Khureem got the district of Shujahalpoor from Umeer Khan, which, with some additions, was afterwards confirmed to him by Sindia, through the interest of Shirzee Rao Ghatgay. During the war of 1803, and the subsequent disturbed state of the country, Khureem contrived to obtain possession of several districts in Malwa, belonging to Sindia’s Jagheerdars; and his land revenue, at one time, is said to have amounted to fifteen lacks of rupees a-year. He also wrested some territory from the Nabob of Bhopaul, on which he built a fort, as a place of security for his family, and of deposit for
his plunder. Khureem was originally a Sindia Shahee133, but like most of the Pindharees, except about five thousand of the Holkar Shaheen, who remained faithful, he changed sides, or plundered his master whenever it suited his convenience, which was as often as he found an opportunity. Sindia, jealous of his encroachments, on pretence of lending him some guns, inveigled him to an interview, made him prisoner, plundered his camp, recovered the usurped districts, and lodged Khureem in the fort of Gwalior134.
A number of leaders started up after the confinement of Khureem, of whom Cheetoo, Dost Mohummud, Namdar Khan, and Shaikh Dulloo, became the most conspicuous.. They associated, themselves with Umeer Khan in 1809, during his expedition to Berar; and in 1810, when Khureem Khan purchased his release from Gwalior, they assembled under that leader, a body of twenty-five thousand horse, and some battalions of newly raised infantry, with which they again proposed to invade Berar; but Cheetoo, always jealous of Khureem’s ascendancy, was detached by Rughoojee Bhonslay from the alliance, and afterwards cooperated with Sindia in attacking him; Khureem was in consequence driven to seek an asylum with his old patron Umeer Khan, but by the influence of Sindia, Umeer Khan kept him in a state of confinement until the year 1816135.
When the Mahrattas ceased to spread themselves, the Pindharees, who had attended their armies,
were obliged to plunder the territories of their former protectors for subsistence, and on being suffered to exist at all, their numbers were very soon augmented. To the unemployed soldiery of India, particularly to the Mahomedans, the life of a Pindhara had many allurements; but the Mahratta horsemen who possessed hereditary rights, or had any pretensions to respectability, did not readily join them.
In every thousand Pindharees, about four hundred were tolerably well mounted and armed; of that number, about every fifteenth man carried a matchlock, but their favourite weapon was the ordinary Mahratta spear, which is from twelve to eighteen feet long. The remaining six hundred were common plunderers and followers, armed like the Bazar retainers of every army in India, with all sorts of weapons.
Before the Pindharees set out on an expedition, a leader sent notice to the inferior chiefs, and hoisted his standard on a particular day after the cessation of the rains, generally about the Dussera. As soon as the rivers were fordable, and a sufficient number had assembled, they moved off by the most unfrequented routes towards their destination. Commencing with short marches of about ten miles they gradually extended them to thirty or forty miles a-day, until they reached some peaceful region against which their expedition was intended. Terror and dismay burst at once on the helpless population: villages were seen in flames, wounded and houseless peasants flying in all directions, fortified places shutting their gates, and keeping up
a perpetual firing from their walls. The plunderers dispersed in small parties, and spread themselves over the whole face of the country; all acting on a concerted plan, they swept round in a half circle, committing every sort of violence and excess, – torturing to extort money, ravishing, murdering, and burning in the defenceless villages; but seldom venturing on danger, unless the prospect of booty was very certain. When they approached a point on the frontier, very distant from where they had entered, they united and went off in a body to their homes. Whilst they continued their excesses, marauders of all descriptions sallied out to join them, or to profit by their presence, and whole districts became a scene of rapine and conflagration.
The ordinary modes of torture, inflicted by these miscreants, were heavy stones placed on the head or chest; red hot irons applied to the soles of the feet; tying the head of a person into a tobra or bag for feeding horses, filled with hot ashes; throwing oil on the clothes and setting fire to them; besides many others equally horrible. The awful consequences of a visitation from the Pindharees can scarcely be imagined by those who have not witnessed them. For some tune, until the districts in Malwa, Marwar, Mewar, and the whole of Rajpootana were exhausted, and the Pindharees were encouraged and excited to venture on more fertile fields, their ravages were chiefly confined to those countries, and Berar; a few of them, however, ventured, almost every year, into the dominions of the Nizam and the Peishwa, though little notice
was taken of them by the British government, whilst they refrained from molesting its own subjects136 and territory.
But even had no other causes arisen to excite the Pindharees to extend their depredations, it was impossible, in the state in which India was left, by the half measures and selfish policy adopted by the British government, that any part of it could long remain exempt from predatory inroad. The Rajpoot states were overrun by Umeer Khan, Sindia, Holkar, and the Pindharees; and the territories of Sindia and Holkar, intermixed as they were in Malwa, and in the hands of a powerful and lawless soldiery, soon became, like Rajpootana, common prey. The aggressions of Sindia and Holkar on each other, gave rise to disputes, and even to battles; but to no political warfare. Had Sindia been able to pay up the arrears due to his troops, and to command the services of those who owed him allegiance, he might, at Jeswunt Rao’s death, have made himself complete master of Holkar’s dominions; but intrigues were substituted for military force, and these were counteracted. Although the chiefs were not at war, the troops of the Rajpoots and of Umeer Khan, and those of Sindia, Holkar, the Powars of Dhar, and the Pindharees, fought frequent battles amongst each other, when
plunder was in dispute; all which had no other effect, than that of rendering yet more miserable, the already unhappy country, and stirring up materials for predatory power, on which Umeer Khan and Sindia began to found higher hopes, when they foresaw a prospect of support from the head of the empire.
To him, therefore, we now return, in order to detail the events preceding that revolution in Maharashtra, with which this history closes.
128. Sir John Malcolm. Bappoo Kanhoo, one of my authorities, who was with Holkar at the time, says, “there were no words with the Mahrattas,” and that the subsequent mutiny was occasioned entirely by the Patans. Bappoo Kanhoo, to whose authority I have here referred for the second time, is a respectable old Bramin soldier, who was the staunch adherent, and devoted friend of Chitoor Sing. He was employed in all his negotiations, and shared in most of the vicissitudes of his remarkable life. Bappoo Kanhoo was found imprisoned in one of the hill forts, taken by the British troops in 1818, and, on being rescued, joined the Raja of Satara, at whose court he now resides. The history of his own times, written at my request, is lodged with the Literary Society of Bombay.
129. Bappoo Kanhoo
130. See Malcolm’s Central India.
131. Poor soldiers are at least as common in Maharashtra as in other parts of the world. The Nimbalkurs of Watar are the only rich Sillidars with whom I am acquainted. Watar is a village between Phultun and the Mahdeo hills, where the different members of this inferior branch of the Nimbalkur family have expended vast sums of money in the erection of palaces, which are more remarkable for their solidity, than their elegance. They have at least the merit of being the most substantial dwellings in the west of India.
132. Malcolm. Prinsep. Mahratta MSS., and Oral information.
133. Sir John Malcolm.
135. Public Records. Prinsep. Sir John Malcolm.
136. For a long time they respected the persons of the British subjects, to which the author can himself bear testimony, having accidentally passed through a body of Pindharees in the middle of a night when they had committed great excesses; and to him, though unarmed and unattended, they offered neither molestation nor insult.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage