If you are a fan of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, Bajirao-Mastani, you might want to read Ram Sivasankaran’s The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers. This book begins seven years after Peshwa Bajiro defeats the Nizam’s armies at Fort Mandu and depicts the battle between the Mughals and the Marathas. Here’s an excerpt from Sivasankaran’s latest novel, which is the second book, in his historical fiction saga.
Battles Under Sunshine and Moonlight
September 5, 1727—Present Day …
Bajirao Bhat, Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy, was crouched next to Malhar Holkar, the generalissimo or senapati of the Maratha Confederate Army. The two men were surveying the scene of a pitched battle from atop a tiny cliff somewhere in the Deccan badlands. Behind them was a contingent of a thousand elite cavalrymen. The men stood at the ready, eager to receive the command to charge down the slopes and render assistance to their comrades engaged in the battle raging in the distance. Seven years and six major battles, besides countless skirmishes had come to pass since Bajirao, or Rao as he was called by his friends and family, had routed the Mughal invasion of Bhopal in his very first battle. It had also been seven years since the chivalrous Peshwa had promised his young wife, Kashibai, that he would never again ride out of home in a soldier’s uniform.
Yet, Rao had become everything that Kashi had feared he might. Gone were the days of the innocent, idealistic romance of the young couple. The Peshwa was now a grown man. He was a cunning strategist and a hardened military commander. His clean-shaven, powerful jaw and his twirled moustache stood out as the signature features of his visage. The Peshwa wore dazzling armour over the clothes that defined his lean, muscular frame. He radiated an aura of pride and confidence when he personally led his men into battle. Drawing from their charismatic young leader’s display of energy and strength, the Maratha soldiers, young and old, reflected his own high standards as a well-groomed, highly disciplined and decidedly motivated fighting force.
The Peshwa had led his forces from the front into the military engagements of the last seven years. He rode into every battle, each one of which he physically participated in. Every campaign had him emerge stronger, wilier and deadlier, much like tempered steel being forged from the blows of a blacksmith’s hammer. Thus had Rao nurtured an almost insatiable appetite for military expansion and achievement, both for himself and for his Chhathrapathi at Satara.Despite the growing power and autonomy of the Peshwa’s office, his allegiance and loyalty towards the Maratha ruler remained steadfast. The Mughal Empire which had been significantly weakened by the Treaty of Bhopal in 1720, was no longer an obstacle in the way of the rise of Maratha power.
Under the fiercely zealous Peshwa, the Confederacy unleashed itself with unbridled fury against its enemies. Under the banner of Bajirao, the powerful Maratha cavalry ranged far and wide, annexing kingdoms, crushing empires and imposing chauth and the saffron flag wherever they went.
The Peshwa had earned the title ‘Ballaal,’ or The Powerful One, from his fellow soldiers with whom he had built a fraternal bond. Going by what the bards and minstrels sang through the lands, the Peshwa was said to have single-handedly, and on foot, held his own against half-a-dozen Rajput warriors who had surrounded him and cut off his personal protection, during the War of the Maratha Reclamation of Mewar—the jewel of Rajputana.
Despite eventual rescue, Rao had endured almost seven bloody minutes of ferocious fighting against the hardened Rajputs, whose single agenda was to cleave his soul from his body. Defying all orders to surrender, Bajirao had slain two of the enemy soldiers with the fury of a berserker and held four others at bay. He had sustained a stab wound to the back and several gashes on the arms, thighs and calves, until his own men were able to break in and intervene. When the last of the Rajput assailants finally fell to the swords of the rescue party, the Maratha soldiers who got to their Peshwa at last, saw him on his knees. He was leaning on the hilt of his blood-stained sabre which was plunged into the earth. The Peshwa was panting, perspiring, trembling and bleeding from the cuts and bruises all over his body. It was then that a cry went up from the lips
of a soldier overcome with awe and admiration for the leader who would fight and die at his side, rather than issue orders and conduct battles from some opulent throne room in Pune.
‘Glory be to Bajirao Peshwa,’ cried the soldier as loud as he could, overcome by tears of joy. ‘Glory to our Ballaal!’ Another soldier joined him in the passionate refrain. Then another … and another. The words rippled through the entire Maratha army like a tidal wave. The stray cry had become a chant and the chant, a synchronised roar.
‘Ballaal! Ballaal! Ballaal!’ the Maratha warriors had bellowed until the Peshwa regained enough breath and strength to rise. He then stood up straight, stumbling a couple of times before he could finally do so. Withdrawing his sabre from the earth with flourish and holding it up to the skies, Rao addressed the four directions with a cry of victory.
‘Hara Hara Mahadeo!’ he roared, thumping his chest with a powerful fist. ‘Rajputana is ours!’
The Maratha soldiers responded by continuing to repeat their leader’s new appellation-of-admiration, louder and louder, like low, rumbling thunder. At present, the young autumn sun shone bright and high in the cloudless sky. Sweltering in his battle armour, his helm on the rocky earth by his side, Rao looked through the lens of a brass spyglass down towards where the Confederate Army had engaged the enemy—a sizeable host at least ten thousand strong under Sikandar, the last of the Adil Shahi Sultans. The Shah had risen in revolt against the supremacy of the Confederacy with the intent to re-establish the sovereignty of Ahmednagar, the erstwhile capital of his dynasty. Ironically, the Marathas had themselves once been no more than foot soldiers in service of the very same royal house. That was until a brazen, young general, Shivaji Bhosale had taken up arms against his masters in response to their deceitful persecution of his father, Shahaji Bhosale.
(The following excerpt has been published with permission from Westland Books. Written by Ram Sivasankaran, the paperback The Peshwa: War of the Deceivers, costs Rs 599.00)