Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Selections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir online

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Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 19 of 41)
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Captain Briggs describes the people of Khandesh as
peaceable and inoffensive, but timid, helpless, unenter-
prising, and sunk under the oppression and the multi-


plied calamities to which they have so long been
exposed ; but this of course only applies to the trading
and agricultural classes : the soldiery (of whom part
were till lately the predatory body called Barra Bye, in
Holkar's service, and the rest must have often joined
insurgents, and even Pindarics,) are, doubtless, bold
and restless enough.

Khandesh is low and hot. Gangatari, which joins it
on the south, is from 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the
level of the Tapti, and the rest of the con-

■•- Alanratta coun-

quered territory (except the Konkan) is on the the'.ustS'lff
same table -land. From this to the Kristna, or '^Pa,m'I"md''
rather the Warna and Kristna, is comprehended '"''"'''"''•
in the districts of Ahmednagar and Puna, and the
Eajah of Satara's territory. The western half of all
this tract is hilly; the valleys rich and highly culti-
vated, and the country diversified and beautiful.
Farther east are plains, but not all in the same con-
dition. The east of Gangatari, though open and
fertile, is almost entirely uninhabited since the famine
in 1803 ; the country between that and iVhmednagar
is better, and the plains south of Ahmednagar are for
many marches in all directions one sheet of the richest
cultivation. I do not know the state of the south-east
of that district towards Sholapur, but I imagine it is
equally prosperous. The country beyond the Nira is
in a very different state, thinly peopled and badly
cultivated. It is in this tract that most of the horses
in the Mahratta country are bred, and that most of the
Silledars, or military adventurers, reside. The principal
towns in the Peshwa's late dominions are between
Khandesh and the Kristna, but none of them are con-
siderable. Puna may be reckoned to contain about
110,000 inhabitants, having lost from a tenth to a
fifth since the removal of Baji Puiv with his Court



and army. Nasik does not contain more than a
fourth of this number. Pandharpur is still smaller
than Nasik, and the rest all much smaller than Pandhar-
pur. Ahmednagar, however, must be excepted, which
is reckoned to contain 20,000 souls, and is increasing

This tract is the oldest possession of the Mahratta
Government, and is by far the most decidedly Mahratta
in the composition of the inhabitants. The character
of that people is fully depicted in the answers to the
queries wdiich I sent to the collectors, especially in
Captain Grant's.

The Brahmins, who have long conducted all the
business of the country, are correctly described by Mr.
Chaplin as an ' intriguing, lying, corrupt, licentious,
and unprincipled race of people !' to which Captain
Grant adds with equal truth, ' that when in power they
are coolly unfeeling, and systematically oppressive,' and
now ' generally discontented, and only restrained by
fear from being treasonable and treacherous.' They
are superstitious, and narrow in their attachment to
their caste, to a degree that has no example elsewhere ;
but they are mild, patient, intelligent on many subjects,
even liberal and enlightened ; and, though regardless of
sufferings which they may indirectty produce, they are
naturally very averse to cruelty and bloodshed : there
are among them many instances of decent and respect-
able lives, and although they are generally subtle and
insincere, I have met with some on whom I could
depend for sound and candid opinions.

The Mahratta Chiefs, while in power, and especially
while with armies, arc generally coarse, ignorant,
rapacious and oppressive.

Those settled in their own country, and unconnected
with courts and armies, bear a much better character,


being sober, industrious, and encouragers of agriculture.
It must indeed be remembered, both of this class and
the Brahmins, that we see the very worst of the whole,
and that it is among those at a distance from the seat
of Government that we are to look for any virtue that
may exist in the nation.

The soldiery so much resemble the Chiefs, that
individuals of the two classes might change places
without any striking impropriety. The Chiefs of course
are more vicious, and probably more intelligent. The
Mahratta soldiery love war, as affording opportunities
for rapine in an enemy's country, and marauding in a
friend's. In battle, they seem always to have been
the same dastardly race ; but they are active, hardy,
vigilant, patient of fatigue and privations ; and, though
timid in action, they show great boldness and enterprise
in their incursions into distant countries ; and on all
occasions they appear to have the greatest confidence in
their horses, though little or none in their swords.
Their plan in a campaign is to avoid general engage-
ments, to ravage their enemy's country, and to cut up
convoys and detachments ; in an action it is to disperse
when attacked, and to return to the charge, when the
enemy has broken, to plunder : by these means they
are enabled to prevail against better troops than them-

The Mahratta peasantry have some pride in the
triumphs of their nation, and some ambition to partake
in its military exploits ; but, although circumstances
might turn them into soldiers or robbers, at present
their habits are decidedly peaceful. They are sober,
frugal, industrious ; mild and inoffensive to everybody ;
and among themselves neither dishonest nor insincere.
The faults of their Government have, however, created
the corresponding vices in them; its oppression and


extortion have taught them dissimulation, mendacity,
and fraud ; and the insecurity of property has rendered
them so careless of the future, as to lavish on a
marriage or other ceremony the savings of years of
parsimony. The first class of these vices, though
prevalent throughout the whole in their dealings with
Government, is more conspicuous among the Patels,
and others who are most brought into contact with
their rulers ; and the effects of the second are felt in
the debts and embarrassments in which the whole of
the agricultural population is plunged.

It may be observed, in conclusion, that the military
Brahmins combine part of the character of Mahratta
soldiers with that of their own caste ; and that the
character of the Mahratta soldiery, in like manner,
rims into that of the cultivators. Taking the whole as
a nation, they will be found to be inferior to their
Mohammedan neighbours in knowledge and civiliza-
tion, in spirit, in generosity, and perhaps in courage ;
but less tainted with pride, insolence, tyranny, effemi-
nacy, and debauchery ; less violent, less bigoted, and
(except while in armies on foreign service) more peace-
able, mild, and humane.

Maheatta Karnatik. — The country south of the
Krishna, or, as the Mahrattas call it, the Karnatik, has
few hills and few places incapable of cultivation.
Except in the immediate neighbourhood of the Ghats,
it consists of extensive plains of black or cotton ground ;
a large portion of it is, however, uncultivated, especially
of the parts which have been under the Government of
Gokhle and Appa Desai. The high cultivation of the
Patwavdhans' lands has often been mentioned. It is no
doubt owing in a great measure to tlicir good manage-
ment ; but in a great measure likewise to the oppression
of their neighbours, which drove every man who could


easily move into their lands. There are no large towns
in this jjart of the country. Huhli is, I believe, the
largest, and I have heard it estimated at 15,000 souls.
The towns of Belgaum and Shahpur, which, though
nearly contiguous, belong, one to Cxovernment, and one
to Chintaman Eav, may amount together to 18,000 or
14,000 inhabitants. I have not heard of any other
town in this district that contains more than 5,000

Both this division and Bijapur are inhabited by
Kanarese, who retahi their own language and manners.
The Mahrattas are reckoned by Mr. Chaplin to con-
stitute no more than an eighth or a tenth of the in-
habitants : what there is of them seems to consist of
soldiers and Brahmins, with a full share of the vice of
those classes. The Kanarese Mr. Chaplin describes
as resembling their countrymen in the ceded districts ;
but as being more honest, manly and courageous,
though less mild, hospitable and humane : both are
equally industrious and frugal.

The Karnatik was at no distant period overrun with
independent Desiiis or Polligars, but these have all
been gradually swallowed up by the Mahrattas, and the
Desai of Kittur is the only one who still retains his
possessions. The people have always been considered
by the Mahrattas to be turbulent and disaffected, which
they showed in several rebellions, and particularly in
readily joining General Munro to expel their rulers.
They seem now to be perfectly quiet, and well

The general use of Shet Sanadis, or landed Militia,
which is so common in Mysore, is only found in this
part of the conquered territory.



The whole of the territory above described does not
belong to the British Goyernmeut ; and what does
belong to it is not all under our immediate administra-
tion. The other possessors of independent territory
are the Eajah of Satara, the Eajah of Kolapur ; and,
on a smaller scale, the Nizam, Scindia, Holkar, the
Eajah of Berar and the Gaikwar. The lands held by
dependent Chiefs belong to Angria, the Pant Sacliiv,
the Pritti Nidhi, the Patwardhans, and other Jahagir-
dars. To give an idea of the situation of all these
Chiefs, and indeed of the general state of the country,
it is necessary to take a hasty view of the history of the

The Mahratta language and nation extended from
the Vindyadri or Satpura mountains, nearly to the
Krishna ; and from the sea on the west to a waving
frontier on the east, which maj^ be tolerably indicated
by a line drawn from Goa to the Warda near Chanda ;
and thence along that river to the Satpura mountains.
The whole of the territory was probably under a Mah-
ratta King, w^ho resided at Beoghari, now Dowlatabad ;
but this empire was subverted in the beginning of
the fourth century, by the Mohammedans, and remained
under various dynasties of that religion until the end
of the seventeenth century, when the greater part was
delivered by Sivaji and his successors. The eastern
part still remains under the Moguls.

The grandfather of Sivaji was of very humble
origin ; but his father had attained a considerable rank
under the kingdom of Bijapur ; had been entrusted
with a Government ; and profiting by the weakness of
the King's power, had rendered himself nearly in-


dependent in the southern part of the Bijapur
dominions. The same weakness encouraged
Sivaji to rebel, and pkmder the country ;
and he was enabled, by the increasing confusions in
the Deccan, to found a sort of Government, which the
desultory operations of Aurungzebe, distracted by his
numerous and simultaneous foreign wars, allowed him
time to consolidate. His rebellion began about 1646;
he declared himself independent in 1674:

^ 16S2.

and at his death, about 1682, he was pos-
sessed of great part of the Konkan ; the rest being in
the hands of the Moguls of Surat, and in those of the
Portuguese, or held for the Bijapur Government by
the Siddies or Abyssinians of Janjira. He seems also
to have possessed the greater part of the line of Ghats,
and to have shared with the Mohammedans the tract
immediately to the east of those mountains, as far north
as Puna, and as far south as Kolapur.

Most of these possessions were wrested from his son,
who was reduced to the hills, and part of the Konkan,
when Auruno'zebe was drawn off to the sub-

" . 16S5-S7.

version of the monarchies of Golkouda and
Bijapur. The convulsions occasioned by the ex-
tinction of those states completely unsettled the country,
and threw a large portion of the armies, which had
hitherto maintained tranquillity, into the scale of the
Mahrattas, to whom the Jamidars throughout the Dec-
can also appear to have been inclined. The conse-
quence was, that although on the execution of Sam-
baji, the son of Sivaji, in 1689, his son
and heir Shahuji fell into the hands of the
Moguls, and his younger brother Eajah Piam, who
succeeded him, was shut up in the Fort ^m^-^j
of Gingee, south of Arcot so that for several
years the Mahrattas had . no efficient head, yet they


were able, under different leaders, to withstand, and at
length to deride the efforts of the Moguls, which were
enfeebled by the faction of the Generals, and the de-
clining age of the Emperor, till the j^ear 1707,
when the death of Aurungzebe, and the con-
tests among his successors, set them free from all
danger on the part of the Moguls. The Chiefs left in
charge of the Deccau first faintly opposed, and then
conciliated the Mahrattas : a truce was concluded about
1710, by which they yielded the Chouth ; and this, on
the confirmation of the agreement, together with a
formal grant of their territorial possessions by the
Emperor in 1719, maybe considered as the
final establishment of the Mahratta Govern-
ment, after a struggle of at least sixty years.

During the period between the death of Aurungzebe
and the confirmation of the Chouth, etc., a great revolu-
tion had taken place among the Mahrattas. Shahii
Eajah, the son of Sambaji, was released in 1708; but
on his return to the Deccan he found himself opposed
by his cousin Sivaji, son of Eajah Eam. This Prince
had succeeded on the death of his father in 1700 ; but
being either very weak, or entirely deranged in his
intellect, his affairs were conducted by his mother,
Tara Bai. Shuhii Eajah was enabled, chiefly by the
good conduct of his Minister Ballaji Vishwanath, to
gain over Kanoji Angre, the chief support of his rival's
cause, and to seat himself on the Mahratta Musnud. He
immediately appointed Ballaji to the ofiice of Peshwa,
which had before belonged to the family of Pinglc, but
was forfeited by its possessor's adherence to the cause
of Tara Bai. Shahi'i Eajah being incapacitated by his
mental imbecility from exercising the authority with
which he was invested, the entire administration
devolved on Ballaji Vishwanath.


At the time of the confirmation of tiic Clioutli,
although the Mahrattas had numerous cLaims over several
of the provinces possessed bj' the Moguls,
their actual territory does not appear to have
extended beyond the narrow limits to which it had
reached under Sivaji. The Mogul's grant confirming
their possessions enumerates the districts, by which it
appears that they extended in the Konkan from the Goa
territory to a point considerably to the south of
Daman ; while above the Ghats they only reached
from the Ghatprabha to the river Kukri, 40 miles north of
Puna. The greatest length (on the sea coast) is 280
miles, the greatest breadth (from Harni and Pandhar-
pur to the sea) 140 ; but this breadth is only found to
the south of Puna ; north of that city the breadth does
not exceed 70 miles.

It was long before the Mahrattas obtained possession
of the country in the immediate neighbourhood of their
first conquest : the Forts of Junar and Ahmednagar,
the first within 40, and the other within 80 miles of
Puna, were not reduced until within the last sixty years ;
long after the Mahrattas had made themselves masters
of Malwa and Gujarat, and had plundered up to the gates
of Agra. Khandesh was not subdued until within these
sixty years, nor the Karnatik until a still later period.
The cause of this inconsistency was the close connection
between the Mahrattas and Nizam Ul Mulk, who was
glad to encourage them as the means of weakening the
power of the Court of Delhi ; while they, with their
usual policy, were pleased to disunite their enemies, and
attack them one by one. To this connection also it is to
be ascribed that a third of the Mahratta nation should
have been left to this day under the dominion of the

Ballaji Vishwanath dying in 1720, was succeeded


by his son Baji Rav Balall. This Chief, who appears

to have been a man of activity and abiHties, took full

advantage of the weakness, the distractions, and the

mutual jealous}^ and treachery of the Moguls. He overran

all Malwa, and had entirely reduced it some time about

the year 1735; while the troops of the Sena-

patti, another great General of Shahii Eajah,

had made similar progress in Gujarat. The rivalry of

these Generals renewed the domestic distractions of the

Mahrattas ; but Baji Piav finally overcame the Sena-

patti ; as Nana Sahib subsequently did his powerful

servant, the Gaikwar, in 1750, when he compelled the

latter to submit implicitly to his authority, and to make

over half of Gujarat to his officers. Baji Rav

died in 1741, and was succeeded by his son

Ballaji Baji Rav, commonly called Nana Sahib.

This Prince was the first of the Peshwas who openly

exercised the sovereign authority on the Rajah's behalf.

His two predecessors had always affected to act under

the orders of that Prince ; but Rajah Shahu dying in

1749, it w^as alleo-ed by the Peshwa that he

1740. .

had formerly invested him with the sove-
reignty^ of his dominions, on condition of his keeping
up the name of the Rajah's descendants. I may here
remark, that it appears more than doubtful whether
the Rajahs of Satara ever pretended to possess absolute
sovereignty, or to hold their territories otherwise than
as vassals, either of Bijapur or of Delhi. Nana Sahib
was an inactive Prince, and entrusted his internal
government to his cousin Sadashiv R;iv Bhuu, and the
command of his armies to his brother Raghunath Rav,
the father of the late Peshwa. A temporary
exchange of these functions occasioned the
defeat and fall of the Bhuu at Pauiput, and the death
of Balaji, who never recovered the shock.


The Government then fell into the hands of Rac^hu-
nath Rav, who detained Madhav Rav, the son of
Nana Sahib, in a state of tutelage and dependence ;
hut who was not long able to resist the talents apd
energy which that Prince early displayed. Madhav
Rav then took the reins into his own hands, imprisoned
Raghunath, and reigned for eleven years. Though at
least equal -to his predecessors as a General, Madhav
Rav's chief praise arises from his Civil Government.
He was the first who introduced order into the internal
administration, and who showed a sincere desire to
protect his subjects from military violence, and to
establish something like a regular dispensation of

His death, which happened in 1772, was soon
followed by the murder of his brother Narayan Rav ;
the usurpation of Raghunath Rav ; and a long struggle,
in which the English were unsuccessful supporters of
the claims of that usurper. During this disturbed
period, and the thirteen years of comparative tran-
quillity which followed. Nana Fadnavis acted as
Regent in the name of the infant son of the murdered
Narayan Rav. The territories in the Deccan
were quiet, and were governed in a spirit of
peace and moderation, which aided the former measures
of Madhav Rav in softening the predatory habits of the
Mahrattas ; but at the same time, the great Chiefs of
Hindustan began to appear rather as allies than as
servants ; and, although the connection of the Mah-
rattas as a confederacy was probably at its greatest
height at this period, yet the seeds of dissolution, which
were inherent in the nature of it, began evidently io
display themselves. A short view of the members of
this confederacy will show the loose ties by which the
whole was held.


The state of Taujore was scarcely ever even in
alliance with Satara ; that founded by Malliar Kav
Ghorapare, in the north of Mysore, was in nearly the
same situation ; and that of Kolapur never joined it in
any war. The confederates must therefore be the
Eajah of Berar, the Gaikwar, Scindia, Holkar, the
Powars, and the Chiefs of Jhansi and Sagar. The first
of these powers was closely united in interest with
Puna, and had no points of disagreement ; yet it was
frequently at war with the Puna State, and seemed to
have been almost as much connected with the Nizam
as with it. The Gaikwar was oppressed and subdued,
a vassal rather than a confederate. He joined the first
power that appeared against the Mahrattas in this part
of India, and has adhered to his alliance to the last.
The other Chiefs were subjects and servants of the
Peshwa, and were themselves born and bred in the
heart of the Mahratta country, as were the whole of
their national troops ; not one of whom to this day,
perhaps, was born in their foreign conquests. Besides
the ties of kindred, language and country, which in
most nations keep up a connection for ages, the
Mahrattas had a strong interest in opposing their
common enemies ; yet there is perhaps no instance in
which they were all engaged on one side in a war ; and
it is surprising that states so circumstanced should
be unable to keep up a closer alliance for a period
little exceeding the natural life of man. These facts
do not, however, show tliat there is not at this moment
a confederacy cemented by common country, common
interests, and common enmity to their conquerors, but
that there is nothing particularly durable in the con-
nection to prevent its dissolving at no distant period.

noii. At the death of Madhoo Piav Narayen

in 179G, the whole of the great Mahratta Chiefs,


the Kajah of Berar, Scindia, Holkar, and the Jahagir-
dars of the Deccan, appeared at Puna, for the hist
time, as vassals of the empire. The power and
weight of the Minister was insufficient to control this
tumultuous assemhly, and a scene of factions, violence
and intrigue ensued, at the conclusion of which Baji
Eav, the rightful heir, hut the representative of the
unpopular and proscribed house of Raghunath Rav, was
elevated to the Musnud by the military power of
8cindia. He, however, was for some time little more
than a pageant in the hands of that Prince ; and it
seemed probable that Scindia would soon imitate the
example of the Peshwa's ancestors, and reduce his
nominal master to the condition of the Rajah of
Satara. It was perhaps the dread or the interference
of the British which prevented this chauo-e of


dynasty ; and at the end of a few years the
increasing disorders in Scindia's own possessions obliged
him to quit his hold on the Peshwa, and to withdraw
to Hindustan. Baji Rav, now left alone, had neither
ability nor inclination to put himself at the head of his
turbulent Chiefs and mutinous army. He remained
quiet in Puna, while every Jahagirdar assumed indepen-
dence ; and the country was overrun by banditti, formed
from the soldiery that were no longer employed in the
armies, to within a few miles of the capital. At length
his Highness was expelled by Holkar. He returned,
supported by a British force ; and from that time
began a new order of things, which existed at the time
of our conquest.

Instead of the extensive but loose confederacy of
which the Peshwa was head, which was in a constant
state of foreign war and internal disorder, and which
could only be held together by constant vigilance and
activity, as well as concession and management, the


Pesliwa was now to possess in peace a small compact
territory; and as this had formerly partaken of the
loose government of the general mass, it became the
Peshwa's object to consolidate his power, and establish
it on such a footing as would allow of his governing
with as much ease as other Eastern Princes.

Some progress had been made towards this state of
things during the government of Madhav Kav and
Nana Fadnavis ; and Baji K;'iv himself, from temper as
much as from policy, had already adopted the course
most suited to his situation. The head of an unpopular
party, and educated in a prison, he had little sympathj^
with the bulk of his nation, and little desire for any
enterprise in which he might require their assistance.
His only wish was to gratify his love of power and of
revenge, without endangering his safety or disturbing

Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 19 of 41)