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Maratha raids Bengal

Maratha raids Bengal

  India's History : Medieval India : Maratha invade Bengal - 1742

Marathas & Bengal

Maratha Raids a scourge in eighteenth-century Bengal were a sequel to Maratha rivalry with the Mughals. Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals, had started operations for the annexation of the entire Deccan and his ever-extending warfare affected the Marathas. His attempt to win the Maratha chiefs by grant of mansabs ultimately proved a failure. Some Maratha chiefs were won over, but others took their place in building new fortunes by ravaging Mughal districts. The name (Bargi) by which these Maratha raiders are known in Bengal is a corruption of bargir, meaning the lowest clans of Maratha common soldiers whose arms and horses were supplied by the state, as contrasted with soldiers who owned their own horses and equipment. The Marathas ravaged the country and brought untold miseries to the people.

During the period of the later Mughals, the most important challenge to their power came from the Marathas, whose armies overran the whole of India under the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (1740-1761). Between 1742 and 1751 Bengal was repeatedly invaded and, in 1751, the Bengal Nawab had to cede Orissa to the Marathas.

A Maratha army from Nagpur invaded Burdwan district in early April 1742. Nawab alivardi khan arrived at Burdwan from Cuttack on 15 April 1742. The Marathas under Bhaskar Pandit cut off his grain supply, and another group plundered the country for forty miles around. Alivardi broke through the cordon after a desperate attempt and reached Katwa on 26 April. Mir Habib, a Persian peer of the nawab betrayed him and joined the Marathas at this time. He guided their operations with all his local knowledge. His extraordinary ability and implacable enmity towards Alivardi Khan gave to the Maratha incursion into Bengal its long-drawn and murderous character.

Alivardi Khan (1740-1756) nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Originally known as Mirza Muhammad Ali, he was the son of Mirza Muhammad, an Arab by descent and an employee at the court of Azam Shah, second son of Aurangzeb. His mother belonged to the Turki tribe of Afshar settled in Khurasan. His grandfather was a foster brother of Aurangzeb. On his attaining adulthood, Azam Shah appointed him as the superintendent of the filkhana (elephant stables); he was also given charge of the zardozkhana (department of embroidered clothes). The death of Azam Shah in a battle in 1707 and the consequent loss of employment put Mirza Muhammad Ali's family in great trouble. For his livelihood he came to Bengal in 1720 with his wife and daughters in a state of penury.

But Murshid Quli Khan, the nawab of Bengal, did not receive him kindly. He proceeded to Cuttack, where he was received by Shujauddin Muhammad Khan with due honour. He was initially appointed to a post carrying a monthly salary of Rs one hundred and subsequently elevated to a higher rank as a reward for his satisfactory and faithful services, notably, in reducing to submission some refractory zamindars of Orissa, effecting satisfactory arrangements for the administration of the villages belonging to those zamindars, and effectively reforming the department of finance. Orissa, thus, served as the practising ground in administrative affairs for Mirza Muhammad Ali, who was destined to be the future subahdar of Bengal.

Besides his satisfactory work in Orissa, Mirza Muhammad Ali helped Shujauddin considerably in securing the masnad of Bengal after the death of the latter's father-in-law Murshid Quli Khan. Shujauddin bestowed rewards and favours on members of Mirza Muhammad Ali's family in recognition of his sound advice and meritorious services. Mirza Muhammad Ali was appointed faujdar of the chakla Akbarnagar (rajmahal) in 1728 and was invested with the title of 'Alivardi'. The people of Rajmahal enjoyed peace and prosperity under the efficient administration of their new faujdar.

Alivardi became the principal adviser of Shujauddin in all affairs of state. The nawab placed so much reliance on Alivardi's advice that he used to summon him once a year from Rajmahal to murshidabad to help him in the transaction of the political and fiscal affairs of the subah. When, in 1732, Emperor Muhammad Shah added Bihar to the Bengal subah (Bihar remained an appendage of the Bengal government from then till 1912) and automatically placed it under Nawab Shujauddin, the nawab did not think it advisable to keep the entire charge of Bihar and Bengal under himself and appointed Alivardi naib nazim of Bihar in 1733. A few days before Alivardi received this new appointment, his youngest daughter amina begum, married to his youngest nephew Zainuddin Ahmad Khan, had given birth to a son, sirajuddaula. Alivardi had no son of his own; he adopted the child as his successor, and made him an object of special favour and affection, as his birth was synchronous with his elevation to that high post. After his stay at Azimabad (Patna) for one full year he was summoned to Murshidabad by Shujauddin, who bestowed him with the title of Mahabat Jang and the rank of panch hazari mansabdar, after which he returned to Azimabad.

During the nawab's stay at Katwa, Mir Habib lured Bhaskar Pandit with the prospect of boundless plunder, to make a sudden dash to his capital during his absence. On 6 May 1742 Bhaskar Pandit's Maratha raiders reached Dahipara, a suburb of murshidabad, burnt its bazars, and then crossing over to Murshidabad itself plundered it, taking three lakhs of rupees from the house of the banker jagat sheth alone. Alivardi arrived to save his capital in the morning of 7 May. The raiders retreated to Katwa, and a line of burning villages marked their track. From the month of June Katwa became the headquarters of a Maratha army of occupation. Mir Habib acted as their chief adviser and agent. Early in July he managed with the help of his friends in Hughli to imprison the drunken faujdar of the district, Muhammad Reza, and a Maratha garrison under Shesh Rao was stationed there. Thus, the districts west of the Ganges, from rajmahal to Medinipur and Jessore, passed into the hands of Maratha invaders, and Shesh Rao was installed as their governor. Mir Habib acted as the diwan of Bengal on behalf of the Marathas, and summoned the zamindars to pay chauth to the Maratha administration. Many people abandoned their homes and migrated to the eastern side of the Ganges in order to save the honour of their women.

Occasional Maratha raids also threatened the nawab’s rule in the area east of the Ganges. Roving Maratha bands committed wanton destruction and unspeakable outrage in territories from which the Nawab's authority had disappeared. Due to Maratha plundering merchants and weavers fled away from Birbhum. Maratha devastation in other areas scared away the weavers of silk products. The adangs (silk and cloth factories and emporia) were deserted; food grains became scarce, trade laboured under every disadvantage.

Alivardi decided to attack the Marathas before the drying of the roads (during the monsoon recess), which might provide the light Deccani horse its natural advantage. Early in the morning of 27 September 1742 the nawab's troops made a surprise charge upon the sleeping Maratha camp of Bhaskar Pandit at Katwa; the Marathas fled, leaving behind all their camp and baggage. Bhaskar recalled his troops from all their outposts in Bengal and led the fugitives into Medinipur district where he looted and burnt Radhanagar, a famous silk-rearing centre, and took up position at Narayangarh. Alivardi marched in person and recovered Cuttack, driving the Marathas beyond Chilka Lake in December 1742. He returned to Murshidabad in triumph on 9 February 1743.

Due to his declining authority, the Mughal emperor was compelled to agree to pay chauth for Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to Raja Shahu who, it is said, had assigned it to Raghuji Bhonsle, the raja of Nagpur. But, in the meantime, the Mughal emperor had appealed for help to Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, the rival and personal enemy of Raghuji. The peshwa had agreed in November 1742 to eject Raghuji from Bengal by force. Raghuji, however, was bent upon exacting the chauth and in early March 1743 he arrived at Katwa along with Bhaskar Pandit.

The peshwa entered Bihar with a strong force from the south in early February 1743. From Benares he traversed the plains, hills and jungles of Bihar and took the road to Murshidabad. After exchanging oaths of friendship, the peshwa and the nawab agreed on 30 March 1743 that the nawab would pay the chauth for Bengal to Raja Shahu, and also Rs. 22 lakh to the peshwa for the expenses of his army, while Shahu undertook to effect a final settlement with Raghuji, who would not trouble Bengal in future.

Raghuji on hearing of these two allies advancing together against him decamped from Katwa to Birbhum. The peshwa made a rapid cavalry dash, leaving the slow Bengal army behind, overtook Raghuji on 10 April 1743, drove him away into the western hills with heavy loss of men and baggage. Raghuji took the road to Sambalpur and then returned to Puna. The nine months from June 1743 to February 1744 passed in peace. The Maratha invasions of the past two years doubled Alivardi's army expenses, while his coffers had been exhausted as a result of the subsidy exacted from him by the peshwa. The nawab had paid him 22 lakhs of rupees for ensuring protection against all the Bargi raids. But in return, Nawab Alivardi did not get the assured peace. He was utterly bewildered by the revival of the Maratha menace at the beginning of March 1744, when Bhaskar Pandit again invaded Bengal by way of Orissa and Medinipur. The two Maratha chiefs, the peshwa and Raghuji settled their differences through the mediation of Shahu on 31 October 1743. By this arrangement the portion of Bihar lying west of Patna and including Shahabad and Tikari, yielding 12 lakhs of rupees a year, was assigned to the peshwa. Raghuji Bhonsle was to enjoy Bengal, Orissa, and the portion of Bihar east of Patna.

Alivardi Khan now indulged in a treacherous tactics to scare away the Maratha invaders. He invited Bhaskar Pandit and his captains to an interview with him for making a peaceful settlement of the question of chauth of Bengal. The meeting was to take place in a huge tent set up at Mankara on 31 March 1744. On entering the tent, assassins hidden behind the screens massacred Bhaskar Pandit and 21 of his captains, and all the Maratha detachment vacated Bengal and Orissa. This incident gave the three eastern provinces peace and prosperity for fifteen months.

Alivardi's campaign for the recovery of Orissa from Mir Habib started towards the end of 1746. His general mir jafar defeated Habib's lieutenant Sayyid Nur in a decisive battle near Medinipur town. But Mir Habib came up from the south of Balasore and was soon afterwards joined by the Maratha force under Janoji Bhonsle (son of Raghuji). At the news of this turn of events, Mir Jafar fled to Burdwan, abandoning Medinipur district. Alivardi defeated Janoji in a severely contested battle near Burdwan in March 1747. The baffled Maratha raiders fled back to Medinipur. Murshidabad and Burdwan districts were cleared of them. The nawab returned to his capital and stayed there during the rainy season. During the whole of 1748, the Marathas remained in undisturbed possession of Orissa and the territory up to Medinipur. In March 1749 Alivardi set out to reconquer Orissa. Fighting a few skirmishes the Marathas constantly fled further and further. By the middle of June 1749 the reconquest of Orissa was completed. But only a week after Alivardi had marched out of Cuttack in June 1749, the Marathas under Mir Habib defeated and captured Alivardi's agent. The old and exhausted Alivardi returned to Medinipur to close the path of Maratha raids from Orissa into Bengal.

At the end of February 1750 the Marathas resumed their raids into Bengal. On 6 March 1750 Mir Habib arrived near Murshidabad and plundered the country around. So Alivardi quickly fell back from Medinipur to Burdwan. The raiders disappeared into the jungles and the nawab returned to Medinipur (April 1750) to guard that frontier post. Mir Habib had gained nothing from the barren province of Orissa in these years and his raids into Bengal had always failed due to Alivardi's vigilance and vigour. He, therefore, entered into a peace treaty with Alivardi according to which Mir Habib would become a servant of Alivardi and act as a naib-nazim (deputy governor) of Orissa on his behalf. Alivardi was to pay 12 lakhs of rupees as chauth for Orissa and the surplus revenue of the province to Raghuji. The Maratha government agreed not to set foot in Alivardi's domains again. But with Mir Habib's assassination by the Maratha troops on 24 August 1752, Alivardi lost his control over Orissa once again, and the province came under Maratha occupation.

The repeated Maratha raids proved disastrous for Bengal. The untold miseries of the people were so severe that the incident came to be referred to in a popular lullaby. The repeated failure of crops added to the miseries of the people. The burning of villages by Maratha raiders struck terror in the minds of the people, which in turn led to large-scale migration to the districts east of the Ganges, where the density of population increased, causing various economic problems. The economic effects sapped the financial strength of the Bengal nawab, which in turn led to the disaster, which was to befall his successor in the near future.

The Anglo-French Struggle

  India's History : Medieval India : First Anglo-French war - 1748

The Anglo-French Struggle

Since the 15th century when Europeans first arrived in India the fight for supremacy between rival factions became a part of the Indian history. But the Anglo-French struggles should get special mentions, as there role in shaping the course of modern India is far more important than that of any other contemporary struggles.

The actual onset of the struggles arose from Anglo-French commercial and political rivalry in India and political rivalry in Europe. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century the French stake in India was not great enough to be worth the despatch of an English armament. The two companies therefore declared neutrality and went on trading. But between 1720 and 1740 the French Company's trade increased ten times in value until it was nearly half that of the old-established English company at about Pound 880,000.

The stake of both countries in India was now considerable. The British were deeply involved with indigo, saltpetre, cottons, silk, and spices; they had a growing, trade with China and a strong vested interest in England itself in the form of shipping and stores brokers. The value of the trade was more than ten per cent of the public revenue of Great Britain at that time.

The occasion for intervention arose with Frederick the Great of Prussia's seizure of Silesia in 1740. In the war of the Austrian Succession, which followed (1740-48) Britain and France were on the opposite sides in the rival coalitions. It is these wars, of wholly European origin, which provided the political turning point in the history of modern India. In 1746 a French fleet made possible the capture of Madras. In 1748 a British fleet made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pondicherry. Madras was again exchanged between the French and the British by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

War of Deccan

  India's History : Medieval India : War of the Deccan; Death of Nasir Jang - 1750

Dupleix and French Policy

Two principal factories on the east coast of India were the British station at Fort St. George, now Madras, and the French station at Pondicherry, eighty miles farther south. The first man who seems to have entertained definite notions about building up a European sovereignty upon the ruins of the Mogul Empire was Dupleix, the French Governor at Pondicherry. His long residence in the East had given him knowledge of Indian affairs that few Europeans possessed. His restless, capacious, and inventive mind had formed this scheme at a time when the oldest servants of the English Company were busied only about invoices and bills of lading. Nor had he only proposed for himself the end. He had also a just and distinct view of the means by which it was to be attained.

He clearly saw that the greatest force which the princes of India could bring into the field would be no match for the small body of men trained in the discipline and guided by the tactics of the West. He saw, also, that the natives of India might, under European commanders, be formed into armies such as Saxe or Frederick would be proud to command. He was perfectly aware that the most easy and convenient way in which a European adventurer could exercise sovereignty in India was to govern the motions, and speak through the mouth, of some glittering puppet dignified by the title of Nabob or Nizam. The arts, both of war and policy, which the English employed a few years later with such signal success, were first understood and practiced by this ingenious and aspiring Frenchman.

In 1748 the Nizam of the Deccan died. Two claimants for the throne appeared in the persons of Nazir Jung, son of the old Nizam, and Mirzapha Jung, a grandson. About the same time an adventurer, Chunda Sahib, set up a claim for the throne of the Carnatic against Anaverdy Khan, the reigning prince. Here was the opportunity for Dupleix to carry his long-cherished plans into execution. He espoused the cause of Chunda Sahib in the Carnatic, and sent four hundred French soldiers to his assistance. A battle was fought and Anaverdy Khan was killed. His son Mohammed Ali fled with a scanty remnant of his army to Trichinopoly, and nearly all the Carnatic submitted to the conqueror.

Next Dupleix lent his French soldiers to Mirzapha Jung, who in a short time became master of the Deccan. The new sovereigns showered wealth and favors upon the successful Frenchman. He was declared governor of a territory in India as large as all France, with a population of 50,000,000 people. He was placed in command of the largest military force of the country. He was presented with a million dollars in money and many valuable jewels. Neither the Nizam nor the Nabob concluded any affairs of moment without his advice and consent. He was, in fact, invested with sovereign powers, and French influence in Southern India was paramount and seemingly firmly established.

The triumph of the French arms carried consternation to the British factory at St. George. Unless the victorious career of Dupleix could be stayed, not only would British influence be destroyed, but also the very existence of their trading posts would soon be at an end. At this time the government of St. George was feeble. The military officers in command were without experience. Everything betokened speedy and irretrievable ruin. In this emergency the valor and genius of an obscure English youth suddenly turned the tide of fortune.

Siraj Ud Daulah captures Calcutta

  India's History : Medieval India : Siraj-ud-daulah captures Calcutta - 1756

The Battle of Plassey

As the East India Company grew in size so did its lust for power. The decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of regional provinces like Bengal, presented the Company an opportunity for political interference. In 1740, Nawab Alivardi Khan of Bengal became practically independent. In 1756, his death led to a power struggle between his widow Ghasiti Begum and grandson Siraj Ud Daulah who became the Nawab of Bengal.

The company's support for Ghasiti Begum earned it the wrath of Siraj. The Company also started fortifying the Fort William without the Nawab's permission. On 20th June 1756, Siraj attacked and took over Fort William. Many of the English prisoners, who were imprisoned in a tiny room, died. This is often portrayed as the Black Hole of Calcutta. Many believe that the incident has been greatly exaggerated to suit the purpose of the Company.

The Company Fights back

The company sent in relief troops from Fort St. George of the Madras headquarters. The troops led by Robert Clive and Admiral Watson retook Calcutta on 2nd January, 1757. The treaty of Alinagar was signed between the Nawab and the Company.

However Clive's military ambitions were on the ascendancy. His troops captured the French settlement of Chandernagore. He tempted Siraj's uncle Mir Jafar to ally with him in exchange for the Nawab's position. On 23rd June, 1757, the Company troops marched against Siraj. Betrayed by his own men Siraj was defeated in the Battle of Plassey, which is said to have lasted only a few hours. He was soon assassinated in his capital Murshidabad. From being traders, the Company turned kingmakers in Bengal and Mir Jafar was installed as the new Nawab. Clive got his pound of flesh from the Nawab in terms of 234,000 pounds and was awarded an annual salary of 30,000 pounds per year. This made him one of the richest Britons in the world. The company also secure rights over a large area south of Calcutta. Construction of a new Fort William was started and was completed in 16 years in 1773. These events led to the rise of Calcutta and the decline of Murshidabad.

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