Balaji Vishwanath of Pune
|Parshuram Trimbak Kulkarni|
|Baji Rao I|
|Born||1 January 1662|
|Died||2 April 1720 (aged 58)|
Saswad, Maratha Empire
|Father||Vishwanathpant (Visaji) Bhat|
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (1662-1720), better known as Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, the first of a series of hereditary Peshwas hailing from the Bhat family who gained effective control of the Maratha Empire during the 18th century. Balaji Vishwanath assisted a young Maratha Emperor Shahu to consolidate his grip on a kingdom that had been racked by civil war and persistently intruded on by the Mughals under Aurangzeb. He was called "the Second Founder of the Maratha State." Later, his son Bajirao I became the Peshwa.
Balaji Vishwanath Bhat was born into an Indian [Konkanastha]] Hindu Chitpavan Brahmin family. The family hailed from the coastal Konkan region of present-day Maharashtra and were the hereditary Deshmukh for Shrivardhan under the Siddi of Janjira. He went out in search of employment to the upper regions of western ghats and worked as a mercenary trooper under various Maratha generals. According to Kincaid & Parasnis, Balaji Vishwanath entered the Maratha administration during the reign of Chhatrapati Sambhaji or the regency of his brother, Rajaram. Later, he served as an accountant for the Maratha general, Dhanaji Jadhav, at Janjira. Between 1699 and 1702, he served as the Sar-subhedar or head-administrator at Pune and from 1704 to 1707 as Sarsubedar of Daulatabad. By the time Dhanaji died, Balaji had proven himself as an honest and able officer. Balaji fell out with Dhanaji's son and successor, Chandrarao Jadhav and went over to the newly released Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shahu who took note of his abilities and appointed Balaji as his assistant (c.1708).
Next Shahu turned to subdue the Angres. Tukoji Angre had commanded Chattrapati Shivaji's navy and was succeeded in 1690 by his son Kanhoji Angre. Kanhoji received from Tarabai the title of "Sarkhel" or Koli Admiral of the Maratha fleet. Kanhoji seized the opportunity of war between Tarabai and Shahu to effectively free himself of the suzerainty of either. Instead, he captured the major trading center of Kalyan and the neighboring forts of Rajmachi and Lohgad. Shahu sent a large force under his "Peshwa" or Chief Minister, Bahiroji Pingale. Kanhoji defeated Pingle and imprisoned him at Lohagad, and started to advance towards Shahu's capital Satara. Shahu commanded Balaji again to raise another army to subdue Kanhoji. Balaji preferred the path of negotiation and was appointed as Shahu's plenipotentiary to negotiate with the admiral. Balaji and Kanhoji met at Lonavala. The newly appointed Peshwa appealed to the old sailor's patriotism for the Maratha cause. Angre agreed to become the Sarkhel (admiral) of Shahu's navy with control of the Konkan. Balaji and Angre then jointly attacked the Muslim Siddis of Janjira. Their combined forces captured most of the Konkan coast, including Balaji's birthplace of Shrivardhan, which became part of the Angre fiefdom. Delighted with Balaji's success, Shahu dismissed Bahiroji Pingale and appointed Balaji Vishwanath as Peshwa on 16 November 1713.
There existed a power vacuum in the Mughal empire, caused by the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, and that of his successor Bahadur Shah, leading to continual internecine conflict within the imperial family and the leading Mughal grandees. Farrukhsiyar came to the throne in 1713 with the help of the two powerful nobles, Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan and Sayyid Abdullah Khan. Claiming descent from the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, the Sayyid Brothers had turned king-makers in the Mughal court. Soon after, differences arose between them and the Emperor Farruksiyar. And while the Mughals were intriguing in the civil war between the factions of Shahu and Tarabai, the Marathas themselves became a major factor in the quarrels between the Emperor and the Sayyids.
To rid himself of the tutelage of the Sayyids, in 1718 Farrukhsiyar dispatched Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan as Viceroy of the Deccan with orders to restore Mughal authority over the south. Farrukhsiyar sought the patronage of Marathas, which by then had conquered most of India and were planning to dispose of the Mughal throne in Delhi. Hussain Ali Khan found himself harried by the Marathas who resorted to their traditional guerilla tactics. Unable to defeat the Marathas in a pitched battle and weary of chasing after constantly marauding Maratha horsemen, Hussain Ali Khan sought to make peace with the Marathas.
In July 1718 Balaji negotiated a Maratha-Mughal treaty with Hussain Ali Khan, demanding the Maratha right of "Chauth" (literally: 1/4th of revenues) and "Sardeshmukhi" (an additional 10% of revenues) of the old Mughal provinces of the Deccan. To this Balaji Vishwanath added the demand of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi over the rich provinces of Gujarat and Khandesh, and the restoration of Chattrapati Shivaji's conquests in Karnataka, in return for which Balaji promised that Shahu would acknowledge the nominal overlordship of the Mughal Emperor, and the Marathas would provide a force of 15,000 armed horsemen to the Mughal Empire. To these egregious demands, Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan readily agreed, with a view to utilize the Maratha soldiers to their advantage in their struggle with the Emperor.
Farrukhsiyar refused to ratify this treaty and sought to depose and murder the Sayyids. The plot was betrayed to Sayyid Abdulla Khan who was in Delhi, who succeeded in neutralizing other powerful Mughal nobles like Asaf Jah I (also known as Chin Qilich Khan and Nizam-ul-Mulk) and Sarbuland Khan (governor of Patna) with promises of rich governorships of Malwa and Kabul respectively. In September 1718, accompanied by Balaji Vishwanath and supported by (now) sixteen thousand Maratha horsemen commanded by the gallant Parsoji Bhosale Hussain Ali Khan arrived in Delhi. Most of Farrukhsiyar's supporters fled but the Emperor's partisans resisted but were overcome at the cost of two thousand Maratha soldiers.
Farrukhsiyar was dethroned, blinded and imprisoned by the Sayyid's, who substituted in his place a more pliable puppet, Rafi-ul-darjat in February 1719. (This hapless prince was dying of tuberculosis and was in turn replaced after a reign of only three months by his older brother Rafi Ud-Daulah.) Rafi-ul-Darjat duly ratified the Maratha treaty. Shahu and his successors were recognized by the Mughal Emperors as the rightful heirs to Chattrapati Shivaji. The Mughals became a puppet government of Marathas and gave a quarter of their total revenue as Chauth and additional 10% for their protection.
Shahu I wanted the south part of Kolhapur in his territory. After he defeated Shivaji II of Kolhapur in 1714, Sambhaji II son of Rajasbai became the Chhatrapati of Kolhapur. He rule his territory with the advice of the Ramchandra Pant Amatya. In 1716 Ramchandra Pant died on Panhala. Now, Sambhaji began to create trouble in the territory of Shahu with the help of Senapati Udaji Chavan and Senakhaskhel Yashwantrao Thorat.The Shirol was under Chavan and the Ashta, Yelvi, Walwa and the wantans in Warana valleys was under Yashwantrao Thorat. After Balaji Vishwanath returned from Delhi with imperial sanads, he decided to March against Sambhaji and Yashwantrao Thorat. He captured Ashta, Yelvi and other village in the Warana valley and went to attack on Panhala fort. At that time Yashwantrao Thorat was ruling his jagir in Vijapur (Bhoom Tahsil, Osmanabad District). He got the news that Balaji Vishwanath captured his jagir in Warana valley and went to attack on Panhala fort. He immediately take some troops with him and went towards Panhala fort. The troops of Peshwa Balaji and Yashwantrao came in front of each other at Apti village near Panhala fort. This battle was fought in 1718. Yashwantrao Thorat was defeated and killed in the battle.
Balaji returned in triumph from Delhi to Satara, having also secured the release after decades of Mughal captivity, the mother (Yesubai), wife (Savitribai) and half-brother (Madan Singh) of Shahu. Weary from his labors and the tiresome journey back from the imperial capital, Balaji Vishwanath's health began to fail. In October 1719 he obtained leave from Shahu to retire to the village of Saswad near Pune that had been granted by Shahu to the Peshwa. Balaji Vishwanath died on 12 April 1720. He was succeeded by his elder son, the celebrated Baji Rao I, who was appointed Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahu..
Balaji Vishwanath also laid the foundation for the complex administrative system of the Marathas that held sway for a century after his death. The Maratha tax collection system from a wide swathe of nominally Mughal provinces was based on a widespread network of agents and collectors. "To it as much as to their victories in the field the Marathas owed the spread of their empire" (),. The mechanism of revenue collected was supported by credit facilities from established banking families.
Balaji married Radhabai Barve and had two sons, Baji Rao I, Chimaji Appa.. He also had two daughters. The older, Bhiubai married Abaji Joshi of Baramati, brother of the banker Balaji Naik famed as Bajirao I's "most tormenting creditor". The younger, Anubai married Venkatrao Ghorpade of Ichalkaranji. Their heirs ruled the state of Ichalkaranji till 1947.