The Marathas Part 20 The Prominent Feudatories of the Empire Section I: The Rajas of Kolhapur

Canberra, 13 August 2022

On Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son and successor Sambhaji being killed by the Mughals, his younger half-brother Rajaram ascended the throne in 1689. He ruled for 11 years and died in 1700, whereupon his widow Tarabai declared her young son Shivaji II the king and started to rule the kingdom as the Regent. At this time, Sambhaji’s son, Shahu was a prisoner of the Mughals. In 1707, the Mughal successors of Aurangzeb released Shahu on the condition that he would rule his father’s kingdom as a vassal of the Mughals. When he reached Maratha country to claim his inheritance, Tarabai was unwilling to accede and a succession struggle erupted.

Succession Struggle – A Divided Kingdom

Tarabai initially opposed Shahu, claiming that he was a ‘pretender’ sent by Delhi to usurp the Maratha kingdom although it did not find much traction among the nobles or the people. Then her fertile imagination concocted an even more improbable argument. She claimed that Sambhaji had lost the Maratha kingdom to the Mughals and that her husband Rajaram had regained it through his own efforts, thereby creating an entirely ‘new’ kingdom. Shahu having played no part in this effort, had no claim on the new State and therefore could not legally claim it. The argument was tenuous at best since the Maratha kingdom had never been annexed and had continued as an independent entity throughout Sambhaji’s struggle against the Mughals. It was an unfortunate turn of events that he had been defeated in battle and captured. Tarabai’s argument did not convince anyone.

The Maratha army under Dhanaji Yadav joined Shahu and easily defeated Tarabai’s army. Shahu occupied Satara and crowned himself king, while Tarabai and her infant son fled to Panhala. Having claimed the Maratha throne, Raja Shahu was keen to accommodate Tarabai and Shivaji II through conciliation to ensure that the fledgling kingdom would remain united. He suggested that the territories marked off by the confluence of Rivers Krishna and Warna up to River Tungabhadra be given to Shivaji/Tarabai to rule, while he himself would rule the rest of the kingdom. Tarabai, who had for seven years been the sole authority over the entire kingdom as the Regent refused the conciliatory effort, demanding the entire Maratha kingdom as her son’s birthright.

Shahu was left with no option but to employ military forces to settle the issue. He marched into Kolhapur and laid siege to Panhala fort. Tarabai managed to escape and reached the remote hill fort of Rangna. Although she was pursued by Shahu’s forces, they did not besiege the fort and returned to Satara. The struggle for legitimacy continued off and on for the next 20 years with Kolhapur continuing to be managed by the Rajaram faction, in an uneasy and untidy arrangement that was not satisfactory for either party. In 1714, an internal revolt, engineered by another wife of Rajaram, dismissed Tarabai/Shivaji II from power and brought in another of Rajaram’s sons, Shambhuji II to the throne. The confrontation with Raja Shahu continued unabated.

Unable to confront Raja Shahu himself, Shambhuji II approached the Mughal Viceroy of the Deccan, Nizam-ul-Mulk, to arbitrate and find a solution to the legitimacy challenge. The Viceroy, who had always wanted to abrogate the Maratha right to impose Chauth and Sardeshmukhi on provinces that he claimed to be Mughal territory, welcomed this approach. He asked Shahu to submit his claims for the kingdom. However, Raja Shahu was supported by an efficient and capable Peshwa who defeated the Nizam in battle at Palkhed in 1728. He forced the Mughal representative to officially accept and declare Raja Shahu as the legitimate Sovereign of all Maratha dominions. Further, it was declared that the Raja had the right to impose Chauth on all the six ‘Mughal’ subahs, provinces, in the Deccan. This victory cleared the air once and for all, even though the Kolhapur prince was permitted to continue to rule his small feudatory.

Subsequently, the Kolhapur forces were routed in March 1730 at the Battle of Shirole that conclude with the Treaty of Warna being signed by both parties in April 1731, after Shahu and Shambhuji had a personal meeting. The treaty clearly defined the territorial borders between the two princes as per Shahu’s old offer that had been spurned by Tarabai. The territories south of River Warna up to the River Tungabhadra was to be the dominion of Shambhuji II, the Raja of Kolhapur and both parties agreed not to harbour or instigate the enemies of the other. The possession of two forts were also exchanged—Shambhuji being given Koppal and Shahu taking over Ratnagiri. However, some of the outlying fortified regions were not handed over to Shahu by the Kolhapur feudatories—Miraj, Athani, Tasgaon and some others—which were later seized by force by the Peshwa. The rebellious independence of the feudal chiefs is clearly visible in this episode, they would not adhere to instructions given by their king.

Raja Shahu’s conciliatory approach even after a resounding victory at Shirole should not be considered as a display of Maratha brotherhood towards a cousin. Purely pragmatic calculations had made it clear to Shahu and his Peshwa that they did not at that time have the capacity to overrun and annex Kolhapur and its feudatories without instigating a full-fledged civil war, which they were uncertain of winning with surety. They were forced to play a waiting game. Till the ratification of the Treaty of Warna by Shahu in 1731, Kolhapur had always been considered an integral part of the Maratha State; in 1731, it was hived off as an independent principality, forming an uncomfortable relationship with the main kingdom. Far too much animosity had been invested in the struggle for succession and even though the Treaty of Warna was accepted by both parties, there was no love lost between minor Kolhapur and the greater Maratha State ruled from Satara. The mutual distrust that existed would later become an influential factor in the further detrimental developments of the relationship.

Kolhapur in the 18th Century

From this point forward, Kolhapur will be referred to as a kingdom in this narrative, since no other term would convey the full meaning of what the small principality stood for and represented. The majority of the people of the kingdom were peasants and numbered about 900,000 at the turn of the 18th century. Being simple and down to earth people, they had a healthy veneration for the royal family and welcomed the reinforcement of the principality’s independence in 1731. Geographically, its territory was slightly more than 8,000 sq km in size and the entire region was well-watered with a number of rivers and rivulets and received more than average rainfall. Essentially, the principality was agricultural country.

The State was surrounded by forests and the Western Ghats that provided natural barriers, while a number of fortified strongholds in the outskirts enhanced its security. The villages maintained able-bodied militia in return for grants of small plots of land, given out on a service-oriented tenure. These militias were trained to a certain minimum standard and reinforced the regular army when required. The system worked well for a small State and Kolhapur could field an army of 20,000 at very short notice. In all aspects, Kolhapur was a privileged kingdom and could have been made into a prosperous and progressive State.

Shambhuji II’s Reign

Shambhuji came to the throne by default, brought thier by a revolt organised by his mother when he was still a minor. He had no talent for administration or military command, and more importantly, he did not have the drive or ambition to make a good king. He appointed the classic ‘Council of Eight Ministers’ to rule the State copying the Satara model, although such a set up was superfluous for the administrative needs of a small principality—only three of the ministers are known. The three senior ministers, the Pratinidhi, Amtya and the Senapati—the Chief Minister, Treasurer and the military commander-in-chief—were at odds with each other, each trying to gain personal power and influence; and also with the prince, clamouring to be independent of his oversight.

The Raja also followed the feudal system, dividing his kingdom among the civilian ministers and military commanders, who were not always amenable to following royal instructions. The situation deteriorated to an extent that Shambhuji was forced on a number of occasions to request Raja Shahu to intervene and bring the recalcitrant feudatories to obedience. The Kolhapur prince also visited Satara regularly, most of the time asking Shahu for military assistance to reconquer the territories of South India that had once been under the Maratha flag. However, Shahu’s own position was militarily precarious, and he was in no position to grant such a request. 

A Secret Pact

In 1740, Shambhuji was visiting Satara when the great Peshwa Baji Rao died. Baji Rao’s son and heir, Balaji Rao came to Satara to receive from the king the robes of honour necessary to assume the duties of Peshwa and met Shambhuji. By this time the Peshwa was the undisputed Chief Executive of the Maratha kingdom.

Balaji had always harboured intentions to unite the two factions under one sovereign with himself as the Peshwa. He decided to try and sell the idea to Shambhuji and proposed that on Shahu’s death the Kolhapur prince assume the combined throne, while Balaji would continue as the Peshwa of the reunited empire. The pact was attractive to Shambhuji, but the plan went haywire when Shahu, refused to die soon enough and there was no appetite for a murder within the Maratha nobility.

The pact never came into effect for a number of reasons. One, it had been concluded by the Peshwa without the permission of the king or even informing him, and was therefore, technically invalid. Two, Raja Shahu was a gentle person but had never condoned Shambhuji II for joining hands with the Mughal Nizam to oust him, and later sending an assassin against him. Three, on his deathbed, Shahu directed that the Kolhapur prince was not to succeed him—he held Shambhuji with great repugnance. Four, when Shahu died in December 1749, the Peshwa was already secure in his position and possessed supreme power. Bringing Shambhuji to the throne would mean upsetting the existing equilibrium of power and he did not ready to share power with someone else, and that too someone who would occupy a position nominally superior to him.

Although repeatedly evoked by Kolhapur, the Peshwa did not act on the pact. On Shahu’s death, Shambhuji then started to march to Satara and was blocked enroute by a strong force of the Peshwa. The pact was thereafter never mentioned. Kolhapur was gradually becoming unviable as a State because of mis-management, infighting and Shambhuji’s incompetence. In February 1759, the Peshwa reached Kolhapur and concluded two agreements with the prince, according to which, Satara would bail out its failing economy and then provide military assistance to bring the Kolhapur feudatories to book. The State of Kolhapur was being held up by the Peshwa and had become a vassal State of the Maratha kingdom. Shambhuji spent the last decade of his rule in a debauched and dissipated state with the administration being taken care of by Rani Jijabai. Shambhuji died on 18th December 1760, leaving no male heir behind.

Another Attempt at Reunification

On Shambhuji’s death, the Peshwa renewed his pet scheme of unifying the two States. He proposed that the Maratha forces take over the Kolhapur forts of Panhala and Rangna, place Umaji Bhonsle on the throne and permit Rani Jijabai to run the palace administration, however with no say in the management of the State. She was to be given a pension and State policies were to be looked after by Peshwa’s officers. In laying down these terms the Peshwa had not taken into consideration the spirited nature of the Maratha princesses and noble ladies. Rani Jijabai refused to accept being ‘pensioned off’, that too by the Peshwa of the ‘rival’ kingdom. She immediately wrote to all the feudatories and neighbouring States laying out her opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, the Peshwa forces had advanced into the interior of Kolhapur. However, the Peshwa’s attention was completely diverted by events rapidly evolving in North India and he could not provide any further support to his forces in Kolhapur. Without materiel support from Pune, the Peshwa’s forces were defeated by Jijabai’s soldiers. At around the same time, Jijabai adopted a five-year old boy from a branch of the Bhonsles—the Khanawat Bhonsles of Indapur—renamed him Shivaji III and placed him on the throne, while she herself assumed the role of Regent. For her astute diplomatic manoeuvrings, she came to be acknowledged as the saviour of the Kolhapur State.

In January 1761, the Maratha kingdom suffered a crushing defeat at Panipat and the Peshwa died of a broken heart in June the same year. Despondency swept through the Maratha kingdom and Jijabai found it easy to gain acceptance and recognition for her nominee as the ruler of Kolhapur State. As the Regent, she ruled Kolhapur for the next ten years with an iron hand.

Shivaji III 1762–1812

Shambhuji II had no interest in increasing his territorial holdings or for that matter in administering his kingdom properly. The Peshwa on the other hand was always pushing out the borders of the kingdom. By the time of Shivaji III’s accession to the throne as a five-year old, Kolhapur was surrounded by the feudatories of the Maratha State, particularly those of the Peshwa—Patwardhans, Rastes and Gokhales. The Peshwa also occupied most of Karnataka which Kolhapur had always claimed as their territory.

Shambhuji had repeatedly asked Raja Shahu to provide him with military assistance to reclaim Karnataka. Now with the Peshwa conquering most of Karnataka, Kolhapur felt that it had not been given its fair share of the conquered territories. In a classic example of self-serving interests being kept above the needs of the larger State and people, Kolhapur had no qualms in joining hands with the enemies of the Maratha kingdom—Haidar Ali and the Nizam—that too in the hour of extreme calamity for the empire after the debacle of Panipat.

In 1764, Peshwa Madhav Rao assisted Jijabai in putting down some rebel feudatories in return for a promised payment of seven lakh rupees. The Rani was unable to pay the amount and handed over two districts in lieu, for the Peshwa to collect revenue. The Peshwa in turn handed over the districts to his feudatory Patwardhan to realise the revenue. Already at loggerheads, this was added cause for increased friction between Kolhapur and the Patwardhans. Kolhapur took advantage of some internal dissentions in Pune and send its forces into Peshwa territory, attacking Ichalkaranji. The Peshwa directed Patwardhan to assist the besieged feudatory. In 1775, Konher Rao Trimbak decisively defeated Kolhapur forces and in 1776, Patwardhan forces entered Kolhapur dominion. It is reported that the Patwardhan forces plundered the monastery of Shankaracharya on 9th March 1776.

Kolhapur itself was saved only because Patwardhan was diverted by the Peshwa to counter Haidar Ali’s march towards River Krishna, partly undertaken to relieve the pressure on his ally, Kolhapur. Further, Haidar Ali sent monetary assistance to Kolhapur and promised military assistance for them to keep fighting the Peshwa. Haidar Ali’s military activities in northern Karnataka and his attempts to join forces with Kolhapur against Pune, made the Peshwa wary of the developing security situations. He decided to neutralise Kolhapur and send a strong army under Mahadji Scindia to Kolhapur. Scindia laid siege to Kolhapur and beat back repeated attempts by the garrison to break out; the siege continued from February to April 1778 when Kolhapur agreed to pay Scindia 15 lakh rupees to lift the siege.

As soon as the siege was lifted, Kolhapur reneged on the agreement and arrested all officials who had facilitated the compromise and stood surety to pay the tribute to Scindia. Repudiating the agreement, Kolhapur took the offensive and laid siege to Kagal in 1779. At this time, the Peshwa was busy quelling the uprising by Raghunath Rao and dealing with an intrusive English and resorted to diplomacy—he made deals with Haidar Ali and the Nizam, thus isolating Kolhapur. In May 1780, Patwardhan captured the Kolhapur outpost of Shirole and went on to inflict a significant defeat on Kolhapur forces at Waghapur. On 22nd January 1781, a peace treaty was signed between Kolhapur and the Maratha kingdom. Sadly, the Patwardhans were not consulted in forming this agreement and were asked to return all their conquests of the past five years. Perhaps more galling was the fact that they were asked to respect the ‘dignity’ of the Raja of Kolhapur and not interfere in the administration being run by his Diwan, Yashwant Rao Scindia. The Patwardhans however adhered to the terms of the treaty and the eastern borders of the Kolhapur kingdom remained relatively peaceful till 1793. The short-term opportunism that was permeating the Maratha polity can be seen in the quick settlement of this treaty with insufficient consultation with allies.

Other Challenges

Although the eastern border remained secure for over a decade, other internal rebellions troubled the minor kingdom. In 1781, the garrison at Bhudargarh rebelled and joined the ranks of Parashrambhau Patwardhan. In 1784, a revolt in Bawda was contained with great difficulty. Kolhapur does not seem to have formulated any long-term foreign policy, since in the middle of these troubles, they invaded the territories of the Sawant of Wadi (the province came to be called Sawantwadi later). The Sawant sought Portuguese assistance to repel the invasion, ceding four seaside districts as payment, although the contest remained indecisive.

In 1792, the English East India Company sent a maritime expedition against Kolhapur and obtained reparations for losses the Company had suffered through the actions of the Kolhapur military forces. They also forced Kolhapur to give permission to open factories at Malwan and Kolhapur. When viewed holistically, it becomes clear that Kolhapur was hard put to maintain the integrity of the kingdom, both territorially and in terms of moral sovereignty. The decline was not helped by the lackadaisical administration at the centre and the disinterest of the ruling prince in matters of state. The setting in of terminal decay is visible to an astute observer.

The Declining Years

In 1793, Mahadji Scindia arrived in Pune. He insisted that the Maratha army of the Carnatic be deployed against Kolhapur to recover territory that they had captured from the Sawant of Wadi. The Patwardhan army led by Ramachandra Patwardhan took to the field and was soundly beaten and dispersed by the Kolhapur forces. Enraged, the great Bhau himself took to the field and laid siege to Kolhapur. After suffering great privations for over a month, Kolhapur agreed to pay Bhau 10 lakh rupees, handing over the districts of Chikodi and Manoli as mortgage till payment was made.

Peshwa Madhav Rao’s death in 1795, shook the foundations of the Maratha empire. The new Peshwa who was not yet of majority, and the Regent Nana Phadnavis, were openly opposed by Daulat Rao Scindia, who was the new Scindia clan leader. In the internecine struggle for power that resulted, Parashrambhau Patwardhan was imprisoned. Kolhapur did not waste any time and immediately marched into Bhau’s feudal holdings and into the Carnatic districts of the Maratha kingdom. Nana Phadnavis himself who had fled to Mahad played a double-game, inviting Kolhapur to attack the Patwardhans, one of the Peshwa’s own trusted feudatories. Shivaji III needed no encouragement—he invaded and occupied Bhudargarh, recovered Chikodi and Manoli, and captured Hubli. Then the Kolhapur forces invaded Patwardhan territory again, burned all the houses and moved all the way to the River Krishna, engulfing almost the entire Patwardhan holdings.

There is a rumour that at this time, the Raja of Satara—the Maratha king, now king only in name—made an overture to the Raja of Kolhapur to join forces to overthrow the Peshwa and other powerful feudatories and take back the kingdom. A force under Raste was dispatched to subdue this incipient ‘rebellion’ but proved unequal to the task. The Peshwa, alarmed at the unfolding events that threatened his very position, freed Bhau from incarceration. Parashrambhau immediately took to the field and on 4th August 1798, defeated the forces of Satara and on 31st August occupied Satara itself. Then he moved towards his own holdings to contend with the Kolhapur forces occupying them. In September while advancing towards Kolhapur Bhau unexpectedly encountered a strong Kolhapur military contingent. In the ensuing battle fought on 16th September 1799, Parashrambhau Patwardhan was mortally wounded.

Realising the serious implications of the defeat on the Maratha kingdom, Nana Phadnavis immediately sent reinforcements to Bhau’s son, Ramachandra Appa, to defeat the Raja of Kolhapur. The Raja fled to Panhala and the Patwardhan army occupied Kolhapur. This would have been the end of the independent existence of Kolhapur had it not been for Nana Phadnavis’ death in 1800 that necessitated the Pune forces returning to Pune. By sheer luck Kolhapur was given another lease of life and permitted to return to its fragile existence.

A Whimpering End

In December 1802, through the Treaty of Bassein the Peshwa was virtually placed under English ‘protection’ and the control of the English Resident. Kolhapur was warned against initiating any offensive undertaking against the Maratha kingdom. For a small and somewhat fragile principality, Kolhapur was inordinately offensive in its stance and foreign relations. They once again invaded the territory of the Sawant of Wadi who requested assistance from Nimbalkar. Nimbalkar, known as Appa Desai, inflicted a great defeat on Kolhapur forces in 1808 at Savgaon and captured Chikodi and Manoli. Reconciliation efforts through the offer of matrimonial alliances by the Raja of Kolhapur failed and Appa Desai renewed his attacks in 1811. Kolhapur suffered great losses and agreed to an English offer to arbitrate a peace.

In a Treaty signed on 8th October 1812, Kolhapur ceded Chikodi and Manoli to the Peshwa and the fort of Sindhudurg to the English. The English also enacted the by now normal terms laid out by them in treaties with all Maratha chieftains, requiring the Marathas to refrain from initiating any offensive action or conferring with any enemy of the English.

The long reign of Shivaji III was one of incessant turmoil and uncertainty for the Kolhapur kingdom, moving from defeat to victory and near ruination to conquest. The Raja pursued only activities for his pleasure and personal interests, taking no cognisance either of the needs of his small principality or of a united Maratha polity against external elements attempting to break up the empire. The feudal system was entrenched beyond redemption with more than two-third of the empire controlled by feudatories, most of whom were rebellious by nature. The remaining territory, in the absence of a strong central administration, fell into perpetual chaos. The classic ills of the feudal system were visibly ingrained in the kingdom and the common people suffered untold miseries.


Kolhapur saved itself from extinction by entering into the protective circle of the English. Shivaji III died in 1813, and if he was incompetent, his successors were worse. Murder and chaos, along with regular rebellions of the feudatories became common. The English appointed a Diwan from outside in 1844 to rule the State and stem the internal rot. The kingdom became part of British India after participating peripherally in the rising of 1857. Kolhapur was never considered of great importance, did not have any deciding influence, and lacked the power to be anything but a small principality in the broader scheme of the politico-economic developments in the sub-continent.   

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2022]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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