Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The enchanting "Bhairavi" - Tribute to Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Bhairavi Signifies the end.. the end of Mehfil.. departure, hence the mood of this raaga is Sombre, yet pleasant.. which keeps on lingering while artists fade away after the mehfil..

One such artist faded away yesterday.. "Bharat Ratna" Pandit Bhimsen Joshi... He was 89 years old..

One of the prominent singers of India who sang "Vande Mataram" in Lok Sabha at the stroke of the midnight hour of 14th August 1947 and beginning of 15th.. Independence dawned upon Bhaaratvarsha with beautiful rendition of "Vande Mataram" by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi ji in Desh Raag.. What can be more exhilarating and auspicious? 

Here is his rendition of famous thumri.. Babul mora naihar chhuto hi jaay... 

As his aatman shoots upwards, crossing the "Sapta-lok" and resting in Vaikuntha till he decides to reincarnate again, his mortal body fades leaving behind the notes of this immortal "Bhairavi" sung by him... 

Panditji, in essence, shall live on, for eternity...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Panipat Revisited - Part 4 - The genesis of the problem

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Shuja of Lucknow participated in battle against Marathas for two reasons

1. Islamic brotherhood
2. Najib's threat of releasing abdali on Awadh

What marathas seriously misunderstood was rallying power of Islam as an idea and its efficacy in gangetic plains. The call of "Islam in danger" had no effect whatsoever on Telugu Ibrahimkhan Gardi who fought and died alongside Sadashivrao Bhau on the fields of Panipat. It had effect only on Muslims in Gangetic plains. This thing repeated during rise of Muslim leage in decade of 1940s. The idea of Pakistan did not have much support amongst Muslims in Punjab, Bengal and rest of India. It was primarily in Muslim majority districts of UP and Bihar.

Marathas considered Gangetic valley as temporarily fixed with bengal in disarray and friendly Shuja. 1755 OR 1756 to be more precise is the period of Adina Beg's idea of granting Punjab's rights to Marathas in exchange of their promise to protect Delhi from Pathans. This is when the lobbying and deliberations began. When capable people are at helm, they see things coming much earlier. In spite of whatever people say, Nanasaheb and Sadashivrao bhau were extremely capable administrators and statesmen. 

The problems for Marathas started in 1737, when Bajirao-1 conquered Delhi. It was his decision not to oust Mughal emperor. He should have made himself as king of delhi OR made shahu chhatrapati as Dillipati. This was the moment of choice. When Bajirao-1 decided to preserve Mughals for namesake, the die was cast. The alienation of Hindu kings (mentally) started from that moment itself. The emotional pull of idea of Shivaji's Hindavi swarajya ended with this choice of Peshwa.

Why did Marathas preserve Mughals?

The decision of preserving Mughal emperor for namesake is most intriguing of all the decisions of Marathas. If one starts blaming Marathas for that decision, one is intrigued that when staunchly anti-Mughal Sikhs conquered Delhi temporarily in 1770, even they did not choose to oust Mughal emperor and declared him titular head. Until 1803, Mughal emperor was titular head while living off the pension from Marathas. After 1803, the guardianship of Mughal emperor moved to East-India Company when even they continued this policy of Bajirao-1 Peshwa of keeping Mughal emperor as nominal head. 

Mughal Empire was non existent and in rapid decline since 1703 when Marathas crossed Narmada and conquered central India. Yet, Mughal dynasty continued to linger on till 1857 due to their preservation by Marathas and East India company respectively. Even while 1857's Indian war of independence, Nanasaheb -2 Peshwa and Tatya Tope tried to replicate similar model by naming old Bahadur Shah Zafar as titular head of independent India.

The Mughals had a large supporting networks in terms of marriage, shared unbroken blood lines and of course basic religious philosophical motivations with "all" the Islamic pieces of the Mughal empire which had survived despite the Mughal power falling. 

Once a power base is created, it is not merely the dynastic people at head, which as we see in case of last Mughals were personally vacuous and inept. It is the inertia of the mutually benefiting groups which continue to need the "name" to keep the network going.

The Maratha's chose to use the network to their advantage rather than pick a fight with everyone at once by breaking it -- of course in hindsight we know it is wrong decision -- and they should have made their own ideological allies -- but in reality could they? As a large centrist power whose cadre was drawn from ALL quarters?

The Summary

Having made the choice to preserve Delhi and Mughals in 1737, the requirement of Marathas in terms of "allies" changed. This is what culminated in their decisions in 20 years later. Those who could have been long term allies were alienated because of this decision. 

In changed scenario of requirements, the players who presented themselves as potential allies had their advantages and drawbacks.. Whilst Marathas appreciated the advantage of preserving mughals and hence support of shuja while ignoring Jats, they did not appreciate the drawback of the same. The context of this policy realignment in 1750s is in the decision of 1737..

Once they decided to preserve delhi (an inherently islamic power centre) the responsibility of preserving and protecting other allied islamic power-centres fell upon them too. This is the reason they could not eliminate Nizam of hyderabad, in spite of defeating him conclusively time and again. Najib was Persona non grata because he openly aspired to overthrow Mughals and sit on throne himself.

Marathas left deccan to overthrow Mughals. By the time they reached Delhi, they became protectors of Mughals. This was a "deal-breaker" for many other people (like Sikhs, Jats, Ahoms) who were fighting against Mughals previously.

Panipat Revisited - Part 3 - Shuja OR Surajmal - Problem is Choice !!!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Moving on from Sikhs who are natives of Punjab to other players and their non-alignment with cause which Marathas stood for.

The Rajputs: Rajputs were all spent after Aurangzeb's 27 years of deccan conquest. Rajputs provided the fodder in form of soldiers to fuel the war machine of Aurangzeb. The Rajput kings typically allied with those who controlled Delhi. The behaviour of Marathas in Rajputana whilst was hurting to the pockets of Rajput kings, they were not in position to influence the policy of Marathas. They were physically far away from Punjab and lacked the political-will and necessary man-power and unity to spillover into Gangetic plains for any agenda whatsoever. The constant infighting and bickering which Mughals, Marathas and later British took advantage of, led to undoing of Rajputs.

With Rajputs gone from the list, Surajmal Jat and Shuja-ud-daula of Lucknow remain.

The Problem is choice !!!

Jats were organized force with a leader whom Marathas could do business with. The fourth option was shuja who was wealthy, powerful and friend of Marathas. Marathas counted on Shuja to help them in Panipat. shuja's mother was extremely amicable on personal terms with Peshwa. Peshwa asked him either to support Marathas OR if not possible, at least stay neutral in this feud.

When Marathas started "thinking" about Punjab in 1755, these question were considered. These are basic factors which any emperor will think about, afterall army walks on stomach. Whether allies are powerful or not is not enough. The other criteria is whether they are useful OR not. Jat was powerful but not useful for Maratha policies. Shuja was powerful and useful.

For conquest of Punjab and northwest, Gangetic valley has to supply the material. Who was controlling GV in 1755? Najib, Shuja and Aliwardykhan.. Alivardi was already paying chauth to marathas, but he is too far off in east (not to mention peshwa-bhonsla complication). Najib was the real problem, this was identified by Peshwa and Shinde. Furthermore, Najib was Sunni-pathan, Mughals were enemies of Pathan but were Sunni. Shuja of Awadh was Shia. Najib was inimical to Shuja (shia-sunni angle) and hence Peshwa was friendly to Shuja.

Shuja did not fight because his forces were stationed in front of Holkar along with Najib on Extreme left flank of Abdali. He had Holkar in front of him. And for many reasons (some not so pleasant), Holkar wasn't very keen on fighting with Najib and viceversa. Shinde had to attack najib diagonally while Holkar did not move. 

From Peshwa's point of view, Shuja and Surajmal were two options to make "alliance". Of two, Shuja was better placed financially, whereas Jats militarily. The troops were never problem for Marathas, they controlled virtually entire India and could raise an army from recruitment anywhere. The problem for them was feeding the army. Even Surajmal was not rich enough to feed army of 400.000 men and million animals for half-year. Shuja had that power..

Furthermore, Shuja, like Peshwa was in favour of preserving Mughal emperor nominally. Jats were in favour of abolishing mughal dynasty. This was not in conformance with Maratha policy of national consolidation. Hence the logical option left in front of them was "Shuja". Hence Nanasaheb Peshwa was amicably realted to seat of Lucknow.

Suspicion Rises... What a Tangled web of interests we weave...

Seat of Lucknow got suspicious of Marathas because Marathas did not punish Sunni Najib. Marathas did not punish Najib because Holkar did not want that to happen. Holkar was known to pull the horse of Raghoba by reins when Raghoba was keen on destroying Najib. 

Holkar did not want Najib to be destroyed was because he had lost his son (husband of ahiliyabai) in war and was heir-less and Holkar was not completely sure of intentions of Peshwa faction and more importantly Shinde faction. He needed sometime to be sure of Shindes. He had no heir while Shindes had Dattaji, Jankoji, Mahadaji Shinde (sons of Ranoji Shinde, his co-disciple of guru Bajirao-1 peshwa) who were alive. So he needed an enemy of Shinde faction to linger long enough to be sure of Shindes and Peshwa.. This was purpose of Najib in Malharrao's mind.. 

The tangled web of interests caused a huge jigsaw puzzle which unraveled on that fateful day of 14th January 1761.

Panipat Revisited - Part 2 - The Sikh Angle

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

The list of players playing the game for wresting control over North India from 1730s to 1800s.

1. Mughal: Spent force, allies of victor, whoever it may be. Titular head of India.

2. Najib: Pathan, Sunni, enemy of Mughals. I have discussed animosity of Pathan-Mughal in detail in this article. Najib was open aspirant of delhi throne (which was taken away from Pathans by Mughals under Babar) and hence a persona non grata.

3. Shuja: enemy of Najib and suspicious about alivardi khan. Shia-Muslim from Lucknow, hence in good terms with Marathas.

4. Abdali: General of Nadirshah, later king of Afghanistan. interested only in Punjab (region to west of Sutlaj). crossed sutlaj repeatedly only for looting.

5. Mullah class: Greatly pampered under Aurangzeb. Sirhindi stalled the integration process initiated by Dara Shikoh. Later Shah wali sensed loss of power to Hindu kings and raised the bogey of "Islam in danger". This bogeyman was craftily used by Najib to lure Abdali and Shuja.

6. Jat: interested in Delhi. staunchly anti muslims.

7. Rajputs: deracinated and uprooted force with no preferences. friend of whosoever controls delhi. 

8. Sikhs: Ideologically motivated but not in position to raise huge army and supply columns.

9. Holkar: grand old man of Maratha faction. Suspicious about intentions of Shinde and Peshwa, hence friends with Najib. Probably he understood the power of Gardi's artillery and hence opposed it because he knew what would happen if this mode of warfare stuck in India.

10. Shinde: Great personal animosity with Najib. Amicable in action and spirit with Peshwa. Advocates of cavalry mode of warfare.

11. Peshwa: Perhaps the only faction with ambition to establish pan-subcontinental empire. However, subservient to emperor of Satara and bound by Shahu's promise to Aurangzeb regarding protection of Delhi.. Family history of Tuberculosis and loss of all capable men at very young age.

One of the most common "reason" which is cited as the main reason for Maratha defeat on Panipat is poor diplomacy by Marathas which left them friend-less in alien territory. While this is true, I feel this is the opinion formed owing to our luxury of hindsight. 

Why was it that Marathas chose to hurt Surajmal Jat, yet count on Shuja of Lucknow to either help them against Abdali OR stay neutral at the least? Why did they give higher preference to Shia Muslim Shuja and not Hindu Jat? I will deal with Sikh, Jat, Rajput and Shuja faction. In this article, I will discuss the Sikh angle in Mughal-Maratha relations during Panipat Campaign.

Following is the analysis for non-alignment of Sikhs for the Maratha-cause..

Sikhs were not organised by 1750. It was after 1762 that Sikhs started becoming a force to reckon with. Even if there were a support base for, Marathas in punjab, there are many operational problems.. 

Village is fundamental structural and functional unit of India. On an average every village had 200 households (my estimate). Villagers leave their homes and either take refuge of forests OR fortified cities when Pathans cross Sindhu and descend on plains of Punjab . If they go to fortified cities, they fight for its defence and live if city prevails and die if city falls. If they go to forests, they live if they have enough rations, OR die of hunger, animals, enemy OR nature. Given the sparse nature of towns and cities in medieval times, most of the people took refuge of forests, abandoning the land.

Ruler needs encourage people to return to their lands and till it. Even if Punjab was taken by Marathas for purpose of tax (Punjab has and had very high tax potential similar to bengal), it would have taken at least 4-5 years of stable occupation for people to start paying chauth. The net income of Marathas in Punjab campaign (in spite of the loot) was negative because there was nothing left to loot.

Furthermore, while Sikhs were harrassing Abdali using guerilla warfare tactics, it is easy for Sikhs than Marathas, to do so for two reasons. 

A. It was their home-base.
B. Their armies were not so huge and sophisticated, hence the supplies were very simple ones. Not many horses, cheap weapons, no elephants, no artillery (and associated maintenance crew for all units), no royal women with all their luxuries (relatively). For such an army, the list of items to be supplied is really long. 

Punjab and Sikhs (even if they were friends of Marathas) were not in position to fulfill this demand of such a huge army. It is easy to feed a fighting band of 200-300 men. It is takes huge toll to feed a gathering of 400,000 men and about million animals. No village, town, citadel or power centre of sikhs were in position to make the supplies.

To be continued...

Panipat Revisited - The reasons and analysis - Part 1

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

1. The biggest mistake of marathas was to enter Punjab (indus valley) without securing Gangetic plains. The supply chain got stretched way too thin..

2. It is difficult to replicate guerilla warfare tactics of Maharashtra on plains of Punjab. Especially without sympathy of local populace.

3. Whether to secure gangetic plains and Bengal first OR whether to secure Punjab first - this was the main topic of discussion in Pune Darbar since 1755. It is tendency of Dillipati (be it anyone) to leave Punjab to dogs and fight the enemy near Delhi when delhi is weak. When delhi is strong, they do not allow central asians to cross Indus and enter Punjab in first place. Delhi was weak after 1707.  So she was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1740 and by Abdali in 1750's. To stop this, Mughals decided to give away Punjab to marathas for protection. marathas were contemplating on renewing their eastern campaign and punish alivardi khan, this meant securing Rohilkhand, Oudh and Bihar first. Najib was close to Malharrao Holkar who lobbied in pune court to take up Punjab option and postponing Ganga's liberation to further date. Pune accepted this argument.

4. They sent army under Raghunathrao. Raghoba himself wasn't much keen to fight with afghans, and was interested in punishing Najib of Rohilkhand first (Rohilkhand is western UP). Holkar did not allow this young prince to do that. Later Marathas conquered Punjab and chased Afghans up to Khyber. Sabaji Shinde (Scindhia) was present in Peshawar and was looting adjoining Pathan areas for 19 months while attock was made the frontier of empire. 

5. The main army of raghunathrao returned to Pune (in spite of repeated requests of Sikhs and Jats to station a large army permanently in North). After 19 months of fighting, Abdali took Attock and Punjab back from Marathas in 1759 December.

6. To rectify this mistake, it was decided to station a large army permanently in North to accompany the already stationed army of Dattaji Shinde. 100,000 to 150,000 troops was assigned under Bhau and Vishwasrao. IMO, this was an example of large-scale migration and not a campaign. Hence these people were accompanied with their families, traders and other house-holders. They were supposed to stay there and colonize Delhi and rest of North. Few papers suggest that it was planned that Vishwasrao be made emperor of Delhi after bandobast of abdali is complete. Bhau organized a huge ceremony in Delhi court under chairmanship of Vishwasrao and not Mughal emperor. 

7. however behaviour of earlier maratha campaign had left sour taste in mouths of Jats and Sikhs. Furthermore, Jats wanted to keep delhi to themselves. This is one generosity which Marathas should have shown. The importance of Delhi was unnecessarily kept high. Delhi was never seat of any Hindu king. Delhi signifies as seat of tyrant in many of the Indian province. 

8. Why did Marathas honour the promise given to an a$$hole like Aurangzeb? Shivaji would have broken than promise in no time. The classical characteristic of Hindu kings of honouring the promises while mlechhas stab in back, continued to live on.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remembering Panipat - 250 years later

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Commander of Indic forces - Sadashivrao Chimnaji Bhat aka "Bhau"

On the eve of 250th anniversary of that fateful day, I remember our ancestors who fought and died to protection of Rashtra and Dharma and gave such a blow to the enemy that there hasn't been a single invasion  from northwest again in last 250 years. 

Exactly 250 years ago, those brave men must have gathered in tent of Bhau at this time (16:00 IST). They must have started their discussions on how to break the siege and move towards Yamuna. They knew Peshwa had left Pune with 50,000 army. It was only matter of time when Abdali would find himself between rock and a hard place. The only luxury they did not have, was time. There was no food. Almost everyone was hungry in the army for atleast 2-3 days, including horses. They had to reach Yamuna at all costs.

The north India was shivering with cold wave. Marathas come from region which is not so cold, they did not have enough clothes to protect them from cold and their armour was light. their strength was speed, but with empty stomachs, how far will they run and how fast?

Malharrao must have insisted on using traditional fast manoeuvring tactics of Marathas. Bhau, however, had sensed that there cannot be victory unless troops get food to eat and water to drink. He wanted to reach Yamuna and cross the river at all costs, under cover of artillery. Bhau must have taken Holkar aside, alone and insisted to save himself and all women, should anything unfortunate happens. 

Next day morning at dawn, everybody ate the last piece of bread, applied turmeric to their faces determined to kill or die. The opening salvo of Maratha artillery went over the heads of Abdali's troops. Gardi recalibrated the range and his batteries started raining fire, hell and death on right flank of Abdali. The charges of abdali on left flank of Marathas was foiled again and again. Under that cover, the entire base of  Marathas, their women, children, traders, old pilgrims started moving towards Yamuna. So fierce was this artillery attack that entire battlefield was in hands of Marathas for entire morning. About 12000 Pathans were killed by left flank of Marathas in matter of an hour. One can imagine the horror in the eyes of Abdali.

The Charge of Bhau

The enemy started attacking centre. Bhau advanced the centre under his personal command. The charge of maratha centre under bhau is one of the most romantic moments to imagine. It is depicted in the picture above with Bhau on elephant and Vishwasrao, Vitthal Shivdeo and elite heavy cavalry of 15000 Huzurat devastating the centre of Abdali. The road to Yamuna was now open. The lines of Abdali were pushed 3 to 5 kilometers behind in matter of minutes, sheerly due to inertia of the charging cavalry far away from range of Abdali's infantry. The victory was in sight, the road to safety, food and delhi was opened. Now all that was required was hold ground and position. Bhau's men were tired, but they cut entire army of Abdali in two halves and the right half of Afghan army was totally destroyed by Ibrahimkhan's artillery. It was only matter of time now.

Shinde started his attacks on Najib preventing him from coming for the aid of Abdali. 

This is when accidently, Vishwasrao fell to a stray bullets while facing the charge of Afghan reserve and camel mounted artillery known as "Shaturnal". The Afghan heavy cavalry began their charge and with Bhau in firing range, Ibrahimkhan could not fire on advancing Afghan heavy cavalry. Bhau assigned 1500 troops for protection of artillery and led the charge himself. He knew that it was all over and now all he could do is inflict as much damage upon Afghans as possible before he died. 

The Memorial of Bhau and Marathas

Cannon to left of him, cannon to the right of him, into the valley of death, Rode Bhau and marathas.

Almost entire generation was killed in one single day. There was no home left in Maharashtra and MP which had not lost someone on Panipat. Quoting Jim Morrison, 

"This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land

Generation lost, but Rashtra saved... lakhs killed, but Dharma saved... all that in one day - 14th January 1761...

My heart cries for our ancestors.. May that sacrifice not go in vain.