The Forgotten Talkatora

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Remnants of Talkatora
Photo Credit-Monika Bradoo

Talkatora Bagh/Garden is a Mughal-era Garden situated on the Mother Teresa Crescent (previously Wellingdon Crescent) in New Delhi. In ancient times, it used to be a tank and a Swimming pool. The Marathas defeated the Mughals in the Battle of Delhi (1737) at this place.
The garden is now more famous for the Talkatora Stadium. It attracts a large number of tourists.
There was a tal (tank) at the west side of the garden, surrounded by hilly ground forming a katora (bowl shaped natural depression) which gives the place its name. Although the pond has gone missing long ago, here still exists at the northwestern end of the garden, a long wall domed octagonal pavilion s at the two ends. this was an embankment (bund) to hold back rain water flowing into that tank. there is another link to the past. the place around this was used as a camping ground by the Maratha army in 1736-37. Writes GS Chhabra in his book.

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Saadat Ali Khan I

Source: Internet

“Saadat Khan (a Mughal army official) had attacked a contingent of marching Maratha army after it had crossed Jumna (Yamuna River). He retired to Mathura saying he had defeated the main Maratha army.

Peshwa Baji Rao, had however, taken different route to reach Delhi. He did not pillage the city and camped at the Talkatora grove.”

The other Mughal Sardars of the doab – Mohammed Khan Bangash and Khan Dauran joined Sadat Khan at Agra. From there, Sadat Khan sent messages to the emperor apprising him of how he had routed the ‘main’ Maratha army at Jaleshwar and that he would now proceed to finish Bajirao with the help of other Mughal Sardars!

Onward march for the historic Battle of Delhi on 28 March 1737

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Bajirao Peshwa-Shaniwarwada-Fort-pune

Source: Internet

After death of Trimbak Rao, Bangash’s alliance against the Marathas had fallen apart. Consequently, the Mughal emperor recalled him from Malwa, and re-appointed Jai Singh II as the governor of Malwa.

However, the Maratha chief Holkar defeated Jai Singh in the Battle of Mandsaur in 1733. After two more battles, the Mughals decided to offer the Marathas the right to collect ₹ 22 lakh as chauth from Malwa.

On 4 March 1736, Bajirao and Jai Singh came to an agreement at Kishangad. Jai Singh convinced the emperor to agree to the plan, and Bajirao was appointed as Deputy Governor of the province.

Jai Singh is also believed to have secretly informed Bajirao that it was a good time to subdue the weakening Mughal emperor.

Following successes in Malwa and Rajputana region during the 1730s, the Peshwa decided to pressurize the Mughal emperor to grant him various provinces, places and tribute from other Mughal provinces.

In brief, Baji Rao’s demands were as follows: (May 1736)

1. Subhedari of Malwa.
2. Sardeshpande to be appointed by Peshwa to the six subah of the Deccan.
3. The forts of Mandavgarh, Dhar and Raisin.
4. Bundelkhand upto Chambal to be ceded to the Peshwa.
5. Fifty lakh rupee tribute to be paid by Bengal to the Peshwa.
6. The Mughals to hand over the holy places of Mathura, Prayag, Varanasi and Gaya to the Peshwa.
7. Dues of chauth from Gujarat.

In return, Bajirao agreed not to attack any other territory under the Mughals, and station 500 Maratha troops at Delhi etc.

But as soon as Bajirao turned south and left for Pune, the Mughals decided to renege on his word! He continued to have Sawai Jai Singh as the subhedar of Malwa and consented to Bajirao being only a deputy subhedar.

On 12 November 1736, Bajirao Peshwa started a march to the Mughal capital Delhi from Pune.
On hearing about the advancing Maratha army, the Mughal emperor asked Saadat Khan who was at Faizabad, to march and attack him at Agra and check the Maratha advance.
Saadat Khan led a force of 150,000 against them, and ‘defeated’ them. He then retired to Mathura, stating that the Marathas had retreated.
The Maratha chiefs Malhar Rao Holkar and Pilaji Jadhav crossed Yamuna and plundered the Mughal territories in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab.

But the fall of Ater and Bhadavar meant that Baji Bhivrao now controlled the crossing places on the Yamuna. Early in the month of March 1737, Baji Bhivrao and Malharrao Holkar crossed the Yamuna with troops numbering 10,000 and raided the towns of Shikohabad, Ferozabad and Itimadpur.

They then proceeded to Jaleshwar, where a contingent under Sadat Khan opposed Malharrao Holkar. But this was just an advance guard sent by Sadat Khan under Mansur Ali Khan, meant to draw the Marathas towards Sadat Khan’s main army which was far more numerous. Mansur Ali Khan controlled only 12,000 of Sadat Khan’s army which totaled over 60,000!

Holkar unfortunately fell for this ploy and found himself in front of Sadat Khan’s large army. The Pathan Nawab’s forces outnumbered the Marathas, and in the fighting that followed, Holkar ‘lost’ over a thousand men before managing to retreat and cross the Yamuna .

Sadat Khan then moved north to Agra, which the Peshwa had already vacated for Gwalior. Malharrao Holkar joined Bajirao Peshwa at Gwalior around the middle of March.

The other Mughal sardars of the doab – Mohammed Khan Bangash and Khan Dauran joined Sadat Khan at Agra. From there, Sadat Khan sent messages to the emperor appraising him of how he had routed the ‘main’ Maratha army at Jaleshwar and that he would now proceed to finish Bajirao with the help of other Mughal sardars! Malharrao Holkar’s and Baji Bhivrao attacked the doab.
However, Bajirao advanced to Delhi and encamped at Talkatora. The Mughal emperor dispatched a force led by Mir Hasan Khan Koka to check his advance.
The Marathas defeated this force in the Battle of Delhi on 28 March 1737. Bajirao then retreated from Delhi, apprehensive about the approach of a larger Mughal force from Mathura.

Help for Mughals

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Muhammad Shah

Source: Internet

The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah then sought help from the Nizam. The Nizam set out from Deccan, and met Bajirao’s returning force at Sironj. The Nizam told Bajirao that was going to Delhi to repair his relationship with the Mughal emperor.
On reaching Delhi, he was joined by other Mughal chiefs, and a massive Mughal army set out against the Peshwa.

Moreover, the Mughal decided to attack the Peshwa so as to prevent him from entering Malwa again. For this, the emperor sounded the Nizam of Hyderabad as well as Mughal sardars in the Ganga – Jamuna doab such as Sadat Khan, Mohammed Khan Bangash and Khan Dauran.

A formidable force, stretching across the cow – belt of present day India was formed to attack the Peshwa.
In September of 1736, the Emperor sent a sanad , confirming Peshwa as deputy subhedar of Malwa. All other demands of Bajirao were entirely ignored.

The Peshwa also assembled a force of 80,000 soldiers and marched towards Delhi, leaving behind a force of 10,000 under Chimnaji to guard Deccan. The two armies met mid-way at Bhopal, where the Marathas defeated the Mughals in the Battle of Bhopal on 24 December 1737.

Once again, the Nizam was forced to sign a peace agreement, this time at Doraha on 7 January 1738. The province of Malwa was formally ceded to the Marathas and the Mughals agreed to pay ₹ 5,000,000 as indemnity.

This time, the Nizam took an oath on Koran to abide by the treaty.

The First Battle of Delhi or The Raid of Delhi took place on 28 March 1737between Maratha Empire and the Mughals.

By 1735, the Marathas had gained control over entire Gujrat and Malwa. But some towns and areas under the influence of local Mughal officers and Zamindars refused to acknowledge Maratha control.

The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah was also dillydallying over passing an official order chartering chauth and sardeshmukhi rights to the Marathas. Efforts by Bajirao to seek audience with the Mughal emperor were also ignored.

The Marathas decided to assert themselves.

The Peshwa realized that mere negotiations would no longer help his cause. Unless he moved his armies to Delhi, the Mughal emperor would not budge. Accordingly, in October of 1736 (Pansolar. Marathyancha itihas by G.H Khare, quotes this as November 1736), Bajirao moved into Malwa via Nandurbar and joined Holkar, Shinde and Pawar who were already present there. Together they totaled over 50,000 troops.

In January of 1737 Peshwa moved further north to Bhelsa near Bhopal and captured it. Then he moved to Datia (near Gwalior) as also Ater by February of the same year. The Raja of Bhadavar opposed Bajirao at both places, but was comprehensively defeated.

The Marathas obtained 20 lakhs tribute from him. Thus by early 1737, Bajirao had extended Maratha influence almost to Delhi and were in fact in the vicinity of Agra . He then ordered Malharrao Holkar and Baji Bhivrao to attack the Ganga – Jamuna doab region, so as to prevent any help reaching Delhi from that region as also to prevent the Pathan Nawabs of the region from attacking the Marathas who had by then reached the precincts of Agra.

Bajirao I personally marched towards Delhi with a large Maratha army in Dec 1737. He divided the army into two. One contingent was led by Peshwa Bajirao and the other by Pilaji Jadhav and Malharrao Holkar.

The contingent of Holkar was however annihilated by a much larger army led by Sadat Khan, the Nawab of Oudh and mughal governor of Agra.

Malharrao Holkar himself managed to escape and reach the other group led by Bajirao. The contingent of Bajirrao, in a swift movement, completely bypassed the encamped Mughal army and reached the outskirts of Delhi (28 March 1737), covering a ten-day journey in just forty eight hours.

What followed thereafter was the direct attack on Mughal army. The Mughal emperor himself hid in the safe confines of Red Fort, while Bajirao and his men gain control of the countryside. A twelve thousand strong Mughal army led by Mir Hassan Koka did try to take on Bajirao, but they were hopelessly outmaneuvered and Mir Hassan himself was wounded in the skirmish.

Then before the Mughal army could get reinforcements and gather their wits, Bajirao with his entourage returned to the Deccan. On 31 March 1737, the victorious Maratha army left Delhi with their large booty leaving behind Mughals, mauled and humbled.

On the way back to Pune, Bajirao planted his trusted lieutenants at various places won from Mughals in north and central India, which were to remain their permanent places of influence in the near future.

Bajirao attacks Delhi!

Bajirao now decided to directly attack Delhi, where the emperor, emboldened by Sadat Khan’s letters, had become slightly complacent. He moved from Gwalior, and keeping Agra 14 – 15 miles to his east, galloped to Delhi at a speed of over 70 miles a day. Passing Newataya , Barapula and the Kalika mandir (today’s Kalkaji Temple of Delhi) camped at Kushbandi on the 28th of March 1737.

Kushbandi was in today’s New Delhi area.

On the 1st of April, Sadat Khan and the others received news of Bajirao’s march to Delhi. The three Mughal sardars started moving from Agra to Delhi via Mathura.

Bajirao now had the Red Fort well within his sights. His initial plan was to attack Delhi with all his troops to loot, pillage and burn the Mughal capital. But later on, he decided against such an act. His reasons being, that Delhi held a special place in the minds of many people, zamindars and sardars across the region and suddenly breaking the thread of politics might create insurmountable political problems. Moreover, the Marathas had more to gain by the politics involving the badshah and Khan Dauran.

Lastly, dethroning the Mughal was frowned upon by Shahu. The Mughal armies were also numerous and the campaign would not be easy. As a result, Bajirao abandoned his plans to torch Delhi, and instead sought to menace the Mughal emperor and annex territories surrounding Delhi so as to tighten the Maratha grip over Delhi.

On the 29th of March, the Marathas looted some outlying areas near Delhi, forcing the emperor to station a force of a few thousand outside the Red Fort. Bajirao sent Malharrao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde, Tukoji Pawar and Yashwantrao Pawar to battle this Mughal force. The Maratha and Mughal armies, each numbering around 8,000 clashed near Rakab Ganj (near today’s Parliament House).

Over 400 Mughal soldiers were killed and an equal number were wounded, along with a number of their leaders. The Mughal contingent beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the Red Fort’s walls.
Peshwa Bajirao then shifted his camp to Malcha, a village near Talkatora. The Mughal emperor sent a force under Kamruddin Khan, who attacked from Patshahpur. In the skirmishing that followed, the Marathas captured a number of horses, guns and an elephant.

The camp was mentioned as ‘Kushbandi’, which was somewhere in New Delhi.

Bajirao moves south:

Bajirao’s mission had by the beginning of February been accomplished. He had reached the very walls of the Red Fort and defeated many different Mughal sardars. Peshwa Bajirao and other Maratha generals had, by dint of speed, managed to make the various Mughal sardars run around in circles – whether it be Malwa, Chambal, Doab or Delhi. That he now dictated terms was obvious.

Seeing that there was a large water body behind them, the city of Delhi some distance away and Kamruddin swiftly making his way to Talkatora, Bajirao decided to shift his camp once again.

Another major reason being that the armies of Sadat Khan, Khan Dauran and Mohammed Khan Bangash were closing upon Delhi. The Peshwa moved south to Kot Putli, around a 100 km away.

The Mughals had been sufficiently harassed, and would not dream of attacking the Peshwa again directly.

Aftermath of the Battle of Delhi

The Mughals were devastated by the fierce attack and ask all muslim rulers to help against the Hindu army of Marathas. Nizam left Deccan to rescue Mughals from the invasion of Marathas, but was defeated decisively in the Battle of Bhopal. The Marathas extracted large tributaries from Mughals and signed a treaty which ceded Malwa to the Marathas.

This Maratha plunder of Delhi weakened the Mughal Empire, which got further weakened after successive invasions of Nadir Shah (1739) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1750s). While Marathas got support from local Hindus who welcomed them partly due to religious freedom and taxation.
The continuous attacks led to an end of Mughal Empire by year 1757 in which Marathas became the rulers of Delhi.

The Peshwa had achieved his objective of menacing the Mughal emperor. This campaign showed once and for all, that the Marathas controlled the strings at Delhi and any adventure by the Mughal would be dealt with sternly. The Mughal emperor on his part, was shown his much diminished position in Hindustan. Moreover, the Khan Dauran agreed to pay 13 lakh to Bajirao as tribute.

The Mughal emperor, understandably enraged at having been attacked in the Red Fort itself, decided to join the Nizam of Hyderabad in one last attempt to check the Peshwa.

Peshwa Bajirao’s response is the famous battle at Bhopal of 1738. This famous clash with the Nizam in 1738, cemented the Maratha’s place as the major power in India.

It is even chronicled that:

The Peshwas make a Second Attempt at terminating the Mughals in secret collaboration with the Nawabs of Awadh.

Peshwa Baji Rao I headed towards Delhi had the secret support of Saadat Khan and his son Safdarjung, the Nawabs of Awadh, who had also managed to convince Muhammad Shah that they were the best military commanders to deal with the Maratha threat.

Leading a strong force of 150,000 horsemen, Saadat Khan engaged in a brief skirmish with the forces of the Peshwa. Then Saadat Khan mysteriously withdrew and encamped at Mathura. From there, he sent news to the remaining Mughal military commanders that the Peshwa had been defeated and had left for the Deccan. The remaining Mughal military commanders left Delhi completely unguarded and began to celebrate.

In reality, the Marathas had hidden themselves in a natural depression surrounded by hills at Talkatora.

Source: E-books

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