With the decline of the Mughal administration in India, the Bengali Nizams expanded their control over Odisha. On the other hand, the Marathas grew in strength and desired to assert their dominance throughout the country. The Bhonsles of Nagpur under Raghuji redirected the Marathas’ policy toward Odisha, directly causing a schism with Alivardi Khan, Bengal’s Nawab. In the end, the Marathas succeeded in establishing their dominance over Odisha. However, their rule over this land from 1751 to 1803 CE dissatisfied the people of Odisha.


Contents

  1. Maratha Capture of Odisha
  2. The 1751 peace treaty
  3. Mir Habib
  4. Mirza Saleh
  5. Sheo Bhatt Sathe
  6. Bhawani Pandit
  7. Shambhaji Ganesh
  8. Babuji Naik
  9. Madhoji Hari
  10. Rajaram Pandit
  11. Sadashiv Rao
  12. Maratha Administration in Odisha
  13. Policy towards Jagannath temple of Puri

Maratha Capture of Odisha

The Maratha invasion of Odisha had a number of causes. Raghuji Bhonsle of Nagpur, unable to dominate Sahu due to Baji Rao’s superior strength, contemplated plunder in the direction of his dominion’s north-east. His desire was bolstered when Mir Habib, who had been expelled from Odisha by Nawab Alivardi Khan, approached Nagpur and offered assistance to Raghuji, encouraging him to invade Odisha. Finally, his Prime Minister Bhaskar Pandit’s willingness prompted him to launch an attack on Odisha.

By that time, Alivardi Khan, Bengal’s Nawab, had seized control of Odisha. Bhaskar Pandit crossed the Baramula Pass with the assistance of Mir Habib and entered Odisha with a grand Maratha army. The Maratha cavalry’s galloping march instilled fear in the minds of the Nawab’s army. Within a short period of time, on 19 April 1742, the Marathas captured Barabati fort. Mir Habib marched from Midnapur to Burdwan and then to Murshidabad in order to settle his score with Alivardi. Though Alivardi Khan saved Murshidabad from the Marathas’ plunder by paying a large sum of money to Bhaskar Pandit, fate had reserved certain misfortunes for it in the near future.

Alivardi Khan appealed to the shadowy Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah for assistance in dealing with the Maratha menace following Bhaskar Pandit’s return. The emperor informed the Nawab of Oudh and Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao of Poona of Alivardi’s plight, and they assisted Alivardi in recapturing Cuttack by defeating Maratha contingents when Bhaskar Pandit left for Nagpur via Chilika with the enormous booty he had obtained through plunder.

When Alivardi returned to Murshidabad, Raghuji Bhonsle descended upon Odisha like a meteor and made his way towards Bengal, after plundering Cuttack. At this point, Alivardi was compelled to form an alliance with Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao by paying him twenty-two lakhs of rupees to rescue him from Raghuji’s clutches, forcing Raghuji to retreat to Nagpur. However, a treaty between the Bhonsles and the Peshwas brought the Maratha troops back to Odisha under the leadership of Bhaskar Pandit, who was invited by Alivardi to a meeting at Mankora with his twenty-two generals, where they were all treacherously murdered along with their leader. This instilled fear in the Marathas, who immediately returned to Nagpur.

Alivardi Khan’s treacherous act enraged Raghuji, who launched a vigorous campaign against Odisha. On 12 May 1745, Raghuji captured the fort of Barabati. Naturally, Raghuji was defeated by Alivardi. While retreating towards Nagpur, he directed Mir Habib to seize Odisha for the Maratha. Mir Habib, as a devoted servant, marched towards Bengal with his troops and occupied Midnapur. Alivardi appointed Sayyid Ahmad Khan as Odisha’s Governor following the Marathas’ defeat at Midnapur. At this critical juncture, Januji, Raghuji’s son, came to Mir Habib’s aid. The insurgent Afghan chiefs backed Januji. Alivardi was unable to wrest Midnapur back from the Marathas. Alivardi made the final decision to expel the Marathas from Odisha in March 1749. Alivardi advanced unopposed to Cuttack and captured it. Shaikh AbdulSubhan was then appointed Governor of Odisha by him. Mir Habib emerged from hiding only one week after his departure and reclaimed Cuttack.

The 1751 peace treaty

This shocking development weakened Alivardi’s resolve. Alivardi was elderly, frail, and feeble at the time. Mir Habib marched towards Bengal with a grand army of 40,000 soldiers. Alivardi assembled his army in order to drive the Marathas out of Bengal. The Marathas used guerilla warfare to their advantage. Alivardi established a permanent military outpost at Midnapur under the command of Ali Quli Khan to teach them a lesson. He delegated the task of dealing with the Marathas to his grandson Siraj-ud-Daullah, who pursued them all the way to Balasore. Alivardi was left at a crossroads of perplexity by the Marathas. Alivardi was in Midnapur at the time of the Marathas’ attack on Murshidabad. Alivardi’s march towards Burdwan brought the Marathas to Midnapur. Alivardi required a break from combat due to his advanced age. Mirjafar and Mirza Saleh mediated on behalf of the Nawab and Mir Habib, respectively, and peace was finally reached in 1751. The treaty stipulated that Mir Habib would be considered a servant of Alivardi Khan (the Naib Nizam) and would rule over Odisha on his behalf. He would pay Raghuji’s troops the province’s surplus revenue in arrears. Twelve lakh rupees should be paid annually to Raghuji on the condition that “the Marathas do not set foot within Alivardi’s dominions.” The river Sonamukhi (Suvarnarekha), which flows near Balasore, was to serve as the demarcation between Odisha and Bengal. Mir Habib and Alivardi’s treaty was highly politicised. Prof. B.C. Ray emphasises its significance by writing:

“The treaty was a triangular agreement between three sets of forces acting in the name of Raghuji, Mir Habib, and Alivardi, with Raghuji seeking money, Mir Habib seeking honour and vengeance, and Alivardi seeking rest without regard for his nominal overlordship over Odisha.”

The treaty appears to have established the Marathas’ authority over Odisha. While Alivardi appeared to be the overlord of Odisha, he was not in reality. He remained in the clutches of the Marathas, who gradually established their authority over Odisha independently of the Bengali Nawabs.

Mir Habib (1751-1752 CE)

Mir Habib first met Raghuji during Alivardi Khan’s assassination of Murshid Quli Khan II. From that moment on, he was determined to avenge his master Murshid Quli’s death. With that objective in mind, he sided with Raghuji until the treaty between him and Alivardi Khan was signed in 1751. The treaty was negotiated in such a way that Mir Habib became indispensable to both parties, who recognised him as Odisha’s Governor. On the one hand, the Marathas chose him to recoup their arrears, and on the other hand, Alivardi received a reprieve from Odisha’s turbulent politics. Mir Habib was a steady man, and as Subahdar, he made sound judgments when necessary. For instance, following the assassination of Ramachandradeva II of Khurda, Padmanavadeva of Patia petitioned Mir Habib, who appointed him to the throne of Khurda. However, when the courtiers convinced him later of Bhagirathi Kumar’s legitimacy as Birakishoradeva, Mir Habib unreservedly accepted it. Mir Habib’s administration was always characterised by strict discipline. He maintained an Afghan and a Maratha force under his command to ensure the successful execution of his plan. He had promised to pay the Marathas a four-lakh-rupee annual tribute. Additionally, he received twelve lakh rupees from Bengal. Regrettably, he incurred the wrath of Januji, who was unable to obtain a satisfactory explanation from him regarding the alleged misappropriation of a certain sum of rupees that resulted in Mir Habib’s death.

Mirza Saleh (1752-1759 CE)

Mirza Saleh, Mir Habib’s nephew, was instrumental in the 1751 treaty between his uncle and Alivardi. When he succeeded Mir Habib as Governor of Odisha in 1752, he found himself caught between two colossal masters, Alivardi and Raghuji. He was not, however, a man to be sandwitched between the two opposing forces; rather, he desired to outwit both. When Raghuji demanded additional money from him, he agreed to pay four lakh rupees more and demanded the same amount from Alivardi, who refused. This prompted Saleh to occasionally coerce the people of Odisha in order to obtain additional funds and to collect money from British merchants who had established factories in Hariharpur, Pipli, and Balasore. The British also made appropriate presentations to Mirza Saleh in order to ensure their business’s prosperity.

In 1756, following Alivardi’s demise, his grandson Siraj-ud-daulah ascended to the Bengal throne. Saleh was instructed by the new Nawab not to assist the British people. Though Saleh declared his allegiance to Siraj, he aided the British in secret. When British factories in Bengal began to close one after another, their factories in Odisha expanded exponentially with Saleh’s blessings. Additionally, defying Siraj’s orders, he aided the Britishers in secretly raising 1,000 gunmen, securing their position in Odisha. He not only assisted them, but also conspired with them to depose Siraj from the Bengal throne. When this was discovered, he sought refuge with Raghuji in Nagpur, who did not condone his cowardice. During Saleh’s absence, his son Dadar Ali was in charge of Odisha’s administration.

Meanwhile, Siraj was assassinated in 1757 following his defeat at the Battle of Plassey. Dadar Ali was imprisoned by the Marathas for failing to perform his duty. Mirza Saleh returned to Cuttack and took up his charge once more. Now, Mirzafar, the new Nawab, has halted the payment of Chauth to the Marathas, which has harmed Saleh’s reputation. As a result, he was compelled to resign in 1759. He was Odisha’s last Muslim Subahdar to serve both the Marathas of Nagpur and the Nawab of Bengal. Following him, Odisha was directly under the Maratha administration.

Sheo Bhatt Sathe (1760-1764 CE)

Sheo Bhatt Sathe was the state’s first Maratha Subahdar. After Raghuji Bhonsle’s demise, his son Januji ascended to the throne of Nagpur. He appointed Shea Bhatt Sathe as Odisha’s Subahdar. Shea succeeded Chimna Sau as governor of the province. Sheo Bhatt Sathe’s first task as Governor of Odisha was to collect Chauth from the Nawab of Bengal. By that time, Mirjafar had been succeeded as Nawab of Bengal by Mir Qasim. Sheo Bhatt demanded Chauth from him, but Mir Qasim was unconcerned. At this point, Sheo launched an attack on Bengal and plundered Burdwan. He also asserted that Midnapur and Burdwan were Marathas’ possessions as parts of Odisha. In 1761, the British garrison foiled his attempt to plunder Bengal. British troops were stationed in Midnapur and Bengal as a precautionary measure. As a result, the Marathas were unable to complete their mission. This infuriated Sheo Bhatt, who detained Kushal Chand, the British agent in Cuttack. The British now convinced Mir Qasim to drive the Marathas out of Odisha. Mir Qasim remained silent and began negotiating with Sheo Bhatt, assuring him of the payment of Chauth in exchange for Sheo’s cooperation. To this end, Qasim sent a sanad of Jaleswar and Midnapur to Sheo Bhat, who in turn dispatched his younger brother Bhaskar Pandit and Butl Khan to march to Jaleswar in support of Mir Qasim. This alarmed the British East India Company, which dispatched Aga Muhammad AIi, a Balasore resident, and Ghulam Mustafa, the company’s gumastah in Balasore, to meet with the Maratha governor and plead with him not to rebel against the British. The British governor of Bengal, Vansittart, confirmed that the Marathas would receive their Chauth arrears if they sided with the company against Mir Qasim. As a result, Shea Bhatt renounced his allegiance to Mir Quasim. Mir Qasim was defeated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar. Following their victory in that battle, the British duped Shea Bhatt into not paying any Chauth arrears. Sheo Bhatt was dismissed in 1764 for failing to pay his debt to Januji. Chimna Sau was appointed Governor of Odisha by Januji. Shea Bhatt was arrested and sent to Nagpur on 12 April 1764. After being pardoned, Shea made a valiant attempt to reclaim the governorship of Odisha, but he failed miserably. He engaged in double dealing with Mir Qasim and was thus repaid in his own coins.

Bhawani Pandit (1764-1768 CE)

Shea Bhatt Sathe contested Chimna Sau’s authority. As a result, the former sought assistance from Nagpur in order to quell the zamindars’ uprising instigated by Shea Bhatt. Accordingly, Bhawani Pandit arrived in Odisha in July 1764 with a grand army of 5,000 cavalry and assumed the charge as Governor of Odisha. He acted decisively against the obstinate zamindars of Dhenkanal, Nilgiri, and Mayurbhanj. They submitted to Bhawani Pandit and paid handsomely for the upkeep of the Maratha troops in Odisha after being subdued. The threat of Shea Bhatt invading Odisha prompted the British to request assistance from Bhawani Pandit in suppressing Shea. Shea aided them in this endeavour. He signed a treaty with Lord Clive in which he agreed to sell the salt produced by the zamindars of Balasore and neighbouring districts exclusively to British merchants. He mediated between the British and Januji regarding the payment of Chauth. Finally, when Mir Zainul Abadin appeared before the court of Jaunji in Nagpur on behalf of the British, he expressed his opposition to the Bhawani Pandit government. Januji became enraged at this and dismissed Bhawani Pandit for his inefficiency in implementing Chauth.

Shambhaji Ganesh (1768-1770 CE)

Shambhaji Ganesh was appointed Subahdar of Odisha solely to collect Chauth from Bengal. He forged closer ties with the British in the hope of realising Chauth. He offered the British 50,000 Maratha horses in exchange for their use. Additionally, he permitted the British troops under Major Achmuty’s command to march through Odisha. The negotiation for Chauth, which began in a very cordial atmosphere between Shambhaji and the British, failed due to the latter’s refusal to assist Januji in his conflict with the Peshwa. During his tenure, news of the arrival of alleged French ships off the coast of Ganjam was misinterpreted by the British authorities. Shambhaji Ganesh’s mission could never be accomplished. Shambhaji, on the other hand, was passionate about encouraging pilgrims from all over India to visit the temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri. He also took steps to end the amla’s oppression of the mutassadis. He passed away in September 1770.

Babuji Naik (1771-1773 CE)

Rajaram Pandit served as Governor of Odisha for a brief period following Shambhaji Ganesh’s demise. In 1770, Babuji Naik was appointed Subahdar of Odisha. He maintained a cordial relationship with the British. Allyn, a company servant in charge of a factory in Cuttack, had lent money to numerous individuals. He appealed to Babuji for assistance in realising the same and was assisted by the latter. Additionally, due to a grain shortage in Calcutta, he instructed Abdullah Khan, the faujdar of Balasore, to sell rice for the company whenever the Englishmen requested it. The British also demonstrated their goodwill by assisting Babuji Naik in suppressing the border zamindars who caused havoc. His tenure as Odisha’s Subahdar was peaceful.

Madhoji Hari (1773-1777 CE)

Madhoji Hari’s governorship saw a new kind of development in the Balasore and Cuttack coastal strips. There were numerous shipwrecks during his reign, particularly in the middle part of coastal Odisha, such as Kujang, Kanika, and Ali (Aul). The inhabitants of these areas were pillaging the wrecked ships with the full support of the local kings, who mistreated and occasionally imprisoned the shipwrecked. With this in mind, the British authorities pleaded with the Raja of Nagpur to ensure the safety and security of merchants, travellers, and wayfarers and to punish the notorious king of Kujang. As a remedy, the British authorities desired a sanad from the Maratha chief of Nagpur granting them “perpetual possession of a strip of land running parallel to the sea coast between the rivers Kanika and Mc1hanadi.” Additionally, the king of Kujang’s authority was to be revoked and delegated to the British. The Maratha chief of Nagpur rejected the Britishers’ initial proposal. He did, however, direct Madhoji Hari to inquire about the king of Kujang. When summoned by the Subahdar, the king expressed regret for previous acts and was thus pardoned by Madhoji. Madhoji’s act enraged the Raja of Nagpur, who summoned him from Odisha.

Rajaram Pandit (1778-1793 CE)

Rajaram Pandit’s governorship in Odisha witnessed the Anglo-Maratha conflict during Warren Hastings’ governorship. The Raja of Nagpur had formed an anti-British confederacy with Poona, Hyderabad, and Mysore. Conflict with these four powers necessitated the movement of the British army to Madras via Odisha in order to deal with Mysore’s Hyder Ali. The Nagpur Bhonsle chief deemed it prudent to avoid a clash with the British power. As a result, he directed Rajaram Pandit to extract Chauth from the British authorities in the event that the Governor-General requested passage of British troops through Odisha. In 1781, Warren Hastings dispatched a detachment under Colonel Pearse to Balasore and Anderson to obtain permission for the same purpose from the Maratha Governor of Odisha by paying twelve lakhs of rupees. Rajaram Pandit travelled to Calcutta personally to settle the debt with the Governor-General and demanded a loan of twenty-five lakh rupees with an immediate payment of twelve lakh rupees. Following due negotiation, he was given a sum of rupees thirteen lakhs along with a loan of rupees ten lakhs. Colonel Pearse marched his army through Odisha and crossed the border of Ganjam with the assistance of some Maratha officers such as Harihar Mahadeo and Magun Choudhury. Rajaram’s act brought the British closer to the Nagpur Bhonsles. Rajaram Pandit’s actions were adamant. Rajaram dismissed him after receiving information from Wilkinson, the British resident at Balasore, about the Maratha faujdar Bhawani Das Choudhury’s oppression of a merchant from Barabati named Gangadhar. Murar Pandit was appointed faujdar of Balasore in his place. Additionally, he took steps to crush the obstinate zamindars. Snodgrass, the British Chief of Ganjam, informed Rajaram Pandit that Balarama Maharatha, a recalcitrant landholder for the British company in Ganjam, had fled and entered the territory of King Divyasimhadeva, who granted him asylum. Rajaram Pandit apprehended him and his followers in the Cuttack neighbourhood. Divyasimhadeva was then surrendered to Snodgrass. Of course, Balarama Maharatha attempted to flee from Snodgrass’s clutches and was assassinated. Rajaram Pandit, on the other hand, chastised the king of Khurda, who had humbly submitted to him. Not only was Rajaram Pandit an astute diplomat, but he was also an excellent administrator. He subdued all refractory forces. He also expressed a strong interest in the influx of pilgrims to Puri from all over India. He abolished the previous practise of collecting revenues through hereditary talukdars and appointed his own men to do so. He performed admirably as Odisha’s Subahdar and died in 1793.

Sadashiv Rao (1793-1803 CE)

Rajaram Pandit’s demise paved the way for his son Sadashiv Rao to become Odisha’s Naib Subahdar. He, like his father, was quite hospitable to the British. With the abolition of the British Residency at Balasore, Barabati escaped the British East India Company’s clutches. Sadashiv Rao, on the other hand, extended a cordial gesture to the company and offered them Barabati, which was attached to the British factory. Sadashiv also repressed anti-British Rajas in the region. In 1795, a British battalion that refused to lay down their arms was attacked by another battalion that imprisoned some of the former battalion’s sepoys. Other sepoys of the mutinous battalion sought refuge with the Mayurbhanj king, who refused to hand them over to the British when demanded. The British authorities approached Sadashiv Rao at this point. Sadashiv addressed a letter to the king of Mayurbhanj, who complied with the order and expelled the rebellious sepoys from his territory. Sadashiv Rao also aided the British troops in their march from Bengal to Madras. His gracious gesture prompted the British to upgrade their postal service in Odisha. British correspondence between Calcutta and Puri increased significantly. However, his friendship with the English never diminished his willingness to fight for a last cause. When Divyasimhadeva II, the king of Khurda, died, a contest for the throne of Khurda ensued between Mukundadeva, Divyasimhadeva’s son, and Shyamsundar, Birakishoradeva’s second son. While the British aided Shyamsundar, Sadashiv fought the British tooth and nail. Finally, in 1795, Mukundadeva asserted his legitimate claim to the Khurda throne.

Maratha Administration in Odisha

Throughout the Maratha and Mughal periods, Garjat states paid tribute to the Raja of Nagpur. The Marathas ruled the remainder of Odisha, namely the coastal plain areas from Suvarnarekha in the north to Chilika in the south, popularly known as Moghulbandi.

In Odisha, the Maratha administration was a carbon copy of the Mughal. They desired to preserve the fabric of Mughal design. However, the Maratha Governors’ massive exploitation made their rule unpopular in Odisha.

Division of the Maratha Empire in Odisha

In Odisha, the Maratha administration was a legacy of Mughal rule. The Maratha possessions in Odisha were bounded on the east by the sea, on the west by the Chhattisgarh province, on the south by the Chilka lake and the undivided Ganjam district, and on the north by Jaleswar, Midnapur, and Birbhum. Odisha was divided into two political divisions: the Garjat, which comprised twenty-four tributary chieftains, and Mughalbandi, which encompassed the coastal tract extending from Suvarnarekha in the north to the Chilka lake in the south.

Maratha Administration in Garjat states

The king of Khurda was the most powerful of the twenty-four feudatories, but the Rajas of Kanika, Dhenkanal, Ranapur, Baramba, Athagarh, Kujang, Aul (Ali), and Mayurbhanj retained their relative importance during the Marathas’ reign. The Maratha governors stayed out of those chiefs’ internal affairs. Additionally, the feudatories were not punctual with their payments to the Maratha Subenders.

Administration in Odisha’s Mughalbandi district

The Mughalbandi was subdivided into 150 Paraganas, each of which was administered by 32 Amils. Each Mahala or allotment was subdivided into two, three, four, or more Mahalas or allotments. The Amil or Revenue Commissioner was responsible for assessing revenue and charging different officers with the responsibility of collecting revenue. Chaudhuries, Kanungoes, or Talukdars were his hereditary revenue collectors, each in charge of a taluk or sub-division. These officers were provided with rent-free lands dubbed Nankar. They were tasked with the responsibility of not only collecting revenue from the subjects, but also keeping them happy and content. Hustabud was a well-known settlement. The government’s demand was based on the amount of land that was actually under cultivation.

The Marathas’ civil and military administration

The Subahdar was the ruler of this land’s civil and military administrations. The Kiladar worked for him when he was in charge of the Barabati fort in Cuttack. There were a few faujdars who were subordinate to the Subahdar and controlled a few chaukis (outposts). A thanadar was the head of a cneuk: the Amil was tasked with the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting civil and criminal cases.

Paddy exports

As is the case today, paddy was grown in vast quantities and was a valuable export item to Bengal and Madras via the small ports of Golrah, Harishpur, Bishenpur, and Manikpatna. Along Odisha’s sea coast, salt was abundantly manufactured.

Trade ties with other regions of India

Odisha was well connected by road to Bengal, Madras, and Nagpur during the Maratha rule. From Cuttack, a well-known road connected Bengal to Bhadrak, Balasore, Jaleswar, and Midnapur via Bhadrak, Balasore, Jaleswar, and Midnapur. From Nagpur to Sambalpur, there were two roads. From Cuttack, a road connected Madras via Puri, Ganjam, Burgun, Tekkali, Kalingapatanam, Chicacole, and Visakhapatanam.

Policy towards Jagannath temple of Puri

The Marathas regenerated religion. The Maratha Subahdars’ primary responsibility was to worship God Jagannath and to maintain the grand temple at Puri. Puri, a deserted town during the Mughal era, was densely populated by pilgrims from all over India who came to pay homage to the God of Gods. The Marathas administered the temple effectively, and pilgrims encountered no difficulties in Puri. Without a doubt, the Marathas collected pilgrim taxes, but a sizable portion of that revenue was spent on temple festivals. Under Maratha patronage, God Jagannath’s fame spread throughout India. Ttie Marathas established Annachhatras (free food distribution centres) and granted Brahmins rent-free lands. They made financial contributions to monks and appropriate grants to mathas for the performance of various festivals.

To conclude

Maratha rule in Odisha was largely a military one. The sole objective of the Nagpur Bhonsles was to treat this land as a milch cow and to extract significantly more revenue from the populace. The frequent change of governors jeopardised and unstable the administration of this land. Anarchy reigned, and people gradually lost interest in Maratha rule. The frequent marching of British troops through Odisha instilled in the populace a fear psychosis. Additionally, the Maratha governors’ increasing revenue collection enraged those who despised Maratha rule over this land. Perhaps this was one of the primary reasons the populace welcomed British hegemony over this land and desired to expel the Marathas. One feature that distinguished Maratha rule in Odisha was the preservation of the temple of God Jagannath in Puri, which had been ruthlessly ignored by the Mughals in the past.

Sources and References

1. History of Odisha Vol-I by Dr Manas Kumar Das
2. History of Odisha Vol-II by Dr Manas Kumar Das
3. History of Odisha Vol-III by Dr Manas Kumar Das
4. History of Odisha Sahu, Sahu, Mishra
5. History of Odisha Vol-I by Y.K. Sahu
6. History of Odisha Vol-II by Y.K. Sahu
7. History of Odisha by RD Banerjee
8. Odishara Itihasa by Satyanarayan Rajguru