Amit Paranjape’s Blog

“The Era of Bajirao” by Dr. Uday Kulkarni – A Book Review

Posted in History, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on January 8, 2017

Bajirao was one of the most significant figures of 18th century Indian History. Unfortunately, many who rely on popular history books and school textbooks would not be aware of his two decades reign from 1720-1740, and his amazing achievements. This is true not just of Bajirao, but of the entire 18th century Maratha History. Often history narratives in India transition from 17th Century Mughal Era to 19th Century British Era, largely ignoring the 18th Century Maratha Empire – an empire which at its peak covered a large part of present day India.


A lot of Maratha History has not been widely translated into English and other languages. “The Era of Bajirao” – Dr. Uday Kulkarni’s excellent new book, which chronicles the life of Bajirao, will hopefully fill in some of this knowledge gap about Maratha History. This book was released in Pune today. The chief guests at the publication ceremony were Babasaheb Purandare, Air Marshal (Retd.) Bhushan Gokhale and Prof. Raja Dixit.


‘The Era of Baji rao” is a proper well researched history book, filled with numerous references and quotes from original letters, treaties, ‘Bakhars’ and other reference books. Unlike many ‘popular’ history books, this book has plenty of hard data, and doesn’t draw too many conclusions. The data, facts from original sources are presented to the readers to draw their own inferences. Dr. Kulkarni was researching this book for over two years. His previous book ‘Solstice at Panipat’ (Published in 2011) about the 3rd Battle of Panipat, was very well received and has had multiple editions/reprints.


A practicing surgeon, a retired navy officer, a journalism graduate, a historian – Dr. Kulkarni has a very interesting background. He has his own history library of over four hundred rare reference books. He has also spent countless hours, researching hard to find references in libraries in India and UK. Three years back, he was able to find a rare original document (Panipat Bakhar) in a library in London, which had gone ‘missing’ for over 150 years. I have been fortunate to have known Dr. Kulkarni for over five years, and it is always great to have long discussions with him on Maratha History.


The “Era of Bajirao” starts with a review of volatile history period in the ‘Deccan’, post the death of Shivaji in 1680. Aurangzeb shifted his base southwards in 1681, with a goal of complete conquest of the Deccan. What began was a 27 year war that ended only in 1707 with the death of Aurangzeb. Shahu (Sambhaji’s son), who was in Mughal captivity, was released after Aurangzeb’s death. Shahu set up his base in Satara, and appointed Balaji Vishwanath as his ‘Peshwa’ (Prime Minister) in 1713. Following Balaji Vishwanath’s death, his son Bajirao was appointed to this post. Bajirao was only 20 years old then. This appointment was not a pure hereditary appointment – Shahu had seen Bajirao in action and was impressed with his capabilities.


Bajirao’s reign began in 1720, and in a short span of 20 years, before his untimely death at the age of 40, he had expanded the Maratha power across Central India. He expanded the ‘Swarajya’ established by Shivaji, into a ‘Samrajya’, and was at the ‘Gates of Delhi’ multiple times. The 1720 and 1740 political power maps of India look quite different. Even though Bajirao built the Shaniwarwada and shifted his base to Pune, he didn’t spend a lot of time there. He was constantly on campaigns. The Shaniwarwada and Pune became much more important during the reigns of later Peshwas.


Dr. Kulkarni’s book goes into good detail of Bajirao’s many campaigns. The key ones being his multiple battles with the Nizam, the Malwa expansion, the ‘race’ to Delhi, and the campaign against the Portuguese in Konkan. Bajirao was constantly on the move, and it is interesting to note the numerous tactical and strategic wins he was able to achieve. Having never lost a major battle, his army’s speed & mobility were often his biggest assets.


“…The difference lay in that he knew when to fight as well as where to fight. More important, he knew when not to fight. Mobility was Bajirao’s forte, like the wind he could not fight without space for movement” – Dr. Uday Kulkarni


The Battle of Palkhed in 1728 is considered to be one of the great cavalry battles of the 18th century, and has been studied extensively by military strategists. The chessboard like fast moves executed by Bajirao against the Nizam culminated in the entrapment and surrender of larger, heavily equipped Nizam army on the banks of Godavari at Palkhed. This battle victory really helped establish the foundation of Bajirao’s legacy. (On a related note – Dr. Kulkarni gave an excellent lecture last year at Vasant Vyakhyanmala in Pune, on this battle).


Bajirao made multiple campaigns in North India, and the 1737 Delhi campaign was an important one. As large Mughal armies were advancing on him, Bajirao made another of his lightning moves, bypassed the adversaries and surprised and shocked everyone by ending at the gates of Delhi. He had no interest in staying there for long, and after the getting the desired terms from the Mughals, headed back as quickly has he had arrived in Delhi. He wanted to make a point regarding his strength. This campaign highlighted the weakness of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi. The Nizam was heading to Delhi to support the emperor, but was defeated by Bajirao at the Battle of Bhopal. This campaign again highlighted Bajirao’s strategy and speed.


Many historians have focused on Bajirao as a great general and military strategist (which he was), but reading the many references (letters, treaties) in Dr. Kulkarni’s book, the reader will realize the strengths of Bajirao as a ‘diplomat’.

“Bajirao had the head to plan and the hand to execute” – Grant Duff (Dr. Kulkarni reference to one of popular quotes by British Historian Duff, who wrote the Maratha History in early 19th century)

Bajirao got great support from Malharji Holkar, Ranoji Scindia, Pilaji Jadhav and others. Chimaji Appa, Bajirao’s younger brother was his key asset throughout his entire reign. They were together on some key campaigns, and Chimaji also led some important campaigns by himself. The top one among these was the Konkan campaign against the Portuguese from 1737-39. The Portuguese were unleashing religious oppression on the local population and there were many calls for help by the locals.


The final battle of this campaign was the attack on the key fort of Vasai. The fort had excellent defenses and was very well guarded by the Portuguese. After a long and hard battle, the fort finally fell in May 1739.


As a result of this battle and the following treaty, the entire island of ‘Sasthi’ (Salcette) (present day North/Central Mumbai), Thane, Northern Konkan area came under the control of the Marathas. The Portuguese territories remained restricted to Goa and Daman.

Only the island of Mumbai remained with the English. Note, the English were largely ‘neutral’ in this battle between the Marathas and the Portuguese.

If not for that this victorious campaign by Chimaji Appa, it is possible that large parts of present day greater Mumbai would have remained with the Portuguese, well into the British Era (just like Goa).


No story of Bajirao can be complete without a discussion about Mastani. The recent popular Bollywood film did generate a lot of good interest about Bajirao. Without getting into the historical accuracies debate, the film did raise some awareness about this era of history. Dr. Kulkarni’s book has a chapter on Mastani and Bajirao’s family issues, especially towards the end of 1730s. Here again, plenty of actual references (not speculations or popular ‘legends’) are provided.


Dr. Kulkarni has made the river Narmada a central ‘character’ in the book and ‘the river’ presents a summary at the beginning of every chapter. The Narmada has been a North-South divide for many centuries of Indian History. For Baji rao, the Narmada was initially a frontier, and later on the starting point of northern expansion. He crossed the river numerous times in his hectic series of campaigns. His untimely death also happened at the banks of the Narmada on April 28, 1740. He was cremated on the banks of the river, and today his Samadhi sits there at Ravarkhedi (in Madhya Pradesh, near Indore).


For anyone interested in serious history, Dr. Uday Kulkarni’s “The Era of Bajirao” provides hundreds of references. There is a good collection of images (paintings from various museums/libraries). There are many geographical and battle plan maps as well – though these maps could have been a bit better. As I mentioned earlier, this is an excellent work of detailed research. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in not just Bajirao, Maratha History, but 18th Century Indian History.


‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 139 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 20, 2013

The 139th edition of  the month long ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series), that was originally started by the great M.G. (Justice) Ranade in 1875, starts this Sunday April 21 at Tilak Smarak Mandir, Pune. I had written an article about this great tradition couple of years back, and I am reproducing a version of that below. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series (click on the images at the end of this article). Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! The schedule for this year has a good focus on local Pune civic issues.


In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audiences.




Incentives for Preserving and ‘Recreating’ Heritage Architecture In New Buildings

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on May 16, 2012

It is really sad to see the crazy expansion of concrete, steel and glass in Pune, with completely haphazard architecture standards. It is the same state in all major cities in India. In many cases, there is an attempt to emulate foreign architecture concepts that don’t blend in here very well. This extends to those ridiculous sounding names in English (and French, Italian, Spanish)!

I think it is the responsibility of local civic authorities (as is done in many cities, in the developed world), to enforce some kind of consistency standards in architecture of buildings, landscapes and ideally, even the names!

Just as there are green building requirements and certification standards, civic authorities need to enforce such standards for basic architecture. There have been many discussions on this topic, but doubt if any Indian city has done any progress in this area. I am going to take this requirement one step further. Not only should basic architecture standards be enforced, but heritage architecture should be provided with incentives (I am not asking for enforcement here… but some positive reinforcement).

For example, if a building (or more specifically, a private bungalow) tries to use the old Pune ‘Wada’ type architecture, or the early 20th century ‘Stone’ construction, they should be offered some benefits. We have to encourage new development that respects, preserves and recreates our heritage.

Similar small token incentives should be given to using local and Indian names. Instead of the often horrible (supposedly ‘aspirational’) sounding western names that we see everywhere today, we should encourage the use of local/regional names. Pune was the city of gardens (‘Baugs’) during the Peshwe Era. We had great gardens such as Hirabaug, Sarasbaug, Tulshibaug, and many others. Today, it would be great to see some apartment complexes named as ‘XYZ-Baug’.

In addition to local authorities (like PMC) providing incentives; NGOs and other organizations who are working in the area of heritage preservation (e.g. Janwani in Pune) should also institute prizes and awards for buildings that go out of their way to preserve and replicate the heritage.

Would like to hear the readers thoughts on this topic. Has something like this been done effectively in any Indian city? Note, I agree that ‘incentives’ are a small step, amongst many others to preserve our rich (but poorly maintained and fast dwindling) heritage.

Tatya Tope – Operation Red Lotus

Posted in History by Amit Paranjape on September 27, 2011
I recently read “Tatya Tope’s Operation Red Lotus” … an interesting well researched book written by Parag Tope. The book presents quite a different view of 1857 War of Independence, than what has been discussed by English and many Indian historians. I would highly recommend the book.
Do checkout this nice review about the book from Pragati:
Also checkout the book’s website:
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‘Bal Gandharva’ – A Nice Tribute To The Legend

Posted in History, Pune, TV, Entertainment & Movies, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on May 9, 2011

The ‘Bal Gandharva’ movie opened this week. I was eagerly waiting for its release, and managed to catch this afternoon’s show. I normally don’t blog about cinema; unless I am really impressed (or extremely disappointed) with a specific movie. ‘Bal Gandharva’ clearly falls in the former category…hence this brief blog post.

This movie provides a great snapshot into the life of the legendary Marathi Theater artist and singer Narayan Shripad Rajhans (popularly known as ‘Bal Gandharva’).

[Do read this great speech by Pu La Deshpande (from 1988) describing the greatness of Bal Gandharva. I will quote a few of lines:  “महाराष्ट्राने तीन व्यक्तींवर जिवापाड प्रेम केलेलं आहे. ही महाराष्ट्राची सांस्कृतिक दैवतं आहेत असं म्हटलं तरी चालेल. पहिले म्हणजे छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज, दुसरे लोकमान्य बाळ गंगाधर टिळक आणि तिसरे बालगंधर्व.”

Roughly translates as: “Maharashtra has given undying love to three great individuals. These three can be referred to as the cultural/historical gods of Maharashtra. First one is Shivaji Maharaj, second Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and third Bal Gandharva.”]

Coming back to the movie, Subodh Bhave in the lead role of Bal Gandharva is terrific. The screen-play, the sets, the direction are all excellent. At times, the movie has a slight documentary like feel and the viewer is transported to Maharashtra in the early part of the 20th century – an era that represented the golden age of Marathi Theater. The movie is thoroughly entertaining and engrossing. Music is an integral part of the movie and Anand Bhate has does an amazing job of singing the original Bal Gandharva classics.

‘Bal Gandharva’ presents many of the key events and periods in the life of Bal Gandharva, in a balanced manner, often leaving the interpretation to the viewer. His early years with the Kirloskar Natak Company…His amazing potrayal of female roles… Setting up his own Gandharva Natak Mandali… Struggles with his personal family life… His constant desire to leave no stone unturned to create a grand production for the audience, at any cost… His utter mismanagement of finances and resulting huge debts… The waning years of his career when theater audiences started defecting to the new medium of cinema… and through all this, his total perseverance and steadfast devotion to his primary love – Theater.

From a historical perspective, this movie shows many important characters and events. Lokmanya Tilak listening to a young Narayan (aged 10) and referring him as ‘Bal Gandharva’ for the first time, Anant Kanhere shooting Collector Jackson at a theater in Nashik, Ram Ganesh Gadkari at his death bed, Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, Maharaja of Baroda, a young V Shantaram convincing Bal Gandharva to switch to this new medium called ‘Cinema’,…and many more. I personally like historical movies and Bal Gandharva scores really well in this area as well.

Do watch ‘Bal Gandharva’ if you are a fan of theater, history or music. The movie has English sub-titles.

I will close with this line (by Ga Di Madgulkar?): “”असा बालगंधर्व आता न होणे!”

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