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Early Modern India

The Marathas: Tanjore Bhosales

by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 4 April 2010

The Tanjore Bhosales or Thanjavur Bhosales formed a dynasty that had its origins in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, in the later half of the seventeenth century. Its progenitor was Venkoji Raje Bhosale, son of Shahaji Raje Bhosale and step-brother of the famous Shivaji Raje Bhosale, the great Maratha warrior king.

 

List of kings

Venkoji (Ekoji I) Raje Bhosale (born 1630 according to Maratha records or 1700 or later according to British records - died 1683) was the son of Shahaji Raje Bhosale and his wife, Tukabai (from the family of Mohites which hailed from Bijapur, Karnataka).

His father was a noble in the Adilshahi court of Bijapur, entrusted with the jagir of Bangalore. (It should be noted that he stayed with his parents and his eldest step-brother, Sambhaji, who died early. His younger step-brother, Shivaji, the natural brother of Sambhaji, stayed at their Poona jagir along with mother Jijabai, who was Shahaji Raje's senior wife). Like his father, Venkoji too became a noble at the Bijapur court, and often assisted the Bijapur armies in their fight against his half brother, Shivaji.

In 1673, the Madurai Nayak invaded the Thanjavur kingdom. Its erstwhile ruler appealed to the Bijapur court for help, which in turn deputed Venkoji to drive out the Nayak of Madurai. Venkoji successfully achieved his objective, but took the throne himself (according to Wilkes, after the deposed ruler of Thanjavur refused to cover Venkoji's war expenses). Following the death of the Bijapur sultan, Venkoji crowned himself king of Thanjavur.

In 1676, Shivaji embarked on his southern campaign to unify that region under Maratha rule. He first captured Gingee in Tamil Nadu with help from Sultan Tanashah of Golkunda.

With Gingee under his control, he wanted a link between there and Maharashtra, with this being the Mysore region. This was traditionally the jagir of his father, Shahaji Raje, but had since been neglected. He approached his step-brother and demanded Mysore as his share of the paternal estate. Predictably, Venkoji refused, and even left their meeting place without informing his brother (probably fearing detention).

Angry at this insolence from his younger brother. Shivaji attacked and took possession of Venkoji's territory (Jagdevgad and its surrounding regions, Chidambar, Vridhachal, and Kolar).

Gol Gumbaz, the tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah
This striking construction is the domed tomb of Gol Gumbaz which houses the remains of Mohammed Mohammed Adil Shah, ruler of Bijapur who greatly extended its borders


Shivaji placed another half-brother, Santaji, in charge of monitoring Venkoji's movements, aided by his lieutenant, Hambirrao Mohite. Venkoji retaliated by attacking the forces of Santoji and Hambirrao at Ahiri (6 November 1677), but was completely routed. Shivaji also conquered Venkoji's territories in the Mysore region (although a small portion, the regions of Bangalore, Hoskat, and Asilikatte in Balapur, were given to Venkoji's wife, Dipabai, as a maintenance grant). Eventually Venkoji sued for peace and paid Shivaji almost 600,000 rupees in compensation.

In 1680, Shivaji came to an understanding with the Bijapur court, whereby Venkoji, the vassal of Bijapur, was forced to accept his elder brother Shivaji as his overlord and pay him an annual tribute (the tribute stopped following Shivaji's death which, unfortunately, took place in the same year).

Kilavan, the chief of Ramnad, wanted to free himself from the yoke of his overlord, the nayak of Madurai. He sought Venkoji's help in order to achieve this. In the war which followed, Venkoji and his ally won the day.

Venkoji was a great patron of the arts and literature. He himself wrote an telegu version of the epic Ramayana. He also constructed several temples which stand testimony to the grandeur of Thanjavur.

 

Shahuji I (born 1672). He was the eldest son and successor of Venkoji. He inherited his father's throne at the tender age of twelve.

Shahuji helped his cousin, Rajaram (the younger son of Shivaji of Maharshtra), to recapture the fort of Jinji from the Mughals. As a result a Mughal force under Zulfikar Khan attacked Thanjavur (in 1691) and made Shahuji a vassal. The Mughals even took away lands that had been conquered from Nayaki (Queen) Mangammal of Tiruchirapalli which had earlier been captured by Shahuji.

In 1700, Shahuji's lieutenant, Babaji, attacked Tiruchilapalli along with the king of Ramnad. But the Nayaki Mangammal inflicted a defeat on their forces.

Meanwhile, Shahuji found common cause with the nayaki and switched sides. This infuriated the Ramnad Sethupathy Kilavan. He sent a huge army which defeated the forces of Nayaki Mangammal and even captured the fort of Aranthangi (in 1709) from Shahuji.

Shahuji I patronised the arts, literature, and architecture during his tenure, but in 1709 he abdicated the throne of Thanjavur and became an ascetic.

 

Serfoji I (1675-1728) was the brother and successor of Shahuji I.

He captured the Marava kingdom and annexed it to Thanjavur. He also created two zamindaris of Sivaganga and Ramnad from a portion of Marava.

Serfoji was also said to be a great patron of the arts and literature.

 

Tukoji (1677-1735) was the younger brother and successor of Serfoji I. He aided Meenakshi, the queen of Tiruchirapalli, in quelling a revolt by the Polygars.

He was responsible for introducing Hindustani music in Thanjavur. He also composed a musical work called Sangeeta Samamrita, and was said to be a linguist.

Brihadeswara temple in Tanjore
The Cholas constructed the Sri Brihadeswara temple in Thanjavur, which dominated the later Maratha Tanjore


Ekoji II (1696-1737) was the son and successor of Tukoji. He resisted a attack by Chada Sahib, the nawab of Carnatic. But Ekoji wasn't to rule for too long - he died within a year due to supposed ill heath.

 

Sujanbai was the widow and successor (1737) of Ekoji II. She fought a succession battle with Katturaja, a pretender to the throne who claimed to be a son of Serfoji I. She also had to cope with an ambitious minister named Sayyid. Katturaja sought the help of the French and Chanda Sahib and eventually usurped the throne of Thanjavur. He was also helped by Sayyid in his endeavour, who in turn imprisoned Sujanbai and allowed Katturaja to take her place instead.

 

Shahuji II. Katturaja assumed the name Shahuji II when he ascended the throne of Thanjavur (in 1738). Katturaja had earlier promised Karaikkal to the French but dithered on his promise. As a result the French encouraged Chanda Sahib to overthrow Katturaja. They did this under the pretext that Katturaja was not a legitimate son of Serfoji (and was instead born the son of a washer-woman). Katturaja was imprisoned.

Katturaja then exhorted Pratapsingh, a son of Tukoji and his concubine Annapurna, to ascend the throne lest an outside claimant usurp it.

Pratapsingh did just that, but he had to face a challenge from Katturaja who wanted to make a comeback, along with Chanda Sahib and some palace officials such as Sayyid and Koyaji Kattigai. The plot was discovered and Sayyid was executed.

 

Pratapsingh (died 1763) ascended the throne in 1739. Nine years later, in 1748, when Katturaja launched his attempt to seize power, he sought the help of the French. The English (in the form of the British East India Company) sided with him, but then switched sides to aid Katturaja when he offered them Devekottai. The company tried to seize Devekottai by force on two occasions. However, after the second attempt, Pratapsingh entered into a treaty with them and this time they accepted Devekottai.

Dost Ali, nawab of Carnatic, overthrew Pratapsingh and temporarily seized power at Thanjavur. But Marathas from Maharashtra launched a retaliatory attack, killing Dost Ali, and Pratapsingh was reinstated.

Soon afterwards (in 1742) the nizam of Hyderabad successfuly attacked Thanjavur, making its people his vassals.

The nawab of Carnatic, Muhammad Ali, also attacked Thanjavur. However, their common ally, the British East India Company, mediated a truce between them. Pratapsingh had to pay 2,000,000 rupees in arrears and an annual tribute of 4,000,000 rupees to the nawab of Carnatic. In return, Coiladdy and Yelengadu were ceded to Thanjavur.

Pratapsingh also lost Hanumantagudi to the raja of Ramnad. He died on 16 December 1763.

 

Thuljaji (1738-1787) was the eldest son of and successor to Pratapsingh. He tried wresting back Hanumantgudi from the raja of Ramnad, but was defeated by the joint forces of Ramnad and the nawab of Carnatic. Thuljaji was also deposed (in 1773) in Thanjavur as a consequence of this war.

However, he was restored to Thanjavur's throne by the British East India Company in 1776 but, thereafter, had to pay an annual tribute both to the company and the nawab of Carnatic.

In 1780, war broke out between Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the British, and Tipu's forces attacked and plundered Thanjavur (1784), leaving behind an impoverished state.

Thuljaji was well versed in Sanskrit, Telugu, and Marathi. He was a great patron of the arts and literature. He died in 1787 at the age of forty-nine. He had no son, so his adopted son, Serfoji II (from within the Bhosale family), ascended the throne at the tender age of ten. Thuljaji's brother, Amar Singh, acted as his regent.

 

Serfoji II (1777-1832). His uncle, Amarsingh (Ramaswami Amarsimha Bhosale), deprived Serfoji of even a basic education after usurping his throne soon after the death of Thuljaji. So his father's confidante, Rev Schwartz, a Danish missionary, sent him to Madras where he became proficient in Tamil, Telugu, English, French, German, Latin, Danish, Dutch, Urdu, and Sanskrit.

He was restored to Thanjavur's throne by the British East India Company, but the real power remained with the company. Thuljaji however proved an efficient administrator, social reformer, and educationist. He constructed several schools, hospitals, public conveniences, water tanks, and buildings, a zoological garden, a meteorological station, and a shipyard, all in Thanjavur. He patronised the arts and literature and personally penned works such as Kumarasambhavachampu, Mudrakshachaya, and Devendra Kuruvanji. He contributed immensely to the Saraswati Mahal Library. He introduced western music into Thanjavur. He also had the history of the Bhosale dynasty engraved in the Brihadeshwara temple.

Serfoji II died on 7 March 1832. His funeral procession was said to have been attended by almost 90,000 people, indicating his popularity.

 

Shivaji II (died 1855) was the son and successor of Serfoji II. He ruled from 1832 to 1855 and patronised the arts and literature.

After the death of Shivaji II, and in the absence of any legitimate heirs, the Thanjavur kingdom was annexed by the British East India Company under the terms of their 'Doctrine of Lapse' (which was abandoned in 1858). The kingdom of Thanjavur continued to have titular monarchs, but with no political power.

These later titular maharajahs were: Rani Vijaya Mohana bai (1845-1886), the  daughter of Shivaji II; and Shambhusinghji rao (died 1891), adopted son of Rani Vijayabai. Royal adoption and succession were not recognised by the government of India, and therefore Shambhusinghji rao was not allowed to use the royal titles of his predecessors.

 

Main Sources

Majumdar, R C - Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987

Prasad, L - Studies in Indian History, Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000

Thapar, Romila - Penguin History of India, Volume 1, Penguin Books, London, 1990

 

 

     
Text copyright © Abhijit Rajadhyaksha. An original feature for the History Files.