The proto- Nationalist aspiration of the Maratha King, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja was beyond the age he was living in; India, a civilisational state, had to be one geo-political entity from Sindhu, the Indus to Sindhu, the Indian Ocean, so was the desideration of this visionary tiger of Sahyadri. Prince of Wales Edward VIII said on November 19, 1921, that “Shivaji not only founded an empire but created a nation”.
Chhatrapati Shivaji’s idea of leaving Maharashtra for a Southern Campaign or Dakshina Digvijay vindicates the absence of aspiration of creating just a regional state and promote parochial regional chauvinistic sentiments; what he planned was bigger, grander and sublime; he planned to overthrow the rule of the Mughal emperor of Delhi, destroy the power of European invaders and establish what he called Hindavi Swarajya an inclusive India ruled by Indians.
But when he left this mortal world, his empire though bigger than many other rulers, was far from being an empire dominating the entire Indian subcontinent. Still, his vision was carried forward by Scindias, who historically had an essential role in establishing the Maratha supremacy in the Indian subcontinent.
Mahadaji Scindia, the Conquerer of Delhi
In his book Glimpses of World History, Jawaharlal Nehru mentions, “The Marathas remained to challenge British supremacy. There was the Peshwa in the west, Scindia of Gwalior, Holkar of Indore, and some other chiefs. But the Maratha power went to pieces after the death of the two great statesmen, Mahadaji Scindia of Gwalior, who died in 1794, and Nana Fadnavis, minister of Peshwa, who died in 1800.” The importance of Mahadaji Scindia cannot be better understood by the fact that he went on to dominate an area from Lahore in the North to Ahmadnagar in the South and from Bharuch in the West to the border of Prayagraj (Allahabad) in the East.
J.D.B. Gribble, in his book The History of Deccan, mentioned that the great Mahadoji (Mahadaji) Scindia had acquired his predominance over other princes of India. Practically, Scindia was the master of the whole country from Khandesh to Agra, extending over the principal portion of the province of Malwa, Delhi and the Doab. He was the most powerful among Maratha princes and overawed the Peshwa himself.
Amongst the three Maratha houses of Scindia, Holkar and Gaekwad, Scindia was the most powerful. Scindia exercised imperial power; he was, after all, the custodian of the Mughal emperor of Delhi, who Scindia, in miserable poverty, kept. Indeed there was a time when the Mughal emperor of Delhi, Shah Alam II, was a prisoner of Mahadaji Scindia, held in the Red Fort in a pitiable condition in comparison to the pomp of his ancestors, Mughals like Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan.
The Scindia Saga
The bliss experienced by the victor is Jai Vilas, which happens to be the name of the magnificent palace of the current union cabinet minister of Civil Aviation and Steel and titular Maharaja of Ujjain and Gwalior Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia in Gwalior. Jyotiraditya is the descendant of Maratha warrior Mahadaji Scindia who once had the distinction of controlling important cities like Agra, Ajmer, Mathura, Delhi, Ujjain, Gwalior to Bharuch, Dabhoi and Champaner in Gujarat and Sirhind and Lahore in the North. Jai Vilas is an apt name for the residence of the dynasty of Maratha warriors, who formed the sword arm of the Maratha state nearly all through its existence, from its establishment to its extinction. Scindias were taught to be tough by the Sahyadri, dedicated by the Bhimthadi horse, productive by Konkan’s fields, and reach the Himalayas by the winds of Monsoon. The family’s journey of epic proportions started rather humbly in a village called Kanherkhed in the Satara district of Maharashtra, where the Patils of the village took up arms in the service of the Maratha state led by Chhatrapati Shahu.
The Scindias, also known as Shindes in Marathi, known initially as Sendraks, were active in Deccan politics from the age of the Chalukyas, Shilaharas and Kadambas. Many of them were part of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army, and a daughter of a Scindia/Shinde Ambikabai Shinde married Chhatrapati Shahu of Satara. Still, the actual ascendency of the family in status and power took place when Ranojirao Scindia was appointed Sardar by Chhatrapati Shahu and was given actually.
Power to expand Maratha influence in North India by Peshwa Baji Rao, even though Nemaji Scindia was the first Maratha warrior to lead a military campaign against Mughals in Central India. Ranojirao expanded Maratha’s power in North India; Ujjain was his capital. He rebuilt the city to re-establish its grandeur as in the days of legendary king Vikramaditya, restarted the Simhastha Kumbha and rebuilt the Mahakaleshwar temple; his son Jayappadada Scindia established Scindia power in Rajputana, registering victories against several states in the region, his brother Dattaji Scindia was appointed as the Governor of Punjab and Multan by Peshwa Balaji Bajirao in the name of the Chhatrapati of Satara, he served as administrator of Lahore, defeated the Maharaja of Marwar, Nizam of Hyderabad in Sindkhed and Afghans in Sirhind, and Sabaji Scindia went on to cross the Indus River and plant the Maratha banner in Peshawar in present-day Pakistan.
Rajputana saw the substantial ascendence of Scindia power and the establishment of Swaraj after the military campaigns of Jayappadada Scindia in the region, who was a great friend of the Jats and turban-brother of Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur. Still, brave warrior Jayappadada Scindia was assassinated on the orders of Maharaja of Jodhpur. Jyotiba Scindia was injured fighting the Shah of Afghanistan’s ally Najib-Ud-Daula at a place near Haridwar called Shukratal and later died at Deeg near Bharatpur. Dattaji Scindia attained martyrdom in Delhi at Burari Ghat, in the line of duty as the charge of North India in the Maratha State; his last line before attaining martyrdom, “If I live, I will fight more”, became an inspiration for several Maratha warriors according to freedom fighter Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, to seek revenge for Dattaji Scindia’s assassination by the Afghans and unite as one people against the enemy of the Indian Nation.
Almost every family in Maharashtra sent a soldier who went on to fight in the Third Battle of Panipat. Fifteen men from the Scindia clan attained martyrdom in this battle. Jankojirao Scindia, Jayappadada Scindia’s 16-year-old son who served as deputy Governor of Punjab during the Governorship of his uncle Dattaji Scindia in Punjab and Multan, fought bravely in the Third Battle of Panipat and attained martyrdom for his land and its people, on January 15 1761, after being captured and tortured by the Afghans.
One of the 15 Scindia warriors who attained martyrdom on January 14 1761, was Tukajirao Scindia, a brave warrior. He and his nephew Jankojirao Scindia were the last men standing shoulder to shoulder with Sadashivrao Bhau, the commander of the Maratha army in the Third Battle of Panipat. The cenotaph of the 16 Scindia martyrs of the third battle of Panipat is still present in their village Kanherkhed.
The Maratha Resurgence
Mahadaji Scindia was the only Scindia brother who survived the Third Battle of Panipat. A so-called low caste Muslim, Rane Khan saved him and became a brother-like friend of Mahadaji all through his life; Mahadaji Scindia not only got the gates of Somnath temple from Lahore but ensured protection to Raja of Benaras Chait Singh when British were persecuting him. Mahadaji defeated the British at Wadgaon, Shivpuri, and Allahabad etc. and made the Mughal emperor his virtual prisoner, to use the words mentioned by historian Percival Spear. Daulatrao Scindia saw a substantial reduction in Scindia’s power, but he still resisted as much as possible; he fought the British in Ahmadnagar, Assaye, Delhi, etc. He fought against Lord Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, who later defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Years after, the Duke of Wellington was asked what was ‘the best thing’ he had ever done in the way of fighting. He replied grimly, ‘Assaye’ and would say no more. Daulatrao also transferred the capital of Scindias from Ujjain to Gwalior in 1810.
Jankojirao II Scindia and Jayajirao Scindia saw an increased attempt by the British to interfere in the working of the Gwalior State. Still, as per a descendant of Tatya Tope, Parag Tope, it was the Scindia family of Gwalior that invited Tatya Tope, Nanasaheb Peshwa, Rani Lakshmibai etc., to Gwalior in 1857 to fight the British and ensured monetary and military support, this happened when more than 500 princely states in India were actively or passively supporting the British. From Maharaja Jayaji Rao’s reign began the policy of investing a portion of State funds in enterprises that would assist revenues and foster further prosperity. One of these steps was taken in 1872 when the State lent Rs 75 lakhs to construct the Agra-Gwalior portion of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. The following year, a similar amount was advanced for the Indore-Nimach section of the Rajputana- Malwa Railway.
Scindia Maharanis have had a substantially feminist nature; Maharani Ganga Bai Scindia is famous for having protected the Maharana of Mewar from his recalcitrant Sardar, bringing peace in Rajputana, manifesting the power of women, and having given her jewellery to her husband Mahadaji Scindia to sell it, and get money to re-establish the Scindia army obliterated in the third battle of Panipat, which inspired Mahadaji Scindia to name Scindia wealth as Gangajali after her. Another feminist Maharani of the Scindia family was Maharani Baiza Bai Scindia, wife of Maharaja Daulatrao, a woman far ahead of her times. She was an expert in financial matters, popularly known as the banker queen. She was also a staunch nationalist leading the anti-British crusade in India by plotting their ouster by a well-organised rebellion; she plotted against the British in Kolhapur, Nashik and Gwalior. She was also instrumental in the development of the city of Banaras.
Welsh itinerant Fanny Parkes mentioned in her account Wanderings of a Pilgrim “(In Banaras) Every Ghat was eclipsed by the beauty of the one which is now being built by her Highness the Baiza Bai (Scindia); the scale is so grand, so beautiful, so light, and it is on so regular a plan, it delighted me; it is the most handsome that I have seen in India. Unfinished as it is, it has cost her Highness Fifteen lakh; to finish it will cost twenty lakhs more.” Fanny Parkes was so impressed by Baiza Bai Scindia that she stated, “If I were an Asiatic, I would be a Maratha.”
Making of modern Gwalior
Jayajirao Scindia’s son Madho Rao Scindia is known as the maker of modern Gwalior. He insisted that surplus funds be invested in providing income for the progressive undertakings he initiated. The compulsory 20—23 per cent saving instituted by him made the funds for irrigation, education and famine relief possible. This continual saving and setting aside funds for nation-building activities was almost unheard of in the India of his day. Its results persist. The many improvements introduced by Madho Rao Scindia have been possible without also introducing increased taxation.
Madho Rao epitomised his views on political progress when at the inauguration of the first session of the Majlis-I-Am in November 1920, “I regard as bad the practice of conceding people their demands when they become tired of demanding them and, becoming desperate, are prepared to create trouble Keeping therefore the changing times in view and working with foresight, one should act so that the people had sympathy with the Government and do not lose confidence in it.”
V. P. Menon, in his book “Integration of Indian States”, has appreciated the role of Jiwaji Rao Scindia, son of Madho Rao Scindia, in influencing other princes to join the Union of India; he mentions the first announcement of accession to the union of India was made by the Dewan of Gwalior, M. A. Srinivasan, on behalf of the Maharajah, Sir Jiwaji Rao Scindia of Gwalior. After Indian independence, Scindias have been active in Indian politics, which they see only as a means to do public service. We need to appreciate the history behind this family’s rise from ordinary farmers to king-makers and later kings. Rise of Scindias is a dream-like story of social transition, encapsulating elements of nationalism, philanthropy, bravery and statecraft.
(The writer is Head Scindia Research Centre, Gwalior)