Anandibai Peshwa was a Peshwa Queen and the wife of the 11th Peshwa of the Maratha Raghunathrao. In August 1773, she successfully plotted the death of her nephew, the 17-year-old Peshwa Narayanrao. At that time, her husband was acting regent and next in line for the throne, at the time of Narayanrao’s death.
Early Life and Marriage
Anandibai Peshwa was born into a Chitpavan Brahmin family belonging to Guhagar village in the Konkan region (now Maharashtra). She was the daughter of Raghu Mahadev Oak.
Her cousin Gopikabai was the wife of Peshwa Balaji Bajirao. In December 1756, when she was yet a child, married Raghunath Rao, younger brother of Balaji Baji Rao. Anandibai was 9 years old when she was married to Raghunath Rao who was 13 years older than her. She was his second wife. Raghunathrao’s first wife (Janaki Bai of the Barwe family) had died in August 1755.
Both Balaji and Raghunath were the sons of Baji Rao I, Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. The position of Peshwa was an administrative appointment made by the Chhatrapati (King), and it was not hereditary. Indeed, Baji Rao I was only the second man from his family to be named Peshwa.
The assassination of Narayanrao
After the death of Madhavrao I in 1772, his brother Narayanrao was to take the throne but he was still a minor. There was debate among the Peshwas about who should become the next regent.
Finally, it was decided that Narayanrao would be the Peshwa with his uncle Raghunathrao acting as regent. Initially, this arrangement worked but soon Narayanrao imprisoned his uncle on charges of plotting to overthrow him.
On 30 August 1773 in Shaniwar Wada, in an effort to free himself, Raghunathrao hired Gardis as mercenaries. These men scaled and captured Shaniwar Wada. They quickly reached Narayanrao’s chambers and held him captive. Narayanrao tried to appeal to his uncle but Anandibai interrupted and did not allow his requests to reach Raghunathrao.
According to popular legend, Raghunathrao had sent a message to Sumer Singh Gardi to fetch Narayanrao using the Marathi word dharaa (धरा) or ‘hold’ (actual phrase in Marathi – ” नारायणरावांना धरा”/”Narayanrao-ana dhara”). This message was intercepted by his wife Anandibai who changed a single letter to make it read as maaraa (मारा) or ‘kill’.
The miscommunication led the Gardis to chase Narayanrao, who, upon hearing them coming, started running towards his uncles’ residence screaming, “Kaka! Mala Vachva!!” (“Uncle! Save me!”). But nobody came to help him and he was killed in the presence of his uncle.
After Narayanrao’s death, Raghunathrao became Peshwa but Nana Phadanvis ordered an investigation into the death of Narayanrao. The Chief Justice, (or Mukhya Nyayadhish) of the Marathas, Ram Shastri Prabhune, found Anandibai Peshwa and Raghunathrao Peshwa guilty of murder.
A part of the letter of Raghunathrao’s order to the Gardis was examined by Ram Shastri who determined that the initial order “restrain him” (tyaala dharun aana) had been changed to “kill him” (tyaala marun aana) – a difference of only one letter in the Marathi language.
Raghunathrao swore that he had not ordered the murder of his nephew. It was widely believed in the palace that the author of this change was Anandibai herself.
Anandibai’s husband was overthrown by Nana Phadanvis and 12 others in the Barabhai conspiracy. The result of this was that the one-year-old baby Madhavrao II, born to Narayanrao’s widow, Gangabai (Sathe) after his death, was put on the throne, effectively putting the power in the hands of Nana Phadanvis.
As she and her husband were escaping from the forces of Nana Phadanvis, she gave birth to Bajirao II on 10 January 1775 in the Dhar fort, under the control of the Pawars.
On 11 December 1783, her husband, Raghunathrao died, leaving behind three sons.
>>> Read about Vishwasrao Peshwa