During the reign of the Maratha Emperor Shahu I, Peshwas given the estate of Indore to rule.
Personal Life of Malhar Rao
In 1696, his father died when he was only three years old. He grew up in Taloda in the castle of his maternal uncle, Sardar Bhojrajrao Bargal. His maternal uncle held a cavalry under Maratha noble Sardar Kadam Bande. He asked Malhar Rao to join his cavalry. Soon after that, he was placed in-charge of cavalry detachment.
Malhar Rao Holkar died on 20 May 176 at Alampur.
In 1717, Malhar Rao married his uncle’s daughter Gautama Bai Bargal. He also married Bana Bai Sahib Holkar, Dwarka Bai Sahib Holkar, and Harku Bai Sahib Holkar, a Khanda Rani.
Khanda Rani derives from the fact that she was married to a Sword (KhaaNdaa in Marathi) sent by Malhar Rao as a representative of him in the wedding.
Service of Peshwa
In 1715, he was serving in forces under the control of Kadam Bande in Khandesh. In 1719, he was a part of the expedition to Delhi organized by Balaji Vishwanath. He also fought against the Nizam in the Battle of Balapur, 1720, and served with the Raja of Barwani.
In 1721, Holkar became a soldier in the service of the Peshwa Bajirao. He became close to him. Cooperation in the Peshwa’s campaign of 1723-24 was followed by a diplomatic role, settling a dispute with the state of Bhopal.
In 1725, he was commanding a force of 500 men. He received a grant so that he could maintain troops in various areas of Malwa.
Successful work during the Battle of Palkhed of 1728, during which he interrupted the supplies and communications of the Mughal armies, further enhanced his status.
The Peshwa improved that as a counter to a recognized threat from less loyal supporters and by 1732, when the Peshwa gave him a large part of western Malwa, Holkar had command of a cavalry force involving several thousand men.
Malhar Rao’s Participation in Wars
Malhar Rao Holkar engaged in the great victory in the Battle of Delhi (1737), and the defeat of the Nizam in the Battle of Bhopal. In 1739, he was also part of the battle that wrested Vasai from the Portuguese.
In 1743, he received Rampura, Bhanpura, and Tonk for the support given to Madhosingh I of Jaipur in his battle with Ishwari Singh. Granted an Imperial Sardeshmukhi for Chandore, for his courage in the Rohilla campaign of 1748. From 1748 onwards, Malhar Rao Holkar’s position in Malwa became firm and secure.
Malharrao Holkar, Jayappa Shinde, Gangadhar Tatya, Tukojirao Holkar, and Khanderao Holkar went to help Safdarjung against Shadulla Khan, Ahmed Khan Bangash, Mohamud Khan, and Bahadur Khan Rohilla as per the directions of Peshwa Balaji Bajirao.
In the Battle of Fatthegad and Farukhabad, they defeated the Rohillas and Bangash (March 1751-April 1752). When Mughal Emperor came to know that Ahmed Shah Abdali had attacked Punjab in December 1751, he asked Safdarjung to make peace with Rohillas and Bangash.
On 12 April 1752, Safdarjung agreed to help Marathas but the Emperor didn’t approve the agreement and rather signed a treaty with Ahmed Shah Abdali on 23 April 1752. At the same time, the Peshwa asked Malharrao Holkar to return to Pune as Salabat Khan had attacked the city.
The Marathas attacked Kumher Fort from 20 January to 18 May 1754. The war continued for about four months. During the war, Khanderao Holkar, son of Malhar Rao Holkar, was one day examining his army in an open palanquin, when he was fired upon from the fort. The cannonball hit and killed him on 24 March 1754. Malhar Rao was angered by the death of his only son and wanted to take revenge. He vowed that he would cut off the head of Maharaja Suraj Mal and throw the soil of the fort into the Yamuna after destroying it.
The Marathas increased pressure and Suraj Mal defended pacify, but Suraj Mal was detached as no other ruler was ready to help him. At this moment, Maharaja Suraj Mal was directed by Maharani Kishori, who reassured him not to worry and started diplomatic efforts. She reached Diwan Roop Ram Katara. She knew that there were differences between Malhar Rao Holkar and Jayappa Sindhia and that Jayappa Sindhia was very firm in his determinations. She advised Maharaja Suraj Mal to take advantage of mutual differences within Marathas.
Diwan Roop Ram Katara was a friend of Jayappa Sindhia. She requested Diwan Roop Ram Katara to take a letter from Maharaja Suraj Mal offering a treaty. Jayappa Sindhia assured Suraj Mal of support and contacted Raghunathrao. Raghunathrao in turn recommended Holkar to sign a treaty with Suraj Mal. Malhar Rao Holkar evaluated the situation and allowed for the treaty due to the possibility of isolation. This led to a treaty between both rulers on 18 May 1754. This treaty proved very beneficial for Maharaja Suraj Mal.
Ghazi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung III, supported by the Marathas led by Malhar Rao Holkar, defeated Safdarjung. At this, the Emperor received a large army and camped at Sikandrabad. On the other hand, the Maratha chieftain Sadashivrao Bhau, Malhar Rao Holkar, and 2,000 Maratha‘s and their ally Feroze Jung III routed the Imperial Mughal Army of the Mughal Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur at the First Battle of Sikandarabad (1754). The Emperor left his mother, wives, and a retinue of 8,000 women behind and fled to Delhi.
Malharrao Holkar, Raghunathrao, Shamsher Bahadur, Gangadhar Tatya, Sakharambapu, Naroshankar, and Maujiram Bania attacked Delhi on 11 August 1757 and crushed Najib-ul-Daula and Ahmed Khan became the Mir Bakshi in his place. In March 1758, they conquered Sarhind. On 20 April 1758, Malharrao Holkar and Raghunathrao invaded and captured Lahore. Tukojirao Holkar defeated Attock. Sabaji Scindia, Vitthal Shivdev met them at Peshawar. Raghunathrao and Malhar Rao Holkar returned from Punjab.
In 1757, he was raised to the rank of Subedar.
Malhar Rao Holkar was defeated decisively by the army of the Durrani Empire led by Jahan Khan at the Second Battle of Sikandarabad.
>>> Read about Daughter-in-Law of Ahilyabai Holkar