Shrimant Peshwa Narayan Rao Bhat was the 10th Peshwa of the Maratha Empire from November 1772 until his assassination in August 1773.

Shrimant Peshwa Narayan Rao Bhat was the 10th Peshwa of the Maratha Empire from November 1772 until his assassination in August 1773. He married Gangabai Sathe who later gave birth to Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa.

Early Life and Ascendancy to Peshwa Throne

Narayan Rao was born on 10 August 1755. He was the third son of Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (Also known as Nana Saheb) and his wife Gopikabai.

His eldest brother Vishwasrao, heir to the title of Peshwas, was killed during the Third Battle of Panipat. The second brother, Madhavrao, succeeded their father after the latter’s death in 1761.

Their uncle Raghunathrao was appointed as regent to Madhavrao, but plotted against his nephew, and was finally placed under house arrest.

In 1772, Madhavrao I died from tuberculosis. He was succeeded by the 17-years old Narayan Rao, with his uncle Raghunathrao again acting as regent after being released from house arrest. 

Differences soon arose between the young Narayan Rao and his ambitious uncle, who had wanted to become Peshwa since Balaji Baji Rao’s death. 

Both men were surrounded by ill-intentioned advisors, who further poisoned their minds against each other. As a result, Narayan Rao had his uncle again imprisoned in his house.

The assassination of Narayanrao

Shaniwar Wada - the place where the conspiracy of the assassination of Narayanrao unfolded
Shaniwar Wada

Rao writes that “the guiding its behind the conspiracy were Anandibai, the disgruntled wife of Raghunath and Tulaji Pawar, a servant. Tulaji was the main link between the smarting couple in the palace and the clamoring sepoys outside”. 

During the Ganesh Festival of 1773 (the actual date was 30 August 1773, the last day of the Ganesh Festival i.e. Anant Chaturdashi), several Gardi guards, accompanied by their captain, Sumer Singh Gardi, entered the palace and started creating a disturbance. They planned to release Raghunathrao. 

Raghunathrao and his wife Anandibai, who were opposed to Narayanrao, had promised the Gardis that they would mediate in their dispute with Narayanrao. Narayanrao ran to Raghunathrao, hoping that his uncle would not let them harm him. 

The Gardis followed Narayanrao to his uncle’s chamber and the menial Tulaji Pawar pulled him while Sumer Singh Gardi cut him down. At the scene, a total of 11 persons were killed.

Historian Sardesai writes that these 11 victims included seven brahmins (including Narayanrao), two Maratha servants, and two maids. The complete destruction happened within half an hour. This occurred at around 1 p.m. Narayanrao’s body was secretly taken away through the Narayan gate of Shanivar Wada and cremated near Lakdi pool by the banks of the Mutha river.

There were a total of 49 people involved in the assassination: twenty-four Brahmins, two Saraswats, three Prabhus, six Marathas, one Maratha maid-servant, five Muslims, and eight north-Indian Hindus.

Letter

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 blocked by his wife Anandibai who changed a single letter to make it read as maaraa (मारा) or ‘kill’.

The miscommunication influenced 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. Rumour has it that Narayanrao’s body was cut into so many pieces that they had to carry the pieces in a pot, henceforth it was taken near the river and cremated at midnight. 

Trial and Punishments

This act brought ill fame to the Peshwa administration, which was being looked after by the minister Nana Phadnavis. The Chief Justice of the administration, Ram Shastri Prabhune was asked to conduct an investigation into the incident. Raghunathrao, Anandibai, and Sumer Singh Gardi were all prosecuted in absentia. 

Although Raghunathrao behaved, Anandibai was declared an offender, and Sumer Singh Gardi the accused. Sumer Singh Gardi died mysteriously in Patna, Bihar in 1775, and Anandibai performed Hindu rituals to forgive her sins. 

Kharag Singh and Tulaji Pawar were given over by Hyder Ali back to the government and they were tortured to death. Swift punishment was given to the others too.

Administration after Narayan Rao’s death

As the result of the murder, senior ministers and generals of the Maratha confederacy formed a regency council, known as the “Baarbhai Council”, to conduct the affairs of the state.

In the next political development, the posthumous son of Narayan Rao, who was named Sawai Madhav Rao II, was declared to be the “Peshwa”. 

Raghunath Rao (Raghoba) fled away from the scene. The Baarbhai Council started to conduct the affairs of the state in the name of Sawai Madhav Rao II as he was a minor.

The new Peshwa lived only for 21 years and died in 1795. As he had no successor of his own blood, Baji Rao II (1796-1818) the son of Raghunathrao became the next Peshwa.

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