Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath (First Peshwa of Maratha Empire)

Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath was born on January 1, 1662. He was the first Peshwa (prime-minister) of Maratha Empire in Indian History.

Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath is also called the second founder of the Maratha Empire because he played the most important role in the success of Maratha Empire under Chhatrapati Shahu. Balaji Vishwanath was raised to the position of Peshwa in 1713.

Shahu Maharaj ascended the Maratha throne and carried on the policy of expansion. While engaged in the struggle with TaraBai, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj did not neglect the conquest and consolidation of northern Maharashtra which constituted the heart of his patrimony. So, he sent his troops to bring Raglan and Khandesh under his effective possession. His Senapati, Dhanaji Jadhav died in June, 1708 and he appointed the latter’s son Chandra Sen in his father’s place. But Chandra Sen had leanings towards Tara Bai’s party and therefore, as a safeguard against any possible treachery. Shahu raised Balaji Vishwanath to a new post (Peshwaship) created for exercising a check on the Senapati. Balaji Vishwanath was an able and trusted friend of Raja Shahu Maharaj who gave him confidence and raised himself to the office of Peshwa. It was an important event because thereafter, the Peshwaship became hereditary, and the rulers gradually fell into the background.

The ancestors of Balaji Vishwanath Peshwa were Deshmukhs of the village of Shrivardhan. He was employed as a clerk in the salt works at Chiplun from where he migrated to the upper region of the Western Ghats sometime in the eighties of the seventeenth century. In 1689, he was a revenue clerk under Ramcandra Amatya and subsequently Sar Subah of the districts of Poona and Daulatabad. As Aurangzeb was encamped in this very region in 1705, Balaji Vishwanath, who was in the service of the Maratha king in the same districts, must have come into close contact with the Mughal court. It is certain that he made friends with some of Aurangzeb’s officers and established contact with Shahu Maharaj who resided in the Mughal camp. Shahu Maharaj seems to have formed a good opinion of his ability, loyalty and character.

Balaji Vishwanath was one of the first notable men to join Shahu Maharaj after the latter’s release and to render him conspicuous service by clearing opposition to him and winning over to his side important elements in Maharashtra. Balaji Vishwanath proved to be a very competent minister and therefore, appointed at senior post of Maratha Administration. Balaji Vishwanath cleverly managed to win over Kanhoji Angre , the warden of the west coast and head of the Maratha navy, to Shahu’s cause and persuaded him to withdraw his relentless war against the king. Shahu Maharajin recognition of these services raised Balaji Vishwanath to the position of Peshwa (prime minister) on 27th November, 1711.

Death of Balaji Viswanath – His Personality and Character

Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath died on 12th of April, 1720. He left behind him two sons and two daughters, the eldest son Baji Rao, then aged nineteen, succeeding his father as Peshwa.

Balaji Vishwanath was a Chitpavan Brahman from Konkan, but had migrated to the Maharashtra proper. He was a self-taught and self-made man, and had risen from obscurity to fame. He was one of the few characters of medieval Indian history who reached a high position without being a soldier. It is said that Balaji Vishwanath could ride a horse with difficulty and was not gifted with soldierly talent, but he was a good administrator and a statesman of outstanding ability.

Balaji Vishwanath succeeded in putting down the rebellious Chandrasen Jadhav and Dhanaji Thorat. His outstanding diplomatic achievements were with the Mughal emperor which recognized the Maratha claim to chauth and sardeshmukhi on the six provinces of the Deccan. His ingenious method of realizing chauth and sardeshmukhi (that is, 35 per cent of the revenue) calculated on the basis of Todar Mal’s standard assessment, through his own collectors who were posted in the various parts of the deccan territory of Mughals, served to ensure an expanding income to the Maratha state.

Balaji assigned parts of these collections to the Maratha chiefs who ensured each one’s interest in increasing the state’s revenue but he wisely did not allow any of the Maratha chiefs to have his jurisdiction on a compact territory which could make him independent of the government.

Balaji Vishwanath had a calm and commanding intellect and aptitude for ruling rude nature by moral force and a mastery of finance.

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