Malhar Rao Holkar

Malhar Rao Holkar
Malhar Rao Holkar
Born 1693-03-16
Jejuri, Pune District
Died 1766-04-20
Allegiance Maratha Empire
Rank Subedar
Relations Bai Sahib Holkar (wife)
Bana Bai Sahib Holkar (wife)
Dwarka Bai Sahib Holkar (wife)
Harku Bai Sahib Holkar (wife)
Khanderao Holkar (Son)
Ahilyabai Holkar (Daughter-in-law)
Malerao Holkar II (Grandson)
Two daughters
Bhojirajrao Bargal (uncle)

Malhar Rao Holkar (16 March 1693 – 20 May 1766) was a noble of the Maratha Empire, in present day India. Malhar Rao is particularly known for being the first Maratha Subhedar of Malwa in Central India. Born in a Dhangar (shepherd) family he was the first prince from the Holkar family which ruled the state of Indore .[1] He was one of the early officers to help spread the Maratha rule to northern states and was the given state of Indore to rule by the Peshwa's.[2]



Malhar Rao was born on 16 March 1693 in the village of Hol, near Jejuri, Pune District to Khanduji Holkar of Vir. Malhar Rao grew up in Taloda at house of his maternal uncle, Sardar Bhojirajrao Bargal. He later on got married to Gautama bai (d. 29 September 1761), his uncle's daughter in 1717.[3] He also married Bana Bai Sahib Holkar, Dwarka Bai Sahib Holkar, Harku Bai Sahib Holkar, a Khanda Rani. This "Khanda Rani" status stems from the fact that she was a Rajput princess, and being of the Dhangar (shepherd) community, he had sent his sword (khaaNdaa in Marathi) to represent him at the wedding, to maintain appearances.[4]

He along with Balaji Vishwanath (who was later honoured by being appointed as the Peshwa), Baji Rao I, Santaji Bhosale, Dabhade, Balaji Pant Bhanu assisted a young Shahu to consolidate his grip on an empire that had been racked by civil war and persistent attack by the Mughals under Aurangzeb. He rose from shepherd origins by his own ability.[5] He was appointed by the Peshwa as one of the three sardars charged with collecting the revenues of Malwa in 1724. In 1726, he was appointed to the command of 5,000 strong cavalry, and in 1728, he was granted a jagir of eleven mahals. He was appointed as the Chief of the Army together with the Sarjami of seventy four parganas on 3 October 1730. He was granted two regions of Malwa on 2 November 1731. His grants were made hereditary to his issue by Gautama Bai, who also received Maheshwar, Indore and nine other villages on 20 January 1734.

Military achievements

One of the foremost commanders of the Maratha confederacy, he participated in the great victory near Delhi in 1736, and the defeat of the Nizam at Tal Bhopal in 1738. He also wrested Bassein from the Portuguese in 1739. He received Rampura, Bhanpura and Tonk in 1743, for the assistance given to Madhosingh I of Jaipur in his contest with Ishwari Singh. Granted an Imperial Sardeshmuckhi for Chandore, for his gallantry in the Rohilla campaign of 1748. From 1748 onwards, Malhar Rao Holkar’s position in Malwa became firm and secure. He became ‘Kingmaker’ in Northern and Central India and master of an extensive territory lying on both the sides of the Narmada as well as Sahyadri.[6]

Malharrao Holkar, Jayappa Scindia, Gangadhar Tatya, Tukojirao Holkar, Khanderao Holkar went to help Safdarjung against Shadulla Khan, Ahmed Khan Bangash, Mohamud Khan, 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 ratify the agreement and instead 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 on 20 January 1754 AD. They besieged the Kumher Fort till 18 May 1754. The war continued for about four months. During the war Khanderao Holkar, son of Malharrao Holkar, was one day inspecting his army in an open palanquin, when he was fired upon from the fort. The cannonball hit and killed him on 17 March 1754. Malhar Rao was infuriated 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 fort into Yamuna after destroying it. The Marathas increased pressure and Suraj Mal defended pacifly, but Suraj Mal was isolated as no other ruler was ready to help him. At this moment, Maharaja Suraj Mal was counseled by Maharani Kishori, who assured him not to worry and started diplomatic efforts.

She contacted Diwan Roop Ram Katara. She knew that there were differences between Malharrao 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 proposing a treaty. Jayappa Sindhia assured Suraj Mal of assistance and contacted Raghunathrao. Raghunathrao in turn advised Holkar to sign a treaty with Suraj Mal. Malhar Rao Holkar assessed the situation and consented for the treaty due to possibility of isolation. This led to a treaty between both rulers on 18 May 1754. This treaty proved very beneficial for Maharaja Suraj Mal.[7]

Malharrao Holkar, Raghunathrao, Shamsher Bahadur, Gangadhar Tatya, Sakharambapu, Naroshankar and Maujiram Bania attacked Delhi on 11 August 1757 and defeated Najib Khan and Ahmed Khan became the Mir Bakshi in his place. In March, 1758, they conquered Sarhind. On 20 April 1758, Malharrao Holkar and Raghunathrao attacked and conquered Lahore. Tukojirao Holkar conquered Attock. Sabaji Scindia, Vitthal Shivdev met them at Peshawar. Raghunathrao and Malharrao Holkar returned from Punjab.

He was raised to the rank of Subedar in 1757. He was

Battle of Panipat

Peshwas decision of appointing Sadashivrao Bhau as the Supreme Commander instead of appointing Malharrao Holkar or Raghunathrao proved to be an unfortunate choice as Sadashivrao was totally ignorant of the Political and Military situation of North India.[8]

It is alleged that he fled the battle-field in the Third Battle of Panipat (14/01/1761). It is written by many historians that he fought courageously in the battle-field. It is also written that Sadashivrao Bhau had entrusted him the job of saving Parvatibai as soon as told to do so. When Vishwasrao was killed and Sadashivrao Bhau felt they were about to be defeated he sent a message to Malharrao to immediately act as per directions and leave the battlefield. Malharrao acted as per the directions of Sadashivrao and saved Parvatibai. Malharrao was considered to be the right hand man of Peshwa. Others who retreated from this battle were Mahadji Shinde and Nana Phadnawis.

It is clear from the last letters sent by Bhau and from the narration of Nana Phadnawis that Bhau had anticipated the outcome of the battle but he didn’t let it affect the morale of the soldiers. This is also clear from the fact that Bhau had placed Malharrao Holkar on the corner of the backside of the western side of the Battlefield. This was the safest and easiest place in the battlefield to escape if and when needed. There is no proof to show that Malharrao had no role in saving Parvatibai. Just because Janu Bhintada, Baravkar and Piraji Raut were awarded that does not mean Malharrao Holkar was not connected with saving Parvatibai. The fact is that five hundred shepherds were specially assigned the task of protecting Parvatibai and it cannot be believed that Parvatibai would choose to escape on her own by leaving these guards. Even Raghunatrao, who was annoyed with those who fled the battlefield, didn’t accuse Malharrao.[9]

If he had fled the battle-field, as alleged, then Peshwa would have never returned the Subedari to Malharrao. By the letter dated 13 March 1761 Nanasaheb Peshwa asked Malharrao Holkar to look after the entire affairs of North India.

He set aside personal enmity with Surajmal Jat, who killed his son Khanderao, for the sake of Maratha Confederation. He had also agreed to forgive Madhosingh. Moreover Malharrao Holkar and Surajmal Jat had advised Sadashivrao Bhau to use Guerilla warfare against Ahmed Shah Abdali instead of a direct war which was declined by Bhau. He had also advised Bhau that instead of going forward to Panipat, they should wait for the enemy to come in their stronghold where it would become easy for them and difficult for Abdali. Even this advise was rejected by Bhau. Nana Phadnawis has stated that, at that time, Bhau didn't show his usual cleverness and rejected the advise of Malharrao Holkar and Surajmal Jat.

He was pragmatic and always took decisions carefully and intelligently. After the Battle of Panipat, it was because of Malharrao Holkar that the Maratha Empire could be maintained and protected in North India. He believed that no one is a permanent friend or enemy and that if your head is intact, you can have fifty headgears. He believed that at times it is necessary to retreat and then at a fit time regain what is lost.

Renowned historian T. S. Shejwalkar says that Malharrao Holkar did no mistake and he behaved like Shrikrishna. If Malharrao Holkar had died in Panipat it would have only reaffirmed that he was loyal and brave, which he even otherwise was, but his death would have ended the Maratha Empire in North India. The Maratha Empire was only weakened but not annihilated by the Battle of Panipat. Urged by his troops Amhadshah Abdali returned to his mountains never to return to India. Ahmedshah praised the unbelievable bravery of Maratha soldiers who fought till the last breath and gave supreme sacrifice. The victory did not fetch any benefit to Abdali.


Chhatri of Malhar Rao Holkar at Alampur

He died at Alampur, 2 May 1766,[10] and was succeeded by his daughter-in-law Ahilya Bai Holkar. He is considered as one of the architects of Maratha control over India.

Malharao Holkar's tomb is located in Alampur ( Tahasil - Lahar, District- Bhind M.P.).

He was a great man who trained his only daughter-in-law Ahilya devi in accounts and in battle like a son. After his death, Ahilyabai looked after his empire.


See also


  1. ^ An oriental biographical dictionary: founded on materials collected by the late Thomas William Beale. W.H. Allen, 1894. p. 237. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  2. ^ A collection of treaties, engagements, and sanads relating to India and neighbouring countries. Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1893. p. 153. 
  3. ^ "BRAVE STORY:Devi Ahilya bai". 
  4. ^ "The Holkar Dynasty genealogy". 
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Article
  7. ^ Dr. Prakash Chandra Chandawat: Maharaja Suraj Mal aur unka yug, Jaypal Agencies Agra, 1982, Pages 110-118
  8. ^ Claude Markovits, A history of modern India, 1480–1950. Pg. 207.
  9. ^ Shejwalkar says they might have been kept to show the route. This cant be accepted as 500 shepherds are not needed to show a route. It is well known that only one shepherd named Shingroba had shown the route in Bhorghat from Mumbai to Pune to the British who built the present Mumbai - Pune route as it stands today.
  10. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India: Provincial Series. Supt. of Govt. Print, 1908. p. 204. 


Prof. Madhukar Salgare - Hindustanch Yugpurush Malharrao Holkar - 2009.(Marathi)

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