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The Battle of Khardla - funny reason to lose the battle

Posted September 15th, 2013 at 11:31 AM by Jinit
Updated September 15th, 2013 at 11:45 AM by Jinit

Recently I came across the story of the Battle of Khardla, which I found rather amusing - mainly because of the funny reason which led to the defeat of the Nizam and so I thought to share it with you people.

Background of the war

During the 18th century Southern India witnessed one of the most complex political situation in her history. Maratha Empire, Nizam of Hyderabad, Tipu sultan of Mysore, British and French all were trying to control this fertile part of the India. Of all the candidates Nizam of the Hyderabad was initially the most weakest and vulnerable one. Yet Hyderabad was able to maintain it sovereignty thanks largely to the shrewd diplomacy and the carefully constructed system of alliance created by Nizam Ali Khan and his father. And for much of his reign Nizam Ali Khan avoided making any armed conflict with the Marathas and handled them with the skillful diplomacy just like his father.

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Mir Nizam Ali Khan - Ruler of the State of Hyderabad

However situation changed in 1794 when under the influence of his anglophile prime minister Aristu Jah, Nizam finally decided to change his policy against the Marathas. His decision was also influenced by his newly trained infantry regiments which were trained by the famous French general Raymond. Besides Both Nizam and Aristu Jah were hoping that British , who by that time period had established themselves in Bengal and in southern coast, will help them in their campaign against the Marathas. However unknown to them the Governor general of East India company Sir John Shore had already decided to reject the proposal by the Nizam in favor of the already existing Triple alliance signed by the Marathas, Nizam and British to counter the Tipu Sultan of Mysore, as Mysore was the most immediate threat for the British at that time.

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Aristu Jah - Prime minister of the Hyderabad state

However above all these reasons, the personal rivalry between Aristu Jah and Nana Phadanvis - an Influential minister of Maratha empire, was equally responsible for this newly erupted conflict. (Nana Phadanvis was known as Indian Machiavelli by the Europeans)

The preparations for war

Nizam shifted his court to the frontier fort town of the Bidar to assemble the huge army. The British tried to convince them to avoid this conflict but in vain. However not only the Nizam but the entire camp at the Bidar had convinced themselves that the Victory against the Marathas was within their grasp. Every night at the court of Nizam nauch girls sang song about their forthcoming victory. Aristu Jah even announced to the court that when they took Pune he would send his Maratha counterpart Nana Phadanvis "the Maratha Machiavelli", off to exile in Banaras with a cloth about his loins and a pot of water in his hands, to mutter incantations on the banks of the Ganges"!!!

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Peshwa Madhav Rao II of the Maratha empire (on left side) with Nana Phadanvis - aka Maratha Machiavelli (on right side)

Finally in December 1794 the Nizam's army left the fort of Bidar and started marching towards Pune - imperial city of the Marathas. For three months the Nizam's army slowly advanced towards Pune along the Banks of the Manjira river. The Marathas advanced equally slowly towards them. Of two armies the Marathas had slightly larger army of 1,30,000 men against the Nizam's army of 90000 men. Maratha army was equally experienced and well trained by another famous French general in India at that time - Comet Benoit de Boigne. In addition to army, Nizam's begums also accompanied him, who came along on a trip in a caravan of covered elephant palanquins, (presumably thinking this expedition as another leisure trip in the countryside!!!). Nizam's harem was protected by the Female infantry knwon as Zuffur Plutun.

The slow march was marked by the frequent diplomatic negotiations by both the sides albeit with the inconclusive results. Nizam insisted that he was merely enjoying a hunting expedition in his realm and didn't intend to invade the Maratha territory!!! In addition to the Diplomatic meetings both the sides tried to destabilize the opponent's army through bribes and covert intelligence work. Aristu Jah spent enormous amount of one crore rupees (around 60 million pound in today's currency) in trying to persude Scindia (Strongest Maratha feudatory) and his famous De boigne trained army to desert the Maratha army. Nana Phadanvis on the other side spent the small amount of Seven lakh rupees (4.2 million pound in today's currency) trying to encourage the Pro Maratha faction in Nizam's court to to run malicious campaign against the Aristu Jah.

The battle

Finally after the three months of march, on the evening of 14 March 1795, the Nizam's army arrived at the top of the ridge known as the Moori Ghat (Ghat means mountain pass) with the Maratha army encamped a day's march below them. At eight o'clock in the morning, 15 March, the Nizam gave the order to attack the Marath infantry. Nizam's army finally confronted the Maratha army around 2 o'clock. The newly trained infantry regiments of General Raymond of the Nizam's army and even the female infantry - the Zuffur Plutun were doing very well. They steadily advanced on the Maratha army using the advantage of their high altitude and succeeded in holding their position except for the minor setback when the cavalry escort of the Raymonds's army deserted them. (Mostly the work of the bribing by the Nana Phadanvis). None the less by Nizam's army got the upper hand and by the night they reached on their designated campsite where they dug in for the night, extremely well positioned for the expected battle the following morning.

However it was at this point that funny situation occurred. The Occasional cannonade by the Marathas at night panicked the Nizam's women especially the Bakshi begum - the Nizam's most senior wife who finally realized the actual purpose of their " nawabi outing". At that moment she threatened the Nizam to unveil herself in public if he did not take his entire harem into the shelter of the small and ruined moated fort of the Khardla, which lay at the very bottom of the Moori Ghat, just over three miles behind the front line!!! (In present context this seems to be rather negligible threat however in the Muslim society of 18th century India such threat was equivalent to the lady threatening to her husband to strip naked in the public!!!). The good husband was left with no choice but to retreat to the fort. During the confusion of the Nizam's inexplicable retreat, a small party of the Marathas looking for the water bumped into Hyderabadi picket and the brief exchange of fire in the dark was enough to throw the remaining Hyderabadi troops into complete panic. They all ran to the fort as quick as possible thinking that Nizam was actually retreating due to the Maratha attack. Once inside the fort there was the atmosphere of celebration among the Begums upon the accomplishment of such a complicated military task ( ie retreating to lowest point of the ridge from the high altitude!!!)

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Fort of Khardla where Nizam's army took refuge

When the dawn broke the following morning, the Marathas found to their amazement that the Hyderabadis had not only thrown away their strategic advantage, but left their arms, ammunition and supplies scattered over the battlefield while taking shelter in an utterly indefensible position. By 10 o'clock in the morning Marathas captured 400 abandoned amunition carts, 2000 camels and 15 heavy cannon. By the eleven they had completely sarrounded the Nizam's army and started firing on their position from the 60 cannons simultaneously.

The negotiations went on for 22 days, with each passing day marathas tightening the siege and raising their demand. Surprisingly there wasn't any attempt by the Nizam's army to break the siege depsite the desperate situation in the camp (most probably thanks to the bribing by the Nana Phadanvis).


For the Nizam the campaign proved as short as disastrous. Finally Nizam signed humiliating treaty on 17th April,1795. According to which Marathas gained the strategic fortresses of Daultabad, Ahmednagar, Sholapur as well as the huge territory worth the annual revenue of the thirty five lakh rupees which left the core territory of Nizam completely indefensible to future attacks (look at the map below). In addition the entire campaign costed him two crore rupees (120 million pound in present value) in addition to the one crore rupees sepnt in bribing the Marathas. In short Nizam lost almost half of his territory in addition to his most talented minister Aristu Jah who was demanded as hostage by his nemesis Nana Phadanvis. A temper tantrum of the Begum almost threatened the very existence of his kingdom. (It is very much possible that Nana Phadanvis might have bribed the Begum herself to set up all this drama.) Battle of Khardla thus proved unique in a way that it wasn't lost due to incompetent general or the bad logistics or any such reason but by the most foolish demand by the Begum at the most unexpected time. However on the positive side Nizam learned the crucial lesson, which is not to take his harem again on the military expedition.

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Map of India in 1795 after the Battle of Khardla

However the situation soon reversed due to the various factors. (As I said earlier Political situation in south India was extremely complicated during that time period.) For the Maratha confederacy this was the last major victory. In October that year Peshwa (eqivalent to prime minister but in the case of Maratha Empire - the de facto ruler of the empire) Madhav rao II died due to some inexplicable reason (most probably by committing suicide). In the ensuing chaos Nizam got his territory back without any effort at all and Aristu Jah managed to liberate himself from the Peshwa court. Later on new Governor General of India Richard Colley Wellesley (brother of Duke of wellington) adopted an expansionist policy and conquered the Mysore and turned his attention towards Maratha territory. Nana Phadanvis, who had by far managed to secure the empire from both the internal and external threat died in the 1800AD and with his death Maratha empire soon broke apart. With the death of General Raymond, Final Frenchthreat to British East India company also vanished. Nizam however somehow managed to retain his territory all the way upto 1947 when the Hyderabad state was forcefully merged into India after another brief campaign known as operation Polo...

Source: White Mughals by William Delrymple
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  1. Old Comment
    kauchenvinci-0's Avatar
    Interesting Doc !!

    And now we know why women and wars was not such a good combo :P !!!

    Jokes apart , I did not know this being a 'HYDERABADI ' , but I am glad MArathas won !! thanks for sharing .
    Posted September 27th, 2013 at 07:06 PM by kauchenvinci-0 kauchenvinci-0 is offline

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