They say behind every man, is a woman. Sometimes, it is for good and sometimes, it is for bad. The wives of the big three of Panipat are as below –
Nanasaheb Peshwa – Gopikabai
Raghunatha Rao – Anandibai
Sadashiv Rao – Parvatibai
Even though Gopikabai and Anandibai are cousins, they are bitter enemies of each other and surely they would have eaten the brains of their husbands with their vitriol. Raghunatha Rao flew the flag of India all over the North India but because Abdali looted everything before his advent, his campaign incurred a heavy loss. Nana had to personally intervene in the bickering between Raghunatha Rao and Sadashiv Rao over the expenses. This, surely would have brought glee to Gopikabai. While on the other end of the spectrum, Viswas Rao was close to his uncle Sadashiv Rao and his wife Parvati Bai arranged his marriage with her niece Radhikabai. This was not digestible to Gopikabai.
Viswas Rao was the field commander at Udgir but Sadashiv Rao got the accolades for success. During the celebrations for victory, news came of the disaster in north – the death of the Shinde and the melting of the North Indian armies. It’s imperative that an army should be sent to the North to bring the situation back into control. Nana was either too ill or too lazy to command. So, the onus of the responsibility fell on his brothers, Sadashiv Rao and Raghunatha Rao and one of them is to lead the armies to the north. The current case is that both the brothers have proven themselves on field but Sadashiv Rao did not create any losses to the Poona exchequer and is a fresh victor.
It’s time for the scheming ladies again. Gopikabai would prefer Sadashiv Rao over Raghunatha Rao even though Raghunatha Rao is better experienced in the North, simple reason being that she dislikes Anandibai more than Parvatibai. But to ensure that he doesn’t take credit for success, she forced her husband to send Viswas Rao as the leader of the campaign. Had Viswas not gone that day, the story of Maratha Empire and India would have been completely different. As Peshwas’s family is represented by Sadashiv Rao and Shamsher Bahadur, there is no question of running away from responsibility.
Rest is history. Viswas is killed in the heat of battle, Sadashiv Rao, distraught, launches headlong into the fight and gets killed. Shamsher Bahadur, who was in that last charge, severely wounded, dies of wounds and shock in Dig with the words ‘Bhau! Bhau!’ on his lips at a young age of 27. Either he saw how bravely his brother fought or he saw his brother cut down before his eyes, this fact is hidden from history. Sadashiv Rao was 31.
Parvatibai was with her husband during the war and she participated in military reviews sitting with a sword in her hand in a howdah. She escaped the battlefield in the nick of time on a horse, meeting Holkar’s party enroute.
The last news Peshwa got was in November and there was an information blackout for two months. Instead of dillydallying in the south for months, had he advanced with another army, the story would have been different. Peshwa received the news of the rout at the time when he crossed Narmada and was waiting for any news of his family. Nana Phadnivas was the first to confirm that Viswas Rao is dead but there is no information regarding Jankoji Shinde and Sadashiv Rao Bhau and that both were seen launching headlong when he was forced to flee from the battlefield.
After the war:
Parvatibai refused to believe that her husband is dead and lived as a recluse till her death a few years later in 1763.
Gopikabai started nagging her husband for being responsible for her son’s death and the Peshwa, already ill, died of depression. She tried to run the show under Madhava Rao but was shunted out. It’s a different story altogether. All life, she blamed Radhikabai for her son’s death and died as a beggar, finally cremated by Radhikabai in 1778.
Anandibai tried to run the show through her husband, first during Madhava Rao’s reign, then during Narayana Rao’s reign before getting the young Peshwa Narayana Rao murdered. After the young Peshwa’s death and Raghunatha Rao’s forced abdication, they just became pawns in the politics of Maratha Empire. The stories of the two ladies will come on a later day.
Lesser Women:
Balwant Rao Mehendele was the brother of Sadashiv Rao’s first wife Umabai. He was killed in an action before the war and his wife, Lakshmibai committed Sati. Their son, later popular as Appa Balwant, survived the war.
Umabai’s sister and mother of Nana Phadnivas is killed in the battlefield
Nana Phadnivas’s wife was rescued separately and both were united outside the battlefield in a Malwa town.
Nothing is known of Mehrambai, Shamsher Bahadurs wife. Going by the fact that their son, Ali Bahadur was three years old at the battle, she may have stayed back in Pune.
Nothing much is known of Radhikabai except her meeting with Gopikabai at the fag end of Gopikabai’s life.