The Battle of Panipat eclipsed the unity of the Maratha Confederacy. Though Raghunatha Rao aspired to become the Peshwa after the death of Balaji Baji Rao, Madhava Rao succeeded his father and ensured that the unity holds. But, his death at a young age of twenty-five compounded the matters again. Madhava Rao put his brother in Raghunatha Rao’s hands and asked him to take care of him and guide the empire. This broke Anandibai’s dreams of her husband becoming a Peshwa for ever.
One year into the throne, it is said that Raghunatha Rao sent a message to a commander to fetch Narayana Rao to his quarters with the words Narayanrao la dhara. Anandibai changed the wording from dhara to maara by editing a single character, but changing the meaning of the statement to execute Narayana Rao. Accordingly, when the Peshwa was attacked, not knowing, he fled to his uncle’s quarters and clung to him to save himself. Anadibai dragged him and he was hacked to pieces. It is said that the chopped pieces were carried out in a pot and cremated. As the belief is that the curse during Sati is irrevocable, they seized Narayana Rao’s wife and ensured she will not ascend the pyre.
Raghunatha Rao finally became the Peshwa, but was deposed and spent all his life trying to run from the Maratha authority. Though he made a mistake, there are two wrongs done here, which destroyed the empire for good – the only powerful person, capable of welding the unity of Maratha empire was alienated and an infant was placed on the throne, controlled by those who emerged powerful. How good their intent may be, the final word is that they are regents and their word doesn’t hold as strongly as that of the Peshwa.
It is said that Narayana Rao’s ghost haunted Raghunatha Rao’s family till the last days. We don’t hear about the ghost during Raghunatha Rao’s life but during that of his son, Baji Rao’s life. Baji Rao was arrested all his life and when no heir turned up in Balaji Baji Rao’s line, he was brought forward as the Peshwa. The bottom line is that he was not brought up as a ruler and he proved it to the fullest, ending the Maratha Empire for good. But the fact is that when the actual end came, the other powerful Maratha Sardars of Gwalior, Nagpur, Indore and Baroda and even his suzerain, the emperor at Satara preferred to save their thrones than to bail the Peshwa out.
It is said that the ghost of Narayana Rao haunted Baji Rao and he had got it driven away. In gratitude of this, he built an embankment in Pandharpur. But, when he was exiled and deposed, the ghost followed the Peshwa to Bithur where he was made to set up a court as a pensioner. Since Pandharpur was a no go for him, he performed the Puja at Varanasi but the ghost is not to go. The ghost prophesized that Baji Rao’s son will be the last in the line and that his complete edifice will be destroyed. This actually turned true as Nana Saheb, his adopted son was the last Peshwa and Bithur was burnt in revenge of his role in 1857 revolt. The ghost vanished after Baji Rao’s death.