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|Maratha invasions of Bengal|
|Part of Battles involving the Maratha Empire|
|Maratha Empire||Nawab of Bengal|
|Commanders and leaders|
Raghuji Bhonsle |
Bhaskar Pandit †
Alivardi Khan |
Gopal Singha Dev
Ghulam Mustafa Khan (defected)
Jainuddin Ahmed †
Sheikh Masum †
Syed Ahmed Khan
40,000 (in 1742) |
24,000 (in 1745)
|10,000+ (in 1747)|
|Casualties and losses|
|100,000 killed in war||400,000 civilians killed by Marathas|
The Maratha invasions of Bengal, also known as the Maratha expeditions in Bengal, refers to the frequent invasions by the Maratha forces in the Bengal Subah (Bengal, Bihar, Orissa), after their successful campaign in the Carnatic region at the Battle of Trichinopoly. The leader of the expedition was Maratha Maharaja Raghoji Bhonsle of Nagpur. The Marathas invaded Bengal six times from August 1741 to May 1751. Nawab Alivardi Khan succeeded in resisting all the invasions, however, the frequent Maratha invasions caused great destruction in the Bengal Subah, resulting in heavy civilian casualties and widespread economic losses. The invasions came to an end with the signing of a peace treaty between the Maratha Empire and the Nawab of Bengal, which established a Maratha-supported governor in Orissa under nominal control of the Nawab of Bengal. During their occupation, the Marathas perpetrated a massacre against the local population, killing close to 400,000 people in Bengal and Bihar.
The Nawab of Bengal became a tributary to the Marathas, with the former agreeing to pay Rs. 1.2 million of tribute annually as the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar, and the Marathas agreed not to invade Bengal again. The Nawab of Bengal also paid Rs. 3.2 million to the Marathas, towards the arrears of chauth for the preceding years. The chauth was paid annually by the Nawab of Bengal up to 1758, until the British occupation of Bengal.
From 1741 to 1751, the Marathas under Raghuji Bhonsle invaded Bengal six times. The first one in 1741, as also the third in 1744, were led by Raghuji's general Pandit Bhaskar Ram Kolhatkar or Bhaskar Pandit. The second in 1742 and the fourth in 1745 were led by Raghuji himself. The fifth in 1747 and the sixth in 1748 were undertaken by Janoji and Sabaji respectively. These invasions caused heavy destruction in Bengal, however, each of the invasions was repelled by the Bengalis under Nawab Alivardi Khan. But the continuous conflict took a heavy toll on the population of Bengal.
After the inauguration of Alivardi Khan as the Nawab of Bengal, the provincial governor of Orissa, Zafar Khan Rustam Jung, more commonly known as Murshid Quli II, revolted against him. The revolt was crushed by Alivardi in March 1741, but Murshid Quli II escaped with his family and took shelter of Raghuji Bhonsle, the Maratha ruler of Nagpur. Raghuji agreed to assist Murshid Quli II in regaining Orissa. Murshid Quli II's son-in-law Mirza Baker, assisted by Maratha troops and the rebel forces of Orissa (who were dissatisfied with the governor of Orissa), invaded Orissa in August 1741. Orissa's governor, Syed Ahmed Khan (a nephew of Alivardi Khan), was defeated and captured along with his family.
Hearing of this, Alivardi rushed to Orissa and defeated the combined forces of the Marathas and the rebels in the Battle of Raipur in December 1741. Alivardi's commander Mir Jafar freed Syed Ahmed and his family. Alivardi regained control of Orissa and returned to Murshidabad.
The Marathas occupied Bihar and western Bengal up to the Hooghly River. During that time, the Maratha invaders, called "Bargis" in Bengali, perpetrated atrocities against the local population, against Bengali Muslims as well as Bengali Hindus. The Marathas reportedly plundered and burned villages, murdered pregnant women and infants, and gang-raped women, and are estimated to have killed about 400,000 people. The Maratha atrocities during their invasion of Bengal is considered to be among the deadliest massacres in Indian history. According to the 18th-century Bengali text Maharashtra Purana:
They shouted over and over again, 'Give us money', and when they got no money they filled peoples' nostrils with water, and some they seized and drowned in tanks, and many died of suffocation. In this way they did all manner of foul and evil deeds. When they demanded money and it was not given to them, they would put the man to death. Those who had money gave it, those who had none were killed.
This time none escaped,
Brahmanas, and Vaisnavas, Sannyasis, and householders,
all had the same fate, and cows were massacred along with men.
Durga ordered her followers to be gracious to the Muslim Nawab and oppose the Marathas, because the evil-minded ones had killed Brahmans and Vaisnavas.
The Maratha atrocities were corroborated by contemporary European accounts. Jan Kersseboom, chief of the Dutch East India Company factory in Bengal, estimated that close to 400,000 people were killed by the Marathas during their occupation of western Bengal and Bihar. This devastated Bengal's economy, as many of the people killed in the Maratha raids included merchants, textile weavers, silk winders, and mulberry cultivators. The Cossimbazar factory reported in 1742, for example, that the Marathas burnt down many of the houses where silk piece goods were made, along with weavers' looms.
British writer Robert Orme reported that the Marathas caused so much distress to the local population that many of them "were continually taking flight" in large numbers to Calcutta whenever they heard rumours of the Marathas coming. Many of the Bengali Muslims in West Bengal also fled to take shelter in East Bengal, fearing for their lives in the wake of the Maratha attacks.
In 1751, the Marathas signed a peace treaty with the Nawab of Bengal, according to which Mir Habib (a former courtier of Alivardi Khan, who had defected to the Marathas) was made provincial governor of Orissa under nominal control of the Nawab of Bengal. It made the Nawab of Bengal a tributary to the Marathas, with former agreeing to pay Rs. 1.2 million of tribute annually as the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar, and the Marathas agreed not to invade Bengal again. The Nawab of Bengal also paid Rs. 3.2 million to the Marathas, towards the arrears of chauth for the preceding years.