MARĀṬHĀ-SIKH RELATIONS spanning a period of half a century from 1758 to 1806 alternated between friendly co-operation and mistrust born out of rivalry of political and military ambition. Although Shivājī (1627-80), the founder of Marāṭhā power, and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708), the creator of the Khālsā, both rose against the tyrannical rule of Auraṅgzīb, and although the Sikhs' real crusade in the Punjab took its birth on the banks of the River Godāvarī in Mahārāshṭra, the two forces did not come in direct contact with each other until the Marāṭhās, in a bid to fill the power vacuum caused by the fall of the Mughal empire, expanded their influence as far as Delhi. By this time, while the Marāthās had reached the zenith of their power, the Sikhs, caught in the pincer grip of Mughal and Afghān persecutors, were still struggling for survival.

         Ahmad Shāh Durrānī during his fourth invasion (November 1756-April 1757) had occupied the Punjab. He appointed his young son, Taimūr, his viceroy at Lahore with his trusted general, Jahān Khān as his deputy. Ādīnā Beg, reinstated as faujdār of the Jalandhar Doāb, on being harassed by Taimūr and Jahān Khān, sought the help of the Sikhs. With their help he was about to defeat the Lahore force sent against him in December 1757. But not sure about the Sikh strength that would be available against a heavier force sent or led by Jahān Khān or Ahmad Shāh Durrānī himself, he also invited in January 1758, Raghunāth Rāo, who was stationed at Delhi at the head of a large Marāṭhā army, to invade the Punjab, offering him 1,00,000 rupees for each day's march and 50,000 rupees for each halt. On 8 March 1758, Raghunāth Rāo arrived near Sirhind where Ādīnā Beg and his Sikh allies joined him. Sirhind was besieged. On 21 March the town fell and was sacked thoroughly. The Sikh-Marāṭhā coalition was soon strained over the distribution of spoils. Sikhs, owing to their initiative and knowledge of the local geography, took the lion's share; the Marāṭhās demanded a share proportionate to the number of troops. The situation was saved by Ādīnā Beg who brought about peace between the two. To avoid any further clash during their march together, it was agreed that Sikhs would remain two marches ahead of the Marāṭhās. The combined Sikh-Marāṭhā army occupied Lahore on 20 April 1758, the Afghān prince and his deputy having fled northward the previous day. Raghunāth Rāo appointed Ādīnā Beg governor of Lahore and leaving two small garrisons at Aṭṭock and Multān returned to Delhi. In November 1759, Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, invading India for the fifth time, wiped out the Marāṭhā forces in the Punjab. He inflicted a crushing defeat on the Marāṭhās in the third battle of Pānīpat in January1761.

         The next contact of the Sikhs with the Marāṭhās was in January-February1765 when they both fought on the side of Jawāhar Siṅgh of Bharatpur, against Najīb ud-Daulā, the Ruhīlā chief who had killed the Jāṭ ruler's father, Sūraj Mall, in a battle at Delhi in December 1763. Jawāhar Siṅgh hired the services of both the Sikhs and the Marāṭhās to avenge himself on Najīb. The Sikhs, 15,000 strong, under Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā defeated the Ruhīlās in a battle fought on the northern outskirts of Delhi on 4 February 1765, but Jawāhar Siṅgh did not succeed in his venture owing to the faithlessness of the Marāṭhā commander, Malhār Rāo, who along with some treacherous Jāṭ officers arrived at a secret understanding with Najīb ud-Daulā forcing the Bharatpur ruler to accept peace. Jawāhar Siṅgh had another score to settle with the Marāṭhās, too. They had supported his brother, Nāhar Siṅgh, in his claim to the throne of his father. He now took nearly eight thousand Sikhs into his pay to make another assault. He defeated them in a battle fought near Dholpur on 13-14 March 1766 and occupied Dholpur, formerly held by Nāhar Siṅgh as an appanage. Jawāhar Siṅgh with his Sikh troops then went to the help of the Jāṭ prince of Gohad against the Marāṭhās. Together they raided Marāṭhā territory in central India.

         Jawāhar Siṅgh was assassinated in June 1768 and his brother, Ratan Siṅgh, who succeeded him, was similarly done away the following year. A civil war broke out between their half-brothers, Naval Siṅgh and Raṇjīt Siṅgh. The Sikhs sided with Raṇjīt Siṅgh while Naval Siṅgh invited the Marāṭhās and the Ruhīlās to assist him. A fierce battle took place on 24 February 1770, in which the Marāṭhā cavalry was severely mauled. Naval Siṅgh however carried the day and the Sikhs had to retire to the Punjab.

         Although the Sikhs were now masters of Punjab, Marāṭhās had re-emerged as the strongest power in India. Mahādjī Scindīā, chief of Gwālīor, occupied Delhi in January 1771 and the nominal Mughal emperor, Shāh 'Ālam II, who had been living under British protection at Allāhābād, returned to the imperial capital early in January 1772 as the Marāṭhās' protege. Mahādjī was appointed Vakīl-i-Mutlaq or Regent Plenipotentiary of the Mughal Empire in November 1784. His principal duty was to restore peace and order in the country and to supply the Emperor with sufficient funds which largely came as revenue from the crown-lands. The Sikhs, free from the danger of foreign invasions after the death of Ahmad Shāh Durrānī in April 1772, had been plundering the crown-lands north of Delhi and in the Gaṅgā-Yamunā Doāb, and revenues from these lands had almost completely ceased to come to Delhi. Even the imperial city was no longer secure against their raids. Mahādjī Scindīā tried to win over the Sikhs by diplomacy. He despatched several agents, one after the other, to open parleys with the Sikhs; on the other hand, he won over Begam Samrū to his side making over several parganahs to her in jāgīr. A treaty of "unity of interests and of friendship" with the Sikhs was concluded on 9 May 1785 according to which the Sikhs agreed to forgo rākhī in the Gaṅg Doāb and other crown-lands in exchange for jāgīrs worth one million rupees a year granted to different sardārs. To meet any external danger or internal disturbance both powers were to help each other. The Sikhs also agreed not to cause any injury to the territories of the British East India Company and the Nawāb of Oudh. The treaty, however, did not endure beyond a month and the Sikhs entered the Gaṅg Doāb in June 1785 to collect rākhī.

         In December 1785, Khushāl Siṅgh Siṅghpurīā occupied Chhat and Banūr which belonged to Rājā Sāhib Siṅgh of Paṭiālā, who soliciting help from the Marāṭhās, regained the territory.In January1786, in the struggle for succession among the sons of Rājā Gajpat Siṅgh of Jīnd, Bhūp Siṅgh sought the Marāthās' help against his brother, Bhāg Siṅgh, in lieu of which he surrendered Safidon to them.

         In April 1789, Mahādjī Scindīā deputed two of his generals, Rāne Khān and 'Alī Bahādur, to negotiate alliance with the Sikhs, Sardār Baghel Siṅgh Karoṛsiṅghīā and Dīwān Nānū Mall of Paṭiālā. The latter, however, doubted their intentions and called reinforcements from beyond the Sutlej.12, 000 Sikhs immediately responded to their call. Nānū Mall, however, presented himself before the Marāṭhā generals and bought peace by offering 4,00,000 rupees as annual tribute and another 2,00,000 rupees as expenses of their army. Rane Khān pressed on towards Paṭiālā. An inconclusive skirmish took place with the Sikhs on 15 April 1789 at Bhunerheṛi, 16 km southeast of Paṭiālā. A settlement was at last arrived at according to which Baghel Siṅgh was granted a large jāgīr on the condition that he would keep the Sikh chiefs from assailing the Marāṭhās; the cis-Sutlej states acknowledged the supremacy of Māhādjī Scindīā and several Sardārs were granted jāgīrs or confirmed in their estates in the Gang Doāb against their undertaking not to allow other Sikhs to attack the Doāb. This pact, too, was shortlived and the Sikhs resumed, from March 1790 onwards, their depredations without check or hindrance. Only once, in February 1794, the Marāṭhās with the support of Begam Samrū's well-disciplined artillery regiment could frustrate their attempt to seize Sahāranpur.

         Mahādjī Scindīā died on 12 February 1794 and was succeeded by Daulat Rāo Scindīā. In September 1795, one of his generals, Nānā Rāo came to realize tribute due from the Sikh chiefs, but was beaten back. George Thomas, an Irish adventurer in the Marāṭhās' pay was then given charge of the northern region. He kept fighting the Sardārs on both sides of the Yamunā and was often successful because of his artillery, an arm the Sikhs did not then possess. In April 1798, George Thomas gave up Marāṭhā service and settled down at Jhajjar and Hāṅsī as an independent chief. He expanded his power and carried out frequent raids on the territories of the cis-Sutlej Sikh chiefs, who in 1801 sought help from Perron, a French general in the service of Scindīās and commander of the northern division of the Marāṭhā army. He readily agreed, but as the combined Sikh-Marāṭhā troops forced George Thomas to surrender by the end of the year, the Sikh chiefs began to resent the heavy exactions imposed upon them by Perron. The short spell of Marāṭhā supremacy, however, was broken by the emergence of the British as the dominating power in India. Daulat Rāo Scindīā after his defeat at Lāsvārī on 1 November 1803, ceded to the British the districts of Delhi, Āgrā, Gurgāoṅ, Rohtak and Hissār. The British also occupied the Gaṅgā-Yamunā Doāb.

         The last Sikh-Marāṭhā contact took place in 1805 when Jasvant Rāo Holkār, Marāṭhā chief of Indore, defeated and pursued by the British General, Lord Lake, entered the Punjab and sought help from Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. The Mahārājā, after consultation with his principal Sardārs at Amritsar in what is remembered as the last meeting of the Sarbatt Khālsā, only offered to mediate between Holkar and the British. As a result of the parleys that followed, two treaties were signed. The first treaty signed on 1 January 1806 by Lord Lake and Sardār Fateh Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā representing the British Governor-General and Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh respectively, stipulated Holkar's exit from the Punjab; according to the second, between the British and Jasvant Rāo Holkar, signed on 11 January 1806, the latter gave up his rights north of the River Chambal while the former undertook not to interfere with his territories south of that river.


  1. Bhaṅgū, Ratan Siṅgh, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh. Amritsar, 1914
  2. Giān Singh, Giānī, Twārīkh Gurū Khālsā [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
  3. Gupta, Hari Rām, History of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978-82
  4. Sinha, N.K., Rise of the Sikh Power. Calcutta, 1960
  5. Harbaṅs Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  6. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikh, vol. I. Princeton, 1963

Harī Rām Gupta