The Sindhias of Gwalior

The Sindhias carved a prominent place for themselves in North Indian politics in the decades following the third battle of Panipat (1761). Again, like the Holkars, the Sindhias were based largely in central India, first at Ujjain, and later (from the last quarter of the 18th century) in Gwalior.

During the long reign of Mahadaji Sindhia (1761-94) family’s fortunes were truly consolidated. Mahadaji, proved an effective and innovative military commander. He employed a large number of European soldiers in his force. His power grew rapidly after 1770.

During this period he managed to make substantial inroads into North India that had been weakened by Afghan attacks. He intervened with some effect in the Mughal court during the reign of Shah Alam II. The Mughal king made him the “deputy regent” of his affairs in the mid-1780s.

His shadow fell not only across the provinces of Delhi and Agra but also on Rajasthan and Gujarat, making him the most formidable Maratha leader of the era. The officials of the East India Company were very cautious in dealing with him. His relations with the acting peshwa, Nana Fadnavis at Pune were fraught with tension.

Eventually, the momentum generated by Mahadaji could not be maintained by his successor Daulat Rao Sindhia (ruled 1794-1827), who was defeated by the British and forced by treaty in 1803 to surrender his territories both to the north and to the west.

The careers of some of these potentates, especially Mahadaji Sindhia, illustrate the potency of Mughal symbols even in the phase of Mughal decline. For instance, after recapturing Gwalior from the British, Mahadaji took care to have his control of the town sanctioned by the Mughal emperor.

Equally, he zealously guarded the privileges and titles granted to him by Shah Alam, such as amir al-umara ("head of the amirs") and na’ib wakii-i mutlaq (“deputy regent”). In this he was not alone. Instances in the 18th century of states that wholly threw off all pretense of allegiance to the Mughals are rare. Rather, the Mughal system of honours and titles, as well as Mughal - derived administrative terminology and fiscal practices, continued despite the decline of imperial power.