The Battle of Koregaon took place on January 1, 1818, at the bank of river Bhima in Koregaon (Maharashtra State, India), situated on the north west of Pune. A small force of 500 men of the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment of the Bombay Native Light Infantry mostly Mahar under the command of Capt. F. F. Staunton fought without rest or respite, food or water continuously for twelve hours against a large force of 20,000 horse and 8,000 infantry of Maratha Leader Peshwa Baji Rao II who was threatening the British garrisons at Kirkee and Poona. In the month of November 1817 Peshwas devastated the Regency of Pune giving no scope for the British army to retaliate successfully. The British commanding officer in Pune called the Chief of the second Battalion-first Regiment Native Infantry for help which was encamped in the Shirur Taluka of Pune district. This contingent, with only 500 foot soldiers and 250 hundred cavalry both predominantly loaded with Mahars defeated the mighty Peshwa army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 20,000 cavalry. The Mahars are an important social group within the Indian state of Maharashtra/Maratha state and surrounding states.
This battle had unusual significance for many reasons. First, British army fought this battle with a minuscule army expecting the worst, especially after their experience of the Pune Regency. Secondly, the battle of Koregaon was one of the most important events which helped tear down the Peshwa Empire and subsequently the Peshwa had to abdicate. Thirdly and most importantly, it was an attempt by the untouchables of Maharashtra to break the shackles of the age-old caste order.
The Peshwa’s troops inexplicably withdrew that evening, despite their overwhelming numbers, giving the British an important victory. The men of the 2/1st Regiment Bombay Native Infantry, who fought in this battle, were honored for their bravery. The official report to the British Residents at Poona recalls the “heroic valour and enduring fortitude” of the soldiers, the “disciplined intrepidity” and “devoted courage and admirable consistency” of their actions.
Further, the battle is commemorated by an obelisk, known as the Koregaon pillar, which featured on the Mahar Regiment crest until Indian Independence. The monument has names inscribed of twenty two Mahars killed there, erected at the site of the battle and by a medal issued in 1851. Today, the monument still “serves as a focal point of Mahar heroism”.
Mahars had played good role in army of Shivaji, some Mahars like Rainak Mahar (“Killedar / Fort In Charge” of Raigad(Capital of the Maratha empire)) had high position in the Maratha Army. Mahars had loyally served the Maratha empire during 27 years war on Aurangzeb, Even during earlier years of Peshwa period, Bajirao said to be welcomed Mahar soldiers in army he even chose some of them as his bodyguards while on war camps. Later, Nanasaheb Peshwa started discrimination of Mahar soldiers, slowly entire Mahar community started suffering a lot like loss of job, denial to join army camps, compulsion to work as manual labor due to egoist attitude of Peshwas, this has caused resentment among community and many people joined British East India Company after 1770. In the early 19th century, the Maratha Empire led by Peshwa Baji Rao II was gradually diminishing due to internal dissents and setbacks in the previous Anglo-Maratha wars. Maharashtrian society under Peshwas had followed a practice of social discrimination wherein the lower strata of society such as untouchables were confined to the stringent laws and subsequently their mobility and development were impaired.