Rod community elders at the memorial built in 1992 to mark the field where the 3rd battle of Panipat was fought in 1761.For over two centuries now, a question that has defied an answer has been: what became of the Maratha soldiers who disappeared on January 14, 1761, after the,Rod community elders at the memorial built in 1992 to mark the field where the 3rd battle of Panipat was fought in 1761.For over two centuries now, a question that has defied an answer has been: what became of the Maratha soldiers who disappeared on January 14, 1761, after the third battle of Panipat? On the 250th anniversary of the great battle, there is finally an answer.Research conducted over eight years by Vasantrao More, 79, a well-known historian attached to Kolhapur University, and Virendra Singh Varma, 64, a former Haryana bureaucrat and president of the Maratha Jagruti Manch, has uncovered evidence to prove that the six lakh-strong Rod community, spread across 230 villages around Panipat, has descended from the 500-odd Maratha soldiers who hid in jungles around Panipat after being scattered by Afghan Ahmad Shah Abdali’s forces. The team spent over Rs 15 lakh on the study and was funded mainly by the Manch, a Karnal-based NGO.NareshNARESH KHOKHARE, 36A FARMER AT JHANJHARI VILLAGEIN HARYANA’S KARNAL DISTRICT”The Rods are the onlyones in the area today toretain their love for horseslike the Marathas.”More than 50,000 Maratha soldiers were slain in the battle. Amongst those killed were Sadashivrao Bhau and Vishwasrao, Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao’s son, along with Maratha commanders Jankoji and Tukoji Scindia of the Gwalior royal family and Yashwantrao Pawar of the Dewas family. The gallant Muslim commander of the Maratha artillery, Ibrahim Khan Gardi, came in for a particularly gory end at the hands of the invading Afghans for aligning with Hindus in battle.Says Varma, who first started the investigation into the origin of the Rods a decade ago, “Right from the Marathi words in our Hindi dialect, the style of our old havelis, our love of horses to our surnames and typical customs-they all prove that we are descendants of the lost Maratha soldiers of Panipat. The revelation has filled the entire community with nostalgia and pride.”advertisementAdds More, author of The History of Rod Marathas of Panipat Battle, published by Shivsangram Prakashan, Kolhapur, “Research to locate the lost Maratha soldiers of Panipat by the Peshwas and later by scholars of Punjab University failed because none came across the Rod community. Over 80 per cent of Rod surnames match those of Marathas. As do many customs and words in their dialect.”Says eminent Maharashtra historian Jaisinghrao Pawar who has written many books on Maratha history, “The research done by More is outstanding. The conclusions he has drawn are based on an in-depth study of the social, cultural and economic life of the Rods. It proves that the Rods are indeed descendants of the lost Maratha survivors of Panipat.”The matching of surnames is uncanny. The Rods have surnames like Pawar, Chavan, Bhosle, Sawant, Memane, Dudhane, Khokhre, Khasbare, Ghole, Dhabade, Bodle, Jhondhle, Shelar, Batane, to name a few. Many words in their language are typically Marathi. They call puran poli, a Maharashtrian sweet roti, poli. They refer to a rupee as hon, which was what Chhatrapati Shivaji’s currency was called. They stand out in Haryana for eating dal and rice at night, a common practice among villagers in Maharashtra even today.Lakhpat Singh ThardakLAKHPAT SINGHTHARDAK, 80FARMER FROM PANODIVILLAGE IN KARNALDISTRICT OF HARYANAPhotographs by VIKRAM SHARMA/www.indiatodayimages.com”The only difference between thisentrance gate and the gates of thehavelis in Maharashtra is that theirversion is made of black stone whilewe used wood and carved it.”As many of the soldiers in the battle of Panipat were from the Konkan region of Maharashtra, that explains why Rod songs have mention of the sea, unheard of in Haryana. And, interestingly, the Rods assign a prominent role to the maternal uncle in any wedding, similar to the practice in Maharashtra. Though the Rod women dress like other Haryanvis, their style of covering their heads before elders is also akin to women in rural Maharashtra.Says Hari Singh Pawar, 63, a Rod farmer from Kemla village near Karnal in Haryana, “We have no doubt that we are descendants of the Panipat survivors. Till recently, every Rod home had swords and spears and our love for horses was legendary.” Agrees Lakhpat Singh Thardak, 80, who sports a simple white safa and has gold rings in both ears in Maratha fashion, “The Rods are the only ones in the area today to retain their love for horses like the Marathas.”The village had, till recently, a number of Maratha-style havelis. One such old dilapidated haveli can be seen in Jhanjhari village. It has a richly carved rectangular wooden door beneath an arched entrance. Says Naresh Khokhare, 36, a farmer, “The only difference between this entrance gate and the gates of havelis in Maharashtra is that their version is made of black stone while we used wood and carved it.”advertisementA simple, though by no means less conclusive, proof of the Maratha heritage of the Rods is the practice of saying “Chhatrapati ki Jai” (long live Chhatrapati Shivaji ) at the drop of a hat. Says Inderraj Singh Dudhane, 81, of Dadupur Kasa village in Karnal district, “Even when a child sneezed, our mothers would say ‘Chhatrapati ki Jai’.” Adds Abharam Dudhane, 86, sitting beside him, “As in Maharashtra, we give a lot of importance to Bhai Dooj that follows Diwali, compared to Rakshabandhan.”Says Kuldip Singh Bhonsle, a Rod farmer who lives in the Kunjpura fort near Panipat, “That we are descendents of the survivors of Panipat battle has given us a new, proud identity.” While a memorial, built in 1992 by the Haryana government, marks the field where the battle was fought, More and Varma want another one built to the survivors who went on to create a little slice of Maharashtra in the heart of Haryana.