The Gaekwads of Baroda (also spelled as Gaikwads, Guicowars, Gaekwars) (Marathi: गायकवाड Gāyǎkǎvāḍǎ) are Hindus who trace their origins to Poona ( modern Pune) to a Maratha clan by the name of Matre, which was corrupted to Mantri meaning Minister. A dynasty belonging to this clan ruled the princely state of Baroda in western India from the early 18th century until 1947. The ruling prince was known as the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda. With the city of Baroda (Vadodara) as its capital, during the British Raj its relations with the British were managed by the Baroda Residency. It was one of the largest and wealthiest princely states existing alongside British India, with wealth coming from the lucrative cotton business as well as rice, wheat and sugar production.
Baroda state in 1909
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The Gaekwad rule of Baroda began when the Maratha general Pilaji Rao Gaekwad conquered the city from the Mughal Empire in 1721. The Gaekwads were granted the city as a fief by Peshwa Bajirao I , the de facto leader of the Maratha empire.
In their early years, the Gaekwads served as subordinates of the Dabhade family, who were the Maratha chiefs of Gujarat and holders of the senapati (commander-in-chief) title. When Umabai Dabhade joined Tarabai's rebellion against Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, Pilaji's son Damaji Rao Gaekwad commanded the Dabhade force. He was defeated, and remained under Peshwa's arrest from May 1751 to March 1752. In 1752, he was released after agreeing to abandon the Dabhades and accept the Peshwa's suzerainty. In return, Damaji was made the Maratha chief of Gujarat, and the Peshwa helped him expel the Mughals from Gujarat.
Damaji subsequently fought alongside Sadashiv Rao, Vishwas Rao, Malhar Rao Holkar, Janakoji and Mahadji Shinde in the Third Battle of Panipat (1761). After the Maratha defeat at Panipat, the central rule of the Peshwas was weakened. As a result, the Gaekwads, along with several other powerful Maratha clans, established themselves as virtually independent rulers, while recognizing the nominal authority of the Peshwas and suzerainty of the Bhonsle Maharaja of Satara.
On 15 March 1802, the British intervened to defend a Gaekwad Maharaja, Anand Rao Gaekwad, who had recently inherited the throne against rival claimants, and the Gaekwads concluded the Treaty of Cambey with the British that recognized their independence from the Maratha empire and guaranteed the Maharajas of Baroda local autonomy in return for recognizing British suzerainty.
Maharaja Sayaji Rao III, who took the throne in 1875, did much to modernize Baroda, establishing compulsory primary education, a library system and the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He also encouraged the setting up of textile factories, which helped create Baroda's textile industry. He is well known for offering B. R. Ambedkar a scholarship to study at Columbia University.
Upon India attaining its independence in 1947, the last ruling Maharaja of Baroda, Pratapsinhrao, acceded to India. Baroda was eventually merged with Bombay State, which was later divided, based on linguistic principle, into the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1960.