Maratha Empire

  • The Maratha Empire, also referred to as the Maratha Confederacy, was an early modern Indian empire and later a confederation that controlled large portions of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century.
    • Maratha rule formally began in 1674 with the coronation of Shivaji of the Bhonsle dynasty as the Chhatrapati.
  • The single most important power that emerged in the fading shadow of the Mughal dynasty was the Marathas. Various factors contributed to the rise of the Marathas in the 16th and 17th centuries.
    • The physical environment of the Maratha country, such as mountainous regions and dense forests, probably resulted in shaping certain peculiar qualities among the Marathas.
      • For instance, this difficult terrain made the Maratha Soldiers expert in guerilla tactics.
    • The Marathas held important positions in the administrative and military systems of Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar, which offered them a first hand experience of administration, further facilitating in the emergence and organisation of the Maratha state.
    • Also, the spread of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra under the influence of spiritual leaders like Tukaram, Ramdas, Vaman Pandit, and Eknath fostered social unity among them and the much-required political unity was conferred by Shahji Bhonsle and his son Shivaji.
    • Seizing upon the opportunity of disintegration of the Mughal empire, the Marathas began their northward expansion and overran Malwa, Gujarat, and Bundelkhand, and in due course of time posed a formidable challenge to the authority of the Mughals.

Shivaji and Rise of Marathas

Shivaji Raje Bhonsle (c. 1674 – 1680 CE)

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born at Shivneri (Poona) on February 19, 1630. His father was Shahji Bhonsle and his mother was Jija Bai.
  • Shivaji was greatly influenced by Jijabai (his mother), Dadaji Kondev (his teacher), Sufi saint Pir Shaikh Yacub, Guru Ramdas, Tukaram (Bhakti Saint), Hazrat Baba of Ratnagiri, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata on the development of his personality.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj inherited the jagir of Poona from his father in c. 1637 CE. After the death of his guardian, Dadaji Kondadev in c. 1647 CE, he assumed full charge of his jagir.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj proved his mettle at the young age of 18 when he overran a number of hill forts near Poona – Rajgarh, Kondana and Torna from the ruler of Bijapur (between c. 1645 – 1647 CE).
    • In c.1646 CE, he captured Torna from the ruler of Bijapur and with the booty he built the fort of Raigarh.
    • In c. 1656 CE, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj conquered Javli from the Maratha chief, Chandra Rao More. The conquest of Javli made him the undisputed master of the Mavala area.
    • In c. 1657 CE, he attacked the Bijapur kingdom and captured a number of hill forts in the Konkan (north) region.
  • By c.1654 CE, Shivaji had captured forts in the Western Ghats and along the Konkan coast. Shivaji and his elder brother defeated invading armies of Adil Shah and secured the release of their father.
  • He also raided Portuguese settlement at Daman and received tribute from them.
  • Battle of Pratapgarh (c. 1659 CE)
    • The Sultan of Bijapur (Adil Shah) sent Afzal Khan, a premier Bijapuri noble against Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. But Afzal Khan was murdered by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in a daring manner. The Maratha troops overran the powerful fort of Panhala and poured into south Konkan and the Kolhapur districts, making extensive conquests. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s military conquests made him a legendary figure in the Maratha region.
  • Battle of Kolhapur:
    • Fought between General Rustemjaman (represented Adil Shah of Bijapur) and Shivaji. The victory of Shivaji alarmed Aurangzeb, but he still considered Shivaji nothing more than a mountain rat.
  • Battle of Pavankhind (c.1660 CE):
    • Fought between Siddi Johar (represented Adil Shah of Bijapur) and Shivaji. A truce was made between Shivaji and Adil Shah through Shahji, thus acknowledging and formally recognising the independence of Shivaji’s kingdom.
  • In c.1660 CE, Aurangzeb sent the Mughal governor of the Deccan, Shaista Khan, against Shivaji. Shivaji suffered a defeat at the hands of the Mughal forces and lost Poona, but war continued till c.1663 CE. In c.1663 CE, Shivaji carried out a daring night attack on the camp of Shaista Khan, injuring Khan and killing his son. This daring attack affected the prestige of Khan and he was recalled by Aurangzeb and sent to Bengal as punishment.
  • In c.1664 CE, Shivaji sacked the rich port of Surat. This plundering of Surat, an important Mughal trading city, enraged Aurangzeb and he sent Raja Jai Singh of Amber and Diler Khan to destroy the Maratha power. They made elaborate preparations and succeeded in besieging the Purander fort, where Shivaji had lodged his family and treasure. Shivaji opened negotiations with Jai Singh and the Treaty of Purander was signed in c.1665 CE.
    • According to this treaty, Shivaji had to surrender 23 forts to the Mughals out of the 35 forts held by him, and the remaining 12 forts were to be left to Shivaji on the condition of service and loyalty to the Mughal empire.
    • On the other hand, the Mughals recognised the right of Shivaji to hold certain parts of the Bijapur kingdom. As Shivaji declined from personal service of the Mughals, his minor son Sambhaji was granted a mansab of 5000.
  • According to some legends, in c.1665 CE, Shivaji visited Agra with his son but were humiliated by Aurangzeb who put them under house arrest. It is believed that his plan was to send Shivaji to Qandahara, but Shivaji escaped along with his son while disguised as a palanquin bearer.
  • Aurangzeb was exasperated and he gave him the title of Raja and Jagir of Berar.
  • Between c.1667 and 69 CE, Shivaji adopted a low profile and built his army. In c.1670 CE, he recovered most of his lost forts and sacked Surat for the second time.
  • He defeated Mughals in the Battle of Salher (c.1672 CE) and crowned himself at Raigarh and assumed the title Maharaja Chattrapati.
  • Towards end of c.1676 CE, Shivaji launched a wave of conquests in southern India’s Carnatic region and captured the forts of Vellore and Ginjee, which served as the Maratha’s capital for nine years.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj died due to fever in c. 1680 CE at Raigad (at the age of 53). The Maratha kingdom which he founded, dominated western India for a century and a half.
  • Shivaji promoted Sanskrit, but respected all religions and opposed forced conversion.

Sambhaji (c. 1681 – 1689 CE)

  • There ensued a war of succession after the death of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj between his sons, Sambhaji and Rajaram. Sambhaji emerged victorious.
    • Many Maratha chiefs did not support Sambhaji and instead to Rajaram, the other son of Shivaji. This internal conflict weakened Maratha power.
  • Prince Akbar, the rebellious son of Aurangzeb, took shelter with him and in a pursuing battle at Sangmeshwar in c.1689 CE, he was defeated by the Mughal commander Muqqarrab Khan and was killed along with his personal counselor, Kavi Kalash.
  • Widow of Sambhaji, Yesubai could not protect the fort of Raigarh, and she along with her son, Shahu were made prisoners.

Rajaram (c. 1689 – 1707 CE)

  • Younger brother of Sambhaji, who never sat on the throne as he claimed that he was ruling on behalf of Shahu. Shifted his headquarters to Ginjee.
  • After the Mughals conquered Ginjee, he fled to Vishalgarh and then to Satara, giving Hukumat Panha (King status) to Peshwa Ramchandra Pant.
  • During his reign, devoted Maratha leaders like Ramchandra Pant, Prahlad Niraji, and Dhanaji Jadhav created havoc among Mughals.
  • Died in c.1700 CE; his widow Tarabai assumed control in the name of her infant son Shivaji II.
  • Around same time, Shahu was released by Zulfiqar Khan hoping for a civil war among Marathas.
    • As expected, the Mughals succeeded in dividing the Marathas into two rival campsone under Tara Bai and the other under Sambhaji’s son, Shahu.
    • Tarabai sent Dhanaji Jhadav to oust Shahu from Maharashtra, but Dhanaji was won over by Shahu.
      • In c.1707 CE, with the help of a Chitpavan Brahman named Balaji Vishwanath, Shahu was successful in defeating Tarabai at the Battle of Khed and
      • she went away to Kolhapur, establishing the Royal House of Kolhapur.

Shahu (c. 1707 – 1749 CE)

  • During his reign, the states of Satara and Kolhapur came into being. By c.1710 CE, two separate principalities had become an established fact, eventually confirmed by the Treaty of Warna in c.1731 CE.
  • The period was also marked by the ascendancy of a lineage of Chitpavan Brahmin ministers, who held the title of Peshwa (chief minister) and virtually came to control central authority in the Maratha state, reducing the Bhonsles to mere figureheads. In fact, the first truly prominent figure of this line was Balaji Vishwanath, who had helped Shahu in his rise to power.
  • In c.1719 CE, Shahu, under the advice of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, assisted the Saiyyad brothers in the execution of Farukkh Siyar and got his mother released. Soon after, he declared Swaraja/ the Independence of Maratha land.

Rajaram Ⅱ/Ramraja (c. 1749 – 1777 CE)

  • He was the adopted son of Shahu. Tarabai presented him as the grandson of Rajaram and herself to take control of the state.
    • However, he was only an imposter; Peshwa Baji Rao retained him as the titular Chhatrapati.
  • The power of the Chhatrapati was almost completely overshadowed by that of the Peshwa.

Royal House of Kolhapur

Shivaji  Ⅱ (c. 1710 – 1714 CE)

  • He was the son of Tarabai and Rajaram, and was under the regency of Queen Tarabai.

Sambhaji  Ⅱ (c. 1714 – 1760 CE)

  • He was the son of Rajaram from his second wife Rajabai who overthrew Shivaji Ⅱ and Tarabai.
  • In c. 1713 CE, he signed the Treaty of Warna with his cousin Shahu wherein the two principalities (Satara and Kolhapur) of the Bhonsle family were formalised.
    • The British sent expeditions against Kolhapur in c.1765 CE and c. 1792 CE, and the state entered into treaty with the British after the collapse of the Maratha confederacy in c. 1812 CE.
Maratha Empire Map

The Office of the Peshwa (c.1640–1818 CE)

  • The word ‘Peshwa’ probably originated in Persian, meaning ‘foremost’, and was introduced in Deccan by the Muslim rulers.
  • Duties of a Peshwa were equal to that of a Prime Minister.
Peshwa Family Tree

Sonopant Dabir (c.1640–1652 CE)

  • First unofficial Peshwa

Shyampant Kulkarni Ranzekar (c.1652–1657 CE)

  • Was Peshwa under Shahji Bhonsle

Moropant Trimbak Pingle (c.1657–1683 CE)

  • Was appointed Peshwa by Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Moreshwar Pingale (c.1683–1689 CE)

  • Was Peshwa under Sambhaji

Ramchandra Pant Amatya (c.1689–1708 CE)

  • Peshwa under Rajaram, and when Rajaram had to escape to Ginjee in c.1689 CE, he gave Hukumat Panha (King status) to Pant before leaving.
  • Was an able administrator as he managed the state under many challenges like the influx of Mughals, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under Marathas), and socioeconomic challenges like the scarcity of food.
  • Acted as “shadow/proxy king”, and got military help from great Maratha warriors Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav.
  • In c. 1698 CE, Rajaram offered the post of Peshwa to his wife Tarabai, and he happily stepped down. Tarabai gave him an important position in the senior administration of the Maratha state.
  • Wrote Adnyapatra, in which he explained different techniques of war, maintenance of forts, and administration.
  • Since he owed loyalty to Tarabai against Shahuji, he was sidelined after arrival of Shahuji in c.1707 CE.

Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt (c.1713–1719 CE)

  • He belonged to the Bhatt family of Shri Vardhan in the Konkan region. He is known in history for making the post of the Peshwa hereditary, and for making the position as one of the most important and powerful ones in the Maratha administration.
  • He played a crucial role in the civil war and helped Shahu become the Maratha ruler by seeking the support of all Maratha leaders for Shahu.
  • In c.1719 CE, Balaji Vishwanath got certain rights from the then Mughal Emperor, Farrukh Siyar, such as the recognition of Shahu as the Maratha king and the permission to collect chauth and sardeshmukhi from the six Mughal provinces of the Deccan, including the Carnatic and Mysore.
  • The Chapekar brothers and Nana Sahib belonged to this family.
  • Negotiated with Kanhoji Angre (admiral of the navy and an ally of Tarabai) and gradually succeeded in winning over Kanhoji to become the admiral (Sarkhel) of Shahu’s navy.
  • Assisted Saiyyad brothers in dethroning Farrukh Siyar from Delhi.

Baji Rao I (c.1720–1740 CE)

  • Eldest Son of Balaji Vishwanath who succeeded him as Peshwa at the young age of twenty. He was the most famous of all nine Peshwas and also known as “Thorale”, meaning ‘Elder’ Baji Rao. He was the greatest exponent of guerrilla tactics after Shivaji.
  • During his lifetime, he never lost a battle and the Maratha power reached its zenith under him. He formulated the policy of Northward expansion so that the Maratha flag would fly from Krishna to Attock.
  • He preached and popularised the idea of Hindu-padpadshahi (Hindu Empire) to secure the support of the Hindu chiefs against the common enemy, the Mughals.
  • His arch rival in Deccan was Nizam-ul-Mulk, who continuously plotted intrigues with the Raja of Kolhapur against Baji Rao and Shahu. Baji Rao, however, defeated the Nizam on both occasions when they fought at Palkhed and Bhopal, and compelled him to grant chauth and sardeshmukhi of the six provinces of Deccan.
  • In c.1722 CE, he captured Salsette and Bassein from the Portuguese.
  • He shifted the administrative capital from Satara to Pune in c.1728 CE.
  • Two famous lines pertaining to him are:
    • Shahu (to Bajirao): “You are a worthy son of worthy father”.
    • Bajirao (to Shahu): “Let us strike at the root and the branches will fall apart themselves”.
  • He initiated the system of confederacy among the Maratha chiefs. Under this system, each Maratha chief was assigned a territory that could be administered autonomously.
    • As a result, many Maratha families became prominent and established their authority in different parts of India. They were the Gaekwads at Baroda, the Bhonsles at Nagpur, the Holkars at Indore, the Scindias at Gwalior, and the Peshwas at Poona.

Balaji Baji Rao I/ Nana Sahib I (c.1740–61 CE)

  • Balaji Baji Rao succeeded his father as Peshwa at the young age of nineteen and was appointed as Peshwa by Shahuji.
  • It was during his reign that the Maratha king Shahu died in c.1749 CE without an issue. His nominated successor, Ramraja, was imprisoned by the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao at Satara, and the supreme power of Maratha confederacy passed into the hands of Peshwa (by the Sangola Agreement of c.1750 CE).
  • He defeated Bengal Nawab Alivardi Khan and one third of the Indian sub-continent was under the Marathas.
  • The Peshwa entered into an agreement with the Mughal Emperor in c.1752 CE.
    • According to this agreement, the Peshwa gave assurance to the Mughal Emperor that he would protect the Mughal Empire from internal and external enemies for which the chauth of the north-west provinces and the total revenue of the Agra and Ajmer provinces would be collected by the Marathas.
  • Honouring this agreement, Marathas fought the Third Battle of Panipat (c.1761 CE) when Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India, in which the Marathas were defeated. Many Maratha leaders and thousands of soldiers died in this battle. Balaji Baji Rao also died upon hearing the sad end of this battle.
  • The defeat of Panipat checked the expansion of Marathas and fragmented the empire. After the battle, Marathas never fought again as one unit. Also, there were branches of the Bhonsle family that relocated to Kolhapur and Nagpur, while the main line remained in the Deccan heartland, at Satara.

Madhav Rao (c.1761–1772 CE)

  • Was a remarkable Peshwa who within a short period of 11 years restored the lost fortunes of the Maratha Empire.
  • He defeated the Nizam, compelled Haidar Ali of Mysore to pay tribute, and reasserted control over northern India by defeating the Rohillas and subjugating the Rajput state and Jat chiefs.
  • In c. 1772 CE, he brought back Emperor Shah Alam to Delhi.
  • Saw the division of Maratha kingdom into semi-independent states. Of these, the most important were the Gaikwads (Gaekwars), the Holkars, and the Scindias.

Raghunath Rao (c.1772–1773 CE)

  • After Madhav Rao’s death (c.1772 CE), struggle for power ensued between Raghunath Rao, the younger brother of Nana Sahib and Narayan Rao, the younger brother of Madhav Rao.

Narayan Rao (c.1772–1773 CE)

  • He was killed on Raghunath Rao’s orders in c.1773 CE.

Raghunath Rao (c.1773–1774 CE)

  • Seized the throne but was not recognised by the Emperor and overthrown.

Sawai Madhav Rao (c.1774–1795 CE)

  • Son of Narayan Rao, who was merely 40 days old when crowned as Peshwa. The empire was managed by Nana Phadnavis, an able administrator and warrior par excellence with the help of a twelve member regency council called the Barbhai Council.
  • Out of frustration, Raghunath Rao went to British for help which resulted in the First Anglo–Maratha war (c.1775–82 CE). At the famous battle of Talegaon (c.1776 CE), Nana Phadnavis defeated the British and the famous treaty of Purandhar (c.1776 CE) and the treaty of Salbai (c.1782 CE) were signed. The treaty virtually restored the status quo except the fact that the English retained Salsette and dropped the cause of Raghunath Rao.
  • It was after death of Nana Phadnavis in c. 1800 CE that the Marathas could not sustain against the British and could never regain their past glory.

Baji Rao II (c.1796–1818 CE)

  • Son of Raghunath Rao and the last Peshwa.
  • Weakest and most incompetent Peshwa who signed the humiliating Treaty of Bassein with the British (c. 1802 CE), which gave the British effective control of not only the Maratha region but also of Deccan and western India.
  • He was defeated by the East India Company in the Third Anglo– Maratha War in c.1818 CE after which the Peshwa’s territory in central Maharashtra was annexed to the British East India Company’s Bombay province and he was pensioned off.
  • Nana Sahib (alias Dhondu Pant) was the adopted son of Baji Rao II and he participated in the famous Revolt of 1857.

The Marathas emerged as a great power in India after the decline of the Mughal Empire. However, the Marathas could not succeed in preventing the establishment of British power in India. One of the important reasons behind this was that there was lack of unity among the Maratha chiefs like Holkar, Scindia, and Bhonsle. Also, in comparison with British, their army was ill-equipped and still relied on old fighting methods.

Peshwas’ administration

  • Huzur Daftar was the name of the Peshwas’ secretariat, located at Poona. The feudal lords controlled the Jagirs autonomously within Peshwaship.
  • The Patils were in charge of dividing the hamlet into separate administrative entities. Kulkarnias helps them keep track of the village’s records.
  • The money was supposed to be inspected by potars. Farmers process the payment sort under the Balute System, however, they are usually supposed to make money transactions for agricultural output per year post-harvesting.
  • Taraf, Pargana, Sarkar, and Suba existed as really the larger administrative units.

Maratha Confederacy

  • Rajaram Bhonsle’s resurrection of the Jagir or Saranjam system is indeed the source of the Maratha Confederacy.
    • The Saranjam system was a land grant system in the Maratha Empire. The system was prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries. The system involved granting land to military commanders and other officials in return for their service. The land revenue was assigned to the officials in lieu of their salaries.
    • The officials, known as Saranjamdars, were entitled to collect revenue from the villages included in the territory.
    • The system was prevalent in most parts of India, especially in the Deccan region.
  • During the reign of Balaji Rao I, the foundations of this organization got established. During this procedure, Sahu sent his numerous Maratha sardars letters of authority to collect revenue such as Chauth or Sardeshmukhi throughout specific segments of the province.
  • The Maratha Confederation was organized into four powerful Maratha jagirdars:
    • Raghuji Bhonsle of Berar,
    • Gaekwad of Baroda,
    • Holkar of Indore and
    • Scindhia of Gwalior.
Maratha confederacy

The Gaikwads of Baroda:

  • The Gaikwads, who gathered prominence in c.1720 CE, were initially subordinate not only to the Bhonsles but also to the powerful Dabhade family. However, after the death of Shahu, when the power of the Peshwas was further enhanced, the position of the Gaikwads also improved. By the early 1750s, their rights on a large portion of the revenues of Gujarat were recognised by the Peshwa. The Gaikwads thus established their capital at Baroda.
    • In c.1752 CE, they expelled the Mughal governor of the Gujarat province from capital, Ahmedabad, causing realignment in the network of trade and consumption in the area.
    • One of the most prominent rulers was Damaji (c. 1768 CE), who was succeeded by Fateh Singh (c.1771– 89 CE).
      • Fateh Singh broke out of the hold of the Peshwa in the late 1770s and early 1780s, and negotiated a settlement with the English East India Company, which eventually led to increased British interference in his affairs.
      • Thus, by c.1800 CE, the British instead of the Peshwa were the final arbiters in determining succession among the Gaikwads, who became subordinate rulers under them in the 19th century.
    • Sayaji Rao belonging to this dynasty gave scholarship to Dr. Ambedkar.

The Holkars of Indore:

  • In the case of the Holkars, there was marked and rapid rise in their status and wealth. Though initially they had very little political power, by the c.1730s their prominent ruler, Malhar Rao Holkar, consolidated his position and succeeded in obtaining a large share of the chauth collection in Malwa, eastern Gujarat, and Khandesh.
    • Within a short span of time, Malhar Rao consolidated his own principality at Indore, and later his successors controlled the important trade routes as well as the crucial trading centre of Burhanpur.
  • After him, the control of the dynastic fortunes fell largely to his son’s widow, Ahalya Bai, who ruled from c.1765 to 1794 CE and brought great glory to the Holkars.

The Bhonsles of Nagpur:

  • The Bhonsles of Nagpur were clearly subordinate to the Satara rulers.
  • An important ruler from this line was Raghuji Bhonsle (c.1727–55 CE), who was responsible for the Maratha incursions on Bengal and Bihar in the 1740s and early 1750s.
  • He occupied Orissa from Nawab Alivardi Khan.

The Scindias of Gwalior:

  • The Scindias carved a prominent place for themselves in North India in the decades following the Third Battle of Panipat (c.1761 CE). Like the Holkars, the Scindias 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 Scindia (c.1761–94 CE), an effective and innovative military commander, the family’s fortunes were consolidated.
      • Mahadaji organised a powerful European style army consisting equally of Hindu and Muslim soldiers along with employing a large number of European officers, soldiers, and gunners. He also established his own ordinance factories near Agra.
      • The Mughal king Shah Alam II made him the Naib -i-Munaib, meaning deputy regent of his affairs in the mid-1780s and his influence was noticed 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. Even the officials of the East India Company were very cautious in dealing with him. But his relations with the acting Peshwa, Nana Phadnavis of Pune, and Holkar of Indore, were fraught with tensions.
  • Eventually, the momentum generated by Mahadaji could not be maintained by his successor Daulat Rao Scindia (c.1794–1827 CE), who was defeated by the British and forced to surrender his territories both to the north and to the west.
  • An interesting point to note here is that Mughal symbols held a special significance even in the phase of Mughal decline. The Mughal system of honours and titles, as well as Mughal-derived administrative terminology and fiscal practices, continued despite the decline of imperial power. For instance, after recapturing Gwalior from the British, Mahadaji Scindia 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 case, he was not alone, as instances of states that wholly threw off all pretences of allegiance to the Mughals are found rarely in the 18th century.

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