Maratha Empire

Introduction to Maratha Empire

The Maratha empire (also known as Mar~haatta), or the Maratha Federation, was a state in today’s India.

This Maratha Empire existed from 1647 to 1818, and during the peak of its glory, 250 million acres (1 million kilometre) of land in different empires/states, or, in other words, one-third of the Asian continent, belonged to this empire.

In line with the state’s tradition, the King ruled under the guidance of eight ministers.

When the British were trying to strengthen their rule in India, the Maratha empire proved to be a big threat to their regional ambitions. The Maratha empire is related to the Bhosale clan.

After fighting a series of battles with the British, the Marathas were finally defeated in 1818. Quite a few estates were born from the remains of this empire under the superiority of the British.

However, even today, the Maratha Empire is still alive in India in the state of Maharashtra, which was created in 1960, as a Marathi-speaking state.

Due to this reason, it was also known as the Marathi Empire. In spite of the diversity in religions and castes, the Indian way of life symbolizes various traditions like social strength and unity among castes.

Founder of Maratha Empire

History of Maratha Empire starts with establishment of Maratha Kingdom and obviosly with founder of Maratha Empire which is none other than “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.”

Founding of such empire in an oppressive rule of foreign invaders was not easy. No one in entire India had the ability to even think of founding such empire.

On the other side, Chhatrapati Shivaji was not directly from any Royal family. His father was general in the court of Adil Shah.

So, Chhatrapati Shivaji founded the Maratha Empire entirely on his ability. No one can refuse this statement.

Even while standing off against the Muslim Mughal Empire for many years, the Maratha Empire abided by one of basic beliefs of religious tolerance of its founder.

Necessity of Studying Maratha Empire

In today’s world which is often torn apart by religion and class, it is necessary to recite the saga of such a well-organized state, where every talented person could become successful and where people could worship their beliefs without experiencing torment or discrimination.

By studying this empire, one can restore the balanced history and learn how intolerant organizations and religious conflicts can be set aside and how people from different castes can communicate and live together.

Maratha empire History

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fought battle with help of Ganimi Kava war technique against the Nijamshah, Adilshah of Bijapur and Mughal King Aurangzeb.

The civilians, tired of the exploitation by these invaders, turned to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and respected him like a God.

In this way, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj got the independent state of Maratha in 1674, whose capital was Rajgad.

Shivaji Maharaj died in the year 1680, leaving behind a large but an insecure state. The Mughals made unsuccessful attempts for 25 years between 1682 and 1707.

During the reign of Mughals, due to some circumstances, Shahu Maharaj appointed a Peshwa (prime minister) as the chief of state.

The grandson of Shivaji Maharaj, Shahu Maharaj, ruled till 1749. The title “Rajarshi” was bestowed upon him by the Kurmis of Kanpur.

After the death of Shahu Maharaj, the Peshwa was the head of the state between 1749 and 1761, while the descendent of Shivaji Maharaj was ruling the state from Satara.

A big part of the sub-continent was occupied by the Maratha Empire by keeping it away from the British Army, until the 18th century, when clashes started to happen between Peshwas and their commanders.

The Maratha Empire was at its pinnacle in the 18th century under the rule of Shahu Maharaj and Peshwas.

After the defeat of Peshwas in the Third Battle of Panipat in the year 1761, the expansion of the Maratha Empire stopped and the Peshwas started losing their power.

The Peshwas lost control of the state after their defeat in the Battle of Panipat in 1761.

A lot of commanders like Shinde, Holkar, Gaikwad, representatives, the Bhosales of Nagpur, the Pandits of Bhor, Patwardhan and Newalkar became the Kings of their regions.

This Empire made a free alliance in which the power of the state was divided among five Maratha clans, ‘Pancharatta’, namely, the Peshwas of Pune, Malwa and the Scindias of Gwalior (originally Shinde), the Holkars of Indore, the Bhosales of Nagpur and the Gaikwads of Baroda.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the enmity between Scindias and Holkars had an influence on the functioning of the alliance.

Similarly, three Anglo-Maratha wars that saw a tiff between British and the British East India Company were also influential.

In 1818, in the third Anglo-Maratha, the last Bajirao Peshwa II was defeated by the British.

After that a lot of Maratha Empire was taken over by the British, however, a few Maratha states managed to remain half-independent till India got freedom from the British in 1947.

The Hindu Marathas settled down in Satara and the neighbouring regions of the Deccan Plateau, where the plateau meets the north-eastern mountains of the Western Ghats.

In this region, they were successful in stopping the invasion of Muslim Mughals, who were ruling the northern part of India.

Under the leadership of Shivaji Maharaj, the Marathas made themselves independent from the Sultans of Bijapur in the north-east.

The Marathas got more aggressive and attacked more regions under the Mughal rule and even managed to take a Mughal port in Surat as ransom in 1664.

In 1674, Shivaji Maharaj accepted the title of ‘Chatrapati’ as the emperor. He accurately used and developed the Ganimi warfare techniques and with surprisingly speedy movements and precise attacks completely demoralized the powerful enemy.

The Marathas had expanded and conquered a large part of central India till 1680 when Shivaji Maharaj died and they were defeated by the Mughals and the British.

According to Indian Historian Triyambak Shankar Shejwalkar, Shivaji Maharaj was inspired by the Vijaynagar Empire, which was a stronghold against the Muslim invasion in the south.

Shivaji Maharaj was also inspired by the then King of Mysore, King Kanthirao Narasraja Vodeyar, who defeated the emperor of Bijapur. [1]

In opinion of Shivaji Maharaj, unity between God, country and religion was very important.

Image Credits: British Library, Source: Wikimedia

Shivaji Maharaj had two sons: Sambhaji and Rajaram. Sambhaji was his elder son, and was popular in many countries.

Alongwith being a clever politician and an outstanding warrior, he was also an excellent poet. He ascended the throne in 1681 and continued with his father’s policy of expansion.

Prior to this, he had defeated Chikka Dev Raya of Portugal and Mysore. In 1682, Aurangzeb himself made a march towards South to end the Rajput-Maratha alliance and the Deccan Sultanate.

Taking the entire royal court, administration and around 4,00,000 soldiers along, Aurangzeb planned to defeat the Sultante of Bijapur and Govalkonda.

Sambhaji did not let Aurangzeb win even a single battle or invade any fort under his leadership for the next eight years. He definitely defeated Aurangzeb.

However, in 1689, King Sambhaji’s relatives betrayed him, and with their help Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji. Aurangzeb was successful in defeating them.

A large scale drought attacked Maharashtra in 1687-1688 and the situation was very difficult.

Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj (reign: 1689-1700)

Image Credits: Wikipedia, Source: Archive

Rajaram, brother of Sambhaji, took the throne after Sambhaji. Chatrapati Rajaram Maharaj and his faithful commander Narveer Pilaji Gole, killed Kaakar Khan on the banks of river Koyna.

Rajaram was on Pratapgad from June 10 – August 10, 1689. Satara, which was made the capital by Rajaram, was captured and ultimately handed over to the Mughals. At the same time, Rajaram, who had taken refuge in Jinji, passed away.

Tarabai (Reign: 1689-1707)

Sudden death of Chhatrapati Rajaram drawn his widow, Tarabai, into battlefield. She reign and played as in charge ruler under the name of her son, Shivaji-II.

Her demand for a war was refused. Till 1705, Tarabai led the Maratha Empire and protected the Maratha Empire against the Mughals with great bravery. She entered the Mughal territory by crossing the Narmada River at Malwa.

The war of Malwa was a critical one for the Maratha Empire. After this war, the Mughals lost their ever-leading position in the Indian sub-continent and the Mughal emperors that followed the war were only namesake emperors.

The Marathas won the long-lasting battle of Nikra. The expansion of Maratha Empire was mainly possible due to the immense contribution of their army and commander. This victory laid the foundation for the future grand victories.

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (Reign: 1707-1749)

Image Credits: Vishwakosh Marathi

In 1707, after the death of emperor Aurangzeb, Shahuji, the son of Sambhaji (and the grandson of Shivaji), was rescued from the clutches of the next emperor Bahadur Shah.

Immediately after being rescued, Shahuji ascended the throne and challenged his aunt, Tarabai and her son. This led to a third party intervention in the Mughal-Maratha war.

The persistent dispute over the throne of the Maratha empire led to the formation of the states of Satara and Kolhapur in 1707. In the Treaty of Warna signed in 1731, the existence of two independent states was confirmed.

In 1713, Farrukh Siyar declared himself as the Mughal emperor. His demand of a state was mainly dependent on his two brothers, known to everyone as the Sayyeds.

One of the Sayyeds was the governor of Allahbad, and the other was the governor of Patna. However, both the brothers had separated themselves from the emperor.

Due to the negotiations between Sayyeds and Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, Civil representatives of Shahu, the Marathas revolted against the emperor.

Under the leadership of Parsoji Bhosale, the Maratha army and the Mughal army marched towards Delhi without any opposition and successfully dethroned the emperor.

In return for this favour, Balaji Vishwanath asked for a treaty that included a lot of demands. Shahu had to accept the Mughal rule over Deccan and also had to pay annual ransom money and give a part of his army in order to create a grand army.

In return, he got a claim on entire Gujarat, Malwa and six current regions in Deccan which were under the Mughals, he also got a surety of an independent rule of Marathas, and alongwith that, he and Sardeshmukh got a total of 35% of the total tax.

Due to this treaty, Shahuji’s mother, Yesubai also got free from the clutches of the Mughals.

Amatya Ramchandra Pant Bavdekar (1650-1716)

Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bavdekar was a judicial administrator who was brought up by a local family (Kulkarni) whose job was to keep local records.

Later on, under the guidance of Shivaji Maharaj, he was appointed as a member of the ‘Ashtapradhan’ (eight ministers) whose job was to advise the King.

He was the chief Peshwa during Shivaji’s reign, before the rise of future Peshwas, and was the one to take the control of Shahuji’s empire.

With his capability and dedication, he played an important role in protecting the Maratha Empire during its tough time.

In 1689, when Chatrapati Rajaram had taken refuge in Jinji, he announced a “Hukumat Panha” (King-like status) in favour of Ramchandra Pant.

Ramchandra Pant had to face a lot of challenges, such as betrayals from the local officers, inadequate food supply and inflow of dependents from outside the empire, and in spite of all these, he managed the entire Maratha empire.

He received help from the army of the brave Maratha warrior Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav. There were many instances when he himself fought against the Mughals unanimously, in the absence of Chatrapati Rajaram.

In 1698, when Rajaram offered the title staus of “Hukumat Panha” to his wife Tarabai, Ramchandra Pant relinquished this title.

Tarabai awarded him with the post of Senior Administrator. He wrote a mandate in which he detailed out various mechanisms of war and supervision of forts.

Due to Ramchandra Pant’s devotion towards Tarabai (who was helped by local officers), he was dismissed in 1707, the year when Shahuji arrived.

In 1719, the post of state’s Peshwa was awarded to Balaji Vishwanath. In 1716, Balaji Pant died on the Panhala fort.

Maratha Empire at Its Peak

Maratha Empire was started their Golden Age after the release of Shahu Maharaj. Shahu Maharaj claimed the Satara throne and started to expand his kingdom.

At the same time, he got the priceless gem as his general named Bajirao Ballal Bhat. He entered in his military career far more earlier at the age of 16.

Peshwa Bajirao (1720-1740)

Image Credits: VijaeGoray, Source: Wikimedia

In April 1719, after the death of Balaji Vishwanath, Shahuji appointed Bajirao I as the Peshwa, and Bajirao I happened to be of a very mild nature.

Shahuji had a great ability of identifying skills in other people, and because of this, he brought a lot of capable people into power, regardless of their social status.

This created a social revolution. This was a symbol of the incredible social integration that existed in the Maratha Empire, and because of this, the empire developed very fast.

Shrimant Peshwa Bajirao Balaji Bhat who was also recognized as “Bajirao-I”, was the Peshwa during the reign of forth Maratha Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj.

Bajirao Ballal became a Peshwa (Chief General) of Maratha Empire after the death of his father Balaji Vishwanath. Peshwa Bajirao officially reigned between April 17, 1720 and April 28, 1740.

He was also known as Bajirao Senior. Just like his father, he led the army in spite of being a Brahmin. He did not lose a single war in his life.

He is given the credit of expanding and taking the Maratha Empire to the greatest heights under his leadership. This is the reason for him being considered as the most popular Peshwa among all the nine Peshwas.

At a very young age, Bajirao was capable of understanding the scope of expansion of the Maratha Empire in the northern India.

Shrimant Peshwa Balajirao Bhat/ Shrimant Nana Saheb Peshwa (1740-1761)

The son of Bajirao, Balaji Bajirao (Nana Saheb), was chosen as the Peshwa by Shahu. The period between 1741 and 1745 was definitely a peaceful period in the Deccan compared to the earlier period. Shahuji passed away in 1749.

Nanasaheb encouraged farming, offered security to the villages and brought about significant development in the state. The further expansion was brought about by Raghunath Rao, the brother of Nanasaheb.

In 1756, after Ahmad Shah Durrani plundered Delhi and after Afghanistan’s withdrawal, Punjab was pressurized. Alongwith Delhi, the Marathas held power in Lahore as well.

Till 1760, after the defeat of the Nizam of Hyderabad in Deccan, the Maratha Empire had reached its largest limit of 250 million kilometers, equivalent to one-third area of the Indian sub-continent.

The Downfall of the Maratha Empire

The Peshwas challenged the Indian Muslim alliance under the leadership of Afghan by sending an army that comprised Rohillas, Shujah-Ud-Daula, Nujeeb-Ud-Daula.

However, on January 14, 1761, in the Third Battle of Panipat, the Marathas were defeated decisively.

Suraj Maal and Rajputs broke off the alliance at a very critical moment and abandoned the Marathas during a big battle.

The Marathas had to survive three continuous days without food because of a complete shut-down of all their routes. They became totally helpless in this situation and attacked the Afghans.

The defeat in the Battle of Panipat hindered the expansion of the Maratha Empire and ultimately the empire got divided.

After the battle, the Maratha federation never came together for any further battles.

Mahadji Shinde ruled Delhi/Gwalior; the Holkars of Indore ruled central India and the Gaikwads of Baroda controlled western India.

Even today, the meaning of the Marathi sentence “Meet your Panipat” and that of the English sentence “Met our Waterloo” is the same.

After 1761, the young Mahadeorao Peshwa, in spite of his frail health, tried to reconstruct the Maratha Empire.

In an attempt to manage a big empire effectively, half-autonomy was given to the bravest.

Due to this, the independent state of the Gaikwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and [Malwa, Sindhiyas of Gwalior (or Shindes) (and Ujjain), the Pawars of Udgir and the Bhosales of Nagpur (who had no relation with Shivaji Maharaj or Tarabai’s family), all of these came into existence in the faraway lands.

Even in Maharashtra, many chiefs were given the charge of small states that had half-autonomy, because of which, Sangli, Aundh, Miraj and other states came into existence.

In 1775, the East India Company, whose base was in Mumbai, interfered in the fight for inheritance on behalf Raghunathrao (also known as Raghobadada), and this led to the first Anglo-Maratha war.

This war ended in 1782, and pre-war situation was restored.

In 1802, the British interfered in the decision to ascend the throne in Baroda against the ones who opposed the heirs and they signed an agreement with the new King by promising him the highest position.

In the second Anglo-Maratha war (1803-1805), Peshwa Bajirao 2 also signed on a similar agreement.

The third Anglo-Maratha war (1717-1718) was the last attempt of getting back the sovereignty, however, the Marathas ended up losing their independence, and as a result, the British now ruled over most of India.

The Peshwas were deported to Bithur (Kanpur, U.P.) as the retirees of the British.

Apart from Kolhapur and Satara, which remained under the local rule, all the other areas under the Maratha rule, including Pune, were now under the British rule.

Gwalior, Indore and Nagpur, which were ruled by the Maratha Empire, tried to maintain their sovereignty by making some petty alliances with the British rule.

The other small states that belonged to the Maratha chiefs were also saved under the British rule.

The last Peshwa, Nana Saheb, who was born as Govind Dhondu Pant, was adopted by Peshwa Bajirao 2.

He was the chief in the 1857 war against the British rule. He motivated the Indian public and youth to fight against the British.

Tatya Tope, his commander, led the war and created panic in the minds of the British. Rani Laxmibai was his childhood friend and had fraternal relationship with him.

Both of them fought against the British and also motivated the Indian army to fight against the British. Though they were defeated in this war, they are recognized as great patriots in the Indian history.

The defeat in the third war came across as a stain on the glorious work that they did.

The spirit of Maratha empire is nurtured even today in the state of Maharashtra “Mahaan-Raashtra” that was established in 1960 as a Marathi-Language state.

In order to make Guajrat, Baroda and Kutch were brought together. Gwalior and Indore were integrated into Madhya Pradesh and Jhansi was integrated into Uttar Pradesh.

In Old Delhi, one can still find the evidences of Maratha rule through the existence of Nutan (New) Marathi School and Maharashtra Bhavan.

The Inheritance of the Empire

Often considered as a loose military establishment, the Maratha Empire was, in reality, quite revolutionary.

This Empire brought about a lot of revolutionary changes due to the exceptional wisdom of its most popular King Shivaji Maharaj. These changes are listed below

Right since its inception, Shivaji Maharaj always considered religious tolerance and religious plurality as the basic beliefs and they were considered to be the pillars of nation-states.

The Maratha Empire was the only empire that did not believe in castes.

The Empire had Brahmins (Purohit class) as the prime ministers of the Kshatriya emperor (warrior class) and Kshatriya Dhangar (shepherd), the Holkars, who were the chief trustees of the Brahmin Peshwas.

Since a lot of influential people were given the positions of leadership right since the beginning, this empire turned out to be the most progressive one.

It is worth noting that the ruler of Indore was a Dhangar (shepherd), the rulers of Gwalior and Baroda were farmers, the Peshwas from the Bhatt family belonged to a very ordinary family and Shivaji Maharaj’s most trusted secretary, Haider Ali Kohari also came from an ordinary household.

All the groups of the Maharashtrian society, like the Vaishyas (traders), Bhandaris, Brahmins, Kolis, Dhangars, Marathas and Saraswats had a decent representation in the Maratha Empire.

The peculiarity of this empire was to keep aside the issues of castes and religion and give equal opportunities to everybody.
The Marathas controlled the army squads in a big way.

Their policy of regional tolerance gave a lot of importance to the well-being of Hindus and curbed the expansion of the Mughal empire.

Our motherland time to time gave birth to brave freedom fighters. Those revolutionaries rebel against the oppressive rule.

The divided India of today is largely a part of the Maratha Federation. This empire also created a remarkable navy. The more important thing being, it was led by Kanhoji Angre.

Featured Image Credits: Rajaram Nadkarnia

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