The Maratha Empire, flourishing from the 17th to the 18th century was a strong and key force in Indian History, known for its strong military, innovative governance, and resilience against foreign invasions. The Maratha’s rise in the Deccan began in the early 17th century under the leadership of Shivaji. He carved his territories out of Bijapur, Ahmednagar and Golkonda
- Shahji, Shivaji’s father, joined the services of Bijapur as a Zamindar in 1636 and obtained Poona as a grant.
- Born at Shivneri (Poona) in 1627, Shivaji was the youngest son of Shahji and Jija Bai. In 1637, Shivaji inherited the Poona jagir under the guardianship of Dadaji Kondadev.
- Shivaji assumed full charge of his jagir in 1647 after the death of his guardian Dadaji Kondadev.
- Shivaji began his military campaign at a very young age; he captured several forts like Raigarh, Kondana and Torana from the Bijapur kingdom between 1645-47.
- In 1646, he took control of the Purandhar fort, providing an impregnable defence to the Marathas in the coming times.
- Battle of Pratapgarh (1659): The Sultan of Bijapur sent his general Afzal Khan against Shivaji. But he was killed by Shivaji.
Maratha Empire Relations with the Mughals
First Phase: 1615-1664
- Mughals during Jahangir’s reign recognised the importance of Maratha chieftains in Deccan politics.
- While Shah Jahan, too, attempted to bring Marathas on their side, after the defection of Shahji, Sivaji’s father, he chose to ally with the Bijapur kingdom against the Marathas.
- Aurangzeb’s attempts to align with Shivaji as early as 1657 failed because Shivaji demanded Dabhol and the Adil Shahi Konkan, a fertile and rich region important for foreign trade.
- In 1660, Aurangzeb sent Shaista Khan, the Mughal governor of Deccan, to invade Maratha dominions. He captured Poona and north Konkan from the Marathas.
- However, in 1663, Shivaji seriously wounded Shaista Khan in a night raid in the Mughal camp. It was a significant blow to the Mughal prestige.
- This was followed by the Marathas’ sack of the Mughal port of Surat in 1664.
Second Phase: 1664-1667
- Aurangzeb appointed Mirza Raja Jai Singh as the viceroy of Deccan.
- He succeeded in defeating Shivaji at Purandar (1665).
- Jai Singh proposed the Mughal-Maratha alliance. By the resultant Treaty of Purandhar (1665), Shivaji surrendered 23 out of 35 forts; on the other hand, the Mughals recognised the rights of the Marathas to keep certain territories in Bijapur.
- Shivaji’s son was enrolled as a mansabdar of 5000 zat in the Mughal army.
- In 1665, Shivaji and his son visited Agra, but he was imprisoned there due to heated arguments in court. However, he managed to escape in 1666.
Third Phase: 1667-1680
- After he escaped from Agra, Shivaji did not desire conflict with the Mughals immediately.
- However, Aurangzeb, enraged by his son Muazzam’s friendship with Shivaji, asked Muazzam to arrest Maratha agents in his court. Mughals also attacked Maratha territories to settle their dues.
- Alarmed by the situation, Shivaji attacked many forts ceded to the Mughals during the Treaty of Purandhar (1665).
- Battle of Sinhagadh (Kondhana), 1670: Marathas won, but Tanhaji, Shivaji’s aide, lost his life.
- Taking advantage of the internal conflict in the Mughal army, Shivaji again sacked the Surat port in 1670. In the next four years, he recovered most of his forts.
- Battle of Salher (1672): First of few battles in which the Marathas, known for Guerrilla warfare, defeated the Mughals on an open battlefield.
- Shivaji crowned himself as king on 6 June 1674 at Raigarh and took the title of Chhatrapati.
- In 1680, Shivaji died, leaving behind him the foundation of a strong empire that dominated Deccan and north India for more than a century.
- The Maratha administration was essentially derived from Deccan Sultanate, with some influence from the Mughal structure.
- It was a centralised monarchy in which the king was at the helm of affairs.
- The king’s chief objective was the happiness and prosperity of his subjects (Raja Kalsya Karanam)
- The king was assisted by a council of ministers known as Ashtapradhan.
- Peshwa (Prime Minister): He was the head of both civil and military affairs.
- Amatya/Mazumdar (auditor): He looked into the income and expenditure of the state.
- Waqe Navis: He was in charge of intelligence.
- Dabir/Sumanta: Foreign secretary.
- Shurnavis/Sachiv (superintendent): He used to take care of all the official correspondences.
- Pandit Rao: Ecclesiastical head.
- Senapati: Commander in chief
- Nyayadhish: Chief Justice
- The institution of the ashtapradhan was not a creation of Shivaji, and it already existed in the Deccan administration.
- During Shivaji, these offices were not hereditary and held office till the king’s pleasure. They were frequently transferred. However, under Peshwas, the posts were made permanent and hereditary.
- They were directly paid from the exchequer, and no jagir was granted to any civil or military official.
- Every ashtapradhan was assisted by eight assistants: Diwan, Mazumdar, Fadnis, Sabnis, Karkhanis, Chitnis/Sachiv (secretary), Jamadar and Potnis.
Provincial Administration of Maratha
Shivaji adopted the administrative units from Deccan Sultans and renamed and reorganised them as follows:
Judiciary in Maratha Empire
- The Marathas failed to develop any organised judicial department.
- At the village level, civil cases were heard by the village elders (panchayat) in the Patil’s office or the village temple.
- Patil decided on criminal cases.
- Hazir Majlis was the highest court for civil and criminal cases.
- Maratha’s revenue administration was adopted from Malik Ambar’s model.
- The Jagirdari system was abolished in many areas, and the Ryotwari system was introduced.
- Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were two taxes introduced by Shivaji. These were collected in the neighbouring areas of the Maratha kingdom.
Chauth: one-fourth of the land revenue to ward off the Maratha raid.
Sardeshmukhi: Additional 10 % additional levy where the Marathas claimed hereditary rights.
- Forts had an important place in Shivaji’s military architecture.
- He built a series of forts, covering every single Taluka or Pargana.
- No single officer was given charge of a fort. Instead, each fort had three types of officers of equal rank and equal status. They were Havaldar, Sabnis and Sarnobat.
- Officers were not allowed to form caste groups. It was clearly specified that the Havaldar and Sarnobat should be a Maratha, while the Sabnis a Brahaman and the Karkhanis a Kayastha.
- The smallest unit in Shivaji’s infantry consisted of 9 men headed by a Naik.
|The smallest unit of infantry
|Head of five Naiks
|Head of two to three Havaldars
|Head of ten Jumledars
|Head seven such Hazaris
In urgent situations, Watandars (feudal lords) were asked to supply forces. But Shivaji hardly depended on such feudal levies.
|The army was directly paid by the exchequer.
Under Peshwas military started getting paid in jagirs (saranjams).
|Shivaji’s military strength lay in swift mobilisation and strict discipline. He did not allow female slaves or dancing girls to accompany the army.
|Shivaji maintained light cavalry infantry trained in guerrilla and hilly warfare. The Mevalis and the Hetkaris were his most excellent troopers.
The Peshwas established a separate artillery department. Even they had their own factories for manufacturing cannons and cannon balls.
Shivaji’s cavalry consisted of Bargirs and the Siledars.
· The state supplied bargir troopers, horses and arms.
· Siledars had to bring their own horses and arms.
Peshwas also maintained Private elite cavalry, Khasgi paga.
|Shivaji preferred recruitment of his own race. However, he had Muslims in his navy.
Peshwas recruited men from all religions and ethnic groups.
- Shivaji built a strong navy after his conquest of Konkan.
- His fleet was equipped with Ghurabs (gunboats) and Gallivats (row boats with two masts and 40-50 oars).
A painted scroll showing Gurab, Galbat and other types of warships of the Maratha Navy
- His fleet was mainly manned by the Koli sea-fearing tribe of the Malabar coast.
- He also employed Muslims in his navy. Daulat Khan was one of his admirals.
- Shivaji used his naval power to harass both the indigenous and European traders. However, he could not check the menace of Siddis of Janjira, who worked for the Bijapur sultanate and later for the Mughals.
- The Peshwas also maintained a strong fleet to defend the western coast.
Maratha Navy Painted in 1812
Marathas after Shivaji
- There ensued a war of succession among two sons of Sivaji, Sambhaji and Rajaram, in which Sambhaji emerged victorious.
- Sabhaji gave shelter to Akbar, the rebellious son of Aurangzeb. In 1689, he was defeated by the Mughals at Sangameshwar. He was executed, and his widow and son Sahu were held captives.
- Rajaram ascended the throne, but he was made to flee by the Mughals, and later, he died at Satara.
- His minor son, Shivaji II, succeeded him with his mother, Tara Bai, as regent.
- After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal king Bahadur Shah released Sahuji, which led to civil war among the Marathas.
- In 1707, at the battle of Khed, Sahuji defeated Queen Regent Tarabai with the help of Balaji Vishwanath.
- Tarabai moved to Kolhapur and established a rival branch at Kolhapur.
- In 1731, in the treaty of Warna, both the Branches, Satara and Kolhapur, were formally recognised.
The Marathas under Peshwas
- Peshwa was the most important official of the Maratha kingdom. He was in charge of both civil and military affairs.
- However, after the death of Shivaji and the subsequent civil war in the royal family, the Peshwas emerged as the most significant figure in the kingdom.
- They were Chitapavan Brahmans from the Konkan region.
Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt
(1713 – 1719)
|Baji Rao I (1720 – 1740)
|Balaji Baji Rao I/Nana Sahib I (1740 – 1761)
Third Battle of Panipat
- Marathas took advantage of declining Mughal power and made rapid territorial gains.
- During Peshwa Baji Rao, Gujarat, and Malwa came under the Marathas.
- Baji Rao defeated the Mughals on the outskirts of Delhi in 1737 and brought much of the former Mughal territories in the south of Agra under his control.
- Under Balaji Baji Rao, the Marathas attacked Punjab in 1757, which brought them into a direct confrontation with Ahmad Shah Durrani/Abdali of Afghanistan.
- In 1759, Abdali raised an army of Pashtuns and Balochs tribes and joined with Rohillas under Najib-ud-Daula, their fellow Pashtuns.
- The Marathas were commanded by Shadashivrao Bhau, nephew of Bajirao I.
- Both Marathas and Afghans tried to get the Nawab of Oudh, Shuja-ud-Daula, on their side. However, the Nawab chose to support the Afghans.
Outcome of Third Battle of Panipat
- After initial successes, the Marathas were defeated, with 40000 of them perishing in the war, including the commander Sadashivrao Bhau and Vishwasrao, son of then Peshwa Balaji Bajirao.
- Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and Abdali wrote to the Peshwa and sought peace.
- The Jats under Surajmal gave the retreating Marathas shelter.
- Abdali left India at the earliest and reinstated Shah Alam II.
Impact of Third Battle of Panipat
- The Maratha defeat halted their further advances in the North. However, under Madhavrao, the Marathas revived again and continued their stronghold in Delhi until their defeat by the British.
- Even Afghans did not benefit from the victory. They could not even hold Punjab after the war.
- It can be said that the battle did not decide who was to rule India but rather who was not. The battle gave the opportunity to East India Company to consolidate its power in South India and Bengal.
Causes of Maratha Defeat in Third Battle of Panipat
- The Afghans had numerical as well as qualitative advantages. They had better supplies. At the same time, the supplies of the Marathas were cut during the battle.
- Regional animosity: Maratha’s ambitions and behaviour had antagonised the regional players. The Rajputs, the Sikhs, the Jats, none of them came to their help.
- Internal Rivalry: The Maratha chiefs bickered with each other, and some of them were not prepared for pitched battles but wanted to fight using guerrilla warfare.
|Madhav Rao (1761 – 1772)
|Raghunath Rao (1773 – 1774)
|Sawai Madhav Rao (1774 – 1795)
|Baji Rao II (1796 – 1818)
Maratha chiefs (Sardars)
- Their origin can be traced to the revival of granting of Jagirs (saranjams) by Rajaram.
- During the tenure of Madhav Rao as Peshwa, they were given a semi-autonomous position.
- They often made conquests outside the original kingdom with the help of their private army, which caused their clashes with one another.
- The lack of unity among them became a major reason for the decline of the Maratha Empire.
- Mahadji Scindhia was the most important Sardar; he organised a powerful European-style army. He established control over the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam in 1784.
- Maratha Confederacy consisted of very important Maratha jagirdars:
- Peshwa of Poona
- Bhonsle of Berar
- Gaekwad of Baroda
- Holkar of Indore
- Scindhia of Gwalior
Administration under Peshwas
- The central ministry of the Peshwas was called the Huzur office, situated in Poona.
- The provinces under the Peshwas were of varied sizes.
- The larger provinces were under Sar-subadars.
- Mamlatdar and Kamavistar were district representatives of Peshwa.
- Deshmukh and Deshpande were account officers of Districts.
- Kotwal was the chief officer in the city.
- Patel was the chief village officer, and his post was hereditary. He was assisted by Kulkarni, who kept the records.
- The village artisans like Blacksmiths and carpenters were supposed to do Begar or compulsory labour.
- They started the practice of tax farming in which land was settled against a stipulated amount to be paid annually to the government.
Critical Evaluation of the Maratha Empire
Having emerged as a major political and military power in the middle of the 17th century, Maratha reached the zenith of political erosion by the middle of the 18th century. The defeat was brought due to the combined effects of numerous factors.
- Geographical limitations
- Maratha land was resource deficient, so naturally, they depended highly on Chauth and Sardeshmukhi. Therefore, they were very harsh in levying these taxes.
- The Maratha chiefs bickered with each other, and some of them were not prepared for pitched battles but wanted to fight using guerrilla warfare. But this was not feasible in Northan planes.
- Limitations of the Maratha political system
- Maratha’s political system was despotic. It was an example of a military state. Powerful feudal lords were prevalent.
- Due to internal differences, the Marathas could not stand together against serious challenges, and their divisions doomed the fate of the Maratha empire.
- Limitations of the Maratha revenue system
- The role of intermediaries was quite important in the Maratha land revenue system. These intermediaries, such as patils and patels, started exploiting the common peasants after the death of Shivaji.
- Due to the availability of limited resources, Marathas could not maintain a large professional army and elaborate administration machinery. The foundation of the Maratha empire remained weak, and it could not last for very long.
- Limitations of the Confederacy system:
- Internal differences prevailing among Maratha commanders and conspiracies hatched by dissatisfied Maratha nobles also played an important role in the decline of Marathas.
- The Marathas focused more on territory expansion, but they couldn’t Consolidate their extensive Empire. Due to this structure, the Maratha Empire remained weak and could not last long.
- Strategic Blunders:
- Maratha’s ambitions and behaviour had antagonised the regional players. So, The Rajputs, the Sikhs, and the Jats, none supported them wholeheartedly in the 3rd battle of Panipat against Ahmed Shah Abdali.
- The geographical isolation of Maratha land provided them with a unique cultural identity this came in the way of forging close relations with other allies.
The Maratha’s commitment to establishing a Hindu state in the subcontinent is recorded by their immense effort to coronate Shivaji in 1674. The restoration of several temples, like the Saptakoteshwar Temple in Goa, can be mentioned as proof of the same. So, we can say they were the first to give an idea of Hindavi Swarajya at the pan-India level. But the strategic failure of later Marathas to comprehend the English company’s true intentions doomed the Maratha empire’s fate in the long run.
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- Maratha Empire
- Maratha Empire Relations with the Mughals
- Maratha Administration
- Maratha Navy
- Marathas after Shivaji
- Third Battle of Panipat
- Later Peshwas
- Maratha chiefs (Sardars)
- Administration under Peshwas
- Critical Evaluation of the Maratha Empire
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