The Marathas

Early history

There is no doubt that the single most important power to emerge in the long twilight of the Mughal dynasty was the Maratha confederacy. Initially deriving from the western Deccan, the Marathas were a peasant warrior group that rose to prominence during the rule in that region of the sultans of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. The most important Maratha warrior clan, the Bhonsles, had held extensive jagirs (land-tax entitlements) under the ʿAdil Shahi rulers, and these were consolidated in the course of the 1630s and ’40s, as Bijapur expanded to the south and southwest. Shahji Bhonsle, the first prominent member of the clan, drew substantial revenues from the Karnataka region, in territories that had once been controlled by the rulers of Mysore and other chiefs who derived from the collapsing Vijayanagar kingdom. One of his children, Shivaji Bhonsle, emerged as the most powerful figure in the clan to the west, while Vyamkoji, half-brother of Shivaji, was able to gain control over the Kaveri (Cauvery) River delta and the kingdom of Thanjavur in the 1670s.


Shivaji’s early successes were built on a complex relationship of mixed negotiation and conflict with the ʿAdil Shahi on the one hand and the Mughals on the other. His raids brought him considerable returns and were directed not merely at agrarian resources but also at trade. In 1664 he mounted a celebrated raid on the Gujarat port city of Surat, at that time the most important of the ports under Mughal control. The next year he signed a treaty with the Mughals, but this soon broke down after a disastrous visit by the Maratha leader to Aurangzeb’s court in Agra. Between 1670 and the end of his life (1680), Shivaji devoted his time to a wide-ranging set of expeditions, extending from Thanjavur in the southeast to Khandesh and Berar in the north. This was a portent of things to come, for the mobility of the Marathas was to become legendary in the 18th century.

Nature of Rise









Was Maratha Movement a national movement? Was Shivaji a nationalist leader?

  • A section of historian comprising scholar Sir J. Sarkar emphasized that Maratha Movement was national movement & Shivaji was a national leader. Supporters of this emphasized that Marathas under Shivaji had inspired vision & their fight against Mughal reflected the same.
  • Closer examining the idea, which inspired Maratha Movement & object of Maratha leaders doesn’t reveal any Pan India nationalism.
  • Marathas fought for their own Independence & pan India nationalism was absent.
  • Fight against Mughal couldn’t be accepted as nationalist struggle cause middle of 17th century; Mughals were no longer foreign.
  • Nationalism in foreign sense was much later phenomenon in Indian history. It emerged only in later half of 18th
  • The Marathas didn’t make any serious efforts to win over support of other group to create nation. Their relation with other was hostile.
  • At the most Maratha Movement accepted as Maratha Nationalism but was difficult to accept as Indian nationalism.



Was Maratha Movement a Hindu Movement? Was Shivaji a Hindu leader?

  • A section of historian emphasized that Shivaji was inspired by idea of “Hindu Rashtra”. This view was put forward on the basis of titles adopted by Shivaji like “Hinduttva Dharmo Udharak”, “Go brahmana pratipalak” etc.
  • Closer examination of Maharaja Shivaji & character of his policy clearly reveals that he was secular political leader not a Hindu leader as such.
  • Title adopted by Shivaji was common title of age. These title adopted by Rajput as the closely associated by Mughal.
  • Maratha state was secular state, no religious discrimination was practiced both Hindu & Muslim enjoyed freedom to practice their faith in manner they desire.
  • Shivaji recruited both Hindu & Muslim solder in army. In c.1656 CE, a separate Pathan unit was created by him. His naval chief was Muslim.
  • Shivaji’s fight against Aurangzeb was not a religious war but its purely political character that both were inspired by the idea of established political dominance over Deccan.
  • He had allied himself with Muslim rulers of Vijapur against Hindu Nayaka in Karnataka.


Was Maratha Movement a reaction against Aurangzeb?

  • A section of historian believes that it was policy of Aurangzeb that triggered rise of Maratha Movement when Aurangzeb tried to establish his effective direct rule over Deccan; the Marathas emerged as political force.
  • Closer examination of history of Maratha Movement reveals that the early phase of rise of Maratha was during reign of Shahjahan.
  • The fort of Purander conquered by Shivaji in 1648. His 1st major achievement was in 1648 in conquest of fort of Torana.
  • By time Aurangzeb emerged in scene in 1658, Marathas were force to reckon. The heightened behavior Aurangzeb intensified Maratha Movement.


Factors involved in rise of Maratha Movement

  • Rise of Maratha as political power around middle of 17th century was one of the most significant development in history of India because at one time it appeared as if Maratha would successfully replace mighty Maratha.
  • Emergence of Marathas as political force was the outcome of combined effect of number of factors acted together. Among these factors, role of Maharashtra Dharma contribution of Deccan State, leadership of Shivaji.


Role of Geography in rise of Maratha Movement

  • The Maratha land was geographically isolated; as a result, a typical Maratha culture could emerge. The Maratha forget the bonds of unity among the Maratha & gradually they could emerge as dominant force.
  • Maratha region was deficient in natural resources; most of it was falling in rain shadow zone. As a result, Marathas had to work very hard to day to day living. This daily hardship imparted Marathas were a great strength of character.
  • This hardy character of Marathas contributed greatly to their success against mighty Mughals.
  • Economic Maratha region was under developed as a result economic condition of most Maratha was seen. Sharp economic divisions were absent among people. This uniformity was another reason of unity among Marathas.
  • Maratha region was hilly area. It was very difficult to outsider to understand local topography because of this Marathas could use Gurilla method of warfare with great effectiveness. This indirect method of warfare enabled Maratha to challenge mighty Mughals successfully.
  • Marathas were living a life of Independence since ages. The spirit of Independence was very powerful among Maratha cause of this Aurangzeb tried to establishment direct rule of Maratha land, a furious reaction emerged in the form of Maratha movements.


Role of Maharashtra Dharma

  • Maharashtra Dharma refers to branch of Bhakti Movement that emerged in Maratha land, saint viz, Namdev, Tukaram, Dyaneshwar, Ramdas propagated message of Bhakti among Marathas.
  • The Maharashtra Dharma emphasized on social equality, evils like caste & untouchability were condemned.
  • They infused great energy among Marathas propagating liberal & progressive idea.
  • Spirit of scarify for cause of motherland was uncultivated among Maratha.
  • Sense of pride also infused among masses towards Maratha culture.
  • Efforts made by saints of Maharashtra Dharma gave new hopes & aspiration to Marathas.
  • Marathas were aLready looking for strong identity when Shivaji emerged in scene.
  • Maharashtra Dharma prepared strong socio-cultural background for emergence of political in Maratha land inspired by idea of Independence & Maratha identity.


Role of Deccani State

  • Deccani state Vijapur, Ahmadnagar contributed significance both directly and indirectly to rise of Marathas as a political force.
  • The early Maratha commanders such as Shahaji Bhosale worked with Ahmednagar state. Here they got training in admin & military. This knowledge & experience were used by Marathas later to create a strong empire.
  • Administrative institute & practices of Maratha state such as institution as Asthapradhan was adopted from Deccani state. Shivaji Lr system was based on revenue system developed by Amer Malik of Ahmednagar.
  • Gurilla method of warfare also adopted from these Deccani state Amer Malik progenitor of this form of struggle.


Role of Shivaji

  • Shivaji was leader & founder of Maratha Movement. When he emerged in scene in 1640, a larger background was aLready there for political rise of Marathas.
  • Through his phenomenal leadership, Shivaji brought the shattered Maratha elements on common platform.
  • He raised strong Maratha army.
  • His military success gave hopes to Marathas that their dream of Maratha nation could be realized.
  • Foundation of Maratha kingdom in 16th century was a great inspiration for Maratha & now they could fight for their safety & make it stronger.

Nature & Characteristic features of Maratha State System

  • Maratha polity was monarchical characteristic. The king was head of state office of king was hereditary. Maratha king announced high titles like Chatrapati.
  • Elements of centralized polity would present in Maratha state system.
  • Swarajya was divided into number of provinces known as Tara. The provincial chief was appointed by king himself.
  • Feudal elements were also present in Maratha polity.
  • Direct control of king was limited to Swarajya i.e. central zone of Maratha kingdom.
  • In peripheral areas, Deshmukhs used to rule as autonomous entities. The control of Maratha king over Deshmukh was nominal.
  • Elements of welfare state would also present in character of Maratha political system because Maratha king used to issue Jagirs & other grants to poor man of religion & learning.
  • Levels of institution of administration were fairly high in Maratha state.
  • Asthapradha enjoyed place of central significance in Maratha political system.
  • This institution comprised 8 ministers of Maratha king who looked after specific department such as department of finance(Amatya), military(Sir-i-Nobal), judicial system(Nyayadhish), foreign relation(Sumant/Dabir), welfare activities(Panditrao), Royal communication(Sachiva) & Prime Minister(Peshwa).
  • Forts enjoyed a place of great significance in Maratha state systems. These forts were not only centers of military power but also the center of administrative at local level.
  • The local life revolved around fort, a special attention was paid to construction & maintenance of fort. There were many dozen of forts in Maratha kingdom.
  • Maratha polity was secular in character.
  • Maratha polity was based on strong imperialistic because polity of territorial expansion was followed by Maratha rulers to raise their power & prestige.
  • Under Peshwas, Maratha state got transformed into confederacy.
  • Rise of Peshwas was followed by rise of other local commander. Such as Holkar, Sindhiya of Gaikwad of Baroda, Bhosale–Nagpur.

Maratha Fiscal & Financial Components

  • The political rise of Marathas was accompanied by creation of sound, fiscal financial system by Maharaja Shivaji.
  • System comprised of three main components which could be identified as Land reveune and other taxes coming from Swarajya, Sardeshmukhi paid by Deshmukh and Chouth collected from neighboring kingdom.


Maratha Land Revenue System

  • Maharaja Shivaji established a sound & efficient Land revenue system in c.1678 CE. This system combined the features of revenue administration developed by Malik Amber as well as Mughals. Shivaji adopted good element from everywhere to strengthen financial background of Maratha Kingdom.
  • Maratha Land revenue developed by Shivaji was based on survey & measurement of land.
  1. A land survey was carried out in 1678, by Annaji Datto.
  2. Kathi, Bigha & Chavar were used as unites of measurement (20k equals to 1Bigha; 120B equals to 1Chavar).
  • Fertility of soil & type of crops being cultivated were taking into account at time of assessment of Land revenue.
  • Full rate of Land revenue was not charged from land newly brought into cultivation rate was gradually increase to full years over period of 8 years.
  • Land revenue was collected twice in year at time of Rabi & Kharif season to ease the burden on peasants.
  • Peasants were allowed to pay Land revenue in cash or kind.
  • The landlords were used in revenue collecting process but they were not allowed to collect extra from peasant. A part of collect revenue was given to them by state as remuneration.
  • Initially rate of Land revenue was fixed at 1/3rd of produce. Peasants were required to pay other taxes as well but to ease the burden on peasant & to make system easy other taxes abolished & rate of Land revenue increased to 40.



  • 10% of total income was paid by Deshmukh as Surdeshmukhi as a mark recognition of Maratha crown.
  • Entire income coming from Sardeshmukhi was considered to be personal income of Maratha king. It was reserved for his personal expenses.



  • Chouth refered to 25% of total income paid by neighbouring kingdom to Marathas as mark of acceptance of Maratha overload ship.
  • Initially Maratha attacked neighbouring kingdom annually to mobilize resource. This attack resulted in huge loss of man & money in neighbouring kingdom to avoid such unnecessary attack this system was developed.
  • Total proceeds of Chouth were distributed between kings & his commanders.
  • 15% of income of Chaouth received by local Maratha commander such as Bhosle, Holkar etc.
  • 6% of Chouth reserved for Pant, Sachiv for expenditure of his department.
  • 3% reserved for king to issue donation.
  • 16% remaining was received by king for managing state expenses.
  • System of Chouth played important role in stabilizing relation of Marathas with neighbours but these neighbouring states like Rajput, Nizam & Nawab of Bengal continued to harbor strong sense of reassessment against Maratha.
  • It was because of this discontent prevailing among various Indian entitles against Maratha, they didn’t support Maratha whole heard in 3rd battle of Panipat. In fact, many of Indian rulers supported Abdali contributed to disastrous defeat of Maratha in battle of Panipat.

Decline of Marathas

  • Marathas emerged on political map of India like a star during later half of 17th century but light of this star failed to last long and by closing decades of 18th century the Marathas were no longer formidable power. The rise of Maratha Empire was rapid but decline was even much faster.
  • Decline of Marathas as political power was almost same factor which contributed to their rise. The military achievement of Shivaji had prepared background for Marathas as dominant power & defeat in battle doomed faith of Maratha power.


Role of Geographical limitations

  • Geographical factors had played important role in rise of Marathas but when Marathas move into place & tried to consolidate their authority in North India, their geographic became biggest limitation.
  • Geographical isolation of Marathas had resulted in emergence of typical Maratha culture. This cultural identity was main binding force among Marathas but over emphasis on Maratha cultural identity didn’t allow Marathas to win over support of other Indian groups such as Rajput. This obstructed the procedure of consolidation of Maratha Empire.
  • The scarcity of resources in Maratha reign compelled Marathas to impose Chouth & other demand on neighbouring kingdom. Though instrument of Chouth stability of Maratha on other Indian power but Rajput, Nizam&Nawab of Bengal etc. always resented imposition of Chouth so Marathas couldn’t get whole hearted support of Indian group in their endevour to create a lasting empire.
  • Geography of Maratha land was conducive to Gurilla method of warfare but when Maratha reached to Northern place they had to face to face battle in which their expertises were limited.


Role of Change in character of Maratha Political System

  • During phase of rise Maratha Empire based on idea of centralized polity. But during first half of 18th century, It was assumed from of confederacy because of this the unity & co-operation between Maratha commander were no longer very strong.
  • Their internal division and difference started dominating Maratha state system & doomed the faith of Maratha Empire.


Role of degeneration of leadership

  • After death of Peshwa Madhav Rao in c.1772 CE, there was hardly any capable Peshwa in Maratha Empire.
  • Unable to control his desire to sit on throne of Peshwa Raghunathan got Peshwa Narayan Rao murdered. This triggered intense war in Maratha land which soon transformed into 1st Anglo Maratha War (1772-82). Though this war ended on terms of equality & Maratha got long period 20 years peace with English company but it couldn’t be utilize strengthen Maratha power.
  • With death of Nana-Padnavis in 1800; the wisdom & moderation departed from Maratha land. Till the time he was alive, the internal difference of Maratha were not allowed to get out of control. But when he was no more the insight of Maratha resurfaced with much greater intensity. As a result Maratha lost 2nd war against East India Company. Here after Maratha power was only symbolic.

Role of Change in character of Maratha Political System

  • Disasterous 3rd battle of Panipat was biggest setback to hopes & aspiration of Marathas. Before losing this battle, Maratha power was at its generation. But the defeat shattered Maratha power as well as prestige.
  • More than 50000 soldiers were lost by Marathas in this battle. There wasn’t single family in entire Maratha land that didn’t lose anyone. Almost entire young generation had got wiped out.
  • When the news of this disaster came to Pune, Peshwa Balaji Bajirao died of shock all of a sudden fortune had stopped smiling on Maratha nation.
  • Military loss was swiftly put aside by PeshwaMadhav Rao within period of less than 10 years. Marathas regained lost strength but loss of prestige couldn’t be revived easily.
  • The Marathas were considered invisible before disaster of Panipat but this myth of invisibility had got shattered. Other Indian groups had started raising their voice against Marathas.
  • After defeat of battle of Panipat, into different of Marathas started coming out in open.
  • The battle of Panipat didn’t decide who would be ruling India but it made decision of who would not be.
  • When Maratha was losing battle field of Panipat, East India Company consolidating them in Bengal. Once resource of Bengal failed under control of East India Company the faith India got decided & company was bound to get an upperhand over all other containers including Marathas.



Rise of the Peshwas

The good fortune of Shivaji did not fall to his son and successor, Sambhaji, who was captured and executed by the Mughals in the late 1680s. His younger brother, Rajaram, who succeeded him, faced with a Mughal army that was now on the ascendant, moved his base into the Tamil country, where Shivaji too had earlier kept an interest. He remained in the great fortress of Jinji (earlier the seat of a Nayaka dynasty subordinate to Vijayanagar) for eight years in the 1690s, under siege by a Mughal force, and for a time it may have appeared that Maratha power was on the decline. But a recovery was affected in the early 18th century, in somewhat changed circumstances. A particularly important phase in this respect is the reign of Shahu, who succeeded Rajaram in 1708 with some acrimony from his widow, Tara Bai.


Lasting some four decades, to 1749, Shahu’s reign was marked by the ascendancy of a lineage of Citpavan Brahman ministers, who virtually came to control central authority in the Maratha state, with the Bhonsles reduced to figureheads. Holding the title of peshwa (chief minister), the first truly prominent figure of this line is Balaji Vishvanath, who had aided Shahu in his rise to power. On the one hand, they systematized the practice of tribute gathering from Mughal territories, under the heads of sardeshmukhi and cauth (the two terms corresponding to the proportion of revenue collected). But, equally, they seem to have consolidated methods of assessment and collection of land revenue and other taxes, which were derived from the Mughals. Much of the revenue terminology used in the documents of the peshwa and his subordinates derives from Persian (the language of Mughal administration), which suggests a far greater continuity between Mughal and Maratha revenue practice than might have been imagined.


By the close of Shahu’s reign, a complex role had been established for the Marathas. On the one hand, in the territories that they controlled closely, particularly in the Deccan, these years saw the development of sophisticated networks of trade, banking, and finance; the rise of substantial banking houses based at Pune, with branches extending into Gujarat, the Ganges River valley, and the south; and an expansion of the agricultural frontier. At the same time, maritime affairs were not totally neglected either, and Balaji Vishvanth took some care to cultivate the Angria clan, which controlled a fleet of vessels based in Kolaba and other centres of the west coast. These ships posed a threat not only to the new English settlement of Bombay (Mumbai) but to the Portuguese at Goa, Bassein, and Daman.


On the other hand, there also emerged a far larger domain of activity away from the original heartland of the Marathas, which was either subjected to raiding or given over to subordinate chiefs. Of these chiefs, the most important were the Gaekwads (Gaikwars), the Sindhias, and the Holkars. Also, there were branches of the Bhonsle family itself that relocated to Kolhapur and Nagpur, while the main line remained in the Deccan heartland, at Satara. The Kolhapur line derived from Rajaram and his wife, Tara Bai, who had refused in 1708 to accept Shahu’s rule and who negotiated with some Mughal court factions in a bid to undermine Shahu. The Kolhapur Bhonsles remained in control of a limited territory into the early 19th century, when the raja allied himself with the British against the peshwas in the Maratha Wars.


Unlike the Kolhapur Bhonsles and the descendants of Vyamkoji at Thanjavur, both of whom claimed a status equal to that of the Satara raja, the line at Nagpur was clearly subordinate to the Satara rulers. A crucial figure from this line is Raghuji Bhonsle (ruled 1727–55), who was responsible for the Maratha incursions on Bengal and Bihar in the 1740s and early ’50s. The relations of his successors, Janoji, Sabaji, and Mudoji, with the peshwas and the Satara line were variable, and it is in this sense that these domains can be regarded as only loosely confederated, rather than tightly bound together.


Subordinate Maratha Rulers

Other subordinate rulers who emerged under the overarching umbrella provided by the Satara ruler and his peshwa were equally somewhat opportunistic in their use of politics. The Gaekwads, who came to prominence in the 1720s with the incursions of Damaji and Pilaji Gaekwad into Gujarat, were initially subordinate not only to the Bhonsles but also to the powerful Dabhade family. Their role in this period was largely confined to the collection of the cauth levy, and they consolidated their position by taking advantage of differences between the peshwa and the Dabhades. The fact that various interests at the Mughal court were at loggerheads with each other also worked to the Gaekwads’ advantage. However, it was only after the death of Shahu, when the power of the peshwas was further enhanced, that the position of the Gaekwads truly improved. By the early 1750s, the rights of the family to an extensive portion of the revenues of Gujarat were recognized by the peshwa, and an amicable division was arranged. The expulsion of the Mughal governor of the Gujarat subah (province) from his capital of Ahmedabad in 1752 set the seal on the process. The Gaekwads preferred, however, to establish their capital in Baroda, causing realignment in the network of trade and consumption in the area.


The rule of Damaji (died 1768) at Baroda was followed by a period of some turmoil. The Gaekwads still remained partly dependent on Pune and the peshwa, especially to intervene in moments of succession crisis. The eventual successor of Damaji, Fateh Singh (ruled 1771–89), did not remain allied to the peshwa for long, though. Rather, in the late 1770s and early ’80s, he chose to negotiate a settlement with the English East India Company, which eventually led to increased British interference in his affairs. By 1800 the British rather than the peshwa were the final arbiters in determining succession among the Gaekwad, who became subordinate rulers under them in the 19th century.


In the mid-18th century a great part of the holdings of the Gaekwads was described in the peshwa’s correspondence and papers as saranjam (nonhereditary grants to maintain troops), and the ruler himself was termed saranjamdar, or at times jagirdar. The same was broadly true of the Holkars and Sindhias and also of another relatively minor dynasty of chiefs, the Pawars of Dhar. In the case of the Holkars, the rise in status and wealth was particularly rapid and marked. From petty local power brokers, they emerged by the 1730s into a position in which Malhar Rao Holkar could be granted a large share of the cauth collection in Malwa, eastern Gujarat, and Khandesh. Within a few years, Malhar Rao consolidated his own principality at Indore, from which his successors controlled important trade routes as well as the crucial trading centre of Burhanpur. After him, control of the dynastic fortunes fell largely to his son’s widow, Ahalya Bai, who ruled from 1765 to 1794 and brought Holkar power to its apogee. Nevertheless, their success could not equal that of the last great chieftain family, the Sindhias, who carved a prominent place for themselves in north Indian politics in the decades following the third battle of Panipat (1761). Again, like the Holkars, the Sindhias were based largely in central India, first at Ujjain, and later (from the last quarter of the 18th century) in Gwalior. It was during the long reign of Mahadaji Sindhia, which began after Panipat and continued to 1794, that the family’s fortunes were truly consolidated.


Mahadaji, employing in the 1780s a large number of European mercenaries in his forces, proved an effective and innovative military commander who went beyond the usual Maratha dependence on light cavalry. His power, however, had already grown in the 1770s, when he managed to make substantial inroads into a north India that had been weakened by Afghan attacks. He intervened with some effect in the Mughal court during the reign of Shah ʿAlam II, who made him the “deputy regent” of his affairs in the mid-1780s. His shadow fell 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. He caused trepidation among the personnel of the East India Company and also at Pune, where his relations with the acting peshwa, Nana Fadnavis, were fraught with tension. Eventually, the momentum generated by Mahadaji could not be maintained by his successor, Daulat Rao Sindhia (ruled 1794–1827), who was defeated by the British and forced under the Treaty of Surji-Arjungaon (1803) to surrender his territories both to the north and to the west.