Territory under Maratha control in 1760 (yellow), without its vassals.
|Capital||Raigad, Later Satara and Pune|
|-||1674–1689||Moropant Pingle (first)|
|-||1795–1818||Baji Rao II (last)|
|2,800,000 km² (1,081,086 sq mi)|
|Currency||Rupee, Paisa, Mohor, Shivrai, Hon|
|Today part of|| India
|Outline of South Asian history
History of Indian subcontinent
The Maratha Empire or the Maratha Confederacy was an Indian imperial power that existed from 1674 to 1818. At its peak, the empire covered much of the subcontinent, encompassing a territory of over 2.8 million km². The Marathas are credited to a large extent for ending the Mughal rule in India.
The Marathas were a Hindu warrior group from the western Deccan (present day Maharashtra) that rose to prominence by establishing 'Hindavi Swarajya'. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Maratha group of castes is a largely rural class of peasant cultivators, landowners, and soldiers. The Marathas became prominent in the 17th century under the leadership of Shivaji who revolted against the Bijapur Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, and carved out a rebel territory with Raigad as his capital. Known for their mobility, the Marathas were able to consolidate their territory during the Deccan Wars against the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and, later in time, controlled a large part of India.
The word Maratha has also been used to describe all Marathi speaking inhabitants of Maharashtra. Shivaji's lieutenants in addition to the "Maratha" included those belonging to the CKP ( Baji Prabhu Deshpande and Murar Baji) and Deshastha Brahmin castes. The expansion of the empire under Shahu was carried by the generals belonging to groups such as Chitpavan Brahmin (Bhat Peshwas of Pune), the Kunbis (Shinde of Gwalior) and Dhangar (Holkar of Indore).
Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji, was released by the Mughals after the death of Aurangzeb. Following a brief struggle with his aunt Tarabai, Shahu became ruler. During this period, he appointed Balaji Vishwanath Bhat and later his descendants as the Peshwas or the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire. After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the Maratha empire expanded greatly under the rule of the Peshwas. The empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the south, to Peshawar(modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)[note 1] in the north, and Bengal and Andaman Islands in the east. In 1761, the Maratha army lost the Third Battle of Panipat to Ahmed Shah Abdali of the Afghan Durrani Empire which halted their imperial expansion in North western India. Ten years after Panipat, young Madhavrao Peshwa reinstated the Maratha authority over North India.
In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, he gave semi-autonomy to the strongest of the knights, which created a confederacy of Maratha states. They became known as Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and Malwa, the Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, Bhonsales of Nagpur. In 1775, the British East India Company intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, which became the First Anglo-Maratha War. The Marathas remained the preeminent power in India until their defeat in the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha wars (1805–1818), which left the British East India Company in control of most of India.
A large portion of the Maratha empire was coastline, which had been secured by a potent navy under commanders such as Kānhōjī Āngré. He was very successful at keeping foreign naval ships, particularly of the Portuguese and British, at bay. Securing the coastal areas and building land-based fortifications were crucial aspects of the Maratha's defensive strategy and regional military history.
- 1 Nomenclature
- 2 Brief history
- 3 The Royal Era (1674–1749)
- 4 The Peshwa era
- 5 The Confederacy era (1761–1818)
- 6 Administration
- 7 Geography
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Criticism
- 10 Maratha Notable Generals and Administrators
- 11 Personalities
- 12 Chieftains
- 13 Maps showing the Maratha Empire at different stages of history
- 14 Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom (Tamil Nadu)
- 15 See also
- 16 Notes
- 17 Citations
- 18 References
The Maratha Empire is also referred to as the Maratha Confederacy. The historian Barbara Ramusack says that the former is a designation preferred by Indian nationalists, while the latter was that used by British historians. She notes
Neither term is fully accurate since one implies a substantial degree of centralisation and the other signifies some surrender of power to a central government and a longstanding core of political administrators.
After a lifetime of guerrilla warfare with the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur and Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji could only establish a Maratha territory near the western ghats when he crowned himself Chhatrapati (King) in 1674 with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji died in 1680, leaving behind a small kingdom always at odds with the mighty Mughal hegemony. Soon after Shivaji's death, the Mughals invaded, but could not fully subdue the Marathas War of 27 years from 1681 to 1707. Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji, ruled as Chhatrapati until 1749. During his reign, Shahu appointed the first Peshwa as head of the government, under certain conditions. After the death of Shahu, the Peshwas became the de facto leaders of the Maratha Empire from 1749 to 1761, while Shivaji's successors continued as nominal rulers from their base in Satara. Covering a large part of the subcontinent, the Maratha Empire kept the British forces at bay during the 18th century, until the Third Battle of Panipat following which the Marathas never fought as a single unit.
The Maratha Empire was at its zenith in the 18th century under Shahu and the Peshwa Baji Rao I. Losses at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 suspended further expansion of the empire in the North-west and reduced the power of the Peshwas. In 1761, after severe losses in the Panipat war, the Peshwas slowly started losing control of the state. Many military chiefs of the Maratha Empire like Shinde, Holkar, Gaikwad, Pant Pratinidhi, Bhosale of Nagpur, and Pandit of Bhor, Patwardhan started to work towards their individual ambitions of becoming independent rulers in their respective regions. However, under Madhavrao Peshwa, Maratha authority in North India was restored, 10 years after the battle of Panipat. After the death of Madhavrao, the empire gave way to a loose Confederacy, with political power resting in a 'pentarchy' of five mostly Maratha dynasties: the Peshwas of Pune; the Sindhias (originally "Shinde") of Malwa and Gwalior; the Holkars of Indore; the Bhonsles of Nagpur; and the Gaekwads of Baroda. A rivalry between the Sindhia and Holkar clans dominated the confederacy's affairs into the early 19th century, as did the clashes with the British and the British East India Company in the three Anglo-Maratha Wars. In the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in 1818. Most of the former Maratha Empire was absorbed by British India, however some of the Maratha states remained as vassals of the British until India became independent in 1947.
The Royal Era (1674–1749)
Shivaji was a Maratha aristocrat of the Bhonsle clan who is considered to be the historical founder of the Maratha empire. Shivaji led a resistance to free the Maratha people from the Sultanate of Bijapur, and establish Hindavi Swarajya ("self-rule of Hindu people"). He created an independent Maratha kingdom with Raigad as its capital, and successfully fought against the Mughals to defend his kingdom. He was crowned as Chhatrapati ("sovereign") of the new Maratha kingdom in 1674. The state as Shivaji founded it was a Maratha kingdom comprising about 4.1% of the subcontinent at the time he died but over time it was to increase in size and heterogeneity, and by the time of the Peshwas in the early 18th century was a full-fledged empire, with Shivaji as its historical founder.
Shivaji had two sons: Sambhaji and Rajaram. Sambhaji, the elder son, was very popular among the courtiers. In 1681, Sambhaji had himself crowned and resumed his father's expansionist policies. Sambhaji had earlier defeated the Portuguese and Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore. To nullify any Rajput-Maratha alliance, as well as the Deccan Sultanates, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb himself headed south in 1681. With his entire imperial court, administration, and an army of about 500,000 troops he proceeded to conquer the entire Maratha Empire along with the sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda. During the eight years that followed, Sambhaji led the Marathas, never losing a battle or a fort to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had almost lost the campaign but for an event in early 1689. Sambhaji called his commanders for a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar to decide on the final onslaught on the Mughal forces. In a meticulously planned operation, Ganoji Shirke and Aurangzeb's commander, Mukarrab Khan attacked Sangameshwar when Sambhaji was accompanied by a few men. Sambhaji was ambushed and captured by Mughal troops on 1 February 1689. He and his advisor, Kavi Kalash were taken to Bahadurgad. Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were executed for rebellion against the (Mughal) Empire on 11 March 1689.
Rajaram and Tarabai
Upon Sambhaji's death, Rajaram, his half-brother, assumed the throne. He had to endure Mughal army siege to Raigad, his seat of Government. However, Rajaram was able to flee to Vishalgad and then to Ginge for safety. From there the Marathas raided the Mughal territory and many forts were recaptured by Maratha commanders such as Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav, Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi, Shankaraji Narayan Sacheev, and Melgiri Pandit. In 1697, Rajaram offered a truce but this was rejected by Aurangzeb. Rajaram died in 1700 at Sinhagad. His widow, Tarabai, assumed control in the name of her son Ramaraja (Shivaji II). Then Tarabai heroically led the Marathas against the Mughals; by 1705, they had crossed the Narmada River and entered Malwa, then in Mughal possession.
Malwa was a decisive battle for the Maratha Empire. The Mughals lost their eminent position on the Indian subcontinent forever and the subsequent Mughal emperors became titular rulers. The Marathas emerged victorious after a long drawn-out and fiercely fought battle. The soldiers and commanders who participated in this war achieved the real expansion of the Maratha Empire. The victory also set the foundations for the imperial conquests achieved later, under the Peshwas.
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar was a court administrator who rose from the ranks of a local Kulkarni to the ranks of Ashtapradhan under guidance and support of Shivaji. When Rajaram fled to Jinji in 1689 leaving Maratha Empire, he gave a "Hukumat Panha" (King Status) to Pant before leaving. Ramchandra Pant managed the entire state under many challenges like influx of Mughals, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under the Maratha state) and social challenges like scarcity of food. With the help of Pantpratinidhi, Sachiv, he kept the economic condition of Maratha Empire in an appropriate state. He wrote Adnyapatra in which he has explained different techniques of war, maintenance of forts and administration etc.
After Aurangzeb's death in 1707, Shahuji, son of Sambhaji (and grandson of Shivaji), was released by Bahadur Shah I, the new Mughal emperor. The conditions laid by the Mughals for his release rendered him a vassal of the Mughal emperor and kept his mother a hostage of the Mughals in order to ensure that Shahuji adhered to the release conditions. Upon release,Shahu immediately claimed the Maratha throne and challenged his aunt Tarabai and her son. This promptly turned the now-spluttering Mughal-Maratha war into a three-cornered affair. The states of Satara and Kolhapur came into being in 1707, because of the succession dispute over the Maratha kingship. By 1710, two separate principalities had become an established fact, eventually confirmed by the Treaty of Warna in 1731.
In 1713, Furrukhsiyar declared himself Mughal emperor. His bid for power depended heavily on two brothers, known as the Saiyids, one of whom was the governor of Allahabad and the other the governor of Patna. However, the brothers had a falling-out with the emperor. Negotiations between the Saiyids and Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, a civilian representative of Shahu, drew the Marathas into the vendetta against the Mughal emperor.
In 1714, an army of Marathas commanded by Parsoji Bhosale marched up to Delhi unopposed and managed to depose the Mughal emperor. In return for this help, Balaji Vishwanath managed to negotiate a substantial treaty. Shahuji would have to accept Mughal rule in the Deccan, furnish forces for the imperial army, and pay an annual tribute. But in return, he received a firman, or imperial directive, guaranteeing him Swaraj, or independence, in the Maratha homeland, plus rights to chauth and sardeshmukh (amounting to 35 percent of the total revenue) throughout Gujarat, Malwa, and the now six provinces of the Mughal Deccan. This treaty also released Yesubai, Shahuji's mother, from Mughal captivity.
During regime of Shahu, Raghuji Bhosale expanded the empire in East reaching present-day Bangladesh. Senapati Dabhade expanded in West. Peshwa Bajirao and his three chiefs Pawar (Dhar), Holkar (Indore) and Scindia (Gwalior) expanded in North. All these houses became hereditary, thereby eventually undermining the kings' authority there.
The Peshwa era
During this era, Peshwas belonging to the (Bhat) Deshmukh Marathi Brahmin family controlled the Maratha army and later became the hereditary rulers of the Maratha Empire from 1749 to 1818. During their rein, the Maratha empire reached its zenith ruling most of the Indian Subcontinent. Prior to 1700, one Peshwa received the status of imperial regent for eight or nine years. They oversaw the greatest expansion of the Maratha Empire around 1760 with the help of Sardars like Holkar, Scindia (Shinde), Bhosale, and Gaekwad(Dhane). Other Generals such as Pantpratinidhi, Panse, Vinchurkar, Pethe, Raste, Phadke, Patwardhan, Pawar, Pandit, Purandare and Mehendale also played important part in the expansion. The areas controlled by the peshwa were annexed by the British East India Company in 1818.
Baji Rao I
After Balaji Vishwanath's death in April 1720, his son, Baji Rao I was appointed as Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahu. Shahu possessed a strong capacity for recognising talent, and actually caused a social revolution by bringing capable people into power irrespective of their social status. This was an indication of a great social mobility within the Maratha Empire, enabling its rapid expansion.
Baji Rao Vishwanath (Bhat) Deshmukh (18 August 1700 – 25 April 1740), also known as Baji Rao I, was a noted general who served as Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shahu between 1720 until death. He is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire especially in north that reached its zenith twenty years after his death. Peshwa Bajirao fought over 41 battles and is reputed to have never lost one. Battle of Palkhed was a land battle that took place on 28 February 1728 at the village of Palkhed, near the city of Nashik, Maharashtra, India between Baji Rao I and the Nizam-ul-Mulk of Hyderabad. The Marathas defeated the Nizam. The battle is considered an example of brilliant execution of military strategy. The Battle of Vasai was fought between the Marathas and the Portuguese rulers of Vasai, a village lying near Bombay in the present-day state of Maharashtra, India. The Marathas were led by Chimaji Appa, a brother of Peshwa Baji Rao I. Maratha victory in this war was a major achievement of Baji Rao I reign.
Balaji Baji Rao
Baji Rao's son, Balaji Bajirao (Nanasaheb), was appointed as a Peshwa by Shahuji. The period between 1741 and 1745 was one of comparative calm in the Deccan. Shahuji died in 1749 bequeathing power to peshwa with condition that the dignity of house of shivaji will be maintained and also welfare of subjects will be looked after.
In 1740, the Maratha forces came down upon Arcot and defeated the Nawab of Arcot, Dost Ali in the pass of Damalcherry. In the war that followed, Dost Ali, one of his sons Hasan Ali, and a number of prominent persons lost their lives. This initial success at once enhanced Maratha prestige in the south. From Damalcherry the Marathas proceeded to Arcot. It surrendered to them without much resistance. Then, Raghuji invaded Trichinopoly in December 1740. Unable to resist, Chanda Saheb delivered the fort to Raghuji on 14 March 1741, on the day of Ram Navami. Chanda Saheb and his son were arrested and sent to Nagpur.
After the successful campaign of Karnatak and Battle of Trichinopolly, Raghuji returned from Karnatak. He undertook six expeditions in Bengal from 1741–1748. Raghuji was able to annex Odisha to his kingdom permanently as he successfully exploited the chaotic conditions prevailing in Bengal, Bihar and Odisha after the death of their Governor Murshid Quli Khan in 1727. Constantly harassed by the Bhonsles, Odisha or Cuttack, Bengal and parts of Bihar were economically ruined. Alivardi Khan, Nawab of Bengal made peace with Raghuji in 1751 ceding in perpetuity Cuttack up to the river Subarnarekha, and agreeing to pay Rs.1.2 million annually in lieu of the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar. The smaller States of Raipur, Ratanpur, Bilaspur and Sambalpur belonging to Chhattisgad territory were conquered by Bhaskar Ram, and were placed in charge of Mohansingh, an illegitimate son of Raghuji. Towards the end of his career, Raghuji had conquered the whole of Berar; the Gond kingdoms of Devgad including Nagpur, Gadha-Mandla and Chandrapur; the Suba of Cuttack; and the smaller states spreading between Nagpur and Cuttack. Nanasaheb encouraged agriculture, protected the villagers, and brought about a marked improvement in the state of the territory. Continued expansion saw Raghunath Rao, the brother of Nanasaheb, pushing into in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal after Ahmed Shah Abdali's plunder of Delhi in 1756. Delhi was captured by Maratha army under Raghunath Rao in August 1757 defeating Afghan garrison in the Battle of Delhi. This laid the foundation for the Maratha conquest of North-west India. In Lahore, as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players.
Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subhas on this side of Attock are under our rule for the most part, and places which have not come under our rule we shall soon bring under us. Ahmad Shah Durrani's son Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan have been pursued by our troops, and their troops completely looted. Both of them have now reached Peshawar with a few broken troops. So Ahmad Shah Durrani has returned to Kandahar with some 12–14 thousand broken troops. Thus all have risen against Ahmad who has lost control over the region. We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.
On 8 May 1758, the Marathas captured Peshawar, defeating the Afghan troops in the Battle of Peshawar. In 1759, The Marathas under Sadashivrao Bhau (referred to as the Bhau or Bhao in sources) responded to the news of the Afghans' return to North India by sending a big army to North. Bhau's force was bolstered by some Maratha forces under Holkar, Scindia, Gaikwad and Govind Pant Bundele. The combined army of over 100,000 regular troops had re-captured the former Mughal capital, Delhi, from an Afghan garrison in August 1760. Delhi had been reduced to ashes many times due to previous invasions, and in addition there being acute shortage of supplies in the Maratha camp. Bhau ordered the sacking of the already depopulated city. He is said to have planned to place his nephew and the Peshwa's son, Vishwasrao, on the Mughal throne. By 1760, with defeat of the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power had reached its zenith with a territory of over 2,800,000 km² acres.
Ahmad Shah Durrani, then called Rohillas and Nawab of Oudh to assist him in driving out 'infidel' Marathas from Delhi. Huge armies of Muslim forces and Marathas collided with each other on 14 January 1761 in the Third Battle of Panipat. The Maratha army lost the battle which halted imperial expansion. The Jats and Rajputs did not support the Marathas. Their withdrawal from the ensuing battle played a crucial role in its result.
The Marathas had antagonised the Jats and Rajputs by taxing them heavily, punishing them after defeating the Mughals and interfering in their internal affairs. The Marathas were abandoned by Raja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur and the Rajputs who quit the Maratha alliance at Agra before the start of the great battle and withdrew their troops, as Maratha general Sadashivrao Bhau did not heed the advice to leave soldier's families (women and children) and pilgrims at Agra and not take them to the battle field with the soldiers, rejected their cooperation. Their supply chains (earlier assured by Raja Suraj Mal and Rajputs) did not exist.
The Confederacy era (1761–1818)
After 1761, young Madhavrao Peshwa tried his best to rebuild the empire in spite of his frail health. He reinstated the Maratha authority over North India 10 years after the battle of Panipat. In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, semi-autonomy was given to strongest of the knights. Thus, the semi-autonomous Maratha states came into being in far flung regions of the empire :
- Peshwas of Pune
- Gaekwads of Baroda
- Puars (or Pawars) of Dewas & Dhar
- Holkars of Indore and Malwa
- Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain
- Bhonsales of Nagpur (no blood relation with Shivaji's or Tarabai's family)
- Even in the Maharashtra itself many knights were given semi-autonomous charges of small districts, which led to princely states like Sangli, Aundh, Bhor, Bawda, Phaltan, Miraj etc. Pawars of Udgir were also part of confederacy.
After the battle of Panipat Malhar Rao Holkar attacked the Rajputs and defeated them at the battle of Mangrol. The battle largely restored Maratha power in Rajasthan. Under the leadership of Mahadji Shinde the Marathas defeated the Jats, the Rohilla Afghans and took Delhi which remained basically under Maratha control for the next 2 decades. Mahadaji Shinde was the Maratha ruler of the state of Gwalior in central India. Mahadaji was instrumental in resurrecting Maratha power after the debacle of the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, and rose to become a trusted lieutenant of the Peshwa, leader of the Maratha Empire, as well as the Mughal king Shah Alam II.
He took full advantage of the system of neutrality pursued by the British to resurrect Maratha power over Northern India. In this he was assisted by Benoît de Boigne who increased Sindhia's regular forces to three brigades. With these troops Sindhia became a power in northern India.
In 1767 Madhavrao I crossed the Krishna River and inflicted defeats on Hyder Ali in the battles of Sira and Madgiri. He even rescued the last queen of the Keladi Nayaka Kingdom who was kept in confinement by Hyder Ali in the fort of Madgiri.
In early 1771, ten years after the collapse of Maratha supremacy in North India following the Third Battle of Panipat, Mahadji recaptured Delhi and installed Shah Alam II as the puppet ruler on the Mughal throne. receiving in return the title of deputy Vakil-ul-Mutlak or vice-regent of the Empire and that of Vakil-ul-Mutlak being at his request conferred on the Peshwa. The Mughals also gave him the title of Amir-ul-Amara(head of the amirs). Mahadji ruled the Punjab as it used to be a Mughal territory and Sikh sardars and other Rajas of the cis-Sutlej region paid tributes to him.
After taking control of Delhi, Marathas sent a large army in 1772 to “punish” Afghan Rohillas for Panipat. Maratha army devastated Rohilkhand by looting and plundering and also took the members of royal family as captives. Maratha general Mahadaji was “very much pleased with the revenge taken by his men” for Panipat.
After the growth in power of feudal lords like Malwa sardars, landlords of Bundelkhand and Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan, they refused to pay tribute to Mahadji. So he sent his army conquer the states such as Bhopal, Datiya, Chanderi, Narwar, Salbai and Gohad. However, he launched an unsuccessful expedition against the Raja of Jaipur, but withdrew after the inconclusive Battle of Lalsot in 1787.
The Battle of Gajendragad was fought between the Marathas under the command of Tukojirao Holkar (the adopted son of Malharrao Holkar) and Tipu Sultan from March 1786 to March 1787 in which Tipu Sultan was defeated by the Marathas. By the victory in this battle, the border of the Maratha territory extended till Tungabhadra river.
The strong fort of Gwalior was then in the hands of Chhatar Singh, the Jat ruler of Gohad. In 1783, Mahadji besieged the fort of Gwalior and conquered it. He delegated the administration of Gwalior to Khanderao Hari Bhalerao. After celebrating the conquest of Gwalior, Mahadji Shinde turned his attention to Delhi again .
In 1788 Mahadji's armies defeated Ismail Beg, a Mughal noble who resisted the Marathas. The Rohilla chief Ghulam Kadir, Ismail Beg's ally, took over Delhi, capital of the Mughal dynasty, and deposed and blinded the king Shah Alam II, placing a puppet on the Delhi throne. Mahadji intervened and killed him, taking possession of Delhi on 2 October, restoring Shah Alam II to the throne and acting as his protector.
Jaipur and Jodhpur, the two most powerful Rajput sates, were still out of direct Maratha domination. So, Mahadji sent his general Benoît de Boigne to crush the forces of Jaipur and Jodhpur at the Battle of Patan. Marwar was also captured on 10 September 1790.
Another achievement of the Marathas was their victories over the Nizam of Hyderabad's armies including in the Battle of Kharda. The Nizam ceased be a factor in the north Indian politics after this battle and it generally confined itself in the Deccan afterwards. After the peace made with Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1792, Mahadji successfully exerted his influence to prevent the completion of a treaty between the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Peshwa, directed against Tipu.
Nana Phadnavis was an influential minister and statesman of the Maratha Empire during the Peshwa administration. James Grant Duff states that he was called "the Marattha Machiavelli" by the Europeans. Nana Phadnavis played a pivotal role in holding the Maratha Confederacy together in the midst of internal dissension and the growing power of the British. Nana's administrative, diplomatic and financial skills brought prosperity to the Maratha Empire and his management of external affairs kept the Maratha Empire away from the thrust of the British East India Company. After the assassination of Peshwa Narayanrao in 1773, Nana Phadnavis managed the affairs of the state with the help of a twelve member regency council known as the Barbhai council and he remained the chief strategist of Maratha state till his death in 1800 AD.
Mahadaji Scindia was a Maratha ruler of the state of Gwalior in central India. Mahadaji was instrumental in Maratha Resurrection in the North India and rose to become a trusted lieutenant of the Peshwa. He reinserted Shah Alam II to the thorne of Delhi, under the suzerainty of Marathas. He annihilated the power of Jats of Mathura and destroyed the power of Pashtun Rohillas during 1772-73. He humbled the British in Central India during the First Anglo-Maratha War. He also invaded and overpowered the Rajput states. Even Sikh sardars of the cis-Sutlej region paid tributes to him.
After the Battle of Poona, the flight of Peshwa left the government of Maratha state in the hands of Yashwantrao Holkar. He tried to unite the Maratha Confederacy. He was as clever organiser as he was skilful in war. He rose to power from initial nothingness. He is known for organizing the maratha army on the basis of sound military skill.
In 1775, the British East India Company, from its base in Bombay, intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, on behalf of Raghunathrao (also called Raghobadada), which became the First Anglo-Maratha War. That ended in 1782 with a restoration of the pre-war status quo. Marathas under Tukojirao Holkar and Mahadaji Shinde had defeated British in the battle of Vadgaon.
In 1799, Yashwantrao Holkar was crowned King of Holkars, he captured Ujjain. He started campaigning towards the north to expand his empire in that region. Yashwant Rao rebelled against the policies of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. On May 1802, he marched towards Pune the seat of the Peshwa. This gave rise to the Battle of Poona in which the Peshwa was defeated. After the Battle of Poona, the flight of Peshwa left the government of Maratha state in the hands of Yashwantrao Holkar. He appointed Amrutrao as the Peshwa and went to Indore on 13 March 1803. All except Gaikwad chief of Baroda, who had already accepted British protection by a separate treaty on 26 July 1802, supported the new regime. He made a treaty with the British. Also, Yashwant-Rao successfully resolved the disputes with Scindia and the Peshwa. He tried to unite the Maratha Confederacy but to no avail. In 1802 the British intervened in Baroda to support the heir to the throne against rival claimants, and they signed a treaty with the new Maharaja recognising his independence from the Maratha Empire in return for his acknowledgement of British paramountcy. Before the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803–1805), the Peshwa Baji Rao II signed a similar treaty. The defeat in Battle of Delhi, 1803 during Second Anglo-Maratha War resulted in the loss of the city of Delhi for the Marathas.
Ultimately the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818), a last-ditch effort to regain total sovereignty, resulted in the loss of Maratha independence. It left the British in control of most of India. The Peshwa was exiled to Bithoor (Maratnear Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh) as a pensioner of the British. The Maratha heartland of Desh, including Pune, came under direct British rule, with the exception of the states of Kolhapur and Satara, which retained local Maratha rulers. The Maratha-ruled states of Gwalior, Indore, and Nagpur all lost territory, and came under subordinate alliance with the British Raj as princely states that retained internal sovereignty under British 'paramountcy'. Other small princely states of Maratha knights were retained under the British Raj as well.
The Third Anglo-Maratha War was fought by Maratha war lords separately instead of forming a common front and they surrendered one by one. Shinde and the Pashtun Amir Khan were subdued by the use of diplomacy and pressure, which resulted in the Treaty of Gwailor on 5 November 1817. Under this treaty, Shinde surrendered Rajasthan to the British and agreed to help them fight the Pindaris. Holkar was defeated on 21 December 1817 and signed the Treaty of Mandeswar on 6 January 1818. Under this treaty the Holkar state became subsidiary to the British. The young Malhar Rao was raised to the throne. Bhonsle was defeated on 26 November 1817 and was captured but he escaped to live out his life in Jodhpur. The Peshwa surrendered on 3 June 1818 and was sent off to Bithur near Kanpur under the terms of the treaty signed on 3 June 1818. The Pindari leaders surrendered to Malcolm and Shinde.  British Historian P. Spear termed the year 1818 of The Third Anglo-Maratha War as the “Watershed” year in the History of India. He wrote on the importance of 1818:
The war left the British, under the auspices of the British East India Company, in control of virtually all of present-day India south of the Sutlej River. The famed Nassak Diamond was acquired by the Company as part of the spoils of the war. The British acquired large chunks of territory from the Maratha Empire and in effect put an end to their most dynamic opposition. The terms of surrender Malcolm offered to the Peshwa were controversial amongst the British for being too liberal: The Peshwa was offered a luxurious life near Kanpur and given a pension of about 80,000 pounds. A comparison was drawn with Napoleon, who was confined to a small rock in the south Atlantic and given a small sum for his maintenance. Trimbakji Dengale was captured after the war and was sent to the fortress of Chunar in Bengal where he spent the rest of his life. With all active resistance over, John Malcolm played a prominent part in capturing and pacifying the remaining fugitives.
The Ashta Pradhan ( The Council of Eight ) was a council of eight ministers that administered the Maratha empire. Ministerial designations were drawn from the Sanskrit language; the eight ministerial roles were as follows:
- Pantpradhan or Peshwa - Prime Minister, general administration of the Empire.
- Amatya - Finance Minister, managing accounts of the Empire.
- Sacheev - Secretary, preparing royal edicts.
- Mantri - Interior Minister, managing internal affairs especially intelligence and espionage.
- Senapati - Commander-in-Chief, managing the forces and defense of the Empire.
- Sumant - Foreign Minister, to manage relationships with other sovereigns.
- Nyayadhish - Chief Justice, dispensing justice on civil and criminal matters.
- Panditrao - High Priest, managing internal religious matters.
With the notable exception of the priestly Panditrao and the judicial Nyayadisha, the other pradhans held full-time military commands, and their deputies performed their civil duties in their stead. In the later era of the Maratha Empire, these deputies and their staff constituted the core of the Peshwa's bureaucracy.
Peshwa (Marathi: पेशवे) was the titular equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. Emperor Shivaji created the Peshwa designation in order to more effectively delegate administrative duties during the growth of the Maratha Empire. Prior to 1749, Peshwas held office for 8–9 years and controlled the Maratha army. They later became the de facto hereditary administrators of the Maratha Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818.
Under Peshwa administration and with the support of several key generals and diplomats (listed below), the Maratha Empire reached its zenith, ruling most of the Indian subcontinent landmass. It was also under the Peshwas that the Maratha Empire came to its end through its formal annexation into the British Empire by the British East India Company in 1818.
The Marathas used secular policy of administration and allowed complete freedom of religion. There were many notable Muslims in the military and administration of Marathas like Ibrahim Khan Gardi, Haider Ali Kohari, Daulat Khan, Siddi Ibrahim, Jiva Mahal etc.
Shivaji was an able administrator who established a government that included modern concepts such as cabinet, foreign affairs and internal intelligence. He established an effective civil and military administration. He believed that there was a close bond between the state and the citizens. He is remembered as a just and welfare-minded king. Cosme da Guarda says about Shivaji in 'Life of the Celebrated Sevaji':
Such was the good treatment Shivaji accorded to people and such was the honesty with which he observed the capitulations that none looked upon him without a feeling of love and confidence. By his people he was exceedingly loved. Both in matters of reward and punishment he was so impartial that while he lived he made no exception for any person; no merit was left unrewarded, no offence went unpunished; and this he did with so much care and attention that he specially charged his governors to inform him in writing of the conduct of his soldiers, mentioning in particular those who had distinguished themselves, and he would at once order their promotion, either in rank or in pay, according to their merit. He was naturally loved by all men of valor and good conduct.
However, the later Marathas are remembered more for their military campaigns, not for their administration. Hindu right historians have criticised the treatment of Marathas with Jats and Rajputs. Historian K Roy writes:
- “The treatment of Marathas with their co-religionist fellows – Jats and Rajputs was definitely unfair, and ultimately they had to pay its price in Panipat where Muslim forces had united in the name of religion.”
Maratha Empire, at its peak, ruled over much of the Indian Subcontinent (modern-day Republic of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as bordering Nepal and Afghanistan). Apart from capturing various regions, the Marathas maintained a large number of tributaries who were bounded by agreement to pay a certain amount of regular tax, known as "Chauth". Apart from capturing a large part of Mughal Empire, the Maratha Empire defeated Sultanate of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, Nawab of Oudh, Nawab of Bengal, Nizam of Hyderabad and Nawab of Arcot as well as the Polygar kingdoms of South India. They extracted chauth from Delhi, Oudh, Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Hyderabad, Mysore, Uttar Pradesh and Rajputana.
The Marathas were requested by Safdarjung, the Nawab of Oudh, in 1752 to help him defeat Afghani Rohilla. The Maratha force left Poona and defeated Afghan Rohilla in 1752, capturing the whole of Rohilkhand (present-day northwestern Uttar Pradesh). In 1752, Marathas entered into an agreement with the Mughal emperor, through his wazir, Safdarjung, Mughals gave the Marathas the chauth of the Punjab, Sindh and the Doab in addition to the subedari of Ajmer and Agra. In 1758, the Marathas started their north-west conquest and expanded their boundary till Afghanistan. They defeated Afghan forces in what is now Pakistan as well as Kashmir. The Afghans were numbered around 25,000–30,000 and were led by Timur Shah, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Marathas massacred and looted thousands of Afghan soldiers and captured Lahore, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Attock, Peshawar in the Punjab region and Kashmir.
Marathas established naval bases in the Andaman Islands and are credited with attaching the islands to India. During the confederacy era, Mahadji Sindhia resurrected the Maratha domination on much of North India, which was lost after the Third battle of Panipat including the cis-Sutlej states(south of Sutlej) like Kaithal, Patiala, Jind, Thanesar, Maler Kotla, and Faridkot, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh were under the suzerainty of the Scindhia dynasty of the Maratha Empire, following the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803–1805, Marathas lost these territories to the British East India Company.
The Maratha Empire is credited with laying the foundation of the Indian Navy and bringing about considerable changes in naval warfare by introducing a blue-water navy. The Maratha Empire is also credited for developing many important cities like Pune, Baroda, and Indore. From its inception in 1674, the Marathas established a Naval force, consisting of cannons mounted on ships.
The dominance of the Maratha Navy started with the ascent of Kanhoji Angre as the Darya-Saranga by the Maratha chief of Satara. Under that authority, he was admiral of the Western coast of India from Bombay to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in the present day state of Maharashtra, except for Janjira which was affiliated with the Mughal Empire.
The Marathas established watch posts on the Andaman Islands and are credited with attaching those islands to India. He attacked English, Dutch and Portuguese ships which were moving to and from East Indies. Until his death in 1729, he repeatedly attacked the colonial powers of Britain and Portugal, capturing numerous vessels of the British East India Company and extracting ransom for their return.
On 29 November 1721, a joint attempt by the Portuguese Viceroy Francisco José de Sampaio e Castro and the British General Robert Cowan to humble Kanhoji failed miserably. Their combined fleet consisted of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four Man-of-war besides other ships led by Captain Thomas Mathews of the Bombay Marine failed miserably. Aided by Maratha naval commanders Mendhaji Bhatkar and Mainak Bhandari, Kanhoji continued to harass and plunder the European ships until his death in 1729.
The 'Pal' was a three masted Maratha man-of-war with guns peeping on the broadsides.
Accounts by Afghans and Europeans
The Maratha army especially its infantry was praised by almost all the enemies of Maratha Empire, ranging from Duke of Wellington to Ahmad Shah Abdali. After the Third Battle of Panipat, Abdali was relieved as Maratha army in the initial stages were almost in the position of destroying the Afghan armies and their Indian Allies Nawab of Oudh and Rohillas. The grand wazir of Durrani Empire, Shah Wali Khan was shocked when Maratha commander-in-chief Sadashivrao Bhau launched a fierce assault on the centre of Afghan Army, over 3,000 Durrani soldiers were killed alongside Haji Atai Khan, one of the chief commander of Afghan army and nephew of wazir Shah Wali Khan. Such was the fierce assault of Maratha infantry in hand-to-hand combat that Afghan armies started to flee and the wazir in desperation and rage shouted "Comrades Whither do you fly, our country is far off". Post battle Ahmad Shah Abdali in a letter to one Indian ruler claimed that Afghans were able to defeat the Marathas only because of the blessings of almighty and any other army would have been destroyed by the Maratha army on that particular day even though Maratha army was numerically inferior to Afghan army and its Indian allies. The letter is kept in the National Archives of India.Though Abdali won the battle, he also had heavy casualties on his side. So, he sought immediate peace with the Marathas. Abdali wrote in his letter to Peshwa on 10th February, 1761:
"There is no reason to have animosity amongst us. You son Vishwasrao and your brother sadadhivrao died in battle, was unfortunate. Bhau started the battle, so I had to fight back unwillingly. Yet I feel sorry for his death. Please continue your guardianship of Delhi as before, to that I have no opposition. Only let Punjab until Sutlaj remain with us. Reinstate Shah alam on delhi's throne as you did before and let there be peace and friendship between us, this is my ardent desire. Grant me that desire."
Similarly, Duke of Wellington after defeating Marathas noted that Marathas though were poorly led by their Generals but their regular infantry and artillery matches the level of Europeans, he also warned other British officers from underestimating Marathas in battlefield. He cautioned one British general that: "You must never allow Maratha infantry to attack head on or in close hand to hand combat, as in that your army will cover itself with utter disgrace". Even when Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington became Prime Minister of Britain he held Maratha infantry in utmost respect, claiming it to be one of the best in world at the same time however he noticed the poor leadership of Maratha Generals, who were often responsible for their defeats. Charles Metcalfe, one of the ablest of the British Officials in India and later acting Governor-General, wrote in 1806:
Most British Authors agree that Maratha infantry was equal to that of British infantry. After the Third Anglo-Maratha war in 1818, Britain listed the Marathas as one of the Martial races to serve in British Indian Army.
After the death of Shivaji, Maratha soldiers were criticized for indiscipline. In course of conquests, they took part in looting, plundering regularly and in rapes at times. Burton Stein writes that as early as 1681, Maratha soldiers:
"…seized the commercial centre of Bahadurpur in Berar, plundered its wealth and humiliated the conquered Muslims in an orgy of rape".
Marathas looted "Diwan-i-Khas" or ‘Hall of Private Audiences’ in the Red Fort of Delhi, which was the place where the Mughal emperors used to receive courtiers and state guests, in one of their expeditions of Delhi.
“…the Marathas who were hard pressed for money stripped the ceiling of Diwan-i-Khas of its silver and looted the shrines dedicated to Muslim saints.”
During the Maratha invasion of Rohilkhand :
Such incidents of looting, plundering and committing other “atrocities” are cited many a times for over the next hundred years in the course of Imperial Maratha Conquests. However, the Marathas dealt with equal harshness against their enemies irrespective of caste,creed,religion or region.
Maratha Notable Generals and Administrators
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar was a court administrator who rose from the ranks of a local Kulkarni to the ranks of Ashtapradhan under guidance and support of Shivaji. He was one of the prominent Peshwas from the time of Shivaji, prior to the rise of the later Peshwas who controlled the empire after Shahuji.
When Chhatrapati Rajaram fled to Jinji in 1689 leaving Maratha Empire, he gave a "Hukumat Panha" (King Status) to Pant before leaving. Ramchandra Pant managed the entire state under many challenges like influx of Mughals, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under the Maratha state) and social challenges like scarcity of food. With the help of Pantpratinidhi, Sachiv, he kept the economic condition of Maratha Empire in an appropriate state.
In 1698, he stepped down from the post of "Hukumat Panha" when Rajaram offered this post to his wife, Tarabai. Tarabai gave an important position to Pant among senior administrators of Maratha State. He wrote "Adnyapatra" (मराठी: आज्ञापत्र) in which he has explained different techniques of war, maintenance of forts and administration etc. But owing to his loyalty to Tarabai against Shahuji (who was supported by more local satraps), he was sidelined after arrival of Shahuji in 1707.
Peshwa Madhav Rao I
Peshwa Madhavrao I was the fourth Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. During his tenure, "Maratha Resurrection" took place. He is considered as one of the greatest personalities of the Maratha history. His death is considered to be the most fatal blow to the Maratha Empire and from that time Maratha power started to move on a downward trajectory with working as a confederacy than an empire. He died at the age of 27.
"Young though he was, Madhav Rao had a cool and calculating head of a seasoned and experienced man. The diplomacy by which he could win over his uncle Raghoba when he had no strength to fight, and the way he could crush his power when he had the means to do so later on proved in him a genius who knows when and how to act. The formidable power of the Nizam was crushed, Hyder Ali who was a terror even to the british was effectually humbled, and before he died in 1772, the Marathas were almost there in the north where they had been before Panipat. What could not have the Marathas achieved if Madhav had continued living just for a few years more? Destiny was not in favour of the Marathas, the death of Madhav was a greater blow than their defeat of Panipat, and from this blow they could never again recover."
Assessing the impact of the loss of Madhavrao, British historian James Grant Duff wrote:
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1630–1680)
- Chhatrapati Sambhaji (1657–1689)
- Chhatrapati Rajaram (1670–1700)
- Maharani Tarabai (1675–1761)
- Chhattrapati Shahu (1682–1749) (alias Shivaji II, son of Chhatrapati Sambhaji)
- Chhatrapati Ramaraja (nominally, grandson of Chhatrapati Rajaram and Queen Tarabai)
- Queen Tarabai (1675–1761) (wife of Chhatrapati Rajaram) in the name of her son Shivaji II
- Shivaji II (1700–1714)
- Shivaji III (1760–1812) (adopted from the family of Khanwilkar)
- Rajaram I (1866–1870) (adopted from the family of Patankar)
- Shivaji V (1870–1883)
- Shahaji II (1883–1922) (adopted from the family of Ghatge)
- Rajaram II (1922–1940)
- Shahoji II (1947–1949), titular Maharaja 1949–1983 (adopted from the family of Pawar)
- Moropant Trimbak Pingle (1657–1683)
- Bahiroji Pingale (1708–1711)
- Balaji Vishwanath (1713–1720)
- Peshwa Bajirao I (1720–1740)
- Balaji Bajirao (4 Jul.1740-23 Jun.1761) (b. 8 Dec.1721, d. 23 Jun.1761)
- Madhavrao Peshwa (1761-18 Nov.1772) (b. 16 Feb 1745, d. 18 Nov 1772)
- Narayanrao Bajirao (13 Dec.1772-30 Aug.1773) (b. 10 Aug.1755, d. 30 Aug.1773)
- Raghunathrao (5 Dec.1773–1774) (b. 18 Aug.1734, d. 11 Dec.1783)
- Sawai Madhava Rao II Narayan (1774-27 Oct.1795) (b. 18 Apr.1774, d. 27 Oct.1795)
- Baji Rao II (6 Dec.1796 – 3 Jun.1818) (d. 28 Jan.1851)
- Nana Sahib (1 Jul.1857–1858) (b. 19 May.1825, d. 24 Sep.1859)
Maps showing the Maratha Empire at different stages of history
Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom (Tamil Nadu)
Thanjavur Marathas were the rulers of Thanjavur principality of Tamil Nadu between the 17th to the 19th century C.E. Their native language was Thanjavur Marathi. Venkoji was the founder of the dynasty.
Thanjavur Maratha dynasty :
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