maratha confederacy

Maratha Empire

The Maratha Empire (Marathi: मराठा साम्राज्य Marāṭhā Sāmrājya; also transliterated Mahratta) or the Maratha Confederacy was a Hindu state located in present-day India. It existed from 1674 to 1818. At its peak, the empire's territories covered 250 million acres (1 million km²) or one-third of South Asia.

Brief History

After a lifetime of exploits and guerrilla warfare with Adilshah of Bijapur and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the local king Shivaji founded an independent Maratha kingdom in 1674 with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji died in 1680, leaving a large, but vulnerably located kingdom. The Mughals invaded, fighting an unsuccessful 25 year long war from 1682 to 1707. Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji, ruled as emperor until 1749. During his reign, Shahu appointed a Peshwa (prime minister) as head of government under certain conditions. After the death of Shahu, the Peshwas became the de facto leaders of the 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 dissension between the Peshwas and their sardars, or army commanders, tore at their cohesion.

The Maratha Empire was at its height 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 and reduced the power of the Peshwas. In 1761, after severe losses in the Panipat war, the Peshwas lost control of the Kingdom. Many sardars like Shinde, Holkar, Gaikwad, PantPratinidhi, Bhosale of Nagpur, Pandit of Bhor, Patwardhan, and Newalkar became kings in their respective regions. 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 "Shindes") of Malwa and Gwalior; the Holkars of Indore; the Bhonsles of Nagpur; and the Gaekwads of Baroda. A rivalry between the Sindhia and Holkar dominated the confederation'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, although some of the Maratha states persisted as quasi-independent princely states until India became independent in 1947.

Chhatrapati Shivaji (c. 1645-1680)

The Hindu Marathas long had lived in the Desh region around Satara, in the western portion of the Deccan plateau, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats mountains. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Muslim Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their leader Shivaji Maharaj, the Marathas freed themselves from the Muslim sultans of Bijapur to the southeast, and became much more aggressive and began to frequently raid Mughal territory, ransacking the Mughal port of Surat in 1664. Shivaji Maharaj proclaimed himself emperor taking the title (Chhatrapati) in 1674. The Marathas had spread and conquered some of central India by Shivaji Maharaja's death in 1680, but later lost it to the Mughals and the British. According to Indian historian Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar, Shivaji Maharaj was inspired by the great Vijayanagara Empire, a bulwark against Muslim invasion of South India. The victories of the then king of Mysore, Kanthirava Narasaraja Wodeyar against the Sultan of Bijapur also inspired Shivaji Maharaj . As per legend, Shivaji Maharaj was the first king in India whose vision encompassed the dev (god), desh (country) and dharma (religion).

Sambhaji (c 1681-1689)

Shivaji had two sons: Sambhaji and Rajaram. Sambhaji, the elder son, was very popular among the courtiers. He was a poet, great politician and a great warrior. 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 all Deccan Sultanates, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb himself headed south in 1682. With his entire imperial court, administration, and an army of about 400,000 troops he proceeded to conquer 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 battle. In early 1689, Sambhaji called his commanders for a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar in Konkan. In a meticulously planned operation, Ganoji Shirke and Aurangzeb's commander, Mukarrab Khan attacked Sangameshwar when Sambhaji was about to leave the town. A small ambush followed and Sambhaji was captured by Mughal troops on 1 Feb, 1689. He and his advisor, Kavi Kalash were taken to Bahadurgad. Aurangzeb humiliated them by parading them wearing clown's clothes. Later, Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were tied upside down to camels with Mughal soldiers throwing stones, mud, and cow dung at them.

When they were brought face to face with Aurangzeb, the latter offered to let Sambhaji live if he surrendered all the Maratha forts, turn over all his hidden treasures,disclose the names of all the Mughal officers who had helped him and embrace Islam. Sambhaji refused, and instead sang praises of Mahadev (Lord Shiva). Aurangzeb ordered him and Kavi Kalash to be tortured to death. Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were brutally tortured for over a fortnight. The torture involved plucking out their eyes and tongue and pulling out their nails. The later part involved of removing their skin. On March 11, 1689, Sambhaji was finally killed, reportedly by tearing him apart from the front and back with 'Wagh Nakhe (Tiger claws, a kind of weapon), and was beheaded with an axe. This grievous death was given to him at Vadhu on the banks of Bhima river, near Pune.

Rajaram and Tarabai (c 1689-1707)

Rajaram, Sambhaji's brother, now assumed the throne. Satara, whence Rajaram had moved the capital, came under siege in 1700 and eventually was surrendered to the Mughals. At about the same time Rajaram died. His widow, Tarabai, assumed control in the name of her son Shahuji. Although she offered a truce, this was rejected by the emperor. 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 kings. The Marathas emerged as 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.

Shahu (c 1707-1749)

After Emperor Aurangzeb's death in 1707, Shahuji, son of Sambhaji (and grandson of Shivaji), was released by Bahadur Shah, the next Mughal emperor under conditions which rendered him a vassal of the Mughal emperor but his mother was still held captive to ensure good behaviour from Shahuji. He 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 Farrukhsiyar had declared himself Mughal emperor. His bid for power had depended heavily on two brothers, known as the Saiyids, one of whom had been 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 emperor.

An army of Marathas commanded by Parsoji Bhosale, and Mughals, marched up to Delhi unopposed and managed to depose the 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 prison.

Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar (1650-1716)

(Peshwa period: 1689-1708)

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 Maharaj. 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 Chatrapati 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 Moguls, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under the Maratha kingdom) 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 received military help from the great Maratha warriors - Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav. On many occasions he himself participated in battles against Mughals and played the role of shadow king in absence of Chatrapati Rajaram.

In 1698, he happily stepped down from the post of "Hukumat Panha" when Rajaram offered this post to his wife to Tarabai. Tarabai gave important position to Pant among senior administration of Maratha State. He wrote "Adnyapatra" मराठी: आज्ञापञ who have 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. The post of the state Peshwa was given to Balaji Vishwanath in 1713. Ramchandra Pant died in 1716 on Panhala fort.

Peshwa Baji Rao I (1720-1740)

After Balaji Vishwanath's death in April, 1719, his son, Baji Rao I was appointed as Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahuji, one of the most lenient emperors. Shahuji 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.

Shrimant Baji Rao Vishwanath Bhatt (August 18, 1699- April 25, 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 1719 until Baji Rao's death. He is also known as Thorala (Marathi for Elder) Baji Rao. Like his father, despite being a Brahmin, he took up leading his troops. During his lifetime, he never lost a battle. He is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire created by its founder,Chh.Shivaji maharaj, which reached its zenith twenty years after his death. Baji Rao is thus acknowledged as the most famous of the nine Peshwas.

Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (1740-1761)

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.

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 Punjab in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal after Ahmed Shah Abdali's plunder of Delhi in 1756. In Lahore, as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players. By 1760, with defeat of the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power had reached its zenith with a territory of over 250 million acres (1 million km²) or one-third of the Indian sub-continent.

The Decline of the Empire

The Peshwa sent an army to challenge the Afghan led alliance of Indian muslims that included Rohillas, Shujah-ud-dowlah, Nujeeb-ud-dowlah, and the Maratha army was decisively defeated on January 14 1761 at the Third Battle of Panipat. The marathas were abandoned by Suraj Mal and Rajputs who quit the maratha alliance at a decisive moment leading to the great battle. Their supply chains cut off, the marathas attacked the Afghans in an act of desperation as their forces had not had a meal in three days. The defeat at Paniput checked Maratha expansion and fragmented the empire. After the battle, the maratha confederacy never fought again as one unit. Delhi/Agra was controlled by Mahadji Shinde from Gwalior, Central India was controlled by Holkars from Indore and Western India was controlled by Gaikwad's from Baroda.

Even today the phrase in Marathi, "meet your Panipat", has a similar meaning as the phrase "meet your Waterloo" does in English.

After 1761, young Madhavrao Peshwa tried his best to rebuild the empire in spite of his frail health. In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, semi-autonomy was given to strongest of the knights. Thus, the autonomous Maratha states of the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore & Malwa, the Scindias (or Shinde's) of Gwalior (and Ujjain), Pawars of Udgir and Bhonsales of Nagpur (no blood relation with Shivaji's or Tarabai's family) came into being in far flung regions of the empire. 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,Jat,Phaltan, Miraj etc.

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. 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 recognizing his independence from the Maratha empire in return for his acknowledgement of British paramountcy. In the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805), the Peshwa Baji Rao II signed a similar treaty. The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-1818), a last-ditch effort to regain sovereignty, resulted in the loss of Maratha independence: it left Britain in control of most of India. The Peshwa was exiled to Bithoor (near Kanpur, U.P.) 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 last Peshwa, Nana Sahib, born as Govind Dhondu Pant, was the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. He was one of the main leaders of the 1857 battles against British rule. He encouraged the people and the Indian Princes to fight against the British. Tantya Tope, his general, led the war and struck terror into the hearts of the British. Rani Lakshmibai was his childhood playmate and he had brotherly relations with her. Both of them fought against the British. He encouraged Indian soldiers to rise against the British. Though he was defeated in this war of independence he is viewed as a glorious patriot in Indian history.

Today the spirit of the Maratha Empire is preserved in the Indian state of Maharashtra, "Great Nation", which was created in 1960 as a Marathi-speaking state. The territories of Baroda were combined with Kutch to form the state of Gujarat. Gwalior and Indore were merged with Madhya Pradesh, Jhansi with Uttar Pradesh. Vestiges of Maratha control over Delhi can still be found in Old Delhi in area surrounding the "Nutan Marathi" school and Maharashtra Bhavan.

Legacy of the Empire

Often painted as a kind of loose military organization, the Maratha empire was actually revolutionary in nature. It brought certain fundamental changes initiated by the genius of its founder, the celebrated Shivaji. They can be summarized as below:

  • From its onset, Religious tolerance and religious pluralism were important pillars of the nation-state since they were fundamental beliefs of Shivaji, the founder of the empire.
  • The Maratha Empire was unique in that it did not adhere to the caste system. Here, the Brahmins (Peshwe) were the prime ministers of the Kshatriya (Maratha) emperors and Kshatriya Dhangar (Holkars) were the trusted generals of the Brahmin Peshwas.
  • Since its start, many people of talent were brought into the leadership of the Maratha Empire which made it one of the most socially mobile regimes. Note that the ruler of Indore was a Dhangar, a Shepherd; the rulers of Gwalior and Baroda were from ordinary peasant families; the Peshwas of the Bhatt family were from ordinary backgrounds; and Shivaji's most trusted secretary Haider Ali Kohari was from an ordinary family. All the groups of the Maharashtrian society like CKP, SKP, Vaishyas, Bhandaris, Brahmins, Kolis, Dhangars, Marathas and Saraswats were well-represented in the Empire.
  • The Marathas militarily controlled huge tracts. Their policy of religious tolerance gave equal importance to Hindu interests and acted as an important back-pressure against the expanding Mughal influence. Today's partitioned India is substantially the area of the Maratha confederacy.
  • The empire also created a significant navy. At its height this was led by the legendary Kanhoji Angre.

Maratha rulers

The Royal House of Chhatrapati Shivaji

See also Bhosale family ancestry

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji (1630-1680)
  • Chhatrapati Sambhaji (1657-1689)
  • Chhatrapati Rajaram (1670-1700)
  • Queen Tarabai
  • Chhatrapati Shahu (alias Shivaji II, son of Chhatrapati Sambhaji)
  • Chhatrapati Ramaraja (nominally, grandson of Chhatrapati Rajaram and Queen Tarabai))

The Royal House of Kolhapur

  • Queen Tarabai (wife of Chhatrapati Rajaram) in the name of her son Shivaji II
  • Chhatrapati Sambhaji (son of Chhatrapati [Rajaram] from his second wife)
  • Chhatrapati Shahu IV of Kolhapur


See also



  • James Grant Duff - A History of the Mahrattas, 3 vols. London, Longmans, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green (1826) ISBN 8170209560
  • Bombay University - Maratha History - Seminar Volume
  • Ranade, Mahadev Govind, Rise of the Maratha Power (1900); reprint (1999) ISBN 8171171818
  • Samant, S. D. - Vedh Mahamanavacha
  • Kasar, D.B. - Rigveda to Raigarh making of Shivaji the great, Mumbai: Manudevi Prakashan (2005)
  • Apte, B.K. (editor) - Chhatrapati Shivaji: Coronation Tercentenary Commemoration Volume, Bombay: University of Bombay (1974-75)
  • Desai, Ranjeet - Shivaji the Great, Janata Raja (1968), Pune: Balwant Printers - English Translation of popular Marathi book.
  • Pagdi, Setu Madhavrao - Hindavi Swaraj Aani Moghul (1984), Girgaon Book Depot, Marathi book
  • Deshpande, S.R. - Marathyanchi Manaswini, Lalit Publications, Marathi book
  • Suryanath U. Kamath (2001). A Concise History of Karnataka from pre-historic times to the present, Jupiter books, MCC, Bangalore (Reprinted 2002), OCLC: 7796041.

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