Maratha Empire: Medieval History
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Ancient and Medieval History

Maratha Empire: Medieval History

A large number of India was dominated by the Maratha empire in the 18th century.

In this article, we will get to know each and every fact related to the Maratha empire, which is a very important part of the history of the UPSC examination.

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Maratha Empire

Maratha Empire: Medieval History

Factors that led to the rise of Marathas

  • The physical environment of the Maratha country.
  • Mountainous region and dense forests helped them to adopt guerilla tactics.
  • Building several forts in the mountains.
  • Spirit of religious unity due to the spread of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra.
  • Social unity fostered by spiritual leaders like Tukaram, Ramdas, Vaman Pandit and Eknath  
  • Political unity conferred by Shivaji.
  • Holding of important positions in the administrative and military systems of Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar.

Shivaji (1627-1680):

Maratha Empire: Medieval History

  • Born at Shivner in 1627.
  • Father: Shahji Bhonsle  
  • Mother: Jijabai.
  • He inherited the jagir of Poona from his father in 1637. 
  • After the death of his guardian, Dadaji Kondadev in 1647, Shivaji assumed full charge of his jagir. 
  • Even before that he conquered Raigarh, Kondana and Torna from the ruler of Bijapur.
  • He captured Javli from a Maratha chief, Chanda Rao More.

Conflict with Adilshahi sultanate:

Combat with Afzal Khan :

  • In 1657, he attacked the Bijapur kingdom and captured a number of hill forts in the Konkan region.
  • The Sultan of Bijapur sent Afzal Khan against Shivaji.
  • But Afzal Khan was murdered by Shivaji in 1659 in a daring manner.

Clash with the Mughals:

  • The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was anxious about the rise of Maratha power under Shivaji. 

Attack on Shaista Khan:

  • Aurangzeb sent the Mughal governor of the Deccan, Shaista Khan against Shivaji. 
  • Shivaji suffered a defeat at the hands of the Mughal forces and lost Poona. 
  • But in 1663, Shivaji retaliated and attacked Shaista Khan’s military camp at Poona in 1663, killed his son and wounded Khan.
  • This daring attack affected the prestige of Khan and he was recalled by Aurangzeb.
  • In 1664, Shivaji attacked Surat, the chief port of the Mughals and plundered it.

Treaty of Purandar

  • Attack on Shaista khan and Surat, enraged the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. 
  • In response, he sent Mirza Raja Jai Singh I with an army numbering around 150,000 to defeat Shivaji.
  • Jai Singh's forces made significant gains and captured many Maratha forts, forcing Shivaji to come to terms with Aurangzeb rather than lose more forts and men.
  • In the Treaty of Purandar, signed between Shivaji and Jai Singh on 11 June 1665, Shivaji agreed to give up 23 of his forts and pay compensation of 400,000 rupees to the Mughals. 
  • On the other hand, the Mughals recognized the right of Shivaji to hold certain parts of the Bijapur kingdom. 
  • Shivaji also agreed to let his son Sambhaji become a Mughal Sardar.

Arrest in Agra and escape

  • Shivaji visited Agra in 1666, Aurangzeb insulted Shivaji and when he resisted he was imprisoned there. 
  • But, he managed to escape from prison and made military preparations for another four years.

Reconquest:

  • Then he renewed his wars against the Mughals.
  • In 1670 Surat was plundered 2nd time by him.  He also captured all his lost territories by his conquests.

Coronation

  • Shivaji had acquired extensive lands and wealth through his campaigns, but lacking a formal title he was still technically a Mughal zamindar or the son of an Adilshahi jagirdar, with no legal basis to rule his de facto domain.
  • A kingly title could address this, and also prevent any challenges by other Maratha leaders, to whom he was technically equal. 
  • In 1674, Shivaji crowned himself at Raigarh and assumed the title Chatrapati Conquest in Southern India.
  • He led an expedition into the Carnatic region and captured Ginjee and Vellore. 
  • After his return from this expedition, Shivaji died in 1680. 

Shivaji’s Administration:

  • A great administrator.
  • He laid the foundations of a sound system of administration.
  • The king was the pivot of the government. 
  • He was assisted by a council of ministers (CoM) called Ashtapradhan.
  • However, each minister was directly responsible to Shivaji.
  • Peshwa: Finance and general administration. Later he became the prime minister.
  • Sar-i-Naubat or Senapati: Military commander, an honorary post. 
  • Amatya: Accountant General.
  • Waqia Navis: Intelligence, posts and household affairs.
  • Sachiv:  Correspondence
  • Sumanta: Master of ceremonies.
  • Nyayadhish: Justice
  • Panditrao: Charities and religious administration.
  • Most of the administrative reforms were based on the practices of the Deccan sultanates. For example, Peshwa was the Persian title. 

Revenue System :

  • It was based on that of Malik Amber of Ahmednagar. 
  • Lands were measured by using the measuring rod called Kathi. 
  • Lands were also classified into three categories-paddy fields, garden lands and hilly tracks.
  • He reduced the powers of the existing Deshmukh and Kulkarni.
  • He appointed his own revenue officials called karkuns.

Military :

  • Shivaji demonstrated great skill in creating his military organisation, which lasted till the demise of the Maratha empire. 
  • The regular army consisted of about 30000 to 40000 cavalry supervised by havildars. 
  • They were given fixed salaries.
  • There were two divisions in the Maratha cavalry:
  • Bargirs equipped and paid for by the state.
  • Silahdars, maintained by the nobles. 
  • In the infantry, the Mavli foot soldiers played an important role. 
  • Navy: Shivaji also maintained a navy. 
  • Shivaji built a strong naval presence across the long coast of Konkan and Goa to protect sea trade, to protect the lands from the sack of prosperity of subjects from coastal raids, plunder and destruction by Arabs, Portuguese, British, Abyssinians and pirates.  
  • Shivaji captured strategically important forts. 
  • Toward the end of his career, he had control of 360 forts to secure his growing kingdom. 
  • Shivaji himself constructed about 15–20 totally new forts (including key sea forts like Sindhudurg)
  • He also rebuilt or repaired many strategically placed forts to create a chain of 300 or more, stretched over a thousand kilometres across the rugged crest of the Western Ghats. 
  • Each fort was put under the charge of three officers of equal rank as checks and balances

Tax:

  • Land revenue was fixed 1/3rd of the gross produce (initially), 2/5th of the gross produce (after reforms).
  • Chauth: 1/4th i.e. 25 % of the land revenue was paid to the Marathas so for not being subjected to Maratha raids.
  • Sardeshmukhi was an additional levy of 10 % on those lands of Maharashtra over which the Maratha claimed hereditary rights, but which formed part of the Mughal empire.

Sambhaji (1680-1689)

Maratha Empire: Medieval History

  • Sambhaji, the elder son of Shivaji, defeated Rajaram, the younger son of Shivaji, in the war of succession.
  • He provided protection and support to Akbar II, the rebellious son of Aurangzeb.
  • He was captured at Sangameshwar by a Mughal noble and executed.

Rajaram (1689-1700)

  • He succeeded the throne with the help of the ministers at Raigarh.
  • He fled from Raigarh to Jinji in 1689 due to a Mughal invasion in which Raigarh was captured along with Sambhaji's wife and son (Shahu) by the Mughals.
  • Rajaram died at Satara, which had become the capital after the fall of Jinji to Mughal in 1698.
  • Rajaram created the new post of Pratinidhi, thus taking the total number of the minister to nine (Pratinidhi + Ashtapradhan).

Tarabai: (1700-1707):

  • Rajaram was succeeded by his minor son Shivaji II under the guardianship of his mother Tarabai.
  • Tarabai continued the struggle with the Mughals.

Shahu (1707-179):

  • Shahu was released by the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah.
  • Tarabai’s army was defeated by Shahu in the battle of Khed and Shahu occupied Satara.
  • But the southern part of the Maratha kingdom with its capital Kolhapur continued to be under the control of the descendants of Rajaram (Shivaji II and later Sambhaji II).
  • Shahu’s reign saw the rise of Peshwas and the transformation of the Maratha kingdom into an empire based on the principle of the confederacy.

Balaji Vishwanath (1713-1720): 

  • The first Peshwa
  • A petty revenue official who rose step by step as an official.
  • He had helped Shahu to suppress his enemies.
  • He had sided many Maratha Sardar to Shahu side with his diplomacy.
  • 1713- Shahu made Balaji as Peshwa or Mukhya Pradhan.
  • He consolidated his and Shahu’s hold over most of Maratha Sardar and Maharashtra except the region of Kolhapur (Rajaram’s descendent ruled there).  

Baji Rao I (1720 - 1740):

  • Balaji Vishwanath died in 1720.  He was succeeded by his 20-year old son Baji Rao I.
  • He served as Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the 4th Maratha Chhatrapati (King). 
  • He was a general of the Maratha Empire in India. 
  • Also known by the names Bajirao Ballal and Thorale (Marathi for Elder) Bajirao.
  • He is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire, especially in the north, which contributed to its reaching a zenith during his son's reign twenty years after his death. 
  • In his brief military career spanning 20 years, Bajirao never lost a battle. 
  • According to British Army officer Bernard Montgomery, Bajirao was "possibly the finest cavalry general ever produced by India".
  • All his life Baji Rao worked to contain Nizam-ul-Mulk's power in the Deccan. 
  • 1733: He started a long campaign against the Sidis of Janjira and expelled them from the mainland.
  • Simultaneously, a campaign against the Portuguese was started.
  • Salsette and Bassein were captured but the Portuguese continued to hold their other possessions on the west coast. 

Died: 1740

  • Just in 20 years changed the character of Maratha state.
  • Transformed kingdom of Maharashtra into empire expanding in the north but failed to lay a strong foundation of it.
  • He constantly conquered new territories but little attention paid to their administration. 
  • The chief concern of the successful Sardar was with the collection of revenues.

Balaji Baji Rao (1740 - 1761):

  • After the death of Baji Rao in 1740, his son succeeded him 
  • Also known as Nana Saheb 
  • As able as his father but less energetic.
  • 1749-King Shahu died 
  • Office of the Peshwa had already become hereditary and the Peshwa was the de facto ruler of the state. 
  • Now he became the official head of the administration and, as a symbol of this fact, shifted the government to Poona, his headquarters. 

Empire extension by Balaji Baji Rao 

  • Followed father’s footsteps and extended empire in different directions.
  • Maratha control over Malwa, Gujarat, and Bundelkhand was consolidated.
  • Bengal was repeatedly invaded and, in 1751, the Bengal Nawab had to cede Orissa. 
  • In the south, Mysore and minor principalities were forced to pay tribute 
  • 1760: Nizam of Hyderabad defeated Udgir and had to cede territories yielding an annual revenue of rupees 62 lakhs.
  • Reached Delhi in 1752 and helped Imad-ul-Mulk to become the wazir.
  • The new wazir was a puppet in their hands. 
  • From Delhi, they turned to Punjab and brought it under control after expelling the agent of Ahmad Shah Abdali.
  • This brought them into conflict with the doughty warrior-king of Afghanistan, who once again marched into India to settle accounts with the Maratha power.

Battle of Panipat:

  • The major conflict had started between Ahmad Shah Abdali and Maratha for control of North India.
  • Najib-ud-daulah of Rohilkhand and Shuja-ud-daulah of Awadh had suffered at the hands of the Maratha sardars.
  • Both had made an alliance with Ahmad Shah Abdali.
  • Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao had despatched a powerful army under the nominal command of his son Vishwas Rao, an actual command in hands of his cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau to fight with Ahmad Shah.
  • European style infantry and artillery under command of Ibrahim Khan Gardi was part of the force.
  • The battle started on 14 Jan 1761 in Panipat  and Marathas were defeated 
  • Vishwas Rao, Sadashiv Rao and 28000 army men perished on the battlefield.
  • Peshwa, who was marching north to render help to his cousin, was stunned by the tragic news.
  • Already seriously ill, his end was hastened and he died in June 1761.
  • It gave an opportunity to English to consolidate itself in Bengal and South India 

Battle

Between

Result

1 st Battle of Panipat

(1526)

Babur and Ibrahim Lodi

Babur won the End of Lodi dynasty

2nd Battle of Panipat

(1556)

Akbar and Hemu (the Hindu general and Chief Minister of Adil Shah Suri)

Akbar won 

3rd Battle of Panipat (1761)

Ahmad Shah Abdali (Afghan. King- Duraani Empire) ) and Maratha empire

Ahmad Shah Abdali Won

Madhav Rao (1761 – 1772)  

  • Madhav Rao I (or Pantpradhan Shrimant Madhavrao (Ballal) Peshwa I aka Thorle Madhav Rao Peshwa ).
  • He had succeeded his father Balaji Baji Rao in 1761.
  • 4th Peshwa of the Maratha Empire.
  • During his tenure, the Maratha Empire recovered from the losses they suffered during the Panipat Campaign, a phenomenon known as the "Maratha Resurrection". 
  • He is considered one of the greatest Peshwas in Maratha history.
  • A talented soldier and statesman
  • Just in 11 years, he restored the lost prestige of the Maratha empire.
  • Nizam: defeated
  • Haider Ali of Mysore: compelled to pay tribute
  • Rohelas: Defeated and got control over northern India
  • Rajput states and Jat chiefs: subjugated
  • 1771: brought Emperor Shah Alam back to Delhi
  • Now emperor was a pensioner of Marathas
  • Died:1772 due to consumption

Also Read: Partition of Bengay - Swadeshi Movement: History

Sawai Madhav Rao (1774 – 1795) :

  • Also known as Sawai Madhav Rao Peshwa, Madhav Rao II, Peshwa Madhav Rao II, Madhav Rao Narayan
  • Succeeded his father Narayan Rao 
  • Peshwa of Maratha Empire from infancy
  • After Narayana Rao's murder, Raghunath Rao became Peshwa but was soon deposed by the courtiers and knights of the Maratha Empire. 
  • In the greed of power, Raghunath Rao tried to capture power with the help of the British.
  • This resulted in the 1st Anglo Maratha war.  
  • Peshwa power started declining.
  • There were continuous conspiracies between a supporter of Sawai Madhav and supporters of Raghunath Rao.
  • Sawai Madhavrao died in 1795.

The semi-independent States of Maratha

  • In meantime, big Maratha sardars had carved out semi-independent states in the north. 
  • Gaekwad: Baroda 
  • Bhonsle: Nagpur
  • Holkar: Indore
  • Scindia: Gwalior

Administration:

  • Similar to the Mughal pattern
  • Separate army and nominal allegiance to Peshwa.
  • Started intriguing against Maratha empire  

Mahadji Scindia

  • Among the most important Maratha rulers in the North.
  • Organised a powerful army with French officers’ help and established control over Emperor Shah Alam in 1784.
  • He secured the appointment of the Peshwa as the Emperor’s Deputy (Natb-i-Munaib) on condition that Mahadji would act on behalf of Peshwa
  • But he spent his energies in intriguing against Nana Phadnis. 
  • Bitter enemy of Holkar of Indore. 
  • He died in 1794. 
  • He and Nana Phadnis, who died in 1800, were the last of the great soldiers and statesmen.

Baji Rao II (1796-1818)

  • Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao succeeded Sawai Madhav Rao. 
  • The challenge to British supremacy in India i.e. Marathas was overpowered in the 2nd and 3rd Anglo Maratha wars through clever diplomacy.
  • House of Peshwas was extinguished while other Maratha states remained as subsidiary states 
  • The Maratha dream of controlling the Mughal Empire and establishing their own Empire over large parts of the country could not be realized.

Reasons for declination of Maratha empire:

  • Same decadent social order & weakness as the Mughal Empire
  • Remained united in a loose union against a common enemy
  • Failed to encourage science and technology 
  • Failed to take much interest in trade and industry. 
  • The Maratha sardars did not try to develop a new economy.
  • Raising revenue from the helpless peasantry
  • For example, they too collected nearly half of agricultural produce as tax.  
  • They failed even to give sound administration to the people outside Maharashtra.
  • They could not inspire the Indian people with any higher degree of loyalty.
  • Their dominion too dependent on force and force alone.
  • They failed to transform their state into a modern state
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