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The Maratha Empire

The Maratha Empire (also spelled Mahratta and also called the Maratha Confederacy), of India, was founded by Chhatrapati Shivaji in  1674 when he carved out an independent Maratha zone around Pune from the Bijapur Sultanate. After a lifetime of exploits and guerrilla  warfare with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji died in 1680, leaving a Maratha kingdom of great extent but strategically and  vulnerably located. The Mughal invasion started around 1682 and lasted till 1707. Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji became ruler until his death  in 1749.At the time of death he appointed peshwa as head of the state with certain conditions to follow. The battle of Panipat in 1761  crippled the Maratha empire and corroded the power of Peshwa forever. Now the Maratha Confederacy was the real authority, with  titular king and prime minister. The last Peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in the Third Anglo-Maratha War. But the memory  of Shivaji kept their cause alive, and during the late 19th century a wave of socio-political breakthrough revolutions caused a transformation  of the entire State and nation.

The Reign of Shivaji

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, the Maratha freed themselves from the Muslim sultans of Bijapur to the southeast, and became  much more aggressive and began to frequently raid Mughal territory, sacking the Mughal port of Surat in 1664. Shivaji was proclaimed  Emperor in 1674. The Marathas had spread and conquered some of central India by Shivaji's death in 1680. But later lost it to Mughal  rulers and to the British Empire.

Shivaji's Successors

In 1681, Sambhaji, one of Shivaji's two competing sons, had himself crowned and resumed his father's expansionist policies. To nullify any  Rajput-Maratha alliance, as well as to resume his long relations with the Deccan Sultanates, in 1682 the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb  himself headed south with his entire imperial court, administration, and an army of about 180,000 troops which proceeded to conquer the  sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda. In 1688, Sambhaji was caught, tortured, and then painfully dismembered. Rajaram, Sambhaji's brother and earlier rival, now assumed the throne. In 1700 Satara, to which Shivaji earlier had moved the capital,  came under siege 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, Sambhaji II. A truce was offered which promptly was rejected by the emperor. Tarabai heroically led  Marathas. By 1705, Marathas had crossed Narmada and entered Malwa, then in Mughal possession. This battle was a decisive one. The Mughals lost their eminent position on the Indian subcontinent forever. The Marathas emerged as  victorius 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. Internal feuds occurred later on, and continued until the Marathas were defeated by the British in 1818. After the emperor’s death, Shahuji, son of the dismembered Sambhaji (and so grandson of Shivaji), was released by Bahadur Shah, the  next Mughal emperor. He immediately claimed the Maratha throne and challenged his aunt Tarabai and her son Shambhaji II. This  promptly turned the now-spluttering Mughal-Maratha war into a three-cornered affair.

Shahu the Chatrapati

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 farman, or imperial directive,  guaranteeing him Swaraj, or independence, in the Maratha homeland, plus rights to chauth and sardeshmukh (amounting to 35 percent of  the toal revenue) throughout Gujarat, Malwa, and the now six provinces of the Mughal Deccan. After Balaji Vishwanath's death in April, 1719, his son, Baji Rao I was appointed as Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahuji. Shahuji, was one of  the most lenient emperors. He possessed a strong capacity for recognising talent. In fact he caused a social revolution by bringing new  talent into power irrespective of the poor background of its possessor. This was one great sign of the social mobility of the Maratha empire,  which enabled their rapid expansion.

A clerk, such as Balaji or his son, and ordinary men like Shinde or Holkar, owed their positions to the aura of this great prince. Until his  death, in 1749, he controlled the Maratha empire with strong hands. Despite opposition from other court factions, he recognised the talent  of Baji Rao and gave him the imperial army, which was so well-trained and experienced from its long and hard battles. Baji Rao, true to the  expectations of his master, carried out his duties well. They reached Rajasthan in 1735, Delhi in 1737, and Orissa and Bengal by 1740.  Baji Rao died in 1740, after a series of conquests that had consolidated the power of the Marathas. Baji Rao's son, Balaji Bajirao (Nanasaheb), was appointed as a Peshwa by Shahu. The period between 1741 and 1745 was one of  comparative calm in the Deccan. Shahuji died in 1749.

The Peshwa

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 a defeat of  the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power had reached its zenith.

The Decline of the Empire

The Peshwa sent an army to challenge the Afghans, and the Maratha army was decisively defeated on January 13, 1761 at the Third Battle  of Panipat. Their internal feuding cost them greatly in this battle. The battle checked Maratha expansion, prevented the capture of Delhi,  and encouraged the fragmentation of the empire. Even today the phrase in Marathi, "meet your Panipat", has a similar meaning as the  phrase "meet your Waterloo" does in English. After 1761, the confederacy dissolved into five autonomous Maratha states. The Maratha_controlled regions were divided among the  Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore & Malwa, and the Scindias (or Shinde's) of Gwalior (and Ujjain): these became strongholds  of Maratha power. Tarabai was earlier awarded revenue rights in Berar, and later she made Nagpur her capital. When the British annexed  Nagpur after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Tarabai Bhonsle’s protégés were given Kolhapur, where they remained well into the 20th century. In 1775 the British East India Company, from its base in Bombay, intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, 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 Maratha  retained their independence, but lost Orissa and most of Gujarat to Britain. The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-1818) resulted in the  loss of Maratha independence, and left Britain in control of most of India. 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 soveriegnty under British 'paramountcy'.

The name of the empire today is preserved in the Indian state of Maharashtra, which was created in 1960 as a Marathi-speaking state.


This article is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Maratha Empire"
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