Maratha Empire - Informative & researched article on Maratha Empire
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Home > Reference > History of India > Medieval History of India > Maratha Empire
Maratha Empire
Maratha Empire was glorified by the rise of the legendary Maratha ruler Shivaji, along with the Peshwas` statesmanship which ennobles the arena of the whole of Maratha history.
 
 Maratha EmpireMaratha Empire was also known as `Maratha Confederacy` and was amongst the renowned royal dynasties of India which remained under administrative control from 1674 till 1818. Their empire was spread over 208 square million kilometres and is believed to have catapulted the decline of the Mughal Dynasty in the nation. They rose to imperial supremacy during the regime of the Great king Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle who made Raigad his royal capital after defeating the Mughals and Bijapur Sultanate. There existed several ambitious Maratha rulers and Peshwas who conquered vast stretches of territories, especially following the death of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It extended from Peshawar (current-day Pakistan) in the north till Tamil Nadu towards extreme south, and till Andaman Islands and Bengal in the eastern India. After the defeat of the Marathas to the Afghans at the Third Battle of Panipat, Madhavrao Peshwa reinstalled Maratha governance over northern India. The influential Maratha rulers were recognised as the Bhonsles of Nagpur, Scindias of Gwalior, Gaekwads of Baroda, Holkars of Malwa and Indore. The Anglo-Maratha battles which were fought against the British East India Company eventually led to the decline of the Maratha power after 1775.

History of Maratha Empire
Shivaji Bhonsle was capable of establishing himself as the leader of the Hindu Maratha kingdom after he emerged victorious against Aurangzeb and the Adil Shahi Dynasty of Bijapur during 1674. He made Raigad his capital and died during 1680. Though the Empire again was compelled to defend their kingdom against the repeated onslaughts of the Mughals from 1681 till 1707, the Marathas were successful in safeguarding their territories. Shivaji`s grandson Shahu was the king till 1749 followed by the very first Peshwa who was appointed as the head of government. From 1749 to 1761, following the demise of Shahu, the Peshwas continued to rule the kingdom with their base in Satara. However, the Peshwas lost against the Afghans at the Third Battle of Panipat, 1761 and therefore gradually started losing their administrative control of their state.

Maratha Empire Meanwhile the military chiefs like Pandit of Bhor, Pant Pratinidhi, Holkar, Shinde Patwardhan and Bhosale made attempts to rebel against the Peshwas and establish their own independent rule. Madhavrao Peshwa was a skilful ruler under whose rule Maratha authority was reinstated but after his death it became a faulty Confederacy as Maratha power was classified under Bhonsles of Nagpur, Holkars of Indore, Peshwas of Pune, Gaekwads of Baroda and Scindias of Gwalior and Malwa. Frequent enmity with the Holkars and Scindias and also the conflicts with the British East India Company during the three Anglo-Maratha battles further weakened the Maratha Empire in the 19th century. The British defeated Peshwa Baji Rao II during the Third Anglo-Maratha War in 1818 and gradually majority of the erstwhile Maratha territories were captured by British Raj. Some Maratha states remained as bondsmen of the British till Indian Independence in 1947.

Kings of Maratha Empire
The Maratha Empire has been a silent spectator of the reign of various powerful rulers, including Shivaji, who was one of the most notable and bold rulers of this dynasty.

Shivaji
The founder of Maratha Empire was Shivaji and he belonged to the Bhonsle clan. His brave efforts enabled the restoration of `Hindavi Swarajya` or independent rule of the Hindus, after he won victory against the Mughals. His subjects crowned him as `Chhatrapati` or `sovereign` of Maratha kingdom during 1674. By the moment it was ruled by the Peshwas the Maratha Empire was a powerful kingdom, which started functioning as an area measuring only 4.1 percent of the entire subcontinent during the initial phase of Shivaji`s rule.

Sambhaji
Sambhaji was the elder son of Shivaji who was credited for defeating Chikka Deva Raja of Mysore and the Portuguese. This ruler safeguarded the Maratha Empire against Aurangzeb who had attacked the kingdom equipped with 5,00,000 soldiers in 1681. Aurangzeb aimed to conquer the Sultanates of Golconda, Bijapur besides crushing the Marathas. Till 1689, Sambhaji prevented Aurangzeb in his ambitious efforts but was attacked by Mughal troops in an ambush while he was engaged in a meeting. It was carried out during 1st February, 1689 at Sangameshwar by Mukarrab Khan, Aurangzeb`s commander and Ganoji Shirke. Sambhaji and his advisor Kavi Kalash were imprisoned and taken to Bahadurgad when they were murdered on 11th March, 1689.

Maratha Empire Rajaram
Rajaram, the half-brother of Sambhaji ascended the throne soon after the death of Sambhaji. He had confronted the Mughal forces when they laid siege to Raigad, the nerve-centre of Maratha Empire. He had retreated to Vishalgad and next to Gingee. From this region, Maratha commanders Melgiri Pandit, Shankarji Narayan Sacheev, Santaji Ghorpade, Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi and Dhanaji Jadhav had assaulted the Mughal territories and restored several forts from the Mughals. Rajaram, however offered a treaty to Aurangzeb which was not accepted by the latter during the year 1697. He died at Sinhagad during 1700.

Tarabai
Tarabai, the widow of Rajaram crowned herself the next ruler of Maratha Empire in the name of Ramaraja who was her son. Tarabai was appreciated particularly for the bravery exhibited by her at the battle of Marathas against Mughals. The Maratha troops were motivated by her courage and they made a grand entry in Malwa after crossing Narmada River. The Mughals were robbed of their glorious imperial power and grandeur in the subcontinent after this battle, and thereafter they ruled as puppet kings in India. This battle was crucial as it laid strong foundations of the Peshwas as the main Maratha power.

Shahuji
Bahadur Shah I had released Shahuji, Sambhaji`s son during 1707 after Aurangzeb`s death but was made a complete dependent of the Mughals. His mother was held as hostage in the Mughal court to make Shahuji follow the conditions of his release. Following his release Shahuji revolted against the rule of his aunt Tarabai and her son. He became the new ruler of Maratha Empire. This instigated the formation of Kolhapur and Satara during 1707 due to internal conflicts within the Marathas.

Peshwa Baji Rao I
Baji Rao I or Baji Rao Vishwanath (Bhat) Deshmukh was confirmed as the Peshwa in April 1720 after death of Balaji Vishwanath by Chhatrapati Shahu and worked as an impressive general for Shahuji. He had fought fearlessly in more than 41 battles and is said to have won victory in all of them. On 28th February, 1728 he fought against Nizam-ul-Mulk of Hyderabad near Palkhed village which is close to Nashik, Maharashtra and defeated the Nizam. Baji Rao I is also greatly admired for his warfare techniques in the Battle of Vasai, against the Portuguese rulers in India. The Maratha troops were led by the brother of Baji Rao I, named Chimaji Appa.

Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao
Maratha Empire Balaji Baji Rao or Nanasaheb, the son of Baji Rao was proclaimed Peshwa by Shahuji. During 1740, under his leadership the Marathas captured Arcot and defeated Dost Ali, the Nawab of Arcot. His brother, Raghunath Rao played an important role in defeating the Afghan troops in Delhi in August, 1757 in the Battle of Delhi. This paved the path for some Maratha conquests of regions of north-western India including Lahore (present-day Pakistan) and Delhi.

Mahadaji Shinde
The central parts of India were controlled by Mahadaji Shinde, the then king of Gwalior State who played a significant role in re-establishing Maratha power following the Third Battle of Panipat during 1761. He emerged as a trusted lieutenant of the Peshwa who became the face of authority of the Maratha Empire and also Shah Alam II, the Mughal emperor. The landlords of Bundelkhand, Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan and Malwa `sardars` refused to pay taxes to Mahadaji Shinde which resulted in conquests of the kingdoms of Gohad, Datiya, Salbai, Chanderi, Narwar and Bhopal. Mahadaji laid siege to the Gwalior Fort in 1783 and transferred the rule of Gwalior to Khanderao Hari Bhalerao. He was then able to recapture Delhi in the initial part of 1771, much after the Third Battle of Panipat. Shah Alam II was placed at the Mughal throne by Mahadaji Shinde, as a puppet king. Mahadaji had also emerged victorious against the Nizam of Hyderabad after which the Nizam stooped being a threat in northern India.

Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar
Yashwantrao Holkar was made the official authority of the Government of Maratha following the Battle of Poona and he proceeded towards Indore after appointing Amrutrao as his Peshwa on 13th March, 1803. He entered into a treaty with the British Raj during 1805. Yashwantrao was capable of solving the arguments with Madhavrao Peshwa and Scindia. It is believed that he is amongst the most well-known rulers in the military history of the country. He was a shrewd organiser, tremendously skilful in battles and made attempts to unify the Maratha Confederacy.

Anglo-Maratha Wars
The British East India Company had interfered in a succession issue in Pune during 1775, representing Raghunathrao which sowed the seeds of the First Anglo-Maratha War. It concluded during 1782. The British lost against Mahadaji Shinde and Tukojirao Holkar in the battle of Vadgaon. The British again intervened during the year 1802 when they signed a treaty with the brand new king, promising them freedom from the Maratha Empire in return for his surrender to the British Raj in India. The event took place in Baroda. Peshwa Baji Rao II signed a similar treaty with the British in the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803 to 1805). Maratha EmpireYashwantrao Holkar revolted against the rules of Peshwa Baji Rao II and he proceeded to Pune in May 1802. Consequently the Battle of Poona followed in which Madhavrao Peshwa was defeated. Though Yashwantrao tried his level best to unite the Maratha Empire, he failed. Finally the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817 to 1818) occurred which threw open the majority of Indian territories at the mercy of the British powers in India.

Madhavrao Peshwas was made a pensioner of the British and exiled to Bithoor, Uttar Pradesh. The Maratha kingdoms of Nagpur, Indore and Gwalior all slipped into the administrative powers of the British Raj in the nation. They all became princely states and all the Maratha powers had no other chance to succeed so they surrendered to the British Raj. This gave rise to the Treaty of Gwalior (5th November, 1817). The Treaty of Mandeswar was signed by Holkar on 6th January, 1818 and by the treaty required the Holkar state to remain as subsidiary to the British. The British East India Company seized the Nassak Diamond as part of the war spoils, apart from large quantities of land which were governed by the Marathas. This led to the decline of the once illustrious royal power and glory of the Maratha Empire.

(Last Updated on : 18/04/2014)
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