(Last Updated on : 17/05/2014)
Contributions of Marathas in Indian Army had been considered significant. The Marathas were no new comers to the ranks of fighting forces of India. Long before their single-handed struggle with the British East India Company
their qualities of leadership, doggedness, courage and resourcefulness had already made a mark in the fighting chronological records of the country. During the Mughal period when they established their supremacy in south India their discipline and capacity to bear extreme strains of active warfare compensated more than once for their slight build and light weight. Marathas were truly national forces with a well-knit organisation. In spite of several handicaps they campaigned far and wide. Even though the Marathas maintained such large forces they were defeated one by one by the numerically inferior troops of the British East India Company.
According to some historical records, in spite of their past brilliant records and large military establishments the Marathas made no contribution to the military sphere initially. They copied and adapted new ways and systems, enrolled foreigners and north Indians in their armies and by a variety of methods converted their national army into a mercenary force. There was total absence of discipline, cohesion and unity of command. And finally there was all round slackness with the adoption of softer ways and consequent lack of discipline. It became common experience to see their generals and commanders both European and Marathas fraternising with the English on the eve of important battles and turning traitors for personal gains. There was, thus, all round deterioration in the Maratha body politic. It is significant that most of the men of the Bombay army were recruited from the regions of Oudh, Doab and Bihar
. According to historians, the Marathas, though small in numbers they would hurl themselves like lightning against superior enemy, leaving them no time to organise and hit back. The Marathas also gave the Muslims invaders a tough fight in the last decade of the thirteenth century.
introduced a new spirit of a patriotic feeling in the Maratha Army which was missing so far. He combined the power of the Marathas that so far lay scattered into one united and invincible whole until it expanded in all possible directions of the Indian subcontinent. It was Shivaji who after centuries of progressive decadence under foreign Muslim rule put Indian military traditions in the fore front in their truly national perspective. One of the principal reasons for the quick successes of the Marathas under Shivaji was the truly national character of their army. Another notable factor was that it included most of the good points of the Mughal army and that of the southern Sultanates. Eventually, it turned light cavalry into a highly efficient force. This lightly equipped Maratha Army was mainly responsible for many of his victories over the numerically superior armies of the Mughals and Muslims of the south.
At his death Shivaji left a regular army of 40,000 cavalry, 10,000 infantry and a strong navy. The main components of the army under the Marathas were infantry, cavalry, some artillery, supplies and a medical department. Cavalry consisted of archers, spearmen and swordsmen who were used mostly as shock-troops. Cavalry was considered as the superior service and its Senapati was senior to the infantry senapati. The infantry garrisoned all forts and in the early stages was the main force under Shivaji. The army was maintained by the state and all payments were made regularly. The army was very lightly equipped and its weapons did not in any way effect its mobility. Heavy and medium guns were fixed at the forts. The principal weapons of attack and defence were the sword and shield. Troops were generally armed with muskets, matchlocks, spears, javelins, long thin sword, daggers, clubs, bows and arrows. Various types of pistols were also used. In Shivaji's army discipline was of a very high order and was rigidly enforced.