The Maratha Confederacy was a dominating power in many regions of India during the 18th Century. The rule of Marathas presented perhaps the most formidable challenge to Mughal Rule both in Deccan and in the North.
The formal existence of Maratha Empire began in 1674 with the coronation of Shivaji as the Chatrapati. The decline of Maratha reign can be traced to the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao 2 by the East India Company.
Under the leadership of the able Peshwas, the political vacuum created by weakening of the Mughals was filled. The sway of Maratha rule now extended to areas as far as Malwa, Gujrat and Rajputana by 1730s.
A challenge to Maratha rule was witnessed in the Third Battle of Panipat (1761), but they continued to be a cause of worry for the East India Company for another half a century.
In 1772, the Marathas had escorted the emperor of Delhi Shah II to the throne who had not been allowed to enter the capital for twelve years.
Then in 1788, under the leadership of Mahadaji Scindhia, Delhi was recovered again for Mughals from the Rohillas.
This is how the rise and fall of Marathas took shape.
Marathas have played the role of Kingmakers and are credited for annexing many territories of the Mughal Empire. Consolidation of Maratha power went hand in hand with thedecline of Mughal power and this is how the Marathas came into prominence. The rise and fall of Marathas is therefore an important landmark in history.
Background-Rise and Fall of Marathas
Maratha Empire began as a small kingdom in western India with Raigad as the capital. The Maratha rule became prominent under its founder Shivaji Maharaj, the legendary Maratha Chief who led Marathas against the Sultan of Bijapur (Adil Shahi Dynasty) thereby establishing a Hindavi- Swarajya (self-rule for Hindu people).
In 1674, Shivaji was crowned as Chatrapati, meaning Sovereign.
Shivaji was succeeded by his son Sambhaji, who was captured by Aurangzeb’s forces in Deccan and executed while his son, Shahu was taken prisoner.
Shahu was released in 1707 by Bahadur Shah I and Marathas soon began to make their presence felt.
The states of Satara and Kolhapur were now created and Shahu created the post of Sena-Karte (Organizer of Forces) and appointed Balaji Vishwanath to the post. This later evolved into the office of Peshwa, meaning Prime Minister.
Balaji and his descendants played a vital role in Maratha’s expansion.
During the Mughal- Maratha Wars, they were able to consolidate their position further owing to their mobility.
In this way, their rule extended from Tamil Nadu in the south, to Peshawar in the North and Bengal in the east.
They could have extended their imperial expansion into Afghanistan but this was halted with their defeat in the Third Battle of Panipat (1761) fought against Ahmad Shah Abdali.
Factors that enabled the Rise of Maratha Rule
Mughal Invasion in Deccan and ensuing socio-economic backwardness was the primary reason for discontent in the region which created conditions ripe for a rebellion.
Other factors aiding Maratha rise Or strengthening the rule of Marathas were-
Waning Mughal strength after decline of Aurangzeb,
Factionalism within Mughal courts
Divisions within Mughal nobility
All of these in turn emboldened the Marathas to strike and expand their territory, bringing about a rise to the reign of Marathas.
Favorable Physical Environment
Presence of mountainous regions and dense forests helped Marathas to adopt guerrilla tactics. This also provided a strong defense against Invaders.
Building of a number of forts on the mountains provided them stronger defense which they used to their advantage against Mughal attacks and this enabled the rise of Marathas.
The seeds of nationalism were sowed through a call for social unity raised during Bhakti movement by leaders like Tukkaram, Ramdas, Vaman Pandit and Eknath. This helped in unification of the Maratha Empire. The revivalist political ideology of Hind-swarajya was a major driving force for Marathas.
Able leadership of Peshwas
Balaji Vishwanath’s (1713-20) sagacity and diplomacy helped in brokering peace with Delhi through Sayyid brothers. They also now got the right to collect Chauth and Sardeshmukhi.
Baji Rao I (1720-40) popularised the concept of Hindu- pad- padshahi and expanded Maratha empire northwards. Under him, military might of Marathas became notable.
Administration Under Shivaji
Maratha Empire under Shivaji extended to Maharashtra, Carnatic and Tamil Nadu.
Provinces were divided into Parganas and Parganas were further divided into villages.
To strengthen the administration Shivaji abolished the Jagir system and began giving cash salary to his officers. Though he abolished Jagirdari but he continued to give land grants for temples and schools.
During his tenure, hereditary occupation of post was abolished.
Shivaji did not encourage the Zamindari system.
He also established the AshtaPradhan system (The Council of Eight) who were the main axis of his administration.
Eight prominent officials were collectively known as AshtaPradhan. They were-
Peshwa or Pantpradhan- Prime minister.
Amatya or Majumdar– Finance Minister.
Waq-i-Nawis or Mantri- Home Minister & Internal affairs.
Dabir or Sumant– Foreign Minister.
Sachiv- Secretary, preparing royal edicts..
Pandit Rao- Religious Officer or High Priest.
Sar-i-Naubat or Senapati- Commander-in- Chief.
Nyayadhyaksh– Chief Justice.
Maratha Empire was a Confederacy of 5 big chiefs
Peshwas of Poona
Gaekwads of Baroda
Bhonsles of Nagpur
Holkars of Indore
Sindhias of Gwalior
Military under Maratha Rule
During the Maratha rule, the regular Army consisted of about 30000 to 40000 cavalry and they were given fixed salaries. Shivaji set up the Maratha Navy in 1659. The most famous Maratha Admiral was Kanhoji Angre (1669-1729).
All in all, Shivaji was an able administrator who brought in modern concepts into the Government such as, Cabinet system, internal intelligence, foreign affairs etc. He is remembered fondly as a just and welfare minded King.
Taxation System under Marathas
Chauth and Sardeshmukhi were two major taxes of Marathas.
Chauth was 1/4 of the total revenue and it was an annual tax. Sardeshmukhi was an additional levy on Chauth.
Succession after Shivaji
After the death of Shivaji, two of Shivaji’s sons, first Shambhaji and then Rajaram, ruled briefly and fought with the Mughal Army. In 1699, when Rajaram died, one of his queens, Tarabai, started to rule in the name of her infant son Shivaji II.
Maratha Empire in the 18th Century
The fall of Maratha kingdom began with its weakeneing at the start of 18th Century due to various internal and external factors.
A full-scale civil war broke out between the forces of Shahu (grandson of Shivaji) and those of Tarabai (Rajaram’s widow). The loyalty of Maratha sardars and Deshmukhs kept on shifting from one block to another.
Since the time of Balaji Viswanath, the office of the Peshwa became powerful. He died in 1720 and was succeeded by his son Baji Rao, who was in power till 1740.
After the death of Baji Rao in 1740, Shahu appointed his son Balaji Bajirao (1740-1761) as Peshwa. This was indeed the peak period of Maratha glory.
In 1761, after the third battle of Panipat, Madhav Rao became the Peshwa. In 1772, Madhav Rao died of consumption.
After the death of Madhav Rao, the struggle for power occurred between Raghunath Rao and Narayan Rao. In 1773 Narayan Rao was killed.
Madhav Rao Narayan succeeded his father Narayan Rao.
Raghunath Rao tried to capture power with the help of British. This led to the 1st Anglo- Maratha war.
Madhav Rao died in 1794. Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao succeeded Madhav Rao.
At the end of 3rd Anglo- Maratha war, Peshwa was dethroned and pensioned off while other Maratha states became subsidiary states.
This is how the Reign of Marathas loosened its grip.
Causes for the downfall of Maratha Empire
In the crucial Third Battle of Panipat, enormous loss of men and money occurred. They lost their best leaders in this war. The Maratha kingdom was thus shaken.
Soon, Marathas had to fight wars with the East India Company to retain their dominions. This too drained their coffers.
Political structure: Divisions within
The other reason for downfall of Maratha Empire was its own structure. Its nature was that of a Confederacy where power was shared among different Chiefs or Sardars (Bhonsle, Holkar etc). They lacked unity and fought with one another.
Weak Revenue Administration
Marathas depended on the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi and on their exploits from plunder and loot. They failed to develop an efficient system of revenue administration. New territories were conquered but there was declining focus on administration. Rulers were mainly interested in raising revenue from peasantry through taxation.
Marathas did not take the trouble to find out what was happening elsewhere and what their enemies were doing. There was no far-sighted statesmanship or effective strategy. They failed to cultivate alliances with forces around them.
Because of their actions and political ambitions in past Marathas did not get the support from Northern Regional Powers since they interfered in internal affairs and levied huge fines and tributes upon Rajputana states.
In case of Awadh, they made large territorial and monitorial claims. Further they were also notorious in levying heavy fines on jat chiefs and angering the Sikh chiefs.
Military expansion minus consolidation
Despite having made rapid territorial advances, Marathas did not consolidate themselves in the vast areas in northern and central India.
Maratha system of administration was along the lines of their predecessors. For instance- feudal levies, land-grant system continued. As a result, Marathas eventually lost to the British who were more advanced politically as well as militarily.
In 1802, Peshwa Baji Rao II accepted Subsidiary Alliance by signing the Treaty of Bassein. This marked the downfall of Maratha empire. By 1818, the Maratha power was finally crushed and the great chiefs that represented it in central India submitted and accepted the over lordship of the East India Company.
This is how the stronghold established by the Marathas witnessed a collapse and this in turn brought an end to their rule. The above mentioned facts give us an insight into the rise and fall of Marathas.
Practice Questionson the Rise and fall of Marathas
How did Shivaji organize his administration and finances to consolidate his power? (UPSC CSE 2010).
Write short essays on – Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of the Maratha rulers. (UPSC CSE 2007)