Rise and Fall of Maratha Empire

Marathas presented perhaps the most formidable challenge to Mughals both in Deccan and in the North. Under the leadership of Peshwas, the filled the political vacuum created by weakening Mughal Authority and extended their sway over Malwa, Gujrat and Rajputana by 1730s. Their position was challenged than 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. Here, one may note that 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 Marathas under Mahadaji Scindhia recovered Delhi again for Mughals from the Rohillas. They played the role of kingmakers and continued to expand their dominions. Consolidation of Maratha power went hand in hand with the decline of Mughal power witnessed throughout the 18th century.

Rise of Maratha Empire

Maratha Empire began as a small kingdom in western India with Raigad as the capital and rose to prominence under its founder Shivaji, the legendary Maratha Chief who led Marathas against the Sultan of Bijapur(Adil Shahi Dynasty) to establish Hind- Swarajya (self-rule for Hindu people). In 1674, Shivaji was crowned as Chhatrapati (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 evolved later into the office of Peshwa (Prime Minister)

Following Factors led to the rise of Maratha Empire

Political Conditions

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.

Another factor aiding Maratha rise was waning Mughal strength after Aurangzeb, factionalism within Mughal courts and divisions within nobility coupled with inept successors emboldened Marathas to strike northern regions and expand their territory.

Physical environment

Mountainous region and dense forests helped Marathas to adopt guerrilla tactics and provide the strong defense against Invaders.

Impregnable forts

Building of a number of forts on the mountains provided them stronger defense which Marathas used to their advantage against Mughal attacks.

Maratha Nationalism

The seeds for which were sowed through the 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 Maratha military might become 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 gave land grants for temples and schools.
  • In his rule hereditary occupation of post was not allowed.
  • Shivaji did not encourage the Zamindari system.

Asht Pradhan were the main axis of his administration. Eight prominent officials were collectively known as Asht Pradhan. They were-

  • Peshwa-He was the Prime minister of the king.
  • Amatya or Majumdar-He was Finance Minister.
  • Waq-i-Nawis-He worked as Home Minister.
  • Dabir or Samant-He looked after the work of the foreign department.
  • Sachiv-He conducted the official correspondence.
  • Pandit Rao-He was a religious officer.
  • Sar-i-Naubat or Senapati-He used to administer the army affairs.
  • Nyayadhish-He was the chief justice.

Maratha empire was Confederacy of 5 big chiefs.

  1. Peshwa Poona
  2. Gaekwad Baroda
  3. Bhonsle Nagpur
  4. Holkar Indore
  5. Sindhia Gwalior

Judicial System

Shivaji's judiciary was based upon the ancient Hindu laws. In the villages, the Panchayats settled the disputes.


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).

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 realized by Shivaji, just 1/10 of total revenue on the basis that legally he was the Pramukh (Sardeshmukh) or the head of all Deshmukhs.

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 18th Century

  • The Maratha kingdom was, however, certainly weakened 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 remained as subsidiary states.

Causes for the downfall of Maratha Empire

Military Losses

In the crucial Third Battle of Panipat, enormous loss of men and money for the Marathas occurred. They lost their best leaders in this war. The Maratha kingdom was 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 the chiefs or sardars (Bhonsle, Holker etc).

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 much less focus was on the administration. Rulers were mainly interested in raising revenue from peasantry through taxation.

Weak Diplomacy

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. As 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 levied heavy fines on jat chiefs and also angered 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.

No progressivism

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 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.

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