The Maratha Empire
The Maratha Empire (also transliterated Mahratta) or the Maratha Confederacy was an Indian imperial power that existed from 1674 to 1818. At its peak, the empire covered much of what would become India, encompassing a territory of over 2.8 million km².The Marathas are credited for the re-establishment of Hindu rule in India.
Initially deriving from the western Deccan, the Marathas were a peasant warrior group that rose to prominence during the rule in that region of the sultans of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. The empire was founded and consolidated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhosle. He created an independent Maratha kingdom with Raigad as its capital, and successfully fought against the Mughals to defend his kingdom. The Maratha Empire waged war for 27 years with the Mughals from 1681 to 1707, which became the longest war in the history of India. The Marathas eventually emerged victorious. Shivaji pioneered “Shiva sutra” or Ganimi Kava (guerrilla tactics), which leveraged strategic factors like demographics, speed, surprise and focused attack to defeat his bigger and more powerful enemies. While Venkoji, the younger half-brother of Shivaji, founded the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom.
Afterwards, Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji became ruler. During this period, he appointed Peshwas as the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire. After the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the empire expanded greatly under the rule of the Peshwas. The empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the south, to Peshawar (modern-day Pakistan) on the Afghanistan border in the north and led Expeditions to Bengal in the east. Ahmad Shah Abdali, amongst others, were unwilling to allow the Maratha’s gains to go unchecked. In 1761, the Maratha army lost the Third Battle of Panipat which halted imperial expansion.
After 1761, young Madhavrao Peshwa reinstated the Maratha authority over North India, 10 years after the battle of Panipat. In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, semi-autonomy was given to strongest of the knights, which created a confederacy of Maratha states. They became known as Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and Malwa, the Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, Bhonsales of Nagpur. In 1775, the British East India Company intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, which became the First Anglo-Maratha War. Marathas remained the preeminent power in India until their defeat in the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha Wars (1805–1818), which left Britain in control of most of India.
A large portion of the empire was coastline that had been secured by a potent navy under commanders such as Kanhoji Angre. He was very successful at keeping foreign naval ships, particularly of the Portuguese and British, at bay.Securing the coastal areas and building land-based fortifications were crucial aspects of the Maratha’s defensive strategy and regional military history.
After a lifetime of guerrilla warfare with the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur and Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji founded an independent Hindu Maratha kingdom in 1674 with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji died in 1680, leaving behind a large, but vulnerable kingdom. The Mughals invaded, fighting an unsuccessful War of 27 years from 1681 to 1707.
Shahu, a grandson of Shivaji, ruled as emperor until 1749. During his reign, Shahu appointed the first Peshwa as head of the government, under certain conditions. After the death of Shahu, the Peshwas became the de facto leaders of the Maratha Empire from 1749 to 1761, while Shivaji’s successors continued as nominal rulers from their base in Satara. Covering a large part of the subcontinent, the Maratha Empire kept the British forces at bay during the 18th century, until the Third Battle of Panipat following which Marathas never fought as a single unit.
The Maratha Empire was at its height in the 18th century under Shahu and the Peshwa Baji Rao I. Losses at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 suspended further expansion of the empire in the North-west and reduced the power of the Peshwas. In 1761, after severe losses in the Panipat war, the Peshwas slowly started losing the control of the state. Many military chiefs of the Maratha Empire like Shinde, Holkar, Gaikwad, Pant Pratinidhi, Bhosale of Nagpur, Pandit of Bhor, Patwardhan, and Newalkar started to work towards their ambition of becoming kings in their respective regions. However, under Madhavrao Peshwa, Maratha authority in North India was restored, 10 years after the battle of Panipat. After the death of Madhavrao, the empire gave way to a loose Confederacy, with political power resting in a ‘pentarchy’ of five mostly Maratha dynasties: the Peshwas of Pune; the Sindhias (originally “Shinde”) of Malwa and Gwalior; the Holkars of Indore; the Bhonsles of Nagpur; and the Gaekwads of Baroda. A rivalry between the Sindhia and Holkar dominated the confederation’s affairs into the early 19th century, as did the clashes with the British and the British East India Company in the three Anglo-Maratha Wars. In the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in 1818. Most of the former Maratha Empire was absorbed by British India, although some of the Maratha states persisted as quasi-independent princely states until India became independent in 1947.
The Royal Era (1674-1749)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire.
Shivaji was a Maratha aristocrat of the Bhosle clan who founded the Maratha empire. Shivaji led a resistance to free the Maratha people from the Sultanate of Bijapur, and re-establish Hindavi Swarajya (“self-rule of Hindu people”). He created an independent Maratha kingdom with Vedant Raigad as its capital, and successfully fought against the Mughals to defend his kingdom. He was crowned as Chhatrapati (“sovereign”) of the Maratha empire in 1674.
The Marathas had lived in the Desh region around Pune for a long time, in the western portion of the Deccan, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their leader Shivaji Maharaj, the Marathas freed themselves from the Muslim Turkic sultans of Bijapur to the southeast under the leadership of Shivaji Maharaj, and became much more aggressive, frequently raiding Mughal territory and ransacking the Mughal port of Surat in 1664 and again in 1670. In 1674 Shivaji proclaimed himself king, taking the title (Chhatrapati). By Shivaji Maharaja’s death in 1680, the Marathas had expanded their territory to include many parts of central and south India. According to Indian historian Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar, Shivaji was inspired by the great Vijayanagara Empire, a bulwark against the Muslim invasion of South India. The victories of the then king of Mysore, Kanthirava Narasaraja I against the Sultan of Bijapur also inspired Shivaji.According to the legend, Shivaji was the first king in India whose vision encompassed the dev (god), desh (country) and dharma (natural law, righteousness).
Chhatrapati Sambhaji Bhosle
Chhatrapati Shivaji had two sons: Sambhaji and Rajaram. Sambhaji, the elder son, was very popular among the courtiers. He was a great warrior, great politician and poet. In 1681, Sambhaji had himself crowned and resumed his father’s expansionist policies. Sambhaji had earlier defeated the Portuguese and Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore. To nullify any Rajput-Maratha alliance, as well as the Deccan Sultanates, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb himself headed south in 1681. With his entire imperial court, administration, and an army of about 500,000 troops he proceeded to conquer the entire Maratha Empire along with the sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda. During the eight years that followed, Sambhaji led the Marathas, never losing a battle or a fort to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had almost lost the campaign but for an event in early 1689. Sambhaji called his commanders for a strategic meeting at Sangameshwar to decide on the final onslaught on the Mughal forces. In a meticulously planned operation, Ganoji Shirke and Aurangzeb’s commander, Mukarrab Khan attacked Sangameshwar when Sambhaji was accompanied by a few men. Sambhaji was ambushed and captured by Mughal troops on 1 Feb, 1689. He and his advisor, Kavi Kalash were taken to Bahadurgad. Sambhaji and Kavi Kalash were tortured to death on March 11, 1689.
Chhatrapati Rajaram and Maharani Tarabai
Rajaram, Chattrapati Sambhaji’s brother, now assumed the throne. Mughals laid siege to Raigad. Rajaram fled to Vishalgad and then to Jinji for safety. From there, the Marathas raided the Mughal territory and many forts were captured by Maratha commanders Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav, Parshuram Pant Pratinidhi, Shankaraji Narayan Sacheev, and Melgiri Pandit.In 1697, Rajaram offered a truce but this was rejected by the emperor. Rajaram died in 1700 at Sinhagad. His widow, Tarabai, assumed control in the name of her son Ramaraja (Shivaji II). Then Tarabai heroically led the Marathas against the Mughals; by 1705, they had crossed the Narmada River and entered Malwa, then in Mughal possession.
Malwa was a decisive battle for the Maratha Empire. The Mughals lost their eminent position on the Indian subcontinent forever and the subsequent Mughal emperors became titular rulers. The Marathas emerged victorious 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. The victory also set the foundations for the imperial conquests achieved later, under the Peshwas.
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar was a court administrator who rose from the ranks of a local Kulkarni to the ranks of Ashtapradhan under guidance and support of Shivaji. When Chhatrapati Rajaram fled to Jinji in 1689 leaving Maratha Empire, he gave a “Hukumat Panha” (King Status) to Pant before leaving. Ramchandra Pant managed the entire state under many challenges like influx of Mughals, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under the Maratha state) and social challenges like scarcity of food. With the help of Pantpratinidhi, Sachiv, he kept the economic condition of Maratha Empire in an appropriate state. He wrote “Adnyapatra” in which he has explained different techniques of war, maintenance of forts and administration etc.
The Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah tried to halt Maratha expansion after the year 1723.After Emperor Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, Shahuji, son of Sambhaji (and grandson of Shivaji), was released by Azam Shah, the next Mughal emperor, under conditions that rendered him a vassal of the Mughal emperor but his mother was still held captive to ensure good behaviour from Shahuji. He immediately claimed the Maratha throne and challenged his aunt Tarabai and her son. This promptly turned the now-spluttering Mughal-Maratha war into a three-cornered affair. The states of Satara and Kolhapur came into being in 1707, because of the succession dispute over the Maratha kingship. By 1710, two separate principalities had become an established fact, eventually confirmed by the Treaty of Warna in 1731.
In 1713, Farrukhsiyar declared himself Mughal emperor. His bid for power depended heavily on two brothers, known as the Saiyids, one of whom was 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 Mughal emperor.
In 1714, an army of Marathas commanded by Parsoji Bhosale marched up to Delhi unopposed and managed to depose the Mughal 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 firman, or imperial directive, guaranteeing him Swaraj, or independence, in the Maratha homeland, plus rights to chauth and sardeshmukh (amounting to 35 percent of the total revenue) throughout Gujarat, Malwa, and the now six provinces of the Mughal Deccan. This treaty also released Yesubai, Shahuji’s mother, from Mughal prison.
During regime of Shahu, Raghuji Bhosale expanded the empire in East reaching present-day Bangladesh. Senapati Dabhade expanded in West. Peshwa Bajirao and his three chiefs Pawar (Dhar), Holkar (Indore) and Scindia (Gwalior) expanded in North. These all houses became hereditary, thereby undermining kings authority in due course of time.
The Peshwa Era (1749 to 1761)
Shaniwarwada palace fort in Pune, it was the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire until 1818.
During this era, Peshwas controlled the Maratha army and later became the hereditary rulers of the Maratha Empire from 1749 to 1818. During their rein, the Maratha empire reached its zenith ruling most of the Indian Subcontinent. Prior to 1700, one Peshwa received the status of imperial regent for eight or nine years. They oversaw the greatest expansion of the Maratha Empire around 1760 with the help of Sardars like Holkar, Scindia, Bhosale, Pantpratinidhi, Gaekwad (Dhane), Panse, Vinchurkar, Pethe, Raste, Phadke, Patwardhan, Pawar, Pandit and Purandare, until its eventual annexation by the British East India Company in 1818.
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar
Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar was a court administrator who rose from the ranks of a local Kulkarni to the ranks of Ashtapradhan under guidance and support of Shivaji. He was one of the prominent Peshwas from the time of Shivaji, prior to the rise of the later Peshwas who controlled the empire after Shahuji.
When Chhatrapati Rajaram fled to Jinji in 1689 leaving Maratha Empire, he gave a “Hukumat Panha” (King Status) to Pant before leaving. Ramchandra Pant managed the entire state under many challenges like influx of Mughals, betrayal from Vatandars (local satraps under the Maratha state) and social challenges like scarcity of food. With the help of Pantpratinidhi, Sachiv, he kept the economic condition of Maratha Empire in an appropriate state.
He received military help from the Maratha commanders – Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav. On many occasions he himself participated in battles against Mughals and played the role of shadow ruler in absence of Chhatrapati Rajaram.
In 1698, he happily stepped down from the post of “Hukumat Panha” when Rajaram offered this post to his wife, Tarabai. Tarabai gave an important position to Pant among senior administrators of Maratha State. He wrote “Adnyapatra” in which he has explained different techniques of war, maintenance of forts and administration etc. But owing to his loyalty to Tarabai against Shahuji (who was supported by more local satraps), he was sidelined after arrival of Shahuji in 1707.
Baji Rao I
After Balaji Vishwanath’s death in April, 1719, his son, Baji Rao I was appointed as Peshwa by Chattrapati Shahuji, one of the most liberal emperors. Shahuji possessed a strong capacity for recognising talent, and actually caused a social revolution by bringing capable people into power irrespective of their social status. This was an indication of a great social mobility within the Maratha Empire, enabling its rapid expansion.
Shrimant Baji Rao Vishwanath Bhatt (August 18, 1699 – April 25, 1740), also known as Baji Rao I, was a noted general who served as Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor) Shahu between 1719 until death. During his lifetime, he never lost a battle. He is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire especially in north that reached its zenith twenty years after his death. Peshwa Bajirao fought over 41 battles and is reputed to have never lost one. Battle of Palkhed was a land battle that took place on February 28, 1728 at the village of Palkhed, near the city of Nashik, Maharashtra, India between Baji Rao I and the Nizam-ul-Mulk of Hyderabad. The Marathas defeated the Nizam. The battle is considered an example of brilliant execution of military strategy. The Battle of Vasai was fought between the Marathas and the Portuguese rulers of Vasai, a village lying near Mumbai in the present-day state of Maharashtra, India. The Marathas were led by Chimaji Appa, a brother of Peshwa Baji Rao I. Maratha victory in this war was a major achievement of Baji Rao I reign.
Standing tall, poised and confident before Shahu Maharaj and his court, the young new Peshwa Baji Rao is said to have thundered:
“ Let us transcend the barren Deccan and conquer central India. The Mughals have become weak indolent womanizers and opium-addicts. The accumulated wealth of centuries in the vaults of the north, can be ours. It is time to drive from the holy land of Bharatvarsha the outcaste and the barbarian. Let us throw them back over the Himalayas, back to where they came from. The Maratha flag must fly from the Krishna to the Indus. Hindustan is ours. ”
Balaji Baji Rao
Peshwa Balaji Bajirao
Baji Rao’s son, Balaji Bajirao (Nanasaheb), was appointed as a Peshwa by Shahuji. The period between 1741 and 1745 was one of comparative calm in the Deccan. Shahuji died in 1749 bequething power to peshwa with condition that the dignity of house of shivaji will be maintained and also welfare of subjects will be looked after.
In 1740, the Maratha forces came down upon Arcot and invaded the Nawab of Arcot, Dost Ali in the pass of Damalcherry. In the war that followed, Dost Ali, one of his sons Hasan Ali, and a number of prominent persons lost their lives. This initial success at once enhanced Maratha prestige in the south. From Damalcherry the Marathas proceeded to Arcot. It surrendered to them without much resistance. Then, Raghuji invested Trichinopoly in December 1740. Unable to resist, Chanda Saheb delivered the fort to Raghuji on 14 March 1741, on the day of Ram Navami. Chanda Saheb and his son were arrested and sent to Nagpur.
After the successful campaign of Karnatak and Battle of Trichinopolly, Raghuji returned from Karnatak. He undertook six expeditions in Bengal from 1741-1748. Raghuji was able to annex Orissa to his kingdom permanently as he successfully exploited the chaotic conditions prevailing in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa after the death of their Governor Murshid Quli Khan in 1727. Constantly harassed by the Bhonsles, Orissa or Katak, Bengal and parts of Bihar were economically ruined. Alivardi Khan, Nawab of Bengal made peace with Raghuji in 1751 ceding in perpetuity Katak up to the river Suvarnarekha, and agreeing to pay Rs. 12 lacs annually in lieu of the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar. The smaller States of Raipur, Ratanpur, Bilaspur and Sambalpur belonging to Chhattisgad territory were conquered by Bhaskar Ram, and were placed in charge of Mohansingh, an illegitimate son of Raghuji. Towards the end of his career, Raghuji had conquered the whole of Berar; the Gond kingdoms of Devgad including Nagpur, Gadha-Mandla and Chandrapur; the Subha of Katak; and the smaller states spreading between Nagpur and Katak.
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 in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal after Ahmed Shah Abdali’s plunder of Delhi in 1756. Delhi was captured by Maratha army under Raghunath Rao in August 1757 defeating Afghan garrison in the Battle of Delhi. This laid the foundation for the Maratha conquest of North-west India. In Lahore, as in Delhi, the Marathas were now major players.
Raghoba’s letter to Peshwa Balaji Bajirao, 4 May 1758:
“Lahore, Multan, Kashmir and other subhas on this side of Attock are under our rule for the most part, and places which have not come under our rule we shall soon bring under us. Ahmad Shah Durrani’s son Timur Shah Durrani and Jahan Khan have been pursued by our troops, and their troops completely looted. Both of them have now reached Peshawar with a few broken troops. So Ahmad Shah Durrani has returned to Kandahar with some 12-14 thousand broken troops. Thus all have risen against Ahmad who has lost control over the region. We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.”
On 8 May 1758, the Marathas captured Peshawar, defeating the Afghan troops in the Battle of Peshawar. In 1759, The Marathas under Sadashivrao Bhau (referred to as the Bhau or Bhao in sources) responded to the news of the Afghans’ return to North India by sending a big army to North. Bhau’s force was bolstered by some Maratha forces under Holkar, Scindia, Gaikwad and Govind Pant Bundele. The combined army of over 100,000 regular troops had re-captured the former Mughal capital, Delhi, from an Afghan garrison in August 1760. Delhi had been reduced to ashes many times due to previous invasions, and in addition there being acute shortage of supplies in the Maratha camp. Bhau ordered the sacking of the already depopulated city. He is said to have planned to place his nephew and the Peshwa’s son, Vishwasrao, on the Mughal throne. By 1760, with defeat of the Nizam in the Deccan, Maratha power had reached its zenith with a territory of over 2,800,000 km² acres.
Ahmad Shah Durrani, then called Rohillas and Nawab of Oudh to assist him in driving out ‘infidel’ Marathas from Delhi. Huge armies of Muslim forces and Marathas collided with each other on 14 January 1761 in the Third Battle of Panipat. The Maratha army lost the battle which halted imperial expansion. The Jats and Rajputs did not support the Marathas. Their withdrawal from the ensuing battle played a crucial role in its result.
The Marathas had antagonised the Jats and Rajputs by taxing them heavily, punishing them after defeating the Mughals and interfering in their internal affairs. The Marathas were abandoned by Raja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur and the Rajputs who quit the Maratha alliance at Agra before the start of the great battle and withdrew their troops, as Maratha general Sadashivrao Bhau did not heed the advice to leave soldier’s families (women and children) and pilgrims at Agra and not take them to the battle field with the soldiers, rejected their cooperation. Their supply chains (earlier assured by Raja Suraj Mal and Rajputs) did not exist.
The Confederacy era (1761-1818)
During this period various chiefs and statesman became de facto rulers. The Peshwa was relegated to secondary position. He also became ceremonial king especially after death of Peshwa Madhavrao I.
After 1761, young Madhavrao Peshwa tried his best to rebuild the empire in spite of his frail health and reinstated the Maratha authority over North India, 10 years after the battle of Panipat. In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, semi-autonomy was given to strongest of the knights. Thus, the semi-autonomous Maratha states came into being in far flung regions of the empire :
Peshwas of Pune
Gaekwads of Baroda
Pawars of Dhar
Holkars of Indore and Malwa
Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain
Bhonsales of Nagpur (no blood relation with Shivaji’s or Tarabai’s family)
Even in the Maharashtra itself many knights were given semi-autonomous charges of small districts, which led to princely states like Sangli, Aundh, Bhor, Bawda, Phaltan, Miraj etc. Pawars of Udgir were also part of confederacy.
Mahadaji Sindhia was the Maratha ruler of the state of Gwalior in central India. Mahadaji was instrumental in resurrecting Maratha power after the debacle of the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, and rose to become a trusted lieutenant of the Peshwa, leader of the Maratha Empire, as well as the Mughal king Shah Alam II.
He took full advantage of the system of neutrality pursued by the British to resurrect Maratha power over Northern India. In this he was assisted by Benoît de Boigne who increased Sindhia’s regular forces to three brigades. With these troops Sindhia became a power in northern India.
After the growth in power of feudal lords like Malwa sardars, landlords of Bundelkhand and Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan, they refused to pay tribute to Mahadji. So he sent his army conquer the states such as Bhopal, Datiya, Chanderi (1782), Narwar, Salbai and Gohad. He launched an expedition against the Raja of Jaipur, but withdrew after the inconclusive Battle of Lalsot in 1787.
Maratha king of Gwalior at his palace.
The strong fort of Gwalior was then in the hands of Chhatar Singh, the Jat ruler of Gohad. In 1783, Mahadji besieged the fort of Gwalior and conquered it. He delegated the administration of Gwalior to Khanderao Hari Bhalerao. After celebrating the conquest of Gwalior, Mahadji Shinde turned his attention to Delhi.
In early 1771, ten years after the collapse of Maratha supremacy in North India following the Third Battle of Panipat, Mahadji recaptured Delhi and installed Shah Alam II as the puppet ruler on the Mughal throne. receiving in return the title of deputy Vakil-ul-Mutlak or vice-regent of the Empire and that of Vakil-ul-Mutlak being at his request conferred on the Peshwa. The Mughals also gave him the title of Amir-ul-Amara(head of the amirs). Mahadji ruled the Punjab as it used to be a Mughal territory and Sikh sardars and other Rajas of the cis-Sutlej region paid tributes to him.
The Battle of Gajendragad was fought between the Marathas under the command of Tukojirao Holkar (the adopted son of Malharrao Holkar) and Tipu Sultan from March 1786 to March 1787 in which Tipu Sultan was defeated by the Marathas. By the victory in this battle, the border of the Maratha territory extended till Tungabhadra river.
In 1788 Mahadji’s armies defeated Ismail Beg, a Mughal noble who resisted the Marathas. The Rohilla chief Ghulam Kadir, Ismail Beg’s ally, took over Delhi, capital of the Mughal dynasty, and deposed and blinded the king Shah Alam II, placing a puppet on the Delhi throne. Mahadji intervened, taking possession of Delhi on October 2, restoring Shah Alam II to the throne and acting as his protector. Mahadji sent Benoît de Boigne to crush the forces of Jaipur at Patan (June 20, 1790) and the armies of Marwar at Merta on September 10, 1790.
Another achievement of Mahadji was his victory over the Nizam of Hyderabad’s army in a battle. The Nizam ceased be a factor in the north Indian politics after this battle and it generally confined itself in the Deccan afterwards. After the peace made with Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1792, Mahadji successfully exerted his influence to prevent the completion of a treaty between the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Peshwa, directed against Tipu.
Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar
After the Battle of Poona, the flight of Peshwa left the government of Maratha state in the hands of Yashwantrao Holkar. He appointed Amrutrao as the Peshwa and went to Indore on 13 March 1803. All except Gaikwad chief of Baroda, who had already accepted British protection by a separate treaty on 26 July 1802, supported the new regime. He made a treaty with the British in 1805, that fulfilled his demands. Also, Yashwant-Rao successfully resolved the disputes with Scindia and the Peshwa. His battles were the most remarkable in the military history of India and the title given to him by the Mughal Emperor gave him a prominent position amongst the rulers of India.
He tried to unite the Maratha Confederacy. In a letter dated 15 February 1806 to Vyankoji Bhosale of Nagpur he states:
“The Maratha state had been grasped by foreigners. To resist their aggression, God knows, how during the last two and a half years I sacrificed everything, fighting night and day, without a moment’s rest. I paid a visit to Daulatrao Sindia and explained to him how necessary it was for all of us to join in averting foreign domination. But Daulatrao failed me. It was mutual cooperation and goodwill which enabled our ancestors to build up, the Maratha states. But now we have all become self-seekers. You wrote to me that you were coming for my support, but you did not make your promise good. If you had advanced into Bengal as was planned, we could have paralyzed the British Government. It is no use of now talking of past things. When I found myself abandoned on all sides, I accepted the offer which the British agents brought to me and concluded the war. ”
He was as clever organizer as he was skillful in war. The various branches of the army were organized on a sound military basis. As a military strategist he ranks among the foremost generals who have ever trod on Indian soil. His heroic achievements shed a noble luster on his military genius, political sagacity and indefatigable industry. He was undoubtedly the greatest and most romantic figure on the stage of Indian history. Yashwant Rao Holkar rose to power from initial nothingness entirely by dint of his personal valour and spirit of adventure. So great was his personality that even in those troublesome times, no state or power could venture to commit aggression on his territory; and this influence kept the Holkar State secure even after his death for some years.
Peshwa Madhavrao II in his court in 1790, concluding a Treaty with Sir Charles Warre Malet.
In 1775, the British East India Company, from its base in Bombay, intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, on behalf of Raghunathrao (also called Raghobadada), which became the First Anglo-Maratha War. That ended in 1782 with a restoration of the pre-war status quo. Marathas under Tukojirao Holkar and Mahadaji Shinde had defeated British in the battle of Vadgaon. 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 Peshwa Baji Rao II signed a similar treaty.
In 1799, Yashwantrao Holkar was crowned King, he captured Ujjain. He started campaigning towards the north to expand his empire in that region. Yashwant Rao rebelled against the policies of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. On May 1802, he marched towards Pune the seat of the Peshwa. This gave rise to the Battle of Poona in which the Peshwa was defeated. After the Battle of Poona, the flight of Peshwa left the government of Maratha state in the hands of Yashwantrao Holkar. He appointed Amrutrao as the Peshwa and went to Indore on 13 March 1803. All except Gaikwad chief of Baroda, who had already accepted British protection by a separate treaty on 26 July 1802, supported the new regime. He made a treaty with the British in 1805, that fulfilled his demands. Also, Yashwant-Rao successfully resolved the disputes with Scindia and the Peshwa. He tried to unite the Maratha Confederacy but to no avail.
Battle of Assaye during the Second Anglo-Maratha War.
Ultimately the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818), a last-ditch effort to regain sovereignty, resulted in the loss of Maratha independence: it left the British in control of most of India. The Peshwa was exiled to Bithoor (Maratnear Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh) as a pensioner of the British. 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 sovereignty under British ‘paramountcy’. Other small princely states of Maratha knights were retained under the British Raj as well.
The Nassak Diamond was seized from the Peshwa by the British and sent to London.
At the end of the war, all of the Maratha powers had surrendered to the British. Shinde, which resulted in the Treaty of Gwailor on 5 November 1817. Under this treaty, Shinde surrendered Rajasthan to the British and agreed to help them fight the Pindaris. Holkar was defeated on 21 December 1817 and signed the Treaty of Mandeswar on 6 January 1818. Under this treaty the Holkar state became subsidiary to the British. The young Malhar Rao was raised to the throne. Bhonsle was defeated on 26 November 1817 and was captured but he escaped to live out his life in Jodhpur. The Peshwa surrendered on 3 June 1818 and was sent off to Bithur near Kanpur under the terms of the treaty signed on 3 June 1818. Of the Pindari leaders, Karim Khan surrendered to Malcolm in February 1818; Wasim Mohammad surrendered to Shinde and eventually poisoned himself; and Setu was killed by a tiger.
The war left the British, under the auspices of the British East India Company, in control of virtually all of present-day India south of the Sutlej River. The famed Nassak Diamond was acquired by the Company as part of the spoils of the war.The British acquired large chunks of territory from the Maratha Empire and in effect put an end to their most dynamic opposition. The terms of surrender Malcolm offered to the Peshwa were controversial amongst the British for being too liberal: The Peshwa was offered a luxurious life near Kanpur and given a pension of about 80,000 pounds. A comparison was drawn with Napoleon, who was confined to a small rock in the south Atlantic and given a small sum for his maintenance. Trimbakji Dengale was captured after the war and was sent to the fortress of Chunar in Bengal where he spent the rest of his life. With all active resistance over, John Malcolm played a prominent part in capturing and pacifying the remaining fugitives.
Peshwa : Mukhya (main) Pradhan, Prime Minister to the Emperor, for supervising and governing in his absence. The Emperor’s orders bore the Peshwa’s seal.
Mutalik: Deputy to the Peshwa, Deputy Prime Minister to the Emperor
Rajadnya: Deputy to the Crown
Sardar Senapati or Sarnaubat: To manage military forces and administer lands (e.g., Sarsenapati Ghorpade)
Sardar: To manage military forces and administer lands
Mazumdar: An auditor to manage receipts and expenditures, keep the Crown informed of finances and sign district-level accounts
Amatya: Chief Mazumdar (Chief Revenue Minister) (e.g., Ramchandra Pant Amatya)
Navis or Waqia Mantri: to record daily activities of the royal family and to serve as the master of ceremonies
Sur Navis or Sacheev: Imperial Secretary, to oversee the Crown’s correspondence to ensure letter and style adherence (e.g., Shankaraji Narayan Sacheev)
Sumant or Dabir: Foreign Minister, to manage foreign affairs and receive ambassadors
Pandit: to adjudicate internal religious disputes and promote formal education and spiritual practice (e.g., Melgiri Pandit)
Nyayadhish: the highest judicial authority (Chief Justice).
Peshwa was the titular equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. Emperor Shivaji created the Peshwa designation in order to more effectively delegate administrative duties during the growth of the Maratha Empire. Prior to 1749, Peshwas held office for 8–9 years and controlled the Maratha army. They later became the de facto hereditary administrators of the Maratha Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818.
Under Peshwa administration and with the support of several key generals and diplomats (listed below), the Maratha Empire reached its zenith, ruling most of the Indian subcontinent landmass. It was also under the Peshwas that the Maratha Empire came to its end through its formal annexation into the British Empire by the British East India Company in 1818.
The Marathas used secular policy of administration and allowed complete freedom of religion. There were many notable Muslims in the military and administration of Marathas like Ibrahim Khan Gardi, Haider Ali Kohari, Daulat Khan, Siddi Ibrahim, Jiva Mahal etc.
Shivaji was an able administrator who established a government that included modern concepts such as cabinet, foreign affairs and internal intelligence. He established an effective civil and military administration. He believed that there was a close bond between the state and the citizens. He is remembered as a just and welfare-minded king. Cosme da Guarda says about Shivaji in ‘Life of the Celebrated Sevaji’:
“Such was the good treatment Shivaji accorded to people and such was the honesty with which he observed the capitulations that none looked upon him without a feeling of love and confidence. By his people he was exceedingly loved. Both in matters of reward and punishment he was so impartial that while he lived he made no exception for any person; no merit was left unrewarded, no offence went unpunished; and this he did with so much care and attention that he specially charged his governors to inform him in writing of the conduct of his soldiers, mentioning in particular those who had distinguished themselves, and he would at once order their promotion, either in rank or in pay, according to their merit. He was naturally loved by all men of valor and good conduct.”
However, the later Marathas are remembered more for their military campaigns, not for their administration. Hindu historians have criticized the treatment of Marathas with Jats and Rajputs. Historian K Roy writes:
“The treatment of Marathas with their co-religionist fellows – Jats and Rajputs was definitely unfair, and ultimately they had to pay its price in Panipat where Muslim forces had united in the name of religion.”
Maratha Empire, 1758 (in orange) was the major power in the Indian Sub-continent at that time.
Maratha Empire, at its peak, ruled over much of the Indian Subcontinent (modern-day Republic of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as bordering Nepal and Afghanistan). Apart from capturing various regions, the Marathas maintained a large number of tributaries who were bounded by agreement to pay a certain amount of regular tax, known as “Chauth”. Apart from capturing the whole Mughal Empire, the Maratha Empire defeated Sultanate of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, Nawab of Oudh, Nawab of Bengal, Nizam of Hyderabad and Nawab of Arcot as well as the Polygar kingdoms of South India. They extracted chauth from Delhi, Oudh, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Punjab, Hyderabad, Mysore, Uttar Pradesh and Rajput states.
In 1758, the Marathas started their north-west conquest and expanded their boundary till Afghanistan. They defeated Afghan forces in what is now Pakistan as well as Kashmir. The Afghans were numbered around 25,000-30,000 and were led by Timur Shah, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Marathas massacred and looted thousands of Afghan soldiers and captured Lahore, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Attock, Peshawar in the Punjab region and Kashmir. The Marathas were requested by Safdarjung, the Nawab of Oudh, in 1752 to help him defeat Afghani Rohilla. The Maratha force left Poona and defeated Afghan Rohilla in 1752, capturing the whole of Rohilkhand (present-day northwestern Uttar Pradesh).
During the confederacy era, Mahadji Sindhia resurrected the Maratha domination on much of North India, which was lost after the Third battle of Panipat including the cis-Sutlej states(south of Sutlej) like Kaithal, Patiala, Jind, Thanesar, Maler Kotla, and Faridkot, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh were under the suzeranity of the Scindhia dynasty of the Maratha Empire, following the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803-1805, Marathas lost these territories to the British.
A depiction of a British naval attack in 1755 against the fortress of Tulaji Angre of Maratha Navy at Suvarnadurg.
The Maratha Empire is credited with laying the foundation of the Indian Navy and bringing about considerable changes in naval warfare by introducing a blue-water navy. The Maratha Empire is also credited for developing many important cities like Pune, Baroda, and Indore. From its inception in 1674, the Marathas established a Naval force, consisting of cannons mounted on ships.
The dominance of the Maratha Navy started with the ascent of Kanhoji Angre as the Darya-Saranga by the Maratha chief of Satara. Under that authority, he was admiral of the Western coast of India from Mumbai to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in the present day state of Maharashtra, except for Janjira which was affiliated with the Mughal Empire. Until his death in 1729, he repeatedly attacked the colonial powers of Britain and Portugal, capturing numerous vessels of the British East India Company and extracting ransom for their return.
On 29 November 1721, a joint attempt by the Portuguese Viceroy Francisco José de Sampaio e Castro and the British General Robert Cowan to humble Kanhoji failed miserably. Their combined fleet consisted of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four Man-of-war besides other ships led by Captain Thomas Mathews of the Bombay Marine failed miserably. Aided by Maratha naval commanders Mendhaji Bhatkar and Mainak Bhandari, Kanhoji continued to harass and plunder the European ships until his death in 1729.
The ‘Pal’ was a three masted Maratha man-of-war with guns peeping on the broadsides.
Accounts by Afghans and Europeans
The Maratha army especially its infantry was praised by almost all the enemies of Maratha Empire, ranging from Duke of Wellington to Ahmad Shah Abdali. After the Third Battle of Panipat, Abdali was relieved as Maratha army in the initial stages were almost in the position of destroying the Afghan armies and their Indian Allies Nawab of Oudh and Rohillas. The grand wazir of Durrani Empire, Shah Wali Khan was shocked when Maratha commander-in-chief Sadashivrao Bhau launched a fierce assault on the centre of Afghan Army, over 3,000 Durrani soldiers were killed alongside Haji Atai Khan, one of the chief commander of Afghan army and nephew of wazir Shah Wali Khan. Such was the fierce assault of Maratha infantry in hand-to-hand combat that Afghan armies started to flee and the wazir in desperation and rage shouted “Comrades Whither do you fly, our country is far off”. Post battle Ahmad Shah Abdali in a letter to one Indian ruler claimed that Afghans were able to defeat the Marathas only because of the blessings of almighty and any other army would have been destroyed by the Maratha army on that particular day even though Maratha army was numerically inferior to Afghan army and its Indian allies. The letter is kept in the National Archives of India.
Similarly Duke of Wellington after defeating Marathas noted that Marathas though were poorly led by their Generals but their regular infantry and artillery matches the level of Europeans, he also warned other British officers from underestimating Marathas in battlefield. He cautioned one British general that: “You must never allow Maratha infantry to attack head on or in close hand to hand combat, as in that your army will cover itself with utter disgrace”. Even when Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington became Prime Minister of Britain he held Maratha infantry in utmost respect, claiming it to be one of the best in world at the same time however he noticed the poor leadership of Maratha Generals, who were often responsible for their defeats. Most British Authors agree that Maratha infantry was equal to that of British infantry after the Third Anglo-Maratha war in 1818, Maratha agreed to serve British Empire, and Britain listed Maratha as one of the Martial race.