Maratha History

By pjain      Published Dec. 23, 2019, 11:18 p.m. in blog Humanities-History-Blog   

Maratha Confederacy - ended Mughal after Aurangzeb

The Maratha Empire/Confederacy was a power that dominated a large portion of the Indian subcontinent in the 1700s.

It is interesting that Indian Hindutava historians like to call it an Empire like the Mughal or British Empire. But that misses the heart of the Maratha secret of success. It was rather more of a Confederacy as the British referred to it. The truth maybe a mixture - "neither term is fully accurate since one implies a substantial degree of centralisation and the other signifies some surrender of power to a central government and a longstanding core of political administrators". - historian Barbara Ramusack.

The Marathas are credited to a large extent for ending Mughal rule in India.

They fell to the British after weakened by internal divisions and competition for becoming the Peshwa.

Origin of Marathas as a Community

The Maratha were a Marathi-speaking warrior group from the western Deccan Plateau (present-day Maharashtra)

Mughal empire context - Aurangzeb's Suppression of Hindus who reigned from 1659-1707

The imposition of the jizya tax on Hindus and the demolition of several important Hindu temples during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

There was considerable chaos and misrule that prevailed in the Deccans in the late 1600 as the Mughal Empire expanded into southern India.

The patchwork of states to emerge from the declining Mughal Empire at the time was so complex that it was inevitable that alliances of convenience between states of different religious denominations were the norm.

The generals and subordinates were under less control of their Delhi bosses and did considerable more damage to local population.

Shivaji Chhatrapati

Shivaji of the Bhosale clan was b.1630 and died 1680.

Shivaji, who revolted against the Adil Shahi dynasty leading a resistance to free the people from the Sultanate of Bijapur in 1645 by winning the fort Torna, followed by many more forts, placing the area under his control

His innovation was to use the patriotic impulse of Hindavi Swarajya to unite peasants and minor nobility who were being oppressed by Muslims and being squeezed far more than normal kaffir tax.

Eventually he carved out a kingdom with Raigad as his capital which comprised only 5% of the subcontinent. At the time of Shivaji's death, it was reinforced with about 300 forts, and defended by about 40,000 cavalry, and 50,000 foot soldiers, as well as naval establishments along the west coast.

Over time, the kingdom would increase in size and heterogeneity. by the time of his grandson's rule, and later under the Peshwas in the early 18th century, it was a full-fledged empire. It was eventually spread over large tracts under Maratha hegemony ie owning fealty and taxes upto 25% of revenue of subservient kings.

The empire formally existed from 1674 with the coronation of Shivaji as the Chhatrapati

Sambhaji (1657–1689)
Rajaram Chhatrapati (1670–1700)

Mega Coronation 1674 - beating the Queen of England!

The Maratha state took an enormous effort to coronate Shivaji in 1674. For a thousand+ years grand Hindu imperial coronations were rare, due to most rajas being the rulers of smaller states or under Mughal control.

During the coronation, Shivaji housed and fed 50,000 guests including Brahmins (Hindu priests) from all over India, had himself weighed against seven metals and various valuable spices, all before bathing in water brought over from the Ganges river, sacred to Hindus. Finally, he was declared lord of the umbrella (Chhatrapati, his title), a traditional symbol of kingship for great Hindu and Buddhist rulers, in imitation of the gods Varuna and Vishnu, signifying that the world was encompassed under the great king’s umbrella.

Thus, by intent and symbolism, it is clear that the Marathas were clearly establishing an empire steeped in Hindu culture and symbolism, if not formally so in a political manner.

Marathas and Rajputs were Mother Goddess Worshippers not Shiva

Tbe popular belief is the modern "Shiv Sena" indicates Shiva worshipping like northern Indian Nagas.

However, contrary to popular belief, Shivaji was not named after Lord Shiva. In fact, he was named after a regional Goddess Shivai. His mother prayed to the goddess for a son and was blessed with one.

Why Shivaji is admired today

Shivaji is admired for reversomg centuries of steadily increasing Muslim political control over the subcontinent majority Hindus.

Eventually the Marathas became the largest state in South Asia and the Mughal emperors in Delhi were its puppets.

Shahu

After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Shahu, grandson of Shivaji, was released by the Mughals. Following a brief struggle with his aunt Tarabai, Shahu became the ruler and appointed Balaji Vishwanath

--- Shivaji's Military DNA : Key Factors behind Maratha Success

Deccan Mountains - Protection from Northern Rivalries

  • Deccan Hills and Pune as impregnable defense

The terrain of the Deccan plateau esp. around Pune was nearly impregnable esp. for the cavalry and hard to move cannons of the Mughal forces. Basically whatever worked FOR the Mughals (and Afghans) on the flat north Indian plains, worked AGAINST them once they hit the hills of the Deccan.

  • It was no wonder, that Shaniwarwada palace fort in Pune while not really that huge like the Red Fort or Agra Fort, was still the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire for 100+ years until 1818.

Mobility and Speed - cavalry huge advantage

At this point in Indian history, the cavalry clearly had the upper hand, more so than poorly armed and trained infantry and elephant units, which had limited utility in battle despite always being sought out.

The Mughal army was huge, mostly infantry and very factional. Often they used levies or even conscripted peasants or even slaves. As such while large, there was little cohesion.

The Rajput kings spent a LOT on elephants and

In contrast, the swaraj and tribal nature of Maratha units also using cavalry more, allowed mobility and exploiting independent control.

Known for their mobility, the Maratha were able to consolidate their territory during the Mughal–Maratha Wars and later controlled a large part of the Indian subcontinent.

Guns rare, though Artillery Gradually eliminated advantage of Forts

In South Asia even till 1800, as contrast to European wars, firearms were relatively rare, despite being present in the subcontinent ever since the 15th century. Gunpowder was chiefly used for artillery, which was widely used.

Classic Arms - basically Rajputana

Formal training - elite REGULAR forces vs conscripted peasants

  • While the nobility hoarded the best arms and training from earliest ages (see description of Vishwasrao Peshwa above) - the princes and even some princesses followed strenuous gym routines.

However, gradually the Marathas created a standing professional army of soldiers, sort of like the Spartans.

  • However it was pretty late in 1750s+ starting formally with Nanasaheb Peshwa who introduced regular army training and added the best armour to the Maratha army.

Self-Rule, Hindutava, Blessed by

His innovation was to use the patriotic impulse of Hindavi Swarajya to unite peasants and minor nobility who were being oppressed by Muslims and being squeezed far more than normal kaffir tax.

Marathas rose to prominence by establishing a Hindavi Swarajya (meaning "self-rule of Hindu/Indian people").

Secular - allowed merging Muslim militias

Shivaji was well known as a secular ruler and very accommodating of all religions.

He had numerous Muslim soldiers in his army. His only aim was to overthrow Mughal rule and establish Maratha empire. He was also very supportive of people who converted to Hinduism.

Enlightened Treatment of Captured Populace esp Women

In a culture where previous Muslim invaders and even Rajputs would grab the wifes of nobles down to farmland and farmer wives as "loot".

The resistance to being captured depended on the downside. - The Early Afghans put entire populations to the sword - whether they resisted or not - so there was a huge incentive to do so. - Mughals had the tax on non-muslims, but esp. after Akbar did not oppress the majority Hindus all that much - Rajput prices were generally good with the rural populace, but their queens would self-immolate - depriving victors of the "spoils" - giving huge incentive to fiercely resist new elites from taking over. - Marathas were about the best

Enlightened Treatment of Women

In contrast, Shivaji initiated a Maratha culture as a dependable supporter of women. 1. Shivaji opposed all kinds of violence, harassment and dishonor against women. 2. Anyone under his rule caught violating woman's rights was severely punished. 3. Women of captured territories were also released unharmed, and with integrity.

Role of elephants slowed down Rajputs - don't work in Mountains - Marathas thrived on Cavalry

The young Vishwasrao Peshwa during Battle of Udgir, he was unstoppable with the bow and arrow while mounted on an war-elephant.

EZ masters - Not occupying powers - Chautha - act as military warlords

A criticism (and reason for opposition by their enemies) was they campaigned for chauth, a fourth of the revenue of other kingdoms, whether Hindu or Muslim. Maratha raids against Bengal in 1742 and Jaipur in 1750 are especially criticized because these led to the deaths of many Hindus.

Forts

Guerrilla warfare tactics

Chhatrapati Shivaji was called as the 'Mountain Rat' and was widely known for his guerrilla warfare tactics. He was called so because of his awareness in geography of his land, and guerrilla tactics like raiding, ambushing and surprise attacks on his enemies.

Benefited from Power Vacuum and avoiding direct fights with Mughals

Shivaji, who revolted against the Adil Shahi dynasty, and carved out a kingdom with Raigad as his capital.

History under Peshwas

Death of Aurangzeb in 1707

After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Shahu, grandson of Shivaji, was released by the Mughals. Following a brief struggle with his aunt Tarabai, Shahu became the ruler and appointed Balaji Vishwanath and later, his descendants, as the peshwas or prime ministers of the Confedracy.

The Maratha discussed abolishing the Mughal throne and placing Vishwasrao Peshwa born 1741 on the Mughal imperial throne in Delhi but were not able to do so as he died at an young age at Third Battle of Panipat in 1761.

The Marathas are credited to a large extent for ending Mughal rule in India.

Peswas Bhats Central behind Maratha fiefdoms - in power 1713 - 1818

Smart and clever Brahmins and Jains have in Indian history built up strong empires from the days of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya.

The Bhats, a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin family who gained effective control of the Maratha Empire during the 18th century. One of the best things Shivaji's grandson Shahu did was to appoint Balaji Vishwanath and later his descendants, as the peshwas or prime ministers of the empire.

Peshwa is simple Marathi for Prime Minister, like common Sindhi surname of Vazirs. From Balaji Vishwanath onwards, actual power gradually shifted to the Bhat family Peshwas based in Pune. Balaji and his descendants played a key role in the expansion of Maratha rule.

Balaji Vishwanath 1713

Balaji Vishwanath (b.1662–d.1720) was the first Peshwa.

Balaji Vishwanath assisted a young Maratha Emperor Chhatrapati Shahu, grandson of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, to consolidate his grip on a kingdom that had been racked by civil war and persistent attack by the Mughals under Aurangzeb. He was called "the second founder of the Maratha State."[

  • 1713–1720

Bajirao Ballal Balaji Bhat (1720–1740)

He was the Peshwa, or prime minister, of the Maratha Empire from 1720 to 1740. Bajirao was an extremely successful general who won 40 battles.

Marriage to Muslim Mastani

The movie Bajirao Mastani follows the life and career and social difficulties on the home front due to his second marriage to a Muslim woman named Mastani.

Shrimant Vishwasrao Peshwa (March 7, 1741 – January 14, 1761)

He was the eldest son of Balaji Baji Rao Bhat, Peshwa of Pune of the Maratha Empire and also was the heir to the title of Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. Shrimant Vishwasrao had received training in administration and warfare from the age of 8 years old. He had impressed the Maratha infantry by his performance at Sindkheda and Udgir battle 1760. His specialty was Bow and Arrow or Dhanur-vidya along with sword fighting. During Battle of Udgir, he was unstoppable with the bow and arrow while mounted on an war-elephant. Vishwasrao was tall and well-built following the genetic constitution of the Peshwa family.

Balaji Bajirao Bhat Peshwa

  • Balaji Bajirao Bhat Peshwa (4 Jul. 1740 – 23 Jun. 1761) (b. 8 Dec. 1721, d. 23 Jun. 1761)

Marathas empire in 1759 (marked in yellow)

The empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu[12] in the south, to Peshawar (modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan[13][note 2]) in the north, and Bengal Subah in the east.

Lost Third Battle of Panipat Jan 1761 and Decline

They over-reached limits in their imperial expansion into Afghanistan. This directly threatened the Afghan Durrani Empire which allied with the Nawab of Awadh, and Rohillas under Najib ad-Dawlah.

In 1761, the Maratha Army had a serious setback when it lost the Third Battle of Panipat. Their power was virtually wiped out of northern India and the confederacy itself experienced fragmentation. The Bhonsles of Nagpur did not participate and tried to remain aloof of the aftermath as well.

The young Vishwasrao Peshwa during Battle of Udgir, he was unstoppable with the bow and arrow while mounted on an war-elephant. He was therefore considered a hero by the men.

The popular myth is that in Third Battle of Panipat, his death demoralized them even while near winning over the Afghans. However the real story is one of defection by a key battalion led by Holkars.

  1. Marathas were very divided about fighting in far north even beyond the Mughal seat of Delhi - ie they were killing themselves for disloyal "allies". They were not the well organized and disciplined force, but rather a ragtag assembly of multiple general led forces thrown together at the last moment. Even when the Marathas were winning the battle but some contingents charged ahead of their cue obstructed the cannon lines creating a problem for

  2. Artillery was a strategic advantage thwarting the otherwise stronger Afghan army. Ibrahim Khan Gardi at aiming for the enemies, depriving the Marathas of artillery support. Ibrahim was trained to the French discipline in Pondicherry as commandant de la garde to Gov General Bussy. He was a formidable expert in artillery. He then served the Nizam of Hyderabad, and participated in the Battle of Palkhed against the Marathas. But when Marathas won, he started working for the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. As a general of the Maratha Empire, he commanded a force of 10,000 men, infantry and artillery. He had an extreme sense of loyalty to his master Sadashivrao Bhau staying to support troops even when several Maratha Generals deserted.

  3. Vishwasrao Peshwa got hit in the head by a shot fired by a Pashtun officer during the period of the most intense fighting (Approx. between 01:00 PM and 02:30 PM) at Third Battle of Panipat. He died fighting on the front lines.

  4. Upon hearing about Shrimant Vishwasrao's death Malharrao Holkar retreated from the field with at least 10,000 soldiers and sardars. This depleted the already out numbered Marathas (according to story by Grant Duff). Holkar also took men of significance like Damaji Gaekwad with him.

  5. Holkar went to Delhi and asked people of significance like Vinchurkar to vacate Delhi. So the Panipat Battle really hollowed out Marathas from entire northern India. On the other hand, early withdrawal by Holkars probably preserved their Deccan empire with the bulk of their forces.

Resurrection under Madhavrao I Peshwa and Dominance of South India

  • Madhavrao Peshwa (1761–18 Nov.1772) (b. 16 Feb. 1745, d. 18 Nov. 1772)

The Maratha Resurrection restored Maratha supremacy, both in Deccan and Delhi in the period between the Third Battle of Panipat on January 14, 1761 and capture of Najibabad in 1773.

After the death of Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao Bhat, Madhavrao I became Peshwa under the regency of Raghunathrao Bhat who attempted to strongly control him resulting in quarrels with Raghunathrao.

  1. The young Peshwa's victory over the Nizam of Hyderabad and Hyder Ali of Mysore in southern India proved Maratha dominance in the Deccan.

  2. Mahadji Shinde's victory over Jats of Mathura, Rajputs of Rajasthan. and others like Nana Fadnavis, Jivabadada Bakshi helped in the Capture of Delhi in 1771. Then victory over the Pashtun-Rohillas of Rohilkhand (in the western part of present-day Uttar Pradesh state) re-established the Marathas in the northern India.

  3. With the capture of Najibabad in 1772 and with the installation of Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II as a puppet monarch to the throne under Maratha suzerainty.

By 1773 the resurrection of Maratha power in the North was complete ten years after Panipat.

Narayanrao Bajirao (13 Dec. 1772–30 Aug.1773) (b. 10 Aug. 1755, d. 30 Aug. 1773)

Decline Starts - 1775 British Merchants Exploit Peshwa Divisions

British and Portuguese hated Maratha Coastal dominance

A large portion of the Maratha empire was coastline, which had been secured by the potent Maratha Navy under commanders such as Kanhoji Angre.

He was very successful at keeping foreign naval ships at bay, particularly those of the Portuguese and British nations. Kanhoji fought against the British, Dutch and Portuguese naval interests on the coasts of India during the 18th century. Despite the attempts of the British and Portuguese to subdue Angre, he remained undefeated until his death.

Securing the coastal areas and building land-based fortifications were crucial aspects of the Maratha's defensive strategy and regional military history.

First Anglo-Maratha War

In 1775, the East India Company intervened in a Peshwa family succession struggle in Pune, which led to the First Anglo-Maratha War where Marathas won and remained the pre-eminent power in India.

  • Raghunathrao (5 Dec. 1773–1774) (b. 18 Aug. 1734, d. 11 Dec. 1783)
  • Sawai Madhava Rao II Narayan (1774–27 October 1795) (b. 18 Apr. 1774, d. 27 October 1795)
  • Baji Rao II (6 Dec. 1796 – 3 Jun.1818) (d. 28 Jan. 1851)

Second Anglo-Maratha War 1805

Marathas lost this but was not devastating.

Third Anglo-Maratha War ~1818

The Maratha Empire ended in 1818 with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II.

Adaptations of Marathas under Peshwas

Central Peshwas as Prime-Ministers - Uniformity and Continuity of Policy vs Arbitrary Militias

Allowing Independent for Local Decisive Command

The Mughal army was huge and very factional. Often they used levies or even conscripted peasants or even slaves. As such while large, there was little cohesion. In contrast, the swaraj and tribal nature of Maratha units also using cavalry more, allowed mobility and exploiting independent control.

But as the Maratha Confederation became larger, the cohesion became less - as their enemies banded together the internal dissensions manifested. One of the lessons of Third Battle of Panipat was the lack of communication and coordination of large 10,000+ armies. This created uncertainty and lack of battle plans.

In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, Madhavrao gave semi-autonomy to the strongest of the knights, and created a confederacy of Maratha states with the following "natural" tribal leaders. These also had better alignment with customs, tongues and cultures of local populaces than a remote Maratha Peshwa.

Holkars of Indore
Scindias of Gwalior
Gaikwads of Baroda
Bhonsales of Nagpur
Meheres of Vidharbha
Puars of Dewas and Dhar
Patwardhans

Trade Wealth

Traps of Maratha Power

Trap: Tribes & Strong Houses of Maratha Confederacy

Like the Rajputs the Marathas were also thousands of tribes and petty princes. However, by having the "civil" leaders of the Peshwas who could be considered as Maharajas or Prime Ministers - they were able to avoid the natural petty fights and divisions. They rose when that happened and fell when the fragmentation dominated.

The confederacy itself experienced fragmentation - loyalty was to local noble tribes more than abstract Marathas ranging thousands of miles away. For example in Third Battle of Panipat, the Bhonsles of Nagpur did not participate and tried to remain aloof of the aftermath as well.

Trap of Military-Industrial Complex

Starting from Shivaji, the Marathas knew the importance of a good army, and with his skills, expanded his father's 2000 soldier army to 10,000 soldiers.

The Marathas overreached their expansion. Essentially with a large standing army, they needed new conquests and tributes to justify it. The bulk of the rewards came from halted FROM IMMEDIATE new conquests.

Trap of Over-reaching core bases of supply and Logistics

While mobile and strong, they did not have loyal or reliable support in newer areas. As an example, they over-reached limits in their imperial expansion into Afghanistan. This directly threatened the Afghan Durrani Empire which allied with the Nawab of Awadh, and Rohillas under Najib ad-Dawlah.

Trap of Centralization

Trap of Fragmented Tribes

Like the Rajputs the Marathas were also thousands of tribes and petty princes.

The confederacy itself experienced fragmentation - loyalty was to local noble tribes more than abstract Marathas ranging thousands of miles away. The Bhonsles of Nagpur did not participate and tried to remain aloof of the aftermath as well.

## Trap: British choked off Highest profit trade at heart of Bombay

# References

Resources

Movies and Documentaries

  • Bollywood film, Bajirao Mastani

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