Updated February 20, 2023
Exploring facts on Maratha Empire or Maratha Confederacy (1674-1818) throws up some really interesting things. The foremost, the Maratha Empire (1674-1818) has a more glorious history than ever written. Inspiration for Indian Navy and the first Hindu Sovereign state, the Martha Empire offers a lot to history enthusiasts.
Maratha Empire aka Maratha Confederacy was a ruling regime spanning across a large portion of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century. The existence of the Empire starts in 1674 with the coronation of Shivaji as the Chhatrapati and seems co-terminating with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II in the hands of the British East India Company in 1818.
In 1674, Maharaj Shivaji was coronated at the capital Raigarh and assumed the title of Haindava Dharmodharak (protector of Hinduism). Shivaji came from the Bhonsle Maratha clan. Ending the Mughal reign and bringing Hindu Swarajya was one major objective of the Marathas. Accordingly, they fought hard against the Mughal reign and succeeded to a great extent. Hence, history accords the Maratha credits for ending Mughal rule and bringing Hindu Swarajya in India.
Who Were the Marathas, Central to The Maratha Empire?
The history identifies Marathas as a Marathi-speaking warrior group from the Western Deccan Plateau (present-day Maharashtra) who shot to prominence by founding a Hindavi Swarajya (meaning “self-rule of Hindu/Indian people”). Obviously, the Marathas gained prominence in the 17th century under the leadership of Shivaji Maharaj and subsequent Hindu rulers.
Maharaj Shivaji revolted against the Adil Shahi dynasty and set up his own kingdom with Raigad as its capital. His father, Shahji had earlier conquered Thanjavur which Shivaji’s step-brother, Venkoji Rao alias Ekoji inherited this territory called as Thanjavur Maratha kingdom. Thanjavur Marathi was the regional dialect of this kingdom.
Marathas, on account of a great warrior quality, had been able to consolidate their territory during the Mughal–Maratha Wars. They, at peak of the empire, controlled Tanjavour to Attock (in current Pakistan).
Maratha Empire aka Maratha Confederation (1674-1818)- Interesting History Facts
I. Maratha Empire /State (1674-1720)
Maratha power under Shivaji and in later years until the Peshwas acquired Military Power, was a centralized state, precisely an empire. The period of 1674- 1720 marks the era of such an Empire.
However, post 1720 AD the Maratha Empire saw meteoric expansion and devolution of power to Peshwas and Knights was felt necessary to manage the state affairs making the regime a confederacy.
For the most part of the 18th century, Marathas were the strongest ruling force that controlled a major part of India. It was the last of the Indian kingdoms to be defeated by the British colonial regime. Importantly, even after the defeat of the last Maratha ruler, the area ceded by him was treated as a separate administrative unit for almost a decade.
Shivaji (1674-80)- The Founding Emperor of the Maratha Empire
1. Born at Shivneri Fort in 1627.
2. His father’s name was Shivaji Bhonsle and his mother’s name was Jija Bai. His Religious Teacher was Samarth Ramdas.
3. Shivaji inherited the Jagir of Poona from his father in 1737.
4. After the death of his guardian, Dadaji Kondadev in 1647, he assumed full charge of his Jagir.
5. He conquered many Forts namely, Singh Garh / Kondana (1643), Rohind & Chakan (1644-45), Toran (1646), Purandhar (1648), Rajgarh / Raigarh (1656), Supa (1656) & Panhala (1659).
6. Afzal Khan was deputed by Adil Shah (ruler of Bijapur) to Punish Shivaji but later Afzal Khan was murdered by Shivaji.
7. Shaista Khan, governor of Deccan was deputed by Aurangzeb to put down the rising power of Sivaji in 1660. Shivaji lost Poona and suffered several defeats till he made a bold attack on Shaista Khan (1663) and plundered Surat (1664) and later Ahmadnagar.
8. Raja Jai Singh succeeded in besieging Shivaji in the fort of Purandhar. Consequently, the treaty of Purandhar (1665) was signed according to which Shivaji ceded some forts to the Mughals and paid a visit to the Mughal court at Agra.
9. In 1674 Shivaji was coronated at the capital Raigarh and assumed the title of Haindava Dharmodharak (Protector of Hinduism).
10. After that Chhatrapati Shivaji continued the struggle with the Mughals and Siddis (Janjira). He conquested Karnataka during 1677-80.
11. Shivaji divided his territory under his rule (Swaraj) into three provinces, each under a viceroy. Provinces were divided into prants which were subdivided into pranganas or tarafs. The lowest unit was the village headed by Patel (Headman).
12. Shivaji was helped by ashtapradhan (eight ministers) which was unlike a council of ministers, for there was no collective responsibility, each minister was directly responsible to Shivaji.
Sambhaji (1680-89)- The Second Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire
13. Sambhaji, the elder son of Shivaji. He defeated Rajaram, the younger son of Shivaji in the war of succession.
14. He provided protection and support to Akbar II, the rebellious son of Aurangzeb. 15. He was captured at Sangameswar by a Mughal noble and executed.
Rajaram (1689-1700)- The Third Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire
16. He succeeded the throne with the help of the minister of Raigarh.
17. He fled from Raigarh to Jinji in 1689 due to a Mughal invasion in which Raigarh was captured along with Sambhaji’s wife and son (Sahu) by the Mughals.
18. Rajaram died at Satara which had become the capital after the fall of Jinji to the Mughal in 1698.
Tarabai (1700-07)- The Queen of Chhatrapati Rajaram Bhonsale
19. Rajaram was succeeded by his minor son Shivaji II under the Guardianship of his mother Tarabai.
20. Tarabai continued the struggle with the Mughals.
Shahu (1707-1749)- The Fifth Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire
21. Shahu was released by the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah.
22. Tarabai’s army was defeated by Shahu at the battle of Khed (1700) and Shahu occupied Satara.
23. But the Southern part of the Maratha kingdom with its capital Kolhapur continued to be under the control of descendants of Rajaram (Shivaji II and later Sambhaji II).
Balaji Vishwanath (1713-20): The Sixth Peshwa
24. Although five Peshwas had preceded Balaji Vishwanath, they largely acted as heads of the council of ministers, Military administration was not their authority. Shahuji for the first time appointed Balaji Vishwanath with military control in Peshwa’s hands. Basically, it was a return of favour wherein, Vishwanath had helped Shauji grab the throne from his aunt Tarabai.
24A. He began his career as a small revenue official and was given the title of Sena Karte (a marker of the army) by Shahu in 1708.
25. He became Peshwa in 1713 and made the post the most important and powerful as well as hereditary.
26. He played a crucial role in the final victory of Shahu by winning over almost all the Maratha Sardars to the side of Shahu.
26A. Balaji Vishwanath was from a Bhat Brahmin and the introduction of non-Marathas started from him.
Maratha Confederacy (1720-1818)- From Genesis to End
The Era of the Maratha confederacy starts in 1720 as the empire expanded many times transcending many sovereign territories. Entrusting power to the able hands of Bhat Brahmin Peshwas and the death of Aurangzeb earlier in 1707 were the reasons behind it. And, Shahu ji was at the helm of this great expansion though as a figurative head.
Shahuji decided to expand with armies under the Peshwas’ control. Expansion took place but after his death (1749) Peshwas became effective ruler. The leading Maratha families—Scindia, Holkar, Bhonsle, and Gaekwad all extended their conquests in northern and central India but grew more independent and difficult to control. Thus, the Maratha confederacy started taking shape.
Marathas evolved arrogant with expansion and failed to keep Jat and Rajput under the flock. Thus, they met with the decisive defeat of Panipat (1761) at the hands of the Afghans. The death of the young Peshwa Madhav Rao I in 1772 added a blow to the Maratha empire. The Peshwas had got weakened after the death of Sadashiv Rao Bhau Peshwa in Pnaipat III and the differences of Maratha generals with Peshwa just went on rising.
It was Madhav Rao I who had tried consolidating the empire by giving considerable autonomy to the stronger Knights of Peshwas (of Pune), Gaekwads (of Baroda), Holkars (of Indore), Scindias (of Gwalior) Bhonsales (of Nagpur) and even within the Original Kingdom of Shivaji. Thus, such developments turned Maratha Empire into a confederacy of five/six chiefs under the nominal leadership of the Peshwas of Poona.
Subordination to Peshwa was not acceptable equally to all besides infights. Especially, the Holkars were strongly averse to Peshwas mainly on policy lines. So, they defeated Peshwa Baji Rao II and Scindia Supported him in a provoked battle, the battle of Poona 1802. Unwisely, Peshwa Baji Rao II sought protection from the British. However, an invited intervention from the British destroyed the Maratha confederacy by 1818.
Baji Rao I (1720-1740)- The 7th Peshwa of the Maratha Empire
27. Baji Rao I, the eldest son of Balaji Vishwanath succeeded him as Peshwa at the young age of 20.
28. He was considered the greatest exponent of guerrilla tactics after Shivaji and Maratha’s power reached its zenith under him.
29. Under him several Maratha families became prominent and got themselves entrenched in different a part of India.
30. After defeating and expelling the Siddis of Janjira from the mainland (1722), he conquered Bassein and Salsette from the Portuguese (1739).
Balaji Baji Rao (1740-61)- The 8th Peshwa of the Maratha Empire
31. Popularly known as Nan Saheb, he succeeded his father at the age of 20.
32. After the death of Shahu (1749), the management of all state affairs was left in his hand.
33. In an agreement with the Mughal emperor Ahmad shah, the Peshwa was to protect the Mughal empire from internal and external enemies (like Ahmad Shah Abdali) in return for Chauth (1752).
34. Third battle of Panipat (January 14, 1761) resulted in the defeat of the Marathas by Ahmad Shah Abdali and the death of Viswas Rao & Shadashiv Rao Bhau. This event shocked the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao and after six months he also died. This battle ended the Maratha Power.
35. Madhav Rao (1761-72), Narayan Rao (1772-73), Sawai Madhav Rao (1773-95) & Balaji Rao II (1795-1818).
The Anglo- Maratha Wars
36. First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82): Favouring the cause of Raghunath Rao (Raghoba) for Peshwaship, the English (Hastings) came into conflicts with the Marathas. On being defeated, the British had to sign the humiliating Convention of Wadgaon (1779).
37. British later signed the Treaty of Salbai (1782), renouncing the cause of Raghoba.
38. Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-06): The Maratha Peshwa signed the Subsidiary Alliance Treaty of Bassein (1802).
39. The Maratha confederacy which did not like the idea challenged the British power but was defeated by the British.
40. The Anglo-Maratha War (1817-18): Lord Hasting was determined to proclaim British paramountcy in India. Hastings moves against Pindaris transgressed the sovereignty of the Maratha chiefs and the war began.
41. The Marathas were decisively defeated.
Frequently Asked Questions On Maratha Empire Facts
Ans: For bravery, typical guerilla warfare, having the first Navy. In fact, the Marathas were the last major power which could easily take on the British.
Ans: It was Shivaji (1630 -1680) who founded Maratha Empire. In terms of the Confederacy concept which developed much later his death, Shivaji hailed from Bhosale Clan.
Ans: Shahu ji Maharaj can be regarded as the founder of the Maratha Confederation. Confederacy, however, is a concept of a group of kingdoms in an autonomous capacity which evolved through time.
Ans: Maratha Empire grew later into a Confederation of kingdoms like Peshwa in Pune, Shinde/Scindia in Gwalior, Bhosale at Nagpur, Gaikwad at Baroda and Holkar at Indore.
Ans: The Maratha Confederation comprised concurrent administrations of the Maratha Empire by the Scindia, Holkar, Bhonsle, and Gaekwad clans. They were more or less independent in controls
Ans. Emperor Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the father of the Indian Navy. Providing for the defence of the coastline was his brainchild. Kanhoji Angre, aka Conajee Angria aka Sarkhel Angre, was the most powerful chief of the Maratha Navy (Admiral).
Ans. Years after the death of Shivaji in 1680, Kanhoji was appointed as Sarkhel or Darya-Saranga (Admiral) by the chief of Satara around 1698. The western coast of India from Mumbai to Victoria (now Vengurla) of today’s Maharashtra came under his authority. He kept the British, Dutch and Portuguese ships at bay, captured them and collected heavy taxes as well.
Ans: Marathas Empire spanned from Tanjavur [In Tamil Nadu] to Attock [In Pakistan] at its peak.
Ans: ‘Chhatrapati’ used to be the nominal head while ‘Peshwa’ used to be the executive head (Prime Minister). After Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the grandson of Shivaji Maharaj, the two-tier head system was introduced in Maratha.
Ans: Guerrilla Warfare was the speciality of Marathas. They managed to beat many enemies and the Mughals could never defeat the Maratha kingdom.
Ans: It was the Scindias! Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (1759- 1806) lived under the protection of the powerful Scindias of Gwalior (a Maratha Kingdom) until the Marathas were defeated by the British in 1818.
Ans: Mahadji Shinde aka mahadji Scindia aka Madhava Rao Sindhia is respected as powerful Maratha Power who revived the Maratha Power after a weakened Maratha in Panipat 3rd 1761.
Ans: Scindia Kingdom Supported the British in 1857 which is an awkward fact of history and possibly a scar on the nationalist ideology of Marathas. Lord Canning after the 1857 revolts said, “If Scindias of Gwalior did help the rebellions, perhaps it would have been the End of our affairs here”.
Possibly yes, had all the Kingdoms of Maratha been united. But in fact, with progressing timeline, the kingdoms of Maratha got into Jealousy, internal Rivalry and infighting. And, the British took advantage of the weaknesses by defeating Marathas in 1818 and later used Scindia to their advantage esp. in 1857.
Ans: Formed in 1768, Maratha Light Infantry is the oldest light infantry regiment of the Indian Army professing Battle Cry “Bol, Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai.
Ans: Sambhaji Raje, 13th direct descendant of Shivaji Maharaj and the great-grandson of Shahu of Kolhapur and Udayanraje Bhosale (grandson of Shahu III of Satara, from adopted lineage) are in active politics. Scindias in active politics are also the Maratha clan but not direct descendants of Shivaji Maharaj.