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The Maratha Empire

The Maratha Empire existed from 1674 to 1818. It reined most of the South Asian territories during its peak time. In 1674, the independent Maratha Kingdom was founded by King Shivaji Raje Bhosale. He was the only king in India whose vision embraced the principles of God, country and religion. The Hindu Marathas who lived in the western portions of Deccan plateau had resisted attacks in their region by the Mughal rulers.

The Marathas gained freedom from the Muslim rulers of Bijapur under the leadership Shivaji Maharaj. They began to raid and ransack the Muslim territories and captured Surat in 1664. The same year Shivaji Maharaj declared himself as the ruler of Marathas taking the title of Chhatrapati. Under his leadership the Marathas spread and conquered some parts of central India. The Marathas lost to the Mughals and the British after the death of Shivaji Maharaj in 1680.

Sambhaji and Rajaram were the two sons of Shivaji Maharaj. The elder son Sambhaji was popular among people and courtiers and he throned himself as king in 1681 after the death of his father. He recommenced his father’s expansionalist endeavors by crushing the Portuguese and Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb wanted to break the Maratha Rajput coalition which resulted in eight year of battle between the two sides. Marathas led my Sambhaji gave Aurangzeb a tough time until he was captured by the Mughal troops on 1st February, 1698 when he was about to leave the town of Sagameshwar. The mughal Emperor offered Sambhaji freedom on the conditions that he should embrace Islam and surrender all his forts, treasures and disclose the name of all the mughal officers who helped him. Sambhaji refused to accept the proposal and he was brutally tortured to death by the Mughals.

Sambhaji’s brother Rajaram resumed throne after his death. Satara was conquered by the Mughals in 1700 and Rajaram died at the same time. His widow resumed the throne and heroically led the Marathas against the Mughals in 1705 who lost this important battle to the Marathas. This victory again set the foundations of Maratha Empire.

Emperor Bhahdur Shah released Shahuji, son of Sambhaji after the death of Aurangzeb on the condition that he will always side Mughals and will not rise against them. To endure that Shahuji kept his word, his mother was held captive. Shahuji challenged his aunt Tarabai and her son and claimed the throne of Maratha Empire. Shahuji finally managed to become the Emperor of Maratha Empire because he helped the mughal in dethroning the Emperor of Delhi. In return gave him his empire and freed his mother. He was the only Maratha ruler who held the maximum territory under his ownership.

Peshwas meaning prime ministers also had a major role to play during the Maratha reign. Ramchandra Pant Amatya Bawdekar was the first peshwas who had his loyalties to Tarabai. After the advent of Shahuji in 1707 he was sidelined and the post of state peshwa was given to Balaji Vishwanath. After Balaji Vishwanath’s death in 1713, his son Baji Rao I was appointed Peshwa in 1719. He was a noted general and he led his troops with bravery and never lost a battle in his life. His son Balaji Bajirao also known as Nana Sahib was appointed as the next Peshwa after he passed away. The period from 1741 to 1745 was a peaceful time. During this time Nana Sahib brought noted improvements in the State by encouraging agriculture and safeguarding the villages. Shahiji died in 1749 but Nana Sahib’s brother continued expansion of the Maratha Empire and almost one thirds of the territory of Indian sub continent was under the control of Marathas.

The Peshwa led Maratha army was defeated 1761 in the third battle of Panipat by the Afghan led alliance of Indo Muslims. Madhavrao Peshwa after 1761 tried hard to revive the Maratha Empire. In order to manage such a large state he gave semi autonomy to the bravest knights of the army which gave rise to the formation of many princely states like Aundh, Bhor, Jat, Miraj etc. Further, the British led Anglo-Maratha wars considerably weakened the empire resulting in the defeat of the Marathas giving control to the British to rule most parts of India.

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