The Marathas

The Marathas were minor chieftains serving in the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda. When these kingdoms became weak, the Marathas declared their independence. They began to control the region around modern Pune. Soon, they conquered more territories in the Konkan region. The man who laid the foundations of a powerful Maratha kingdom was Shivaji.

Shivaji Bhonsle

The Marathas became well-organised and powerful under the leadership of Shivaji. He was born in 1627. His father, Shahji Bhonsle, was a high official in the Bijapur kingdom. Jija Bai, his mother and Dadaji Kondadev, his guardian shaped the early life of Shivaji.

Early Successes Shivaji was very ambitious since his childhood; he dreamt of establishing a large and powerful empire. While still young, he put together a small army. When the kingdom of Bijapur became weak, he used guerrilla tactics to capture many forts near Pune.

War with Bijapur

The growing power of Shivaji alarmed the king of Bijapur. He sent an army under Afzal Khan to defeat and kill Shivaji. However, it was Shivaji who succeeded in killing Afzal Khan. He then defeated the Bijapuri army and captured a large booty.

War with the Mughals

Aurangzeb considered Shivaji as the greatest threat to the Mughal Empire. In the year 1663, he sent Shaista Khan to defeat Shivaji. One day, Shivaji and his soldiers entered the Mughal camp at night and wounded Shaista Khan. Shivaji then defeated the Mughal army. A year later, Shivaji attacked Surat, which was under the Mughals, and looted it. This was a big blow to the Mughal Empire.

Alarmed the growing power of Shivaji, Aurangzeb sent Raja Jai Singh to the Deccan. Jai Singh besieged Shivaji in the fort of Purandhar. Seeing all roads blocked, Shivaji agreed to sign a peace treaty (Treaty of Purandhar) with Jai Singh. He agreed

  • to surrender 23 forts to Aurangzeb
  • to accept Aurangzeb as his overlord and pay him an annual tribute
  • to go and meet Aurangzeb at his court.

To honour his word, Shivaji went to the Mughal court. But there he was made to sit with mansabdars of lower ranks than him. Shivaji felt insulted and tried to leave the court. Aurangzeb arrested Shivaji and put him under house-arrest. He later escaped, as some sources say, by hiding in a basket filled with sweets and fruits. In the year 1617, Shivaji renewed hostilities with the Mughals. He plundered Surat again and recaptured some forts surrendered earlier to the Mughals.

Coronation

In 1674, Shivaji crowned himself king. He took the title of ‘Chhatrapati. The coronation ceremony was held at Raigarh. The celebrations lasted several days.

Last years After Shivaji became king, the Marathas and the Mughals never met in battle. He used this period to strengthen his hold over the territories under him. He died in the year 1680, leaving behind a powerful kingdom.

Shivaji’s Achievements and Role

Shivaji was not only a fearless soldier but also a successful administrator. He had a council of eight ministers, called the ‘ashtapradhan’, to advise him. The peshwa was the head of this council.

Shivaji established a good revenue system. From the territories directly under him, he collected two-fifths of the produce as land tax. In addition, Shivaji collected two taxes from areas which were not directly under him.

  • The chauth was one-fourth of the total land revenue that farmers paid to the king who directly controlled these territories. Shivaji collected this tax in return for a promise of not raiding and plundering these territories.
  • The sardeshmukhi was an additional one-tenth of the land revenue. It was taken as a tribute.

Shivaji’s military organisation was very impressive. The soldiers were given proper training and kept under strict discipline. The infantry and the cavalry were the main divisions of the army. In addition, Shivaji controlled many forts. Special officers were appointed to look after these forts. Shivaji also had a navy to counter the threat of the European powers.

The successors of Shivaji were weak. In the eighteenth century, power passed into the hands of the Brahmin ministers called ‘peshwas’. It was under them that the Marathas became the dominant power in India.

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