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.


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.

Indian History for UPSC Prelims