Various factors contributed to the rise of Marathas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The physical environment of the Maratha country shaped certain peculiar qualities among the Marathas. The mountainous region and dense forests made them brave soldiers and adopt guerilla tactics. They built a number of formidable forts on the mountains. The spread of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra inculcated a spirit of religious unity among them.

The Marathas held important positions in the administrative and military systems of Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur and Ahmadnagar. But the credit of establishing a powerful Maratha state goes to Shahji Bhonsle and his son Shivaji. The political unity was rendered by Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji was born at Shivner in 1627. His father was Shahji Bhonsle and mother Jija Bai. He inherited the jagir of Poona from his father in 1637.

Achievements of Chhatrapati Shivaji

  • Initial phase
    • He first conquered Raigarh, Kondana and Torna from the ruler of Bijapur.
    • After the death of his guardian, Dadaji Kondadev in 1647, Shivaji assumed full charge of his jagir.
    • He captured Javli from a Maratha chief, Chanda Rao More. This made him the master of Mavala region.
    • In 1657, he attacked the Bijapur kingdom and captured a number of hill forts in the Konkan region.
    • The Sultan of Bijapur sent Afzal Khan against Shivaji. But Afzal Khan was murdered by Shivaji in 1659 in a daring manner.
  • Military Conquests of Shivaji
    • Shivaji’s military conquests made him a legendary figure in the Maratha region. The Mughal emperor Aurangazeb was anxiously watching the rise of Maratha power under Shivaji.
    • Aurangzeb sent the Mughal governor of the Deccan, Shaista Khan against Shivaji. Shivaji suffered a defeat at the hands of the Mughal forces and lost Poona.
    • But Shivaji once again made a bold attack on Shaista Khan’s military camp at Poona in 1663, killed his son and wounded Khan.
    • In 1664, Shivaji attacked Surat, the chief port of the Mughals and plundered it.
    • A second attempt was made by Aurangzeb to defeat Shivaji by sending Raja Jai Singh of Amber. He succeeded in besieging the fort of Purander.
    • Treaty of Purander 1665:
      • According to the treaty, Shivaji had to surrender 23 forts to the Mughals out of 35 forts held by him.
      • The remaining 12 forts were to be left to Shivaji on condition of service and loyalty to Mughal empire.
      • On the other hand, the Mughals recognized the right of Shivaji to hold certain parts of the Bijapur kingdom.
    • Renewed war against Mughals
      • Surat was plundered by him for the second time in 1670.
      • He also captured all his lost territories by his conquests.
      • In 1674 Shivaji crowned himself at Raigarh and assumed the title Chatrapathi.

Shivaji’s policy and Expansion of Marathas

  • Administrative Policies
    • He laid the foundations of a sound system of administration. The king was the pivot of the government. He was assisted by a council of ministers called Ashtapradhan.
      • Peshwa – Finance and general administration. Later he became the prime minister
      • Sar-i-Naubat or Senapati – Military commander, a honorary post.
      • Amatya – Accountant General.
      • Waqenavis – Intelligence, posts and household affairs.
      • Sachiv – Correspondence.
      • Sumanta – Master of ceremonies
      • Nyayadish – Justice.
      • Panditarao – Charities and religious administration.
    • Revenue Policies
      • Lands were measured by using the measuring rod called kathi. Lands were also classified into three categories – paddy fields, garden lands and hilly tracks.
      • Taxes : Chauth and sardeshmukhi were the taxes collected not in the Maratha kingdom but in the neighbouring territories of the Mughal empire or Deccan sultanates.
        • Chauth was one fourth of the land revenue paid to the Marathas in order to avoid the Maratha raids.
        • Sardeshmukhi was an additional levy of ten percent on those lands which the Marathas claimed hereditary rights.
      • Military Policies

Shivaji was a man of military genius and his army was well organized.

  • The regular army consisted of about 30000 to 40000 cavalry supervised by havaildars. They were given fixed salaries.
  • There were two divisions in the Maratha cavalry –
    1. Bargirs, equipped and paid by the state;
    2. Silahdars, maintained by the nobles.
  • In the infantry, the Mavli foot soldiers played an important role.
  • Shivaji also maintained a navy.
  • The forts played an important role in the military operations of the Marathas. By the end of his reign, Shivaji had about 240 forts. Each fort was put under the charge of three officers of equal rank as a precaution against treachery.

The above conquests and policies of Shivaji was the major reason for Maratha stronghold in the region against Mughals. They became a formidable enemy of neighboring kings.


Marathas after Shivaji

The Maratha kingdom was, however, certainly weakened at the start of 18th century due to various internal and external factors.

  • A full-scale civil war broke out between the forces of Shahu (grandson of Shivaji) and those of Tarabai (Rajaram’s widow).The loyalty of Maratha sardars and Deshmukhs kept on shifting from one block to another.
  • Since the time of Balaji Viswanath, the office of the Peshwa became powerful. He died in 1720 and was succeeded by his son Baji Rao, who was in power till 1740.
  • After the death of Baji Rao in 1740, Shahu appointed his son Balaji Bajirao (1740-1761) as Peshwa. This was indeed the peak period of Maratha glory.
  • In 1761, after the third battle of Panipat Madhav Rao became the Peshwa. In 1772, Madhav Rao died of consumption.
  • After the death of Madhav Rao, the struggle for power occurred between Raghunath Rao and Narayan Rao. In 1773 Narayan Rao was killed.
  • Madhav Rao Narayan succeeded his father Narayan Rao.
  • Raghunath Rao tried to capture power with the help of British. This led to the 1st Anglo- Maratha war.
  • Madhav Rao died in 1794. Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao succeeded Madhav Rao.
  • At the end of 3rd Anglo- Maratha war Peshwa was dethroned and pensioned off while other Maratha states remained as subsidiary states.


The Third battle of Panipat was fought between the Marathas, led by Sadashivrao Bhau and Durranis of Afghanistan, by Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1761. The Third Battle of Panipat changed the power equations in India, the Afghans could hardly rule any further, but paved the way for British Rule in India.

The main reasons for the battle

  • The weakness of Mughal emperors and the division of the nobility in contending groups.
  • The ambition of the Marathas to gain influence in the North and, for that purpose, their promise, of support to the Mughal emperor.
  • Lastly, the ambition of Abdali to capture Kashmir, Multan and Punjab and, for that purpose, his support to the Turani group of nobility.

Outcomes of the battle:

  • The third battle ended the Maratha attempt to succeed the Mughals as rulers of India and marked the virtual end of the Mughal empire.
  • The Maratha army, under the Bhao Sahib, uncle of the peshwa (chief minister), was trapped and destroyed by the Afghan chief Aḥmad Shah Durrānī.
  • This began 40 years of anarchy in north-western India and cleared the way for later British supremacy.

18th Century:

  • The 18th century was a period of profound change in the Indian subcontinent as the Mughal Empire gave way to regional powers, many of whom, like the Marathas, aspired to, and almost achieved, imperial status.
  • The century saw an array of social movements organised around religion viz. Bhakti Movement, community articulations, and agrarian expansion, often crystallising into coherent political entities.
  • It was a period made for political adventurism, with shifting alliances making any political calculation virtually impossible.
  • In this cauldron was a heady mix of religious invocation that did not always correspond to the cleavages that we assume to exist between Hindus and Muslims.
  • Durrani chief was able to enlist the support of several malcontents (the Rohilla chief, the Nawab of Awadh) and most impressively, of the warrior ascetics, the Naga sanyasis and Gosains

Thus, we can see that there were mostly political undertones than religious undertones.

The impact of the battle:

  • setback to expansionist policy of Maratha and rise of Sikh in Punjab.
  • The fragility of alliances and the overriding greed for immediate gain undercut possibilities of any long-term balancing of imperial aspirations with those of local powerholders.
  • The precarity of hastily conceived alliances, the extreme cynicism that accompanied all political and diplomatic engagements, blurred distinctions between friend and foe.
  • It was certain then that the Battle of Panipat temporarily halted the Maratha advance, and enabled the East India Company to maintain a low profile for a while, consolidate its early gains in Bengal, and subsequently make a strong bid for supremacy in the subcontinent.

Contemporary political scene seems to have resemblances to cynical power politics. But it is certain now that the stakes are high, the narrative overcharged with religious symbols, while on the ground, all contenders have to grapple with the realities of power and go beyond the equations of caste, community,

Anglo Maratha wars:

WAR & YearReason & Course of EventsMaratha & British LeadersRESULT


I (1775-82)British support to Raghunath Rao & signing of Treaty of Surat with him angered Nana Phadnavis.

Nana Phadnavis signed Treaty of Purandar with british.

Sheltering Raghunath Rao angered Maratha leaders leading to series of Conflicts

Raghunath Rao,  Nana Phadnavis & Warren



Treaty of Salbai

peace of 2 decades.


II (1803-06)Internal conflicts within Marathas; Scindia & Peshwa Killed  Vithoji Rao Holkar & as a result of which Yeshwant Rao Holkar attacked Poona.

Baji Rao II took refuge with British & signed Subsidiary alliance.

Scindia, Bhonsle,

Yeshwantrao Holkar & Wellesley

Treaty of Bassein Delhi acquired

from Scindhia


III (1817-18)Interference of British

Resident & it started as a war to end Pindaris.

Later Maratha sardars also openly supported Pindaris & joined the war as a last attempt to restore the lost glory


Bajirao-II Appasaheb, Madhavrao

Holkar & Lord Hastings

End of Maratha


Peshwa was pensioned off & sent to a small estate near Kanpur.



Reasons for fall of Marathas

  • War of Succession : There ensued a war of succession after the death of Shivaji between his sons, Shambaji and Rajaram. Shambaji emerged victorious but later he was captured and executed by the Mughals. Rajaram succeeded the throne but the Mughals made him to flee to the Ginjee fort.
  • Political structure: Divisions within

The other reason for downfall of Maratha empire was its own structure. Its nature was that of a confederacy where power was shared among the chiefs or sardars (Bhonsle, Holker etc).

  • Weak Revenue Administration

Marathas depended on the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi and on their exploits from plunder and loot. They failed to develop an efficient system of revenue administration. New territories were conquered but much less focus was on the administration. Rulers were mainly interested in raising revenue from peasantry through taxation.

  • Weak Diplomacy

Marathas did not take the trouble to find out what was happening elsewhere and what their enemies were doing. There was no far-sighted statesmanship or effective strategy. They failed to cultivate alliances with forces around them.

  • Anglo-Maratha Wars and Subsidiary Alliance

In 1802, Peshwa Baji Rao II accepted subsidiary alliance by signing Treaty of Bassein. This marked the downfall of Maratha empire. By 1818 the Maratha power was finally crushed and the great chiefs that represented it in central India submitted and accepted the over lordship of the East India Company.

Shivaji was really a constructive genius and nation-builder. His rise from jagirdar to Chatrapathi was spectacular. He unified the Marathas and remained a great enemy of the Mughal empire. He was a daring soldier and a brilliant administrator. Post his rule, infighting, disunity amongst Maratha confederacy became the major reason for their downfall.