Maratha Empire – Dynasty, Confederacy, Kings, History

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Maratha Empire used to dominate the Indian Subcontinent during the 17th century. The empire came into existence in 1674 with the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and the Maratha empire came to an end in 1818 with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II. It’s a significant part of Indian history. The majority of the region in Maharashtra is covered with plateaus, and thus it helped the Marathas engage successfully in guerilla warfare.

The main strength of the Maratha empire, which helped in the growth of the empire, was the Maratha people, who were finely unified on the grounds of language, literature, community, and so on. Such a feeling of brotherhood gave rise to Maratha nationalism, they collectively desired their independent state. The saints and followers of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra also helped the empire progress. The aspirants preparing for the IAS exam must be well-versed in this topic and download the Maratha Empire UPSC notes to comprehensively prepare for the exam.

Maratha Empire

The Maratha Empire (also called Mahratta) is also known as the Maratha Confederacy. The founder of the Maratha kingdom Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is honoured for the establishment of the dynasty. During its flourishing period, the territories of the empire stretched over 250 million acres (1 million km²), or probably one-third of South Asia. The state was controlled by a set of Prime Ministers who were supervised and advised by a special council of eight. The British East India Company expanded their areas of control in India, and the Marathas aimed at causing threats to their territorial ambitions.

  • After engaging in immense warfare, the British defeated the Marathas in 1818. Not only this but under British suzerainty, several princely states were disintegrated. However, the Maratha Empire’s legacy prevailed in India as a “Great Nation”. The state of Maharashtra was created in 1960 and was recognized as a Marathi-speaking state.
  • The rituals and traditions like social mobility, irrespective of religious pluralism and caste shaped the lives of the people in this state. The Maratha Empire was in opposition to the Mughal Empire for many years; it was signified by a policy that talked about religious tolerance. This was one of the main beliefs of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

History of Maratha Empire

The origins of the Maratha Empire can be studied by analysing the series of rebellions carried out by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who stood against the Bijapur Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. The basis of his principle was Hindawi Swarajya. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj formed an independent Maratha kingdom with a capital named Raigad.

  • During the 8 Years’ War, Shambhu Raje (born on 14 May 1657) stood against Aurangzeb in the Deccan region. In 1689, Sambhaji was mousetrapped by the Mughal ruler during his journey to meet the commanders at Sangameshwar. He was kept in prison and later beheaded by Aurangazeb for sending back the Maratha forces.
  • Later, Aurangzeb aimed to occupy the capital of Raigad and kidnapped the family of Chhatrapati Shivaji. In 1690, the half-brother of Sambhaji, Rajaram sat on the throne of Chhatrapati. His coronation ceremony took place at Jinji Fort (present-day Tamil Nadu).
  • The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb laid a series of rebellions against the Marathas. Chhatrapati Rajaram moved to Berar and probably died at Sinhagad in Pune in 1700.

Rise of Maratha Empire

In 1674, Shivaji Maharaj was honoured with the title of Chhatrapati (meaning sovereign) of the newly formed Maratha Kingdom after Marathas defeated the Mughals. During his final years, the Maratha kingdom was fortified with huge forts and other naval establishments.

  • In the early 18th century, during the reign of his grandson, the rise of the Marathas and the Maratha empire grew exponentially in terms of size and flourished in other areas as well.
  • In 1681, the eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, named Sambhaji ( Shambhu Raje), ruled the Maratha empire. He strictly followed the policy of expansion which was led by Shivaji, and he defeated the Portuguese and Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore.
  • It helped to extend their areas of control. Such developments triggered the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb to start an expedition against the Marathas.

Maratha Confederacy

In the 18th century, the Maratha Confederacy came into existence marked by the disintegration of the state.

  • After the demise of the Mughal ruler – Aurangzeb, in 1707, the grandson of Shivaji -Shahu, tried to restore peace and sovereignty.
  • His authority was delegated to the hands of the Bhat family, who were recognized as hereditary Peshwas or chief ministers.
  • Every well-known family, along with a chief, was given a zone by the Maratha Confederacy. The aim was to capture and control the site in the name of their ruler – Shahu.
  • Some prominent Maratha families who gained immense popularity in the later phases were the Bhonsle of Nagpur, the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Sindhias of Gwalior, the Holkars of Indore, and the Peshwas of Poona.
  • The Maratha empire carried forward excellently during the years of Bajirao I to Madhavrao I. Unfortunately, the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 changed the scenario.

Administration of Maratha Dynasty Under Shivaji Maharaj

The Maratha kingdom was divided into many administrations and provinces. The following points mentioned below analyzed the administration in detail. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had an influential administration system and appointed a council of ministers known as Asthapradhan.

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj himself supervised these ministers, who were answerable to him only.
  • He categorised the Maratha territory into three main provinces under the leadership of a viceroy.
  • These provinces were further divided into various small districts with subdivisions named Parganas.
  • The lowermost unit was a village ruled by a Patel.

The ministers in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Council of Ministers:

  • Peshwa: In the initial years, he looked over the general and finance administration. Later, recognized as prime minister.
  • Sar-i-Naubat or Senapati: He was a Military commander.
  • Majumdar (Amatya): He managed the revenue and accounts.
  • Waqenavis (Mantri): Official related to intelligence, post, and home affairs.
  • Surnavis (Sachiv): He is the Head of Royal correspondence.
  • Sumant (Dabir): Involved in the master of ceremonies.
  • Nyayadhish: Delivered justice.
  • Pandit Rao (Sadar): He is the Religious administrator.

Maratha Empire Kings

The well-renowned leaders of the Maratha kingdom are illustrated here in the table. Check here the list of the Maratha Empire kings and their accomplishments. This will assist the candidates in elucidating and substantiating their answers in the Mains exam.

Kings of Maratha Empire
(c. 1627-1680) Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj He was the founder of the Maratha kingdom. He was a member of the Bhonsale Maratha clan.
(c. 1681-1689) Sambhaji Maharaj The eldest son of Shivaji Maharaj and the second Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire.
(c. 1689-1707) Tarabai and Rajaram She was the queen of Rajaram Bhosale and the daughter-in-law of Shivaji Maharaj. Rajaram was the third Chhatrapati of the Maratha empire. He ruled from 1689 to 1700.
(c. 1707-1749) Shahu He was a social reformer and a true democrat. He was also the first Maharaja of Kolhapur.
(1650-1716) Bawdekar, Amatya Ramchandra Pant He served as the finance minister to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj during his tenure from 1674 to 1680. He was also a warrior as he was a statesman then.
(1720-1740) Peshwa Baji Rao As a Peshwa, Baji Rao defeated the Mughals and their vassal Nizam-ul-Mulk during his 20-year tenure. He fought many battles like the Battle of Delhi and more.
(1740-1761) Baji Rao, Peshwa Balaji The 20-year-old Baji Rao was appointed as Peshwa after the death of Balaji Vishwanath in 1720, though the chieftains were in opposition to this decision.

Decline of Maratha Empire

The decline of the Maratha empire led to a sequence of battles with the British. The East India Company started interfering while formulating its power base in India. The British lent their support to the rivals and asked for large concessions. This initiated the decline of the Maratha Empire. The Marathas had three major Anglo-Maratha wars, the first war led to the reinstation of the pre-war scenario.

  • The Second Anglo-Maratha War marked the defeat of the Marathas and the fall of the Maratha Empire. They had to sign the treaty accepting the supremacy of the Britishers.
  • The Third Anglo-Maratha War took away the independence of the Marathas. The British gained control and authority over major territories of India.
  • One of the eminent leaders of the 1857 Revolt was Govind Dhondhu Pant (Nana Saheb). They could not succeed in the revolt, however, they could get their names imprinted in the pages of Indian history and galvanized numerous leaders.

Maratha Empire UPSC Notes

The topic of the Maratha Empire is of great importance in Indian History. Various questions regarding the Maratha Kingdom are often asked in the UPSC Prelims and Mains Examination. Aspirants can download the UPSC previous year question papers for preparation along with the UPSC study material for notes. The Maratha Empire is an essential and integral segment of the UPSC and the candidates must have comprehensive preparation for excelling in the exams.

Maratha Empire UPSC Questions

Maratha Empire is an important topic from UPSC’s point of view. Solving sample questions on this topic will help you to prepare for the UPSC exam. This will give you an idea of the type of questions asked during the exam on this topic.

Question. During Shivaji’s reign, the head of a unit of 25 in the Cavalry was commonly known as?

(a) Jemadar.

(b) Havaldar.

(c) Faujdar.

(d) Hazari.

Answer: Option (b)

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