• Marathas were the most important regional power that challenged the Mughals and accelerated their decline.
  • Marathas were Marathi-speaking peasant clans in Western India who rose to prominence in 16th century as soldiers in armies of Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur and Ahmednagar.
  • Maharashtra stood out in cotton cultivation, spinning and textile industry. Textile products from Maharashtra were supplied to Surat for trading.

Power Structure

  • Mughals never properly administered Maharashtra region. Maratha dominion can be broadly divided into (i) Regulation & (ii) Non-regulation areas.
  • Regulation Areas: There were areas of direct administration with a system of revenue assessment, management and accountancy. These areas were divided among vatandars. Deshmukhs dominated the rural power structure of the region. Each Deshmukh controlled 20-100 villages. Each village had a Patil (headman) assisted by a Kulkarni (record-keeper). Patil used to come peasant caste while Kulkarni was usually a Brahmin. Head of Deshmukh was a Sardeshmukh and head of Kulkarnis was a Desh-Kulkarni.
  • Tenants: There were two types of tenants (i) Resident cultivators with hereditary rights of occupancy called Mirasdars. (ii) Temporary cultivators (Uparis).
  • Revenue assessment: In regulation areas, standard assessment rates of the earlier period was maintained. Under Peshwas, Tanka system, a permanent standard assessment in each village was used for revenue settlements. Later during 1750s-60s, Kamal settlement was made based on the classification of qualities of the land and newly cultivated areas were made.
  • These functionaries ran the local administration with minimal interference from Deccan sultans or Mughals. Rulers were content with an irregular share of taxes collected from agriculture, in return for which they recognised Deshmukhs, Patils and Kulkarnis. Thus, these functionaries became dayadas (co-sharers) of authority in the kingdom.

Nature of Maratha State

  • Maratha state was based on the ‘co-sharing’ of power between Maratha king (Later Peshwa) and existing chiefs and clans in the region.
  • Maratha Swarajya did not stand for absolute sovereignty over specific territories but claimed revenue that often overlapped with Mughals and later by regional kingdoms.
  • Marathas imposed Chauth (25% of produce) and Sardeshmukhi (Additional 10% of the Mughal Government’s share of revenue) in return for not plundering.
  • Maratha Confederacy: Four dominant families of Marathas chiefs and their centres were Gaekwad of Baroda, Bhonsle of Nagpur, Holkars of Indore, and Scindias of Gwalior. These chiefs loosely functioned as a confederacy managing taxation and revenue. There was also mutual hostility among them particularly among Scindias and Holkars. Around this time, influence of Peshwas had reduced.


  • Son & successor of Shivaji. Like Shivaji, Shambhuji also defied Aurangzeb by giving shelter to rebel prince Akbar.
  • Aurangzeb challenged Shambhuji and killed him.
  • Shambhuji had tried to control the Deshmukh and regularise revenue administration, this reduced the power of Deshmukh who offered to help Aurangzeb against him on the condition that Aurangzeb would recognise the special privileges of Deshmukhs as hereditary. They also got rewarded with valuable jagirs by Aurangzeb.


  • Shahu was freed by Aurangzeb’s successor Bahadur Shah. 

Balaji Vishwanath (1713-20)

  • He got support from several Brahmin banking facilities, who provided credit for Shahu’s elevation as the Maratha emperor.
  • Appointed as Peshwa (Prime Minister) and Chief Financial Officer by Shahu in 1713.
  • Helped Sayyid brothers install Muhammad Shah as emperor of Delhi in 1719.
  • Negotiated a treaty with Mughals, which virtually recognised Maratha control over Mughal provinces in the Deccan.
  • Marathas were granted the right to collect Chauth in 6 Mughal provinces and an additional right to collect sardeshmukhi in Deccan in recognition as heads of Deshmukh.
  • Peshwas emerged as de facto rulers of the Maratha state in Pune.
  • He patronised other Chitpavan Brahmans who formed and served as administrators, tax collectors, and military leaders.

Baji Rao-I(1720-40)

  • Most charismatic & dynamic leader in Maratha history after Shivaji.
  • Office of Peshwa became hereditary and was held by Balaji’s son Baji Rao.
  • Convinced Shahu of the importance of Northward expansion of Maratha power.
  • Maratha army defeated combined forces of Mughal forces and Nizams of Hyderabad. Maratha military commanders started collecting tribute from Malwa and Gujarat.
  • Successfully raided Delhi in 1737 and forced Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah, to formally cede Malwa region to Marathas in 1739. Thus, Maratha rule spread to close to Agra.
  • Military strategy: Pursued raiding warfare where Maratha bands did not attack forts but ransomed cities. This drew Mughal armies into unfavourable areas, where they cut them off from reinforcements and supplies leading to defeat.
  • When Baji Rao died in 1740, Maratha state extended over a large territory including Rajasthan, Delhi and Punjab in North to Bihar, Bengal and Orissa in East and Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telugu areas in South.


  • Palaces: A special kind of house called Wada was developed for the rich. These were large, multi-storey wooden structures. They were built both for defence (spiked doors and secret passages) and for comfort (garden and waterways, festival halls, multiple courtyards) where accessibility was governed by Purdah rules
  • Forts: Particularly hill forts which were key to foundation, expansion and preservation of Maratha empire were constructed, repaired, and maintained.
  • Temples: Earlier Marathas used to build fort-like square temples inside the forts. However, the affluent Maratha rule in 18th century constructed tall, elegant structures. These temples were symbolic of Marathas representing ascend of Hindu community.

Bala ji Rao (Nana Saheb) 1740-61

  • Shahu died in 1749. After Shahu’s death, he virtually usurped the sovereign power.
  • Marathas were named protectors of Mughal throne in 1752 and were given Chauth rights in Punjab.
  • Maratha Army: Artillery was the weak link of Maratha Army. Large guns were fired by Europeans under notional command of Maratha chiefs.
  • Third Battle of Panipat marked the beginning of a shift of power between centre of Maratha power (Peshwa/Raja) to periphery (powerful Maratha chiefs (Shinde (Scindia of Gwalior), Holkar (Nagpur), Gaekwad (Baroda) and Bhonsle families. It also enabled English to emerge as the main competitor on the subcontinent.

1st Anglo-Maratha war (1775-82): 

  • In 1775, Raghunath Rao signed Treaty of Surat with English wherein he ceded the territory of Salsette and Bassein to English. This treaty was later ratified as Treaty of Purandhar in 1776 with Raghunath renouncing regency with a pension. Treaty of Purandhar was violated by Nana Phadnavis which led to a war in Pune. As a result, English surrendered by 1779 and signed Treaty of Wadgaon. 
  • However, this treaty was rejected by Hastings who went on to defeat the Sindhias and captured Ahmedabad and Bassein. Scindia then proposed a new treaty between Peshwa and English i.e., the Treaty of Salbai (1781).

2nd Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05): 

  • A tiff between Peshwa (Bajirao II) and Holkars happened and as a reaction to this Bajirao II fled to Bassein and signed Treaty of Bassein (1802) with English in which he surrendered the city of Surat, gave up claims of Chauth on Nizam’s dominion. 
  • After Peshwa accepted a subsidiary alliance, Scindia and Bhonsle attempted to save Maratha’s kingdom. However, they were all defeated one after another.
  •  Bhonsle defeat; Treaty of Devgaon; 1803
  • Scindia defeat; Treat of Surajiarjangaon; 1803
  • Holkar defeat; Treaty of Rajpurghat; 1806

3rd Anglo-Maratha war (1817-19): 

  • Bajirao II made a last bid to fight against the British, but he was defeated at Khirki, Bhonsle was defeated at Sitavaldi and Holkars at Mahdipur. Final annexations of their lands were done under the following treaties.
  • Treaty of Poona; Peshwa; 1817
  • Treaty of Gwalior; Scindia; 1817
  • Treaty of Mandsaur; Holkar; 1818

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