Maratha : The Empire

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Home | Shivaji | Empire | Panipat

After the death of Shivaji, the Maratha power went through a temporary vacuum. With Aurangzeb using the opportunity to break the Maratha kingdom. But their hardihood & staunchness survived the Mughal onset and gathered strength and confidence in the process. But the Mughal struggle had also done something else, it had confirmed the Marathas to a belief in guerilla warfare and a taste for plunder; their mobility and the slowness of their adversaries had made their successes more astounding.

In Shivaji's time the land was divided into swarajya, or the homeland, where settled administration prevailed, and mughlai, or foreign land, the legitimate object of raids. To these lands were applied, according to Maratha military success, the exactions of Chauth (one fourth of the land revenue) and sar-deshmukhi (one tenth). But these demands also included protection of the areas concerned from others or from further demands.

The years after Aurangzeb's death saw a rapid transformation of Shivaji's kingdom into a confederacy headed by a hereditary minister styled the Peshwa. Shivaji's grandson Shahuji returned to Satara with Mughal manners and outlook. In 1714 he confided power to the Brahmin Bhat family whose members ruled the Maratha homeland.

Maharashtra was still poor and barren, but the rest of India seemed open, so the decision was made to expand. By deciding to go north instead of south Shahuji made the fortunes of the Peshwa, for in the south other ministers were his equals while in the north the generals were his subordinates. The decision once taken the expansion was so rapid that the problem arose of controlling the generals. Until the battle of Panipat in 1761 this was achieved by such devices as causing the generals to send part of the chauth to the Peshwa at Poona and giving them lands in the homeland which could be confiscated on misbehavior. By this means the Marathas spread right across central India to Orissa and Bengal.

They were under the general control of the Peshwas but were generally distinctive into five sections. The Peshwa himself controlled Maharashtra from Poona, the Gaekwads controlled most of Gujarat from Baroda onwards. The Bhonsles controlled central India from Nagpur. While the Holkars & Schindia's had their headquarters at Indore and Gwalior respectively. All these officers passed on their powers to their descendants, so the system which developed was a Maratha Kingdom divided into five largely autonomous sections with Peshwa as its head. But soon the Maratha kingdom was going to be transferred into a Maratha empire with control over almost whole of the country.

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