The chronicles of Maratha Empire, past interstate warfare
India, the land of kings and queens bear witness to some of the legendary stories that happen to defy religious and social norms of the time. One of our favorite pastimes revolves around the debates of our colonial past and the legends of great Indian rulers. Such debates are either reductionist or failing to appreciate the complexity of the events in terms of the socioeconomic lens.
While people usually narrate the heroism of their particular state rulers, few had managed to capture the countrywide attention. One such Empire was of Maratha’s, a group of peasant warriors that went on to become the heart of Indian history. Let’s take a look at the glorious antiquity of the Maratha Empire.
The Legends of Maratha Empire and Recount of Chhatrapati Shivaji
The single strongest empire that emerged between the heavy rules of the Mughal dynasty was the Maratha confederacy. It was the only Empire in decades that made the great Mughals scared of their existence. And one of the greatest warriors of the Maratha empire was indeed Chhatrapati Shivaji, whose legacy was so much more than just an anti-Muslim warrior- he is somewhat deemed as a Hindu avenger of the bygone era. Thanks to the hype among Marathians, the Maratha Empire of yesteryear remains the top hero fandom for the generations to come.
Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire. He was termed Chhatrapati when he was allocated as the head of the empire. He led to the resistance in an effort to free the people of Bijapur in 1645 by successfully capturing the tomb of Torna along with several others and implemented the first Hindavi Swarajya in then Maratha. He created the Maratha Empire as a self-rule for Hindu people with Raigad as capital. The Maratha kingdom was considered one of the biggest empires in the subcontinent with an area of 4.1% in the subcontinent. A peasant-born warrior Shivaji Maharaj led to the establishment of such a huge empire in itself narrates the heroics of Maratha society.
Contrary to the popular belief of him being an anti-Muslim warrior, Shivaji in every true sense was in fact very secular. He accommodated different religions and has several Muslim warriors within his army. He was also very supportive of people converting to Hinduism. Additionally, he was a supportive shoulder for women and the elderly. He opposed all kinds of harassment, exploitation, and misdeeds against women. In fact, the women captured from defeated kingdoms were also treated with respect and released with honor and integrity. Such was the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
But after the death of Shivaji Maharaj in 1680, the Maratha Empire saw its slight downfall. The Mughals were constantly attacking them in order to break their roots. However, both Shivaji’s son Sambhaji and his son Rajaram failed to control the raging attacks from the enemy. During these tough times, a new warrior emerged who with her great skills successfully altered the downfall of the Empire. She was Maharani Tarabai, wife of Rajaram, who after the death of her husband took charge of his kingdom. She was well educated in civil, diplomatic, and military matters and hence sorts out effective planning in countering the Enemy’s attack. Tarabai was a woman of sheer resistance and patience, that even when her forts fell into the hands of Aurangzeb- she had control of resources from her permanent collection centers in the Mughal domain.
The most celebrated personality in Maratha Empire after Shivaji Maharaj was Baji Rao I also known as Bajirao Ballal. After the death of Balaji Vishwanath, Bajirao was appointed as a Peshwa in 1720, at the young age of 20. Despite his fragile age, Bajirao proved to be one of the most successful warriors in the history of the Maratha Empire. He fought over 41 battles and reportedly had never lost any. The only controversy in his life was his love for an Iranian woman Mastani. It was a love that emerged in the face of family opposition, imprisonment, and crippling orthodoxy. After the closely followed deaths of both Bajirao and Mastani in 1740, their 6-year-old son Shamsher Bahadur, was raised by Bajirao’s first wife Kashibai as her own.
The Downfall of the Maratha Empire
The downfall of the Maratha Empire started with the death of Peshwa Madhav Rao I, the fourth Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. It was during his tenure the Maratha resurrection took place. Madhav had a cool and compost mind and he would venture into great wars with a decisive and well-planned strategy. With such great planning’s come great outcomes, and he successfully crushed the formidable force of the Nizams. It was after the death of Madhav in 1772 that proved to be the greatest blow on the Maratha empire- from which they never recovered.
Madhav has previously given semi-autonomy to various knights in order to handle the large and growing empire. However, after his death, the semi-autonomy turned sour and the rulers lacked unity and couldn’t consolidate to one central authority. Additionally, the Marathas were now more interested in collecting taxes rather than securing regions and thus were easily defeated at several fronts. Furthermore, they neglected agriculture, trade, or commerce to increase the prosperity of the remaining regions. They even looted several states inviting enmity from various rulers who despised their actions. Hence, the Maratha Empire was crushed to the bottom.
After that British invasion in India pushed royalty to the corner including the Maratha’s and imposed British Raj all over India. And from here starts another chapter of sacrifice, struggle, martyrdom, and bravery in the pages of glorious history of India.