The Maratha Kingdom-Shivaji


The most formidable kingdom that emerged during the Mughal empire was the Maratha confederacy. The Marthas remained in power from 1674 to 1818. The Marthas dominated the Deccan region of India. They posed a serious threat to Mughals as well as the British empire during the eighteenth century. These Marathas were very well versed in the guerilla technique of warfare.

This Martha confederacy was broken into different states under different chieftains such as Gaikwad, Sindhias, Holkar, and Bhonsle. One of the powerful clans of Martha was the Bhonsle and two important warriors of this clan were Shahji and his son Shivaji. Another important de facto rulers of the Martha confederacy were Peshwas. This kingdom came to an end in1818 with the submission of Martha kings to the British East India company.

The Maratha Empire

The foundation of the Maratha empire was laid down by the Bhonsle chief- Shivaji. Before him, the Marathas were scattered into many confederacies in Deccan. So, he unified all the confederacy and gave them a tough time to the Mughals. With the decline of Mughal rule, the Marathas started expanding from Deccan to the northern part of India heading towards the formation of the Martha empire. At one time, it was claimed that Marthas was going to be the chief inheritors of the Mughal dominion but their authority was challenged in the Third battle of Panipat by Ahmaed Shah Abdali in 1761.

The reasons for the rise of Marathas other than the weak and waning Mughal rule were: The Maratha nationalism which was raised by leaders like Tukaram, Eknath and Ramdas, etc during the Bhakti movement, their geographical location was another important factor that provided them with ready-made rock forts to manage their kingdoms and the political instability in the south also paved the way for the rise of Maratha.

Who Ruled the Maratha Kingdom?

The Maratha empire consisted of confederacies of 5 big chiefs namely; Peshwas of Poona, Gaekwads of Baroda, Bhonsle of Nagpur, Holkars of Indore, and Sindhias of Gwalior. All these confederacies were brought together under one umbrella of the Maratha Empire by Shivaji. Under his leadership, the Marthas constantly posed a political threat to the Mughals as well as the British. After Shivaji’s death, his son Sambhaji assumed the Maratha throne. He was also one of the strongest warriors, who never lost a battle to the Mughals. Ultimately, he was executed by Aurangzeb. After Sambhaji, the Maratha kingdom had to face a civil war between Shahu(grandson of Shivaji) and Tarabai(daughter-in-law of Shivaji). With the support of Balaji Vishwanath, Shahu assumed the throne and in return, he appointed Balaji Vishwanath as Peshwa or Chief Minister.

Since Shahu was the weak ruler, the control of the kingdom indirectly started falling into Peshwa's hands. Balaji Vishwanath was the first Peshwa, who consolidated the Maratha power.

What Was the Title of Shivaji?

The Maratha warrior Shivaji was given the title of ‘Chhatrapati’ in 1674.The word Chhatrapati was a Sanskrit word which was used by Marathas to refer to a king. In this title, the word chatra means; the roof of an umbrella, and pati refers to the master or owner. So this Chatrapati refers to a kind of king who used to protect and secure his subjects like an umbrella. Shivaji assumed this title as it was denoting a king as a protector unlike other titles Raja or Maharaja, which means merely a king.

Maratha Empire During Peshwas Era

Balaji Viswanath (the first Peshwa of Shahu) restored territories that were part of Shivaji’s kingdom but were taken over by Aurangzeb. He also helped the Sayyid brothers to overthrow the Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar. He levied the sardeshmukhi and Chauth on six Mughal provinces in Deccan.

After Bajaji Vishwanath, his son Baji Rao I succeeded him as Peshwa. During his reign, the Maratha kingdom transformed into an empire. He also defeated Nizam-ul -mulk and made a treaty of Durai Sarai in which he got Malwa and Bundelkhand. He gave a tough challenge to the Mughal empire in the north and tried to make Marathas as the supreme power in India.

Balaji Baji Rao also known as Nana Saheb assumed the Peshwaship after his father Baji Rao I. He expanded Maratha’s borders to Delhi and Punjab. And the conquest of Punjab brought the Marathas into direct conflict with Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Third battle of Panipat took place in 1761, where the Maratha had to face crushing defeat with the death of Vishwas Rao(son of Nana Saheb) and Sadasiv Rao Bhau(cousin of Nana Saheb) along with several Maratha leaders and approximately 28,000 soldiers.

The Decline of Martha's Empire

By the end of the 18th and the first quarter of the 19th century, the Maratha kingdom began to weaken mainly with the signing of the subsidiary alliance by Baji Rao II. There were several reasons, that contributed to the decline of Marathas −

  • The internal conflict between Maratha chiefs of different confederacies threatened the unity of this empire. This weakness was taken as an advantage by the Britishers to fulfil their imperial motives.

  • Marathas never tried to make an organized empire, rather they were always used to plunder the territories beyond their reach. Therefore, they never worked towards improving the social, economic, and cultural conditions of their subjects. This resulted in losing out the loyalty of their subjects.

  • The Marathas did not have capable rulers after the 18th century whereas they had to confront the remarkable English leaders in several battles, which also became one of the important reasons of the downfall of the Maratha empire.

Thus, the Third battle of Panipat and later the death of Madhav Rao I in 1772 weakened the roots of the Maratha empire. And at the same time, the continuous clash of Marathas and English for political supremacy led to the victory of The British and in 1818 the Maratha leaders accepted the over lordship of the British East India company.


With the weakening of the Mughal Empire, one of the strongest regional kingdoms that arose in Deccan was the Maratha kingdom. After Shivaji’s accession to the Maratha throne, the kingdom started taking the form of an empire by extending its control from Deccan to the northern parts of India. After Shivaji, the Peshwas also played a significant role in the development of this empire by constantly posing a serious threat to the Mughal authority. The Marathas were defeated in the Third battle of Panipat, with which the weakness of the kingdom became quite visible to the British. And finally, this kingdom came to an end in 1818 with the Maratha chieftain's submission to the East India company.


Q.1. What were Chauth and Sardeshmukhi?

Ans. Chauth was the-fourth of the total production that was given as a tax to Marathas by non-Maratha territories as a token of safeguard for not invading these territories. Sardeshmukhi was the additional tax of 10 percent over Chauth to be given as a tribute to the Maratha king for being an overlord of the non-Maratha territories.

Q.2. What was the subsidiary alliance?

Ans. The subsidiary alliance was a kind of system in which the regional kingdoms had to pay a kind of subsidy to the British East India company for maintaining the British army in lieu of the protection from their enemies by the British as well as non-intervention of the company in internal affairs of these kingdoms.

Q.3. What was the Guerilla warfare technique?

Ans. Guerilla warfare refers to a kind of battle that was fought by lightly armed fighters instead of typical military units. These warfare included sudden attacks, ambushes, raids, etc.

Q.4. Who was Ahmed Shah Abdali?

Ans. Ahmed Shah Adali was the ruler of the Durrani Empire and the founder of the state of Afghanistan. He invaded India eight times from 1748 to 1767. His constant invasion affected the Mughal empire. He also gave a tough blow to Sikhs and Maratha dominions.

Q.5. Why did the third battle of Panipat happen?

Ans. An agreement was made between the Mughal emperor and the Peshwa Nana saheb that Maratha would save the Mughal empire from internal and external enemies in lieu of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of north-western provinces. This Agreement brought Marathas in direct conflict with Ahmed Shah Abdali in the form of the Third battle of Panipat, who was repeatedly invading India and challenging the Mughal authority.

Updated on: 21-Dec-2022


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