Some of the most powerful rulers of Maratha empire are:- 1. Chatrapati Shivaji 2. Shambhuji 3. Chhatrapati Shahu.
Ruler # 1. Chatrapati Shivaji:
G.S. Sardesai wrote:
“Shivaji stands out unmistakably as a unique personality not only in his own time but in the modern age as a whole. In the midst of surrounding darkness, he shines forth as a brilliant luminary far ahead of his days.” The character and personality of Shivaji justifies this statement of Sardesai. Shivaji possessed an ideal character. He was a worthy son, dependable friend, lovable husband and a lovable father. He greatly respected his mother who was responsible in moulding his character to a large extent.
Shivaji possessed virtues of kindness, toleration, good behaviour, courage, chivalry, determination, good intentions, etc. According to the tradition of his age, he had several wives but he was a lovable husband to all his wives. Shivaji did not receive much schooling but he developed practical wisdom because of his varied experience. He was a good judge of human nature and circumstances and a practical statesman.
Hindu religion and its religious texts had been the sources of inspiration of Shivaji and he worshipped Goddess Bhawani, yet he was entirely free from bigotry. He respected every religion and provided just treatment to all.
He was influenced by contemporary religious movements and ideas of different saints of Maharashtra who gave the message that the religious bigotry of the Muslims which was backed by force was not to be tolerated by the Hindus.
That is why Shivaji challenged the political domination of the Muslims. Shivaji was a daring soldier. He risked his life many times during the course of his adventures. His meeting with Afzal Khan, night-attack on Sayista Khan at Poona and his visit to Agra are glaring examples of his daring spirit. Shivaji was a capable commander.
He adopted the guerilla system of warfare because it suited best to his soldiers, their weapons and was feasible in the geographical conditions of Maharashtra. He also constructed many hill- forts in Maharashtra. Shivaji never used any intoxicant and was entirely free from the company of women. Thus, Shivaji possessed all virtues of a man and observed that morality which was far advanced than the morality of his age.
One great achievement of Shivaji was that he established an independent Hindu state in Maharashtra though he had to fight not only against Bijapur but also the mighty Mughul emperor, Aurangzeb, who was not prepared to accept the existence of even that of Shia-Muslim states of Bijapur and Golkunda, let alone the existence of a Hindu state.
No Maratha chief cherished the idea of it prior to him. Even his father and his tutor, Dadaji Kond Deva were against it, yet he succeeded in it. It would be wrong to say that the kingdom of Shivaji was merely a Krieg-state which could exist and progress only during course of wars.
Shivaji had to fight constantly against Bijapur and Mughuls because it was necessary for the creation, existence and extension of his kingdom. But, he did not lose sight of administering it well. His administration proves that his aim was not limited to the establishment of a Krieg-state.
Shivaji proved himself a great administrator both in civil and military affairs. Of course, he was not an innovator but learning from the experiences of other rulers, he certainly brought out many changes which were certainly new.
The system of Asht Pradhan, Ryotwari system, importance to civilian officers in administration, etc. resulted in that administrative machinery which functioned efficiently even during the period of his absence from Maharashtra.
That justifies the success of his civilian administration. His military administration was equally successful. His ranking of his officers both in the infantry and the cavalry, payment of wages of soldiers on the fixed day, personal supervision of their recruitment, training and promotion, etc. were all successful measures.
His guerilla system of warfare and administrative measures concerning the forts were, in a way, novelties of his military administration while keeping soldiers busy in fighting for eight months provided them the best possible training in the art of fighting.
Devoid of heavy luggage, the army of Shivaji was highly mobile. No soldier or officer was allowed to take woman with him and nobody could hide any article of loot. His army, thus, observed high morality. Shivaji made certain other regulations as well concerning the army which were strictly enforced.
Thereby, he was able to build up a strong fighting force which virtually became invincible in the seventeenth century. Shivaji also organised a navy which successfully safeguarded the coast-line and trade of the kingdom. Shivaji made Marathi language the court language which helped in the growth of Marathi literature.
However, the greatest success of Shivaji was that he created the nation of the Marathas and inspired them to remain independent. At an early age of six years he refused to bow before the Sultan of Bijapur and broke the court- tradition of Aurangzeb at the risk of his life when he felt disrespected during his visit to Agra.
He started his work virtually without any assistance but successfully organised the Marathas under his leadership. He also brought forth the best talents from among them. Abhaji, Raghunath Ballal, Samarji Pant, Pratap Rao Gujar, Hammir Deva Mohite, Shindoji Nimbalkar, Sambaji Mor, Tanaji Molsare, Surya Rao Kakade, Santaji Ghorpade, Dhanaji Jadhav, Khanderao Dabhade, Parsoji Bhonsle, Sayaji Bhonsle, Nemaji Sinde, etc. rose as capable commanders and administrators under the leadership of Shivaji and provided leadership to the Marathas after his death.
The best success of Shivaji was not in the establishment of an independent kingdom but in organising the Marathas into a nation and in inspiring them self-confidence. He created confidence among the Marathas and their chiefs that they could fight successfully against the Mughuls.
It was this confidence which gave strength to the Marathas to fight against Aurangzeb for nearly twenty years (1685-1707 A.D.) and, ultimately, made them successful in breaking the backbone of the Mughul empire.
The credit of all this goes to Shivaji. He started his struggle all alone, collected his followers, organised an army, established a kingdom without the help of anybody else and administered it well. Prior to his appearance on the political scene of Maharashtra, the Marathas were either peaceful peasants or were serving as soldiers or officers under the Muslim rulers of the Deccan.
Thus, they were wasting their energy and talents in the service of others. Shivaji collected these scattered Marathas under his leadership and converted them into a nation. He made them sturdy fighters, capable commanders and good administrators. By his own success, he proved them that they could be their own masters and masters of their motherland. Shivaji created a nation and an independent Hindu state.
Shivaji was the first Hindu chief who could understand the changed morality of warfare during the medieval age. Aurangzeb described him as a mouse of the hill and some historians have described him either a robber or a revolting noble. But these are false allegations. He changed the ideal of the warfare of the Hindus.
For the first time, he taught them that war is fought not for the sake of fighting or display of chivalry but to win it. It was the necessity of his age and therefore, the adoption of this ideal was practical statesmanship. In fact, Shivaji inspired the Hindu race for its all-round progress by his ideals and career.
J.N. Sarkar writes:
“Shivaji has shown that the tree of Hinduism is not really dead, that it can rise from beneath the seeming crushing load of centuries of political bondage, exclusion from administration and legal repression, it can put forth new leaves and branches, it can again lift up its head to the skies.” Shivaji was, certainly, a great man. J.N Sarkar writes- “I regard him as the last great constructive genius and nation-builder that the Hindu race has produced.”
Ruler # 2. Shambhuji:
Shambhuji was the eldest son of Shivaji. He was brought up with care and affection. But, it created adverse effect on his character He became proud, arrogant and a pleasure-seeker right from his early life. At the time of the death of Shivaji, he was kept as a prisoner in the fort of Panhala. The nobles of Shivaji at Raigarh decided to put his step-brother Raja Ram on the throne and secretly planned for it. But senapati Hammir Rao Mohite was not consulted.
Shambhuji freed himself from imprisonment and after getting support of the senapati (commander-in-chief) captured Raigarh. He became Chhatrapati in July 1680 A.D. After accession to the throne, he engaged himself in physical pleasures. In 1681 A.D., Akbar, son of Aurangzeb came to seek his help. Shambhuji gave him shelter but failed to give him any assistance against his father. In 1682 A.D., Aurangzeb reached Deccan to conquer it finally.
In 1686 A.D., he conquered Bijapur and then Golkunda in 1687 A.D. Afterwards, he concentrated all his resources against Shambhuji. Shambhuji gave him tough resistance but was finally captured along with his minister, Kavi Kalash by Aurangzeb in 1689 A.D. He was asked to accept Islam but when refused was tortured to death.
Shambhuji was a courageous soldier. But he was cruel and indulgent. He lacked political foresight. He, therefore, failed to strengthen the kingdom which he had inherited from his father and also to support Akbar against Aurangzeb which would have added to the difficulties of the Mughul empire.
Therefore, Shambhuji failed miserably. However, his death created a desire among the Marathas to take revenge from the Mughuls for the disrespect of their king. They became united and fought under Raja Ram to regain independence of Maharashtra.
Ruler # 3. Chhatrapati Shahu:
Shahu was the son of Chhatrapati Shambhaji. He and his mother Yesu Bai were imprisoned by Aurangzeb after the fall of Raigarh. At that time, he was seven years of age. He remained the prisoner of the Mughuls for seventeen and a half years. It was not expected that he would ever become the king of the Marathas. After the death of Aurangzeb, the war of succession ensued among his sons.
At that time, Shahu was in the captivity of Azam Shah. Zulfiqar Khan, one of his nobles advised Azam Shah to free Shahu. By that time, the widow of Raja Ram, Tara Bai had declared her son, Shivaji II as the Maratha king.
Zulfiqar Khan thought that if Shahu would go to Maharashtra and claim to be the Maratha king then he would come in conflict with Shivaji II which would result in a civil war among the Marathas and the Mughuls would be free from the menace of the Marathas.
Therefore, when Shahu left the Mughul camp in May, 1707 A.D. he was not checked by Azam Shah. Shahu reached Maharashtra safely, claimed the Maratha-throne and sought assistance from different Maratha-chiefs.
He succeeded in getting the support of Maratha Senapati, Dhanaji Jadav with the good offices of Balaji Viswanath. He defeated the army of Tara Bai at the battle of Khed in November, 1707 A.D. and occupied Maharashtra.
In February, 1708 A.D he held his coronation at Satara as the Chhatrapati of the Marathas. In 1714 A.D., another wife of Raja Ram, Rajas Bai succeeded in imprisoning Tara Bai and her son, Shivaji II. She then declared her son, Shambhaji II as the Maratha Chhatrapati at Kolhapur. Thus, first Shivaji II and, after 1714 A.D., Shambhaji II claimed to be the Maratha Chhatrapati but none of them possessed Maharashtra.
Maharashtra remained in the hands of Shahu and therefore, in fact, he remained the Chhatrapati of the Marathas. The Maratha-power increased manifold during the reign of Shahu. Rather, it became the foremost power in India during his life-time. Shahu himself was not responsible for it. He was neither a capable commander nor a good administrator. But he was capable of finding capable persons, give them faith and, in return, win their loyalty.
Therefore, he assigned the post of the Peshwa to capable persons and his Peshwas became responsible for making the Marathas the foremost power in India. His first Peshwa was Balaji Viswanath. He consolidated the position of Shahu in Maharashtra and laid down the foundation of the greatness of the Marathas. His second Peshwa Baji Rao proved a capable commander.
By his policy and power of the sword, he made the Maratha-power as the foremost power in India. His third Peshwa, Balaji Baji Rao pursued the same policy and the Marathas gained control over the Mughul court as well. Shahu died in 1749 A.D. He had no son. He declared one child, who was presented by Tara Bai as her grandson, his successor. That child, Raja Ram II, therefore, became the Maratha Chhatrapati in 1750 A.D.
However, later on, Tara Bai disclosed that Raja Ram was not her grandson. Then, Peshwa Balaji entered into an agreement with Raja Ram at Sangola by which the Chhatrapati gave him all powers of the state and himself retired to Satara as a pensioner. From that time onwards, the Peshwa became the de facto head of the Maratha state.
During the period of rule of Peshwa Balaji, the Marathas participated in making and unmaking of Mughul emperors. Therefore, they had to assume the responsibility of safeguarding India from foreign aggression. It brought them in conflict with the ruler of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali which, finally, resulted in the third battle of Panipat.
According to the historian Sardesai, Shahu was the most important king among the Maratha rulers. Circumstances at that time required a Chhatrapati who could afford to be liberal, give and command faith of his ministers, bring peace between the two conflicting Maratha ruling families and have cordial relations with the Mughuls.
According to Sardesai, Shahu was such a Chhatrapati. Shahu, certainly, had the capability of chosing capable persons, have faith in them and also command their loyalty. That is why he successively appointed Balaji Viswanath, his son Baji Rao and then his son Balaji Baji Rao as his Peshwas.
All of them proved capable and also loyal to Shahu. Shahu knew that he did not have that capability which his Peshwas possessed and therefore, gave them complete power of administering the state.
Being left free, the Peshwas made the Marathas the foremost power in India. Thus, Shahu indirectly became responsible for the rise of the Marathas, Besides, Shahu remained effective in the state and could exact obedience and respect from his Peshwas.
But Shahu was responsible for the downfall of the Maratha-power as well. He gave extensive powers to Peshwas. Therefore, the position of the Chhatrapati was reduced to insignificance. The Peshwas respected Shahu but, after his death, failed to give that respect to his successor and became the de facto head of his state.
Besides, the rise of the Peshwas gave encouragement to ambitions of other Maratha chiefs. That, finally, broke the unity of the Marathas and the Maratha empire was converted into a loose confederation governed by independent Maratha chiefs which became a primary cause of their downfall.
Thus, on the one hand, Shahu was responsible for the rise and growth of the Maratha-power and, on the other hand, was equally responsible for the decline of the status of the Chhatrapati and the power of the Marathas. Therefore, Shahu occupies a unique status among the Maratha rulers.