In this article we will discuss about the causes of the rise of Marathas in India.
The later Mughul emperors were emperors only in name. The Maratha chiefs became the strongest rulers in the country in the eighteenth century. Therefore, the British had to contest primarily against the Marathas for the sovereignty of India.
The territory which included modern state of Bombay, Konkan, Khandesh, Berar, part of Madhya Pradesh and nearly one-third of Hyderabad state was called Maratha- Vad. Later on, it was called Maharashtra. The language of those people who occupied this territory was Marathi. The Marathas rose to power within this territory.
Not one individual or a particular group of people participated in the rise of the Marathas. It was also not the result of some transient circumstances. The rise of the Marathas was the result of the efforts of entire Maratha people who on the basis of unity of their language, literature, community and homeland gave birth to Maratha nationalism and desired to create an independent state of their own.
The Maratha nationalism grew up when the Muslims had nearly completed their conquest of Indian subcontinent. It resulted in the formation of an independent state of the Hindus in the South. Gradually the Marathas developed that strong spirit of nationalism which made them the most powerful group of people in India.
It was the strength of Maratha nationalism which inspired Maratha leaders to establish Hindu-Pad-Padshahi in India by capturing the power of Delhi emperors and bringing India under one rule. The history of the rise of the Marathas is the history of the rise of an organized group of people inhabiting the territory of Maharashtra.
Different factors participated in the rise of Maratha nationalism and political power of the Marathas. The geographical condition of Maharashtra helped in the rise of the Marathas. Larger part of Maharashtra is plateau where man has to struggle hard for his existence. That made the Marathas courageous and sturdy.
The plateau provided every facility for defence including the construction of forts at every hill-top while it was difficult for a foreign invader to get supplies besides the difficulty of movement with large armies in an unknown land. The plateau also provided good facility for guerilla-warfare to the Marathas.
Besides, Maharashtra, being in the middle of Indian subcontinent, provided the Marathas convenient approach to extend their power both towards the South and the North. The Marathas did not suffer much from economic disparities among them as there were not much people who could be accepted as rich. In the absence of such an exploiters’ class, they enjoyed economic equality to a great extent.
There was, thus, no clear-cut division of the society into the rich and the poor. It gave them self-respect and unity. Besides, the society as a whole did not fall prey to a life of indulgence and luxuries. From the social point of view as well, the Marathas did not suffer from serious divisions.
There had been social and religious awakening in Maharashtra prior to political awakening. The saints of the 15th and the 16th centuries who emphasized on Bhakti-cult also preached social equality. Many of them belonged to Maharashtra.
Saints like Tukaram, Ram Das, Vaman Pandit and Ek Nath were the soul of this social and religious awakening. It did not remain limited to a particular section of the society but was widely prevalent among the common people.
The saints preached against the supremacy of the Brahmanas, rituals, caste-system and discrimination of low-born and highborn. This movement and the mass-awakening which it created united and strengthened the Maratha society.
Historian Ranade stated that the primary cause of the political unrest in Maharashtra was its religious movement and there is no doubt that different saints of Maharashtra encouraged the national feeling of the Marathas.
Their teachings, Bhajans etc. seriously affected the emotions of illiterate Marathas and inspired them to fight for safeguarding their society and religion. Marathi language which was simple and language of the people also strengthened the bonds of equality and unity among the people of Maharashtra.
The balance of power between the Hindus and the Muslims in the South also helped the Marathas in attaining political power. While in northern India, except in Rajasthan, the Muslims had practically broken the power of resistance of the Hindus they could never achieve that success in the South.
Therefore, the Hindus could safeguard their social traditions, temples, self-respect and thereby their love towards their society and religion in the South. They did not feel disrespected and disheartened and therefore, had the capacity to fight back the Muslims. That is why the Muslim rulers of the South had to take help of the Hindus in their administration.
Grant Duff has stated that “prior to the rise of Shivaji, there were at least eight Maratha-families who wielded extensive influence in the politics of the Deccan”. The father of Shivaji, Shahji Bhonsle was also one of those nobles of Ahmadnagar who were kingmakers there. He enjoyed good respect even at the court of Bijapur when he afterwards accepted its services.
Besides negligence of Aurangzeb towards the affairs of the Deccan during early period of his reign, and, later on, his attempt to conquer the entire Deccan which provoked the resistance of the Marathas for the safety of their Jagirs and homelands (Vatans) and the inclusion of all sections of the people of Maharashtra in the Maratha army, etc. also helped the rise of the Maratha power.
The Mughul power was gradually growing in south India and during the reign of Aurangzeb the Marathas felt that, probably, entire south India would be lost to the Mughuls. That united them to fight against the Mughuls for safeguarding their larger interests. The Marathas were enjoying several privileges under the patronage of Muslim states of the Deccan.
Their rulers had given them respectable positions in their administration; they had not interfered in their social and religious affairs; and, the Marathas were enrolled in their armies in large numbers. Aurangzeb was a bigot and the power of the Mughuls under him was enormous.
The Marathas could not expect to enjoy all those privileges under his rule which they had been enjoying under the weak Muslim rulers of the Deccan. Therefore too, the Marathas chose to organise themselves against the Mughuls. Thus, prior to the rise of Shivaji on the political horizon of the South, conditions existed which provided a solid base to the rise of the Marathas. But there was a serious lacuna.
Nobody had exploited those conditions to build up the fortunes of the Maratha people and none thought of establishing an independent kingdom of the Hindus. Shivaji filled up this lacuna. He successfully built up the Maratha nation and established an independent kingdom of the Hindus in the South.