The rise of the Marathas as a strong political power under Chatrapati Shivaji, and their long-drawn rivalry with the Mughals in the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries add a new dimension to the study of Indian history and culture.
The Marathas were originally petty ‘bhumiars’ and soldiers in the service of the neighbouring Muslim kingdoms of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur, where they learnt the art of administration and had their first political training.
The important sources for the study of the Marathas are:
The literary source, Shivaji’s biography or Bakhar written by Sabhasad in 1694 which was elaborated by Chitragupta. Sambhaji’s Adanapatra or Marathishahitil Rajaniti of Ramachandra Pant Amatya written in 1716 is another important source. Jayarama Pande’s Radhamadhav Vilas Champu written in Sanskrit is also a primary literary source on Shivaji.
On Mughal-Maratha relations, the important source is Bhimasen’s Persian work Nushka-i-Dilkusha. Kanhoji Jedhe and Jedhe Sakavali also provide much information on the activities of Shivaji, the founder of independent Maratha political power structure. Further, Sivabharatam written by Paramanand and Simraj Rajyabhisheka Kalpataru are also useful sources.
The Persian-Sanskrit dictionary Rajya Vyavaharakosam prepared by Raghunath Hanumahte under the instructions of Shivaji also serves as a useful source. The writings of Kafi Khan and Bhimasen in Persian also throw good light on Shivaji. The records of the British East India Company, memoirs of Francois Martin, the travelogues of Bernier, Taverniar and Thevnot also furnish some useful information on Shivaji. Further, Peshwa ‘daftars’ or official records of the Peshwas, Persian records and Residency records also throw useful light on the activities of the Peshwas.
The books of Grant Duff, Kirtane, Rajwade, V.S. Khare, P. Ranade, G.S. Sardesai and J.N. Sarkar constitute the secondary source-material to study and understand the Maratha history and culture. Multiple factors like the physical features of the area of Maharashtra the land, the climate, the hilly areas, scanty rainfall, the impact of the preaching’s of the devotional saints Tukaram, Ramdas, Vaman Pandit and Eknath on the masses and the Maratha language and literature fostered a sense of oneness among the Marathas. Added to the above factors, the training they obtained in the Ahmadnagar and Bijapur courts made them to realize the need of a united stand to become a political power and the leadership of Shivaji enabled them to carve out a kingdom for themselves.
J.N. Sarkar aptly remarks that nature developed in them “self-reliance, courage, perseverance, a stem simplicity, a rough straightforwardness, a sense of social equality and consequently pride in the dignity of man as man … thus a remarkable community of language, creed and life was attained in the Maharashtra in the 17th century, even before political unity was conferred by Shivaji. Thus, in the end a tribe or a collection of tribes or castes was fused into a nation and by the end of the 18th century a Maratha people in the political and cultural sense of the term had been formed, though the caste distinctions still remained. Thus history has moulded society”.
The above are the generally accepted factors for the rise of Maratha nationalism. Yet, the rise of the Maratha nationalism received the deep attention of many a scholar, who perceived it differently. Grant Duff views the rise of the Maratha power as a result of the conflagration in the forests of Sahyadri along with the Mughal factor. M.G. Ranade holds the opinion that it was a national struggle of independence against foreign domination. J.N. Sarkar and G.S. Sardesai strongly believe the rise of the Marathas as a Hindu reaction against the fanatical religious policy of Aurangzeb.
Andre Wink is of the view that it was because of the growing Mughal pressure on the Deccan Sultans. Satish Chandra is of the definite opinion that the socio-economic factors are responsible for the rise of the Maratha nation state. Satish Chandra postulates a view that Shivaji by curtailing the powers of the big landed intermediaries, i.e., Deshmukhs and by introducing necessary reforms created political space for petty landholders to have a say in the political management.
Irfan Habib sees a connection between the rise of the Maratha power and the rebellious mood of the oppressed peasantry. The social content of the Maratha Dharma can be understood by the way Shivaji got prepared a Suryavamsa Kshyatriya lineage of his family with the willing support of Gangabhat, a Brahmin of Benaras.
Along with Shivaji many of the people belonging to the agriculturalist profession might have succeeded in enhancing their social status. In this backdrop, the Bhakti movement spearheaded by Tukaram, Samarth Ramdas and Eknath gave scope for mobility in the Varna scale by individuals and groups which further crystalized into Maratha Dharma based on egalitarianism. M.G. Ranade and V.K. Rajwade formulated the idea that it was Maratha Dharma that led to the political independence of the Marathas based on aggressive Hinduism.
The earliest reference to the term Maratha Dharma is found in the Guru Charitra of the 15th century in the context of an ethical policy of a great enlightened state. Samartha Ramdas, the spiritual guru of Shivaji who was very critical about the Turko-Afghan-Mughal rule gave impetus to Maratha nationalism. Shivaji made use of this saint-poet’s statement to kindle popular ideological protest against the rule of the Mughals and the Deccani kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkonda.
Tulja Bhavani, Vithobha and Mahadeva, the trinity of Maharashtra and the slogan Hara Har Mahadeva gave the needed religious sanction to Maratha Dharma. A big debating point is – can we identify Maratha Dharma with Hindu Swarajya. While some subscribe to the view that Hindu Swarajya and Maratha Dharma are identical, there are some who disagree with this view and regard that it was not primarily religion-oriented but opposed to the centralizing tendencies of the Mughals. We can agree with the view that taking advantage of the decline of Ahmadnagar kingdom, the Marathas wanted to carve out a bigger principality against the growing influence of the Mughals in the Deccan.
Formation of the Maratha State:
Since the early 17th century, the Marathas emerged as new political elite by joining the service of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golkonda courts in the Deccan. Some Marathas earned the titles of Raja, Naik and Rana and became petty chiefs of hill forts and Chander Rao Morey and Yaswanta Rao, Rao Naik Nimbalkar, Jujah Rao Ghatage, the Deshmukh of Mullore, were some of the important subordinates of the Deccan Sultans. Maloji, the grandfather of Shivaji married the sister of Jagpal Rao Nail Nimbalkar the ‘deshmukh’ of Phultun. Maloji’s son Shahji joined the count of Bijapur and was married to Jijiyabai. Shahji and Jijiyabai’s youngest son was Shivaji.
He was born at Shivaneri on April 10, 1627. As Shahji was busy till 1636 Shivaji was denied paternal attention. Shivaji was shifted to Poona under the guardianship of Dadaji Kondadev. In 1640-41 Shivaji married Saibai Nimbalkar and the administration of the Jagir of Poona was entrusted to Shivaji by Shahji Bhonsle under the guardianship of Dadaji Khonddev. With the death of Dadaji Khonddev in 1647, Shivaji became the independent agent of Shahji at Poona.
Shivaji tactfully befriended the brave community of Maval chiefs who became loyal defenders to him. The Maval chieftains Jedhe Nayak of Kari and Bandal Nayak were the first to join hands with Shivaji. Shivaji developed a desire to recover as a legitimate heir of Shahji, the territories surrendered to Bijapur Sultan by the latter. But he could not execute his plans as his father Shahji was imprisoned by the Bijapur forces.
Shivaji succeeded in 1649, on getting his father released from the prison. Shivaji occupied Purandar fort in 1648 and the fort of Javali in 1656, and also the fort of Rairi or Raigarh which became the capital of Shivaji’s ‘swarajya’ in 1674.
The relations between the Marathas and the Mughals can be studied under four phases:
(a) 1615 to 1664,
(b) 1664 to 1667,
(c) 1667 to 1680, and
The Mughal rulers Jahangir and Shahjahan realized the importance of the Maratha chieftains of Deccan and started persuading them to defect to their side from that of the Deccan Sultans. Aurangzeb too tried to woo Shivaji to be his ally as early as 1657. Shivaji did not yield and continued with his raids and occupied Kalyan and Bhiwandi in 1657 and Mahuli in 1658 and the entire eastern half of the Kolaba district was occupied by Shivaji from the Siddis of Janjira. In order to cut short the efforts of Shivaji, the Adilshahi ruler of Bijapur dispatched Abdulah Bhatare Afzal Khan with a strong force against Shivaji in 1659.
Shivaji got Afzal Khan killed by a stratagem and diplomacy and overpowered the Bijapur army by occupying Panhala and south Konkan but Shivaji lost Panhala after a short while in 1660. In order to reduce the growing power of Shivaji, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb despatched Shaistha Khan as viceroy of Deccan in 1659.
Shaistha Khan succeeded in occupying Chakan in 1660 and north Konkan in 1661 and there were hostilities between the Marathas and Aurangzeb in 1662-63. In 1663, Shivaji attacked Shaisth Khan at Poona and seriously wounded the Mughal viceroy of Deccan and sacked Surat in 1664. This gave a shock to Aurangzeb and Aurangzeb appointed Mirja Raja Jai Singh as the viceroy of Deccan. Raja Jai Singh raided the Maratha territory and occupied Purandhar in 1665 and persuaded Shivaji to enter into an alliance with the Mughals. Shivaji accepted the proposal of Jai Singh and the Treaty of Purandhar was concluded between the Mughal and Shivaji in 1665.
Shivaji was made to visit Agra to meet Aurangzeb. At Shivaji got enraged when he was not treated with proper respect and expressed his dissatisfaction and he was imprisoned by the Mughal forces in Agra. In 1666, Shivaji escaped from from Agra prison and Raja Jai Singh was replaced by prince Mauzzam in 1667 as the Mughal viceroy of Deccan. Shivaji kept quiet for two years after his escape from Agra prison and again renewed his hostile attitude towards the Mughals as the Purandhar Treaty was not at all advantageous to him and he had to forgo 23 forts and territory worth 4 lakh huns to the Mughals without any compensation from Bijapur.
He renewed hostilities by sacking Surat in 1670 for the second time and recovered a large number of forts, including Punandhar and made deep inroads into the Mughal territories of Berar and Khandesh. Simultaneously, he fought with Bijapur and secured Panhala and Satara by offering bribes and also raided Kanara country at leisure.
The year 1674, was a memorable year in the life of Shivaji, as in that year the coronation of Shivaji with the appropriate title of Chatrapati took place at Raigarh. Definitely, the coronation was a declaration to the public that Shivaji was the foremost among the Marathas and an equivalent to the contemporary Sultans and the emperor. This was followed by his raids into Bijapur and Karnataka in 1676, in which Akkanna and Madanna of Golkonda offered him active support.
The Qutub Shahi ruler of Golkonda entered into a friendly treaty with Shivaji but in due course the relations between them got strained as Shivaji did not agree to share the booty with Golkonda. This Karnataka expedition happened to be the last major expedition of Shivaji and Shivaji died in 1680, shortly after his successful return from the expedition of Karnataka.
Shivaji, who was by birth a petty Bhumia or landlord belonging to the agricultural occupation, by virtue of his determination and foresight became a Chatrapati and Haindava Dharmodharak and carved out a considerably vast kingdom, which he bequeathed to his progeny.
Shivaji’s fame rests on his assertion of popular will as a representative of the popular Maratha Dharma against the Mughal penetration into Maharashtra. Shivaji was also an able administrator as well as a builder of independent kingdom by bringing together different elements.
Administration of Shivaji:
The creator of the administrative structure and apparatus was none else than Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha state. The administrative structure of the Marathas is primarily based on the Deccan Sultans’ administrative principles and some of the aspects of the contemporary Mughals. The Maratha polity was basically a centralized despotic but enlightened monarchy.
The king was the pivot of the entire administrative process from the beginning to the end. “Raja Kalsya Karanam” or happiness and prosperity of their subjects were the motto of the Maratha rulers. However much interested and sincere, as it is not possible for a single individual to carry out the entire administrative process, the king was assisted by a council of ministers designated as Ashtapradhan or council of eight ministers.
The ministers are:
(1) Peshwa or Prime Minister, who was the head of civil and military matters,
(2) Majumdar or auditor, who scrutinized the income and expenditure of the state,
(3) Waqenavis or the person, who was in charge of intelligence, costs and household affairs,
(4) Dabir who was in charge of ceremonies and assisted the king in dealing with foreign powers,
(5) Shuru Nauis or Sachiv or who was incharge of all the official correspondence,
(6) Pandit Rao Danadhyakha was incharge of eclesiastical affairs,
(7) Nyayadhish or the Chief Justice and,
(8) Senapati or the commander in Chief Of the 8 members of the council of ministers except Panditrao and the Nyayadhisha, the rest were entrusted with military responsibility.
During Shivaji’s rule, all these posts were neither hereditary nor permanent. They were kept in their positions as long as they enjoyed the confidence of the king. They were liable for transfer. All these executive officers were paid in cash by the exchequer and no Jagir was given to any military or civil executive. But, by the time we come to Peshwas (1713-1761) this practice was given up and the posts became hereditary and permanent.
Each of the Ashtapradhan was assisted by eight assistants, Diwan, Majumdar, Phadnis, Sabnis, Karkhanis, Chitnis, Jamadar and Potnis. Among the eight assistants, Chimis or secretary appears to be next in rank to asthapradhans as he dealt with all diplomatic correspondences and drafted all royal letters.
He also wrote letters to provincial and district officials. Fadnis was given the authority to respond to the letters of commanders of forts. By the time of Peshwas, the power and prestige of Phadnis grew and he becomes a prominent officer. The Potnis took care of the income and expenditure of the royal treasury. The Potedar acted as an assay officer.
The Marathas divided their kingdom hierarchically into ‘mauzas’, ‘tarafs’ and ‘prants’ for administrative efficiency and convenience. Mauza was the lowest unit of administrative structure. The head of the taraf or district was havaldar, Karkun or paripatyagar. The provinces were known as Subahs and their officers were called Subedars. Karkun or Mukhyadesadhikari or Sarsubedar supervised and controlled the work of the Subedars.
The stability and security of the kingdom depended on the efficiency of the military and their preparedness to meet the demands of the situation. In the history of the Marathas, forts played a crucial role and no single officer was entrusted with the sole responsibility of the fort. Instead, Shivaji appointed a havaldar, sabnis and a sarnobat for ordinary sized forts. For big forts, 5 to 10 tatsarnobats of equal status who were liable for transfers also were appointed.
The keys of the fort were kept in the custody of the havaldar. The muster roll or attendance was taken care of by the sabnis. He was also in change of the revenue administration. The sarnobat was in charge of the garrison. Karkhanis used to take care of the grain stores and other material required. Shivaji applied a good system of checks and balances over his officials to keep them under control. No official was given absolute power in any sphere of activity.
Shivaji had taken care that no caste group dominated in the bureaucratic set-up. It was clearly ordained that the havaldar and sarnobat had to be a Maratha, the sabnis a Brahmin and Karkhani, a Kayastha. Shivaji maintained light cavalry and light infantry trained in guerilla and hilly warfare. Shivaji’s most excellent troopers belonged to the Mavalis and Hetkaris. Shivaji’s infantry structure was hierarchically arranged in a pyramidal shape from bottom to top.
Naik-Havaldar-Jumladar-Hazari-Samobat. Same is the case with cavalry. His cavalry consisted of two classes – Bargirs and Silodars. Bargir troops were supplied with horses and arms by the state and silodars are those who brought their own horses and arms. The army of Shivaji was well served by an efficient intelligence department headed by Bahiraj Naik Jadhav. By the time of Peshwas, separate artillery department was created in the army. Discipline was given top priority by Shivaji and that became lax under the Peshwas. During the time of the Peshwas, the armies become a mobile town with all paraphernalia.
Shivaji strengthened his military by a strong navy. His naval fleet consisted of Ihurabs or gunboats and galivats or row boats. Koli the sea faring tribe of Malabar manned his fleet. Shivaji established two squadron’s of 200 vessels. There is a view that these figures are highly exaggerated as Robert Orme mentions just 57 fleets of Shivaji under the command of Admiral Daniya Sarang and Marnaik Bhandari. One more admiral of Shivaji’s navy was Daulat Khan.
The Marathas did not develop an organized judicial structure. At the village level; the village panchayat decided the legal issues. Criminal cases were decided by Patil. Hazir Majalis was the highest court for civil and criminal cases. In the matters relating to land revenue system, Shivaji continued the regulations practised by Malik Amber in the Deccan states. Shivaji got the measurement of land under cultivation by using a Kathi or measuring rod. Twenty Kathis constituted a Bigha and 120 Bighas a Chavar.
Shivaji entrusted the task of systematic assessment to Annaji Datto in 1678. Annaji Datto carried on assessment with the help of the Paragana and village officials. Shivaji collected one-third of the total value of the crop as land tax but later after abolishing other cesses, a consolidated share of 40 per cent was claimed by the state. A hierarchy of officials was there to look after the collection of land tax at various stages from the cultivators. Jadunath Sarkar holds the view that Shivaji did away with the intermediaries – Zamindars, Deshmukhs, Desais and Patils between the State and the cultivator.
Contradicting the view of J.N. Sarkar, Satish Chandra holds the view that Shivaji curtailed the unlimited powers of these hereditary intermediaries and appointed his own men to collect the land tax, instructing them not to extract more than the due share of the state. Shivaji punished those officials who violated his orders. Peshwas introduced changes into the land tax collection system introduced by Shivaji. Shivaji attempted to take special measures to protect peasants from the oppressions of the revenue collector.
Besides land tax, ‘chauth’ and ‘sardeshmukhi’ formed the major sources of income for the Marathas. Some criticized these measures as plunder and loot. Sardeshmukhi was an extraction of 10 per cent imposed upon the revenues of the entire Martha kingdom. Shivaji claimed sardeshmukhi as his right as the supreme head of the Marathas. Further, he claimed chauth, i.e., percentage of the total revenue of the neighbouring chieftains whose territories did not form a part of swarajya.
Shivaji was not an innovator and creator of new administrative ideas but modified the existing Daccani Sultan’s administration and made it suitable for his swarajya. The only change introduce by him was more and more of centralization and he saw to it that there was no possibility of configuration of various groups to emerge as strong political elite. This system worked very effectively and efficiently as long as Shivaji survived and decline set in after his death.
Shivaji was followed by his son Sambhaji who ruled from 1680 to 1689 and he was followed by his brother Rajaram, who ruled from 1689 to 1700. After the death of Rajaram, his wife Tarabai became regent on behalf of her son Shivaji II who ruled from 1700 to 1707. All these years the hostility with the Muguals continued and in spite of his best efforts, Aurangzeb failed to curb the spirit of the Marathas. Once again the Marathas became a prominent political force under the regime of the Peshwas during the years 1713 to 1761 during the reigns of Sahu 1707-1749 and Rama Raja in 1749-1777.