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The Great Marathas                   [1674 AD - 1819 AD]


Shivaji, was the ideal leader of hardened mountaineers and his cavalry went far and wide, sacking the city of Surat, where the English had their factory, and were enforcing the Chauth - Tax payment over Mughal dominion. They were small chieftains who owed allegiance to the Deccan kingdoms. When they saw them weakened by Mughal attacks, they broke away, expanded their power and began to resist Mughal armies by guerrilla warfare, which they acquired from Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian minister of Ahmednagar Sultan. They used to retreat to the regions of Poona and Konkan where they were strong and the hilly area enabled them to hide successfully. The most powerful of the Maratha chief was Shivaji (1627 AD - 1680 AD). His father Shahji, had been a feudatory of Sultan of Bijapur and had served in their army.

But Shivaji was ambitious and seeing the weakness of Bijapur, asserted his independence. Seeing his growing power, Aurangzeb appointed Jai Singh of Amber to deal with Shivaji. In 1665, Purander fort of Marathas was besieged by Jai Singh and a treaty between the two was signed. As a part of the treaty, Shivaji visited Aurangzeb's court in Agra (1666 AD), where he was made a prisoner but escaped. He declared himself the independent ruler of the Maratha kingdom and was crowned as the Chattrapati (1674). He made Raigad fort as his capital and was determined to harass the Mughals. He then turned his mission towards defeating the Bahamani kings in the south and making a strong Maratha state until his death in 1680.

His son Sambhaji (1680 AD - 1689 AD), succeded the kingdom. However, he was soon captured and executed and his infant son Sahu (Shivaji II), was imprisoned by Aurangzeb. Rajaram, Sambaji's brother sought refuge in Jinji on the west coast and continued to resist Mughals till his death (1700 AD). He was succeeded by his minor son Shivaji III under the regency of his mother,Tara Bai. However, after the death of Auragzeb, Sahu was released and his claim for the throne was strongly opposed by Tarabai. In the civil war that broke out, Sahu was victorious with the help of Balaji Vishwanath, the founder of the line of Peshwas. He was made Peshwa in 1713 AD and Tarabai set up a rival court in Kolhapur.

Under the new leadership of the Peshwas, the Maratha kingdom flourished and increased its territory to the north, where there was no strong successor of Aurangzeb. However, they lost their power after the defeat in the third battle of Panipat in 1761 against an invading Afghan, Ahmed Shah Abdali. Finally, it was Lord Wellington of the East India Company who defeated the Marathas in 1803 and put an end to Maratha power in the war of 1817-19 AD.