Maratha Empire: History, Rulers, Architecture, Administration, Religion and Decline

The Maratha Empire was one of the greatest Empires that ruled in the history of India. The Marathas were the indigenous people of the country who fought to drive out the foreign invaders and their foreign religion. The Maratha’s motto was establishing Hindavi Swarajya, meaning “self-rule to Hindus”. The Empire almost covered the entire Indian sub-continent and was ruled under semi-autonomous rulers.

In this article, we will be able to cover the topics such as the history, rulers, architecture, administration, religion, and the decline of the Maratha Empire. This topic is very important for the UPSC exam. UPSC aspirants can download Maratha Empire notes pdf from the given link.

The History of the Maratha Empire

The history of the Maratha Empire from the conquest of Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj. The history of the Maratha Empire can be divided into three eras.

  1. Chatrapathi era
  2. Peshwa era
  3. Confederacy era

Chatrapathi era

This era is the Maratha Empire’s origin, dating back to the 17th century. A group of Marathi-speaking warriors formed and rebelled against the Bijapur Sultanate under Shivaji’s leadership. Using guerilla warfare methods, the Marathas captured many fortresses of the Sultanates and started their quest to build an empire. They faced many wars against the massive Mughal Empire under the rule of Aurangazeb.

After the death of Aurangazeb, Shahu, the grandson of Shivaji, was released by the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah I. Shahu became the Chatrapathi but confided the powers to Balaji Vishwanath, whom he appointed as his Peshwa. From then onwards, the actual rulers were the Peshwas, and the Chatrapathis were just ceremonial rulers.

Peshwa era

This is the era when the Peshwas remain the supreme Power over the Empire. Balaji Vishwanath had a vision of expanding the Empire over the entire subcontinent. His successor Baji Rao expanded the Empire towards the east and the northwest of the subcontinent. He also expanded successfully as the Maratha Empire grew massively, and the Mughal Empire diminished into a tiny empire.

Balaji Baji Rao was the successor of Baji Rao, and in his time, the Maratha Empire reached its zenith and almost captured the entire subcontinent as their territory. The Empire became so huge and massive that a single ruler was not efficient to rule.

Hence Peshwa Madhav Rao created an administration system that divided the kingdom into five parts and gave the governing authority to the strongest aristocrats under the rule of the Peshwas.

Confederacy era

The Confederacy era is when the five strongest aristocrats ruled the great Maratha Empire under the rule of the Peshwas. Those five great aristocrats are the Gaekwads of Baroda, Holkars of Indore, Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, Bhonsales of Nagpur, and the Puars of Dewas and Dhar. After the death of Peshwa Madhav Rao I, the fate of the Maratha Empire changed.

The whole Empire was decentralized as the chiefs or aristocrats took the Power in their hands. As days went by, just as the Chatrapathis became a puppet rulers, so did the Peshwas. The jealousies among the chiefs for the supreme Power is one of the great reasons that led to the downfall of the great Maratha Empire.

Maratha Empire Map

Maratha Empire Map
Maratha Empire Map

The Rulers of the Maratha Empire

Chatrapathi Shivaji

Shivaji was born in 1627 at Shivner to Shahaji Bhonsale and Jia Bhai. Shahaji Bhonsale was a military leader under the Ahmednagar and Bijapur Sultanate. Shivaji had a tutor Dadaji Kondadev, who trained him and made him an excellent warrior. Shivaji did not like the rule of the Sultanates and the Mughals, so he created an army to rebel against them.

The Maratha army was formed with the help of the Bhakti Movement led by Tukaram, Ramdas, Eknath, and Vaaman Pandit. The fact that religion of the Marathas was Hinduism, and the Bhakthi movement was a non-Brahminical movement that united an army of peasants to rebel against the Muslim regime. The Maratha army had a unique strategy to fight called Guerilla warfare which they adapted from the dense forest and mountains in which they live.

Shivaji first captured the Torna fort and later the Raigad fort of the Bijapur Sultanate in 1646. In 1647, after the death of his tutor, Shivaji captured Baramati, Indrapura, Purandhar, Kondana fort, and Kalyan fort. The Bijapur Sultanate arrested Shahiji in revenge for Shivaji’s capture of the forts. Shivaji makes a peace treaty with the Bijapur Sultanate and remained inactive from 1649-1655 in return for his father’s release. In 1656 he captured Jalvi in the Satara District and inspired many youngsters, which lead to a huge increase of the number of the army. Shivaji built the Pratapgarh fort in a place that is 2 miles west from Javli.

In November 1656, the Bijapur Sultan Mohammad Adilshah died, and Adilshah-II became Sulta at 18. In 1657, Aurangazeb was captured in Bidar, Kalyani, and Parinder. At one moment, Shah Jahan, the father of Aurangazeb, got ill, so Aurangazeb went to Delhi to see his father. Shivaji uses this opportunity and captures the forts of Bijapur.

Shivaji invades North Konkan and captures the cities Kalyan and Bhivandi. Later, he also captures the Mahuli fort. Bijapur Sultan Adil Shah gets angry and sends his commander Afzal Khan to kill Shivaji. They plotted against Shivaji and tried to deceive him by calling him for a truce. But Shivaji found the betrayal and killed Afzal Khan with the ‘tiger claw.’

In 1658 Aurangazeb became the ruler of the Mughal Empire. He made Shaista Kan the Governor of Deccan in 1660. Shivaji and his 400 men disguised as the bridegroom’s side entered Shaista Khan’s son’s marriage at Lal Mahal in Poona, where he killed all the guards and chopped the thumb finger of Shaista Khan, who was trying to escape through the window. Aurangazeb commanded Shaista Khan to return to where he came from and made his son Bahadur Shah I as the Governor of Deccan. Later Auangazeb sends Raja Jai Singh to capture Shivaji, and Raja Jai Singh did it and surrounded Shivaji and his men. Therefore, on June 11 1655, Shivaji and Raja Jai Singh signed the ‘Treaty of Purandhar’.

According to the Treaty of Purandhar, two-thirds of the forts of the Maratha Empire was given to the Mughals, and Shivaji’s son Sambhaji was made the Mansabdari. In May 1666, Shivaji and Sambhaji were invited to Agra by Aurangazeb, but they were deceived and arrested. Shivaji and his son cleverly escaped in a fruit basket. In 1670, Shivaji captured and looted the Surat Port, which was one of the important business-point of that period. In 1672 he introduced Chauth, which is to pay one by fourth of the annual income as tax to the ruler.

In 1676, started conquest in the south and signed a ‘Secret Treaty’ with the Sultan of Golkonda. Then he captures Senji and Vellore and assigns his brother Venkoji also known as Ekoji, to administer the Tanjore region. The Carnatic Campaign added prestige to his war skills and made him more popular. In 1680 Shivaji died at the age of 53.


After the death of Shivaji, a series of tragic events happened to the sons of Shivaji. Sambhaji, son of Shivaji, succeeded his father but was executed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb. Shahu, the son of Sambhaji, was also put into prison by Aurangazeb.

Rajaram and Tarabai

Rajaram, the half-brother of Sambhaji, took the throne and was not successful in the ruling. Rajaram had two wives Tarabai and Rajasabai. Tarabai had a son named Shivaji II and Rajasabai had a son named Sambhaji II. After his death, he was succeeded by his wife, Tarabai, who took control of the powers.


After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb, the new emperor Bahadur Shah I released Shahu, the son of Sambhaji, who claimed his right and took over the throne from his aunt Tarabai. Shahu was a man who did not want to rule the kingdom but to have the lifestyle of the kings. So, he appointed Peshwas (Prime Minister), who would rule the nation on his behalf. Shahu made Balaji Vishwanath his Peshwa as he helped him to get the throne from the conflict between the sons and grandsons of Shivaji. The Peshwas became the new rulers of the Maratha Empire. So, this system followed for generations where the Chatrapati’s remained as de jure rulers and the Peshwas became de facto rulers.

Tarabai rules a rival government with Kolhapur as its capital. Rajasabai and her son Sambhaji II claimed the Kolhapur throne and arrested Tarabhai and her son Shivaji II and put them into prison. After the death of Shahu, his son Rama Raja inherits the throne at Satara. In 1761 Tarabhai died in great sorrow, and Rama Raja also died in the following next year. In 1808 the adopted son of Rama Raja, Shahu II, inherits the throne, and he is succeeded by his son Pratap Singh was later imprisoned by the British in 1839 and died in 1847. Later, the Britishers made Shahji II the brother of Pratap Singh as the ruler of Maratha, and he is the last Chatrapathi and ruler of the Maratha Empire.

Peshwa Rulers

Balaji Vishwanath

The Peshwas are the Prime Ministers of the state or the Empire. At first, when Shivaji introduced Ashta Pradhan, the Peshwa had Power next to the Chatrapathis. But after the grant of the Power to the Peshwas given by Shahu, a system was created where the Peshwas had equal or more Power than the Chatrapathis. This followed for the rest of the generations of the rulers of the Maratha Empire. Balaji Vishwanath was the one who was made Peshwa by king Shahu. He convinced Kanhoji Angre and supported Tarabhai. He revived the practice of Jagir, which Shivaji abandoned.

Baji Rao I

Baji Rao I succeeded his father Balaji Vishwanath and played a great role in the expansion of the Maratha Empire. He enhanced his Power by defeating the Nizam of Hyderabad. He also defeated and captured the Rajput Governor of Malwa and the Governor of Gujarat.

He freed Bundelkhand from the control of the Mughals, and in return, he claimed one-third of the land for the Maratha to rule. In 1731 Trimbak Rao, the commander in chief, betrayed his own Peshwa, but Baji Rao I defeated Trimbak Rao easily at the battle of Dabhai near Baroda. In 1731 the Treaty of Warna was signed by Sambhoji II to accept the rule of king Shahu.

In 1738, Thana, Salsette, and Bassein were captured from the Portuguese. The Britishers had a friendly relationship with the Maratha to free trade in Deccan Region. In 1739, Nadir Shah of Afghan invaded Delhi and captured the Kohinoor and the Peacock throne.

Balaji Baji Rao

Balaji Baji Rao succeeded Baji Rao I after his death. He was very good at administration and was an expert in financial handling. He fought against the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan in 1758 and won the battle. This was the time the Maratha Empire’s expansion reached its zenith as it went beyond the Sindhu River across the North.

When Tanjore Maratha asked for help from Balaji Baji Rao, he sent his commander Raghoji Bhonsle who defeated the trouble-causing Nawab of Ancot Dost Ali. In 1760 under the commanding of Sadashivrao, the battle against the Salabat Jung for Nizam Ali, Asaf Jah II was won and Bijapur, Aurangabad, Dulatabad, Ahmadnagar and Burhanpur were captured.

Maratha Architecture

The Marathas built extraordinary fortresses as they were mainly focused on expanding the territories of the kingdom. The most important fortresses built by the Marathas are the Mangad, Shaniwar Wada, Raigad and Pratapgad. There is also a famous architect called the Lal Mahal, rebuilt by Shivaji, who spent his childhood in it. In addition, many temples were built and renovated during the Confederacy era of the Maratha Empire.

Administration of the Maratha Empire

On June 6, 1674 Shivaji had himself coronated as the Chatrapathi at Raigad. In that coronation ceremony, Shivaji introduced the administration council of the Maratha called the Ashta Pradhan, which means Eight Ministers. The following are the designated roles in the administration of the Maratha Empire:

Peshwa – Prime Minister, who is the general over the administrators of the state or Empire.

Amatya – Finance Minister, who takes the whole incharge of the accounts of the state or Empire.

Mantri – Minister of Internal affairs, who takes care of the secrecy of the state or Empire.

Dabir – Foreign Minister, who takes care of the diplomacy of the state or Empire.

Sachdev – Secretary, who takes care of the orders of the state or Empire.

Pandit Rao – Chief Priest, who acts as the head of the priests of the state or Empire.

Nyayadish – Chief Judge, who takes care of the justice of civilian matters of the state or Empire.

Senapati – Commander who commands the entire army of the state or Empire.

The kingdom of Shivaji, or the Maratha Empire, was divided into four provinces which are known as Prants. Shivaji also abandoned the granting of Jagirs, and the officers were paid with cash or money. Initially, the Revenue System of the Maratha Kingdom was humane and reliable to the common people, especially the cultivators of the land. However, later heavy taxes were imposed over the people of Maratha.

At first, the taxation to be paid to the government was about 30 per cent and later, it became 40 percent. There were about two kinds of taxes to be paid to the government. One was the Chauth, in which one-fourth of the revenue or produce must be given to the government. The other was the Sardeshmukhi, in which one-tenth of the revenue or produce must be given to the government. Shivaji called himself Sardeshmukh for levying high taxes.

The religion of the Maratha Empire

The Marathas followed Hinduism and were the devotees of lord Shiva. They also sometimes were the devotees of lord Vishnu. The Marathas were so religious that it became a cause for the revolt against the Sultanate and build a Hindu ruling Empire. The Bhakthi movement played a vital role for the unification of the people to join the cause as there were no caste discrimination, and all the notable works such as the administrators, warriors and several other works were given to people of several other castes.

The Decline of the Maratha Empire

In 1757, Siraj-ud-Daulah asked for help to the Marathas to fight against the Britishers in the Battle of Plassey, but the Marathas did lend their arms to help. This is one of the great reasons for the decline of the Maratha Empire. On January 14 1761, the Marathas fought the third battle of Panipat against the Afghan Durrani Empire. This time the Afghans caused a severe blow that the Marathas could not get up from the aftermath of the battle.

After some years, Madhav Rao I succeeded Balaji Baji Rao, and during his time, the Maratha Resurrection took place. But after the death of Madhav Rao I, Maratha Empire began to disappear as there was a frequent change in the rulers and the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha wars waged by the British Empire. After those wars, the Britishers took control of the whole of India.

Although an undefeatable and massive Empire, the jealousies of the rulers and the decentralized kingdom determined the fate of the Empire, and that is how the great Maratha disappeared.


Q.1 Who was the founder of the Maratha empire?

Ans: Shivaji is the founder of the Maratha Empire

Q.2 Who was the last Peshwa of the Maratha Empire?

Ans: The 13th and last Peshwa of the Maratha Empire was Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao II.

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