In the eighteenth century as the Mighty Mughal Empire was crumbling in pieces and the later Mughal emperors were reduced to remain emperors only in name, the Maratha chiefs became the strongest rulers in the country. It was so the British had to put up their fight primarily against Maratha nationalism for the sovereignty of India.
The territory, that was the bone of contention, which included the modern state of Bombay, Konkan, Khandesh, Berar, Part of Madhya Pradesh and nearly one-third of Hyderabad, was called Maratha-Vad. Later it came to be known as Maharashtra. Marathas established their power within this territory and the people of this region spoke Marathi.
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Causes behind Rise of Marathas
The rise of Maratha Nationalism can be traced from the efforts of entire Maratha people instead of any one individual or a particular group or of some transient circumstances.
On the basis of unity of their language, literature, community and homeland, the Marathas sowed the seeds of Maratha nationalism and wished to carve out an independent state of their own.
The growth of Maratha nationalism coincided with completion of Muslim conquest of Indian subcontinent. It went to the credit of Maratha nationalism that in the South an independent State of the Hindus was formed.
With the time the Marathas, gradually, evolved such strong spirit of nationalism through which they made themselves the most powerful group of people in India.
It has been widely acclaimed by contemporary historians that it was the influence and the strength of this Maratha nationalism that tempted and inspired Maratha leaders to create Hindu-Pad-Padshahi in India by taking over the power the emperor of Delhi and bringing India under one rule. So it can be safety ascertained that the history of the rise of Maratha Nationalism is the story of the rise and growth of an organized group of people belonging to the territory of Maharashtra.
Factors contributing in the Rise of Maratha Nationalism
Different factors played their parts in the rise of Maratha nationalism and in turn political power of the Marathas. In the rise of Maratha Nationalism the geographical conditions of Maharashtra played a very prominent part; large part of Maharashtra is plateau where a human being has to struggle her or his survival. These conditions of hardship made the people of the contended territory courageous and robust.
Not only this, the Plateau also catered every facility defence that consisted of the construction of forts at every hill-top, making it difficult for foreign invaders to get suppliers apart from the difficulty of movement with large armies in an unknown land. And lastly, as Maharashtra was/is situated in the middle of the India subcontinent, it was easy for Marathas to expand their power both towards the South and the North.
Economic conditions of Maharashtra was also helpful in the advancement of the goal of Marathas as the people, in general, of Maharashtra did not Suffer economic disparities among themselves because there dearth of people who could be accepted as rich. So in the near absence of such an exploiter’s class, Marathas enjoyed economic equality to a great extend.
As there was no explicit division of the Maratha Nationalism society into the rich and the poor, it provided them self-respect and unity. Moreover, the credit goes to the Maratha society as a whole that did not became victim of a life of indulgence and luxuries.
Marathas did not suffer from any serious divisions from the social point of view also. The people of Maharashtra had witnessed social and religious awakening before the political awakening. The saints of the Bhakti Cult, during 15th and 16th century, preached social equality. Many of these saints belonged to Maharashtra.
Saints like Tukaram, Ek Nath, Ram Das and Vaman Pandit were accepted as soul of this social and religious awakening that was terminating into ‘social equality’.
The most important thing that happened to this ‘awakening’ that it did not remain limited to a particular section or class of the society but became prevalent among the common people of the society as a whole.
Since the saints, the torch bearer of this movement of social awakening, preached against Brahamanas, caste system, rituals and stark discrimination between low-born and high-born, this movement of social awakening created a mass awakening that ultimately united and strengthened the Maratha society as a whole.
Marathi language also contributed towards the growth of Maratha nationalism as it was a simple and language of people that eventually strengthened the bonds of unity and equality among the people of Maharashtra.
In the South the balance of power between Hindus and the Muslims also assisted the Marathas in attaining and establishing their political strength. However, in northern India the Muslims had virtually broken the Hindus’ resistance power, a feat they could never have achieved in the South.
This balance or power in the South made Hindus safeguard their traditions, temples and self-respect that enhanced their love of their society and religion in the South. As the Hindus of the region did not feel disrespect and disheartened, they had evolved the capacity and strength to fight back the Muslims. This had been the reason behind the fact that Muslim rulers of the South had to take steps to take assistance of Hindus in their administration.
According to a well known historian Grant Duff “prior to the rise of Shivaji, there were at least eight Maratha families, who yielded extensive influence in the politics of the Deccan”.
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Prior to the Rise of Shivaji
Shahji Bhosle, the father of Shivaji, was one of the nobles of Ahmadnagar, who were kingmakers also. He did enjoy great respect at Bijapur Court when he later accepted its services.
The Aurangzeb factor contributed immensely in the rise of Maratha nationalism and power as Aurangzeb attempted to capture the entire Deccan, apart from his negligence towards the affairs of the Deccan during early period of his reign, that provoked the resistence of the Marathas for the security of their Jagirs and Vatans (homelands) that resulted in the inclusion of people of all sections in the Maratha army that helped greatly towards the consolidation of Maratha nationalism.
It can be said that prior to the rise of Shivaji on the political canvas of the South, a stage was set that provided firm base to the rise of the Maratha nationalism and there by Marathas.
However, there remained a serious lacuna in the form that there was no one who could exploit those conditions to build up the fortunes of the Maratha people and none had thought of setting up an independent kingdom of the Hindus. It was Shivaji who filled up this schism by successfully building up the Maratha nation and establishing an independent kingdom of the Hindus in the South.