The Rise of Marathas in the 17th century is an important event in the History of India. It is said that Marathas were hybrids of Aryans and Dravids. Perhaps ‘Maraiha’ word is originated from ‘Ratha’ or ‘Maharatha’ or ‘Rashtra’. ‘Ratha’ or ‘Maratha’ or ‘Rashtra’ etc. words were used for that state which was situated in South India like triangles.
The South-East state of Bombay and state of East Hills are included in it. Or we may say that Modern Bombay State, Konkan Khandesh, Barar, Part of Madhya Pradesh and about on third portion of Hyderabad were included in it. This portion was called ‘Marathwada’ which became later, on Maharashtra. According to scholars ‘Those great people who go behind only after death, are called ‘Maratha’ or Marathas.’
It is true that Shivaji contributed a lot towards the rise and growth of Maratha power in India, but it is equally true that at the time when he appeared on the scene, the ground had already been prepared for him. According to Dr. Ishwari Prasad, “But Shivaji’s rise to power cannot be treated as an isolated phenomenon in Maratha History.
It was as much the result of his personal daring and heroism as of peculiar geographical situation of the Deccan Country and the unifying religious influences that were animating the people with new hopes and aspirations in the 15th and 16th centuries.”
(1) Physical Features
The physical features of the Maratha Country developed certain peculiar qualities among the Marathas which distinguished them from the rest of the people of India. The mountainous territory gave security to the Marathas from outside invaders. It also made them hardy soldiers who were not afraid of difficulties and hardship.
The scarcity of rains in Maratha and the difficulties of finding livelihood developed among the Marathas a spirit of self-reliance and hard work. Without these qualities, they would have faced death from starvation. Their hardy character stood them in good stead when they were pitted against the Mughals.
While the Marathas could be seen galloping in their small narrow paths in search of their enemies without the least feeling of any inconvenience or hardship, the Mughal soldiers found their life miserable. The mountainous country made it possible for the Marathas to adopt successfully the guerrilla tactics. The broken ranges of hills provided the Marathas “ready made and easily defensible rock forts.”
“The people were taught to regard to forts as their mother as indeed it was, for thither the inhabitants of the surrounding villages resorted in time of invasions with their flocks and herds and treasure, and in time of peace they afforded a living by supplying the garrisons with provisions and fodder.”
According to J.N. Sarkar, “Nature developed in the Marathas self-reliance, courage, perseverance, a stern simplicity, a rough straightforwardness, a sense of social equality and consequently pride in the dignity of man as man.'” There were no social distinctions among the people and Maratha women added to the strength and patriotism of men.
According to Elphinstone, “They (the Marathas) are all active, laborious, hardy and persevering. If they have none of the pride and dignity of the Rajputs, they have none of their indolence or want of worldly wisdom. A Rajput warrior as long as he does not dishonor his race, seems almost indifferent to the result of any contest he is engaged in.
A Maratha thinks of nothing but the result, and cares little for the means, if he can attain his object. For this purpose; he will strain his wits, renounce his pleasures and hazard his person; but has not a conception of sacrificing his life, or even his interest, for a point of honour. This difference of sentiment affects the outward appearance of the two nations; there is something vulgar in that of the most distinguished Maratha.
The Rajput is the most worthy antagonist – the Maratha the most formidable enemy; for he will not fail in boldness and enterprise when they are indispensable, and will always support them, or supply their place, by stratagem, activity and perseverance. All this applies chiefly to the soldiery to whom more bad qualities might fairly be ascribed. The mere husbandmen are sober, frugal and industrious, and, though they have a dash of a national cunning, are neither turbulent nor insincere.”
(2) Bhakti Movement
The spread of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra inculcated the spirit of oneness among the Marathas. The main teachings of the leaders were Bhakti or devotion to God and equality of all believers before God without any distinction of class or birth. The Bhakti Movement united the people of Maharashtra in a common love of man and faith in one God. The important leaders of the Bhakti Movement were Sant Tukaram. Ramdas, Varman Pandit and Eknath.
Ram Das Samarth was considered by Shivaji as his Guru and he exercised a tremendous influence over his countrymen. He rendered yeomen’s service by carrying out social reforms. In his book called Dasa Bodh, Ram Das taught the philosophy of Karma or action. He was not only a religious preacher but also a nation-builder.
The effect of the Bhakti Movement on the Maratha People is described by Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade in these words: “Like the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century, there was a religious, social and literary revival and reformation in India, but notably in the Deccan in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The religious revival was not Brahmanical in its orthodoxy, it was heterodox in its spirit of protest against forms and ceremonies and class distinctions based on birth, and ethical in its preference of pure heart and the law of love, to all other acquired merits and good works.
This religious revival was the work also of the people of the masses, and not of the classes. At its head were saints and prophets, poets and philosophers, who sprang chiefly from the lower order of society, tailors, carpenters, potters, gardeners, shopkeepers, barbers and even scavengers more often than Brahmins.'” Literature and Language.
The literature and language of the Marathas also acted as a unifying force. The hymns of Tukaram were sung by all the classes and they served as a bond of unity among people who belonged to different sections of society. The songs in Marathi Dialect and Marathi Language played an important role.
According to J.N. Sarks, “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. What little was wanting to the solidarity of the people was supplied by his creation of national state, the long struggle with the invader from Delhi under his sons, and the Imperial Expansion of the race under the Peshwas.
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 senses of the term had been formed, though caste distinctions still remained. Thus history has molded society.”
(4) Appearance of Shivaji :
Even before the appearance of Shivaji on the scene, the Marathas had acquired training in the art of administration and also in the military field. This training the Marathas got in the Muslim States in the Deccan.
The Marathas were employed in the Revenue Department of the States. Some of them were appointed even Ministers by the Mohammadan Rulers. Murar Rao, Madan Pandit and many members of the Raj Rai Family filled from time to time the posts of ministers and Diwans in the Golconda State.
Narso Kale and Yesu Pandit were other important persons who served with distinction in the State of Bijapur. Brahman Ambassadors were employed on diplomatic duties by the Rulers of Ahmednagar.
The Maratha Siledars and Bargirs were employed first of all in the Bahmani Kingdom and later on in the five states into which it was broken up.
The training thus acquired in arms and civil administration brought to the Marathas education, power and wealth.
It is a matter of history that a very prominent role was played in the politics of Ahmednagar and Bijapur by the Maratha jagirdars, Shahji Bhonsla and Murar Rao Jogdev in the time of Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
It has rightly been stated that “the nominal Mohammadan Rulers of Golconda, Bijapur, Bidar, etc., were virtually controlled both in the civil and military Departments by Maratha Statesmen and Maratha Warriors and the hill forts near the Ghats and the country thereabout were in the hands of Maratha jagirdars who were only nominally dependent upon these Mohammadan sovereigns.”