Maratha Supremacy in the 18th century

Causes of the fall of the Maratha empire

One, the biggest blunder was their Northern adventure coupled with a lack of administrative control over defeated territories. Shivaji had created an efficient system of governance which yielded him reasonable amount of annual revenue. As Marathas became more ambitious, they decided to extend themselves over Hindustan. Since they did not have the money to do so, they kept on conquering territories for Chauth. This alienated the common man from the ruler as they were always being pestered for money.

For instance, this policy alienated the Rajputs who did not come to Marathas’ support during the Battle of Panipat. Had the Marathas exercised administrative control, they would have succeeded in expanding their empire on a long-term basis and got regular revenue. Revenue was promised but wasn’t always paid thus, they had to fight avoidable wars only to collect revenues.

Two, driven by this ambition to expand, Raja Shahu compensiated chieftains by granting them mutually exclusive areas to rule - Jagirs. While this expanded the Maratha Empire, it made the Sardars or chieftains very powerful. To control them, Shahu played one against the other, resulting in what were as such avoidable wars. The Maratha chiefs could not sink their differences even in times of common danger. While Shivaji advocated a strong centre, Shahu went in for a federal structure.

Three, Marathas in the later reign never dreamt big. Raja Shahu’s main aim was to bring India under Maratha influence but having the Maratha Empire only in name. Marathas did not vanquish their enemies totally only to see them become a thorn in their flesh later. For example, they let off Haidar Ali on easy terms. Having crippled Nizam in 1738, Bajirao Peshwa should have gotten rid of him.

Four, by destroying the naval power of Tulaji Angria, Nana Saheb allowed the Europeans to dominate India’s western coast, allowing their eventual conquest.

Five, the Maratha army was not homogeneous in composition. It consisted of Arabs, Sikhs, Rajputs, Sindhis, Rohillas, and Pathans. Besides resulting in lack of unity, an Arab soldier was paid INR 18 per month, a Christian INR 15 and a Maratha INR 6. Disparities in pay created jealousy and increased the cost of war.

Six, since the Maratha army consisted of men from various chieftains, there was lack of a team spirit and probably unity of command at a micro level.

Seven, another mistake made by Maratha chiefs was to entrust the defence of their country to foreigners. When it came to the crunch, they sided with the British.

Eight, the military preparations, the tactical moves, the extraordinary exertions, and gallantry of the British need to be commended. Perhaps, Marathas made the mistake of giving up their old guerilla tactics. The Marathas neglected artillery. Later on, they became obsessed with it but did not know how to effectively coordinate cavalry, infantry, and the advance of artillery in close support of moving infantry. Another reason cited is the Maratha chief’s lack of knowledge of the geography of the country. Travelling did and does teach a lot.

Nine, various forms of moral cankers were also responsible for deteriorating the society. Sensual pleasures, drinking habits etc. on the part of the top Maratha leaders like Bajirao II, Nana Phadnis, Daulat Sindia, and Yashwant Holkar were responsible too.

Ten, the tragedy of Maratha power was the result of the formidable and aggressive British imperialism bursting upon a sleepy, inert and medieval society. The Maratha chiefs were too engrossed in their own lives to even fathom the sweeping changes that were taking place in the Western world.

Chanakya always believed that the more the information you have about your adversary, the stronger you become, the Bhagwad Geeta also talks about the importance of knowledge, as does management guru Michael Porter.

Inspite of their shortcomings, the Marathas dominated most parts of India for a majority of the eighteenth century. Mughal rule was just a name sake.

Ambition and greed were the root cause of the fall of the Maratha Empire. Just as in a company there can be only one Chief Executive Officer, similarly in a nation there can be only one king. After Bajirao Peshwa, Marathas kept on fighting amongst themselves, gave their opponents an opportunity to exploit the differences between them. If the chieftains had put their ego aside and told Raja Shahu that they would operate under his central command, the history of Bharat may well have been different. Along with the Sikhs, the Marathas would have ruled India.

Also read
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3. Why Bajirao Peshwa is India's greatest cavalry general
4. 250 years on, Battle of Panipat revisited
5. Malharrao Holkar: The Maratha General Who Captured Lahore
6. Everything you wanted to know about the Kashmir problem
7. Pictures of Ahilyabai Holkar fort at Maheshwar
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9. When Lord Jagannath Witnessed The Great Maratha Devotion
10. Shivaji Temple Chennai
11. Maratha Palace Thanjavur pictures

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