Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hindu Marāthā warrior and later king, Śivājī, using guerrilla tactics and supported by bands of Marāthān horsemen, captured a hill fortress in India’s Western Ghats at the expense of neighboring Muslim states. Forced to surrender to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Śivājī escaped and returned to his land Mahārāshtra to resume his campaigns. The Marāthān Kingdom survived into the eighteenth century.

Summary of Event

The history of India is, in part, the story of the religions of India and their relationships and conflicts. The birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Jainism and Sikhism, it was a foreign import, Islam, that threatened to remake all of India into the Islamic image. Muslims entered India in force in the 900’s and 1000’. By the sixteenth century, the most successful of the Muslim kingdoms was the Mughal Empire Mughal Empire . [kw]Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom (c. 1666-1676) [kw]Marāthā Kingdom, Founding of the (c. 1666-1676) Government and politics;c. 1666-1676: Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom[2250] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;c. 1666-1676: Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom[2250] Expansion and land acquisition;c. 1666-1676: Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom[2250] India;c. 1666-1676: Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom[2250] Marāthā kingdom[Maratha Kingdom]

By the Mughal era, Buddhism had largely died out in India, although it became the religion for most of the populations of East Asia and Southeast Asia. In the Punjab of northwest India, the younger religion of the Sikhs had established a foothold, but the greatest threat to Mughal political and territorial unity came from the Hindus Hinduism;Marāthā kingdom[Maratha kingdom] , by far the largest religious group in India. However, religious differences were not the only issues that divided India. Political ambitions, cultural differences, economic problems, and military aspirations combined with issues of religion and ethnicity to make India’s history often appear to be the history of little more than conflict

The Mughals, including the leadership, were Muslims, but most of the emperors were relatively tolerant of their Hindu and other non-Muslim subjects. The notable exception was Emperor Aurangzeb Aurangzeb , who adopted the name Alamgir, or world conqueror. His religious intolerance made him the most hated of all Mughal rulers by non-Muslim Indians. It was during his long reign that the Hindu Marāthās emerged to challenge Mughal supremacy.

Mahārāshtra (the Great Country), was in the northern part of India’s Western Ghats along the coast between Goa and Bombay. The Marāthās were Hindus, but they could not be subdued by the Mughal Sunnis or the Shīՙites of the sultanates of the Deccan peninsula because of the rugged mountainous environment of the Western Ghats. At times, Hindus served the various Islamic rulers, notably as warriors. Śahājī Śahājī was a Hindu landholder under the Muslim sultanates of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur, who later served the Mughals under Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jahan Shah Jahan .Śahājī switched his allegiance back to the sultan of Ahmadnagar. Using guerrilla tactics suited to the Deccan terrain, Śahājī resisted for several years, but in 1636 he was forced to surrender to a combined Mughal-Bijapur alliance and was banished to the city of Pune (Poona), which eventually became the capital of Mahārāshtra.

It wasŚahājī’s son, Śivājī Śivājī , who became the legendary leader of the Marāthās and the first king. Born in 1627 to Śahājī’s first wife, Jījī Baī Jījī Baī , Śivājī was raised by his mother, who was a devout Hindu. Deeply imbued with the traditions of Hinduism, to Śivājī, Islam was a foreign import to be rooted out from Mahārāshtra. How broadly Śivājī perceived his rightful territories is impossible to know, but at a minimum it included the northern region of the Western Ghats. He never differentiated between the Shīՙite sultanates of the Deccan and the Sunni Mughals, and like the Indian nationalists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries for which he became an inspiration in their campaign against Great Britain, Śivājī demanded svaraj, or self-rule and independence. Whether Śivājī’s motivations were exclusively religious is doubtful. During his career, he made use of Muslim warriors as well as Hindus, and considerations of power and resources were as important as the Hindu-Muslim rivalry

At about the age of twenty (around 1647), and while his father was still a hostage of the Bijapur sultanate, Śivājī gathered Marāthā supporters, most of whom were well acquainted with the mountainous terrain of the region, and began raiding caravans traveling through the area. Seizing a number of mountain tops, he built formidable fortresses, such as that of Sinhagarh (the fortress of the lion), a place with such a stark cliff face that it was said Śivājī was successful only by using a giant lizard to assist him in reaching its heights and overpowering the Muslim garrison. He has aptly been called one of the fathers of guerrilla warfare

After a decade of costly raids, in 1659, the Bijapur sultan dispatched Afẓal Khān Afẓal Khān to root out and destroy Śivājī. Afẓal Khān isolated Śivājī at Pratapgarh (fortress of valor), forcing him to sue for peace. In a famous episode, Śivājī demanded that he discuss his surrender directly with the Bijapur general. They met just outside the fortress walls, and although they were supposed to be unarmed, both had weapons. Śivājī was barely five foot tall and Afẓal Khān a foot taller. Śivājī wore a loose-fitting robe that concealed his hands and the two weapons he held, a dagger in one hand and razor-edged “tiger” claws in the other. Afẓal Khān collapsed and died when “embraced” by Śivājī, and the Marāthān troops quickly overcame the Bijapur forces

The more formidable Mughal army was soon sent to the Deccan, and once again Śivājī faced potential defeat. In a daring raid in 1663, Marāthā raiders secretly entered the Mughal-occupied city of Pune, nearly succeeding in assassinating the Mughal general. The following year, Śivājī led a successful expedition to Surat in Gujarat, north of Mahārāshtra, where he looted the city. In response, Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, dispatched a large army of fifteen thousand soldiers under Rājput raja Jai Singh Jai Singh to bring the Hindu warlord to heel. Jai Singh cornered Śivājī at Purandhar in 1665, forcing him to surrender twenty of his twenty-five fortresses and to agree to serve under the Mughals. When he attended Aurangzeb’s court, he was placed under arrest. However, he escaped, supposedly carried out in a food or laundry basket, and returned to his home territories. By 1670, he had recaptured most of his fortresses and again raided Surat and sites in the Mughal Deccan and captured Pune.

The culmination of Śivājī’s campaign for svaraj occurred in 1674. That year, in the traditional Hindu coronation ceremony, Śivājī was crowned chatrapati, or lord of the universe. Hindu kings were to belong to the ksatriya caste, and a long genealogy, perhaps bogus, was necessarily established. Five thousand supporters swore allegiance to Śivājī, who was acclaimed as the reincarnation of the god LordŚiva, and eleven thousand Hindu Brahman priests chanted mantras from the Vedas, the sacred writings of Hinduism. In subsequent years, Śivājī seized territories in the far southeast around Madras. Aurangzeb, occupied at the time in Afghanistan, was unable to prevent it, and he did not return to the Deccan until after Śivājī’s death from fever in 1680 in Rājgarh.


The coronation of Śivājī did not end the quest for Marāthān svaraj. During the reign of Śivājī’s son, Sambhājī Sambhājī , Aurangzeb campaigned extensively in the Deccan. Replicating his father’s guerrilla tactics, Sambhājī long-eluded the Mughals, but, in 1689, he was captured and tortured to death. Raja Ram Raja Ram , his younger brother, continued the conflict until his death in 1700, and Raja Ram’s widow, Tara Baī Tara Baī , kept alive the flame of Marāthā independence. Aurangzeb died in 1707 without taking full control of Mahārāshtra

By the 1730’, with the decline of the Mughals, the Marāthās became the greatest single power in fragmented India. However, Mahārāshtra was more of a confederacy than a centralized kingdom. By the mid-eighteenth century, the British East India Company, the ultimate outsider, was inexorably taking control of the Indian subcontinent, and in the following century, India would become Britain’s “jewel in the crown.” Among Hindus, however, Śivājī had not been forgotten. In the 1890’, radical Hindu nationalists justified terrorism and assassination of British officials in the name of Śivājī, and by the late twentieth century, Śivājī became an iconic figure among India’s Hindus, particularly among religious extremists who desired a Hindu-only India. Marāthā kingdom[Maratha Kingdom]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bhave, Y. G. From the Death of Shivaji to the Death of Aurangzeb: The Critical Years. New Delhi, India: Northern Book Center, 2000. An exploration of Mughal rule and Hindu resistance from the time of Śivājī’s death until Aurangzeb’s death.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gascoigne, Bamber. A Brief History of the Great Moghuls. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. This well-written, general history of the Mughals, originally published in 1971, chronicles the rise and fall of the empire from its founder, Bābur, through Aurangzeb. Profusely illustrated, it presents a compelling portrait of Śivājī’s struggles against Aurangzeb.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordon, Stewart. The Marathas, 1600-1818. Vol. 4 in The New Cambridge History of India, edited by Gordon Johnson, C. A. Bayly, and John F. Richards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A comprehensive history of the Marāthās and their kingdom, including a chapter on Śivājī and the Marāthā polity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keay, John. India: A History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000. This well-written history of India discusses the exploits of Śivājī and his influence on modern Indian politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laine, James W. Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. A controversial work in which Laine traces the origins and development of Śivājī’s legend to offer a complex and unconventional view of Hindu-Muslim relationships in India.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pearson, M. N. “Shivaji and the Decline of the Mughal Empire.” Journal of Asian Studies 35 (February, 1976): 221-236. Focuses on the relationship between Śivājī and Aurangzeb, and on the decline of Mughal power created by, among other things, Aurangzeb’s expeditions into the Deccan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sardesai, G. S. New History of the Marathas. 3 vols. Bombay, India: Phoenix, 1953. This classic work is considered to be the best history of the Marāthās.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. This frequently updated general history of India provides a broad historical context for understanding Śivājī’s role during the Mughal period.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

alic>ՙAbbās the Great; Aurangzeb; Jahāngīr; Kösem Sultan; Murad IV; Shah Jahan; Śivājī.

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