The Marathas were the single most formadible Hindu power who made a successful attempt for supremacy of whole of Indian subcontinent on decline of Mughals in seventeenth century. The origin of Marathas can be traced back to reign of Emperor Ashok who ruled in 2nd century BC. It is inscribed in rock eddicts that he sent his missionaries to the Rashtrikas, the dwellers of Dandaka forest. These fierce independent minded people called themselves Maha-rashtrikas (Maha means great). In course of time the country that they occupied came to know as Maharashtra (Maha means great, rashtra means country) and its people called themselves Marathas/Maharashtrians. It's not very appropriate to catagorise following dynasties into Marathas and some historian might object my classfication. But for sake of simplicity, all the following dynsties which ruled Maharashtra and other neighbouring southern states of modern India have been categorised as dynasties of Maharashtra (after all, the states have been formed less than 50 years back while these dynasties ruled 1000 years back).
The Early Chalukyas of Vatapi or Eastern Chalukyas
The first ancient dynasty of Maharashtra was Satavahanas, the rulers of which occupied major part of southern India which included modern Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Gujrath and Karnataka states. Satavahana empire which lasted for almost five centuries eventually collapsed. Many kingdoms arose in the ruins of Satavahanas. One of the major kingdom was Chalukyas who initially replaced a major power of Andhra region, Chutus of Banavasi (Vaijayanti) and rose to prominence in 6th century AD. Like Satavahanas, Chalukyas too soon occupied a vast territory covering Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra states.
Pulakesin I was the founder of this dynasty whose capital was located at Vatapi (modern Badami in Karnataka). This dynasty is known as Eastern Chalukyas to differentiate from the later Chalukyas called Western Chalukyas. His grandson Pulakesin II was the most famous king of this dynasty. During his long reign of 33 years (609 to 642 AD) he extended his kingdom from Narmada to Kaveri river thus occupying best of Deccan, reviving glorious days of Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni . He was the only king who successfully repulsed the great king of Kannauj, Harshavardhana. Chalukyas were sworn enemies of Pallavas of Kanchipuram (located in modern Tamilnadu) and had numerous wars for supremacy for Deccan or southern India. Pulakesin's great-grandson Vikramaditya II finally defeated Pallavas and entered in their capital, thus becoming master of entire south India. But soon after his death, his son was overthrown by Dantidurga (king of Rashtrakuta dynasty who had small kingdom) in 753 AD. Thus after almost two centuries of rule, Early Chalukyan dynasty (of Vatapi) came to an end. Dantidurga laid foundation of next great empire of Maharashtra and Karnataka which was of the Rashtrakutas.
The coinage of early Chalukyas are bit controversial but certainly interesting. The first gold coins were introduced in south India in seventh century AD by Eastern Chalukya ruler, Pulakeshi II. Interestingly, these were the punch-marked gold coins unlike the die struck coins which were struck by their contemporary rulers of north India (Gupta and post-Gupta dynasties). Punch-marked coins were first introduced in central and north India before 4th century BC, which were always struck on pieces of silver. Gold was never used for minting punch-marked coins (although few suggest otherwise, which most doubt). These punch-marked silver coins were introduced to south India during late Mauryan period and remained mainstay of economy for many centuries. What made Chalukyas to issue punch-marked gold coins is debated by many scholars. Possibly,the concept of die struck coins had not reached south India and easy avialbility of gold which was mined in their kingdom (Karnataka region) in ample quantity, could be the two major reason which made them issue gold punch-marked coins. These are rare gold coins of ~3.5 to 4 gms which were later adopted by various kingdoms of south India, including those who acknowledged suzerainty of Chalukyas. These gold coins are broad and circular in shape with various punches at the edge and a central punch depicting a Varaha or boar. Boar was royal emblem of Early Chalukyas and was used by later Chalukyas (Western) too on their coins. Boar represents an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and can be seen in the sculptures of rock cut temples of Aihole, patronized by Eastern Chalukyas. Indeed, contemporary literature cites the gold coins of south India as Varaha, which obviously derive the name from Early Chalukyan coinage.
The Great Rashtrakutas
Rashtrakutas built an empire which in the days of greatness extended from Malwa (central India) and Gujrath to Tanjore in south, effectively covering whole of south India. Rashtrakutas, who inherited Chalukyan empire, extended it further by penetrating in deep north and occupying Gangatic doab region. Some historians believe that Rashtrakutas gave their name to the country they ruled (the name Maha-rashtra was derived from Rashtra-kutas). Rashtrakutas claimed their descent from Satyaki, the associate of lord Krishana. Rashtrakutas had their first capital at LattalUru, (modern Latur in Maharashrta) which later they shifted to Manyaketa (modern Malkhed in Karnataka). Rashtrakuta emperor Vallabhraja has been described by Arab writers to be one of the four great sovereigns of the world. The other three being, Emperor of China, Khalipha of Baghadad and emperor of Constantinople (Istambul).
Rashtrakutas were great patrons of art and architecture. They were great builders. Krishana I, uncle of Dantiduraga was the one who built the world famous Kailasha Temple at Ellora (modern Verul in Maharashtra located about 29 kms from Aurangabad). This masive structure is carved out of the single rock ( monolithic) hewn out of a mountain which is truly a remarkable engineering feat of the 8th century. The Kailasa temple dedicated to Hindu God, Shiva, is exquisitely chiselled and carved. The temple and its entire courtyaed was then plastered and painted. Unfortunately, most of the plastering and thus paintings are gone but the residual surviving fragments can provide the glimses of the grandeure of this magnificent structure. The caves at Gharapuri (Elephanta), located on a island near Bombay were executed under Rashtrakuta patronage in 6th century AD. A 20 feet high sculpture of bust of three-headed Shiva is a symphony in stone, created by India's most talented stone carvers, in priase of this mighty god.
This dynasty produced many illustrious kings. Amoghavarsha (815-877 AD) was an author of repute. Indra III, great-grandson of Amoghvarsha inflicted crushing defeat on Mahipala, the Pratihara King of Kannauj. His nephew Krishana III was the last great king of Rashtrakuta dynasty. Soon after him in 973 AD, Rashtrakuta dynasty was overthrown by Taila II (a feudatory of Krishana), who claimed descent from Early Chalukyas. Unfortunately, the coinage of Rashtrakutas can not be distinguished from other contemporary dynasties and thus difficult to attribute to this dynasty specifically.
Chalukyas of Kalyana or Western Chalukyas
Taila (973-997 AD), a descendent of Early Chalukyas was the founder of the second Chalukya dynasty commonly referred as Western Chalukyas. His capital was located at the Manyakhet or Malkhed in modern Maharashtra state. This dynasty was contemporary of Cholas and thus started the long battle of supremacy for south India between these two dynsties. His grandson Jayasimha II Jagadekamalla repelled invasion by Rajendra Chola in 1018 AD from south and also defended his kingdom from northern invasion. He later transferred his capital from Malkhed to Kalyana or Basavakalyana in modern Karnataka state. Jayasimha was an able ruler and was follwed by his equally brave son, Someshwara I (1043-68) who took a title of Trailokyamalla. Rajadhiraja Chola mounted an expedition against Chalukyas in 1045 AD and later captured their capital Kalyana. Someshwara retaliated and expelled Rajadhiraja. Eventually, by the end of 12th century AD, the sovereignty of entire south India was shared between Vikramaditya VI of Chalukya dynasty and Rajendra Chola (III) Kulottunga I.
Western Chalukyan coinage can be divided into two distinct types:
1. Punch-marked gold coinage.
2. Die Struck gold coinage.
The gold punch-marked coins were first introduced in south India in seventh century AD by Eastern Chalukya rulers. These punch-marked gold coins of ~3.5 to 4 gms were reintroduced by Jayasimha II Jagadekamalla, a ruler of Western Chalukya dynasty. These type were used by various kingdoms of south India, including those who acknowledged suzerainty of Chalukyas, the most notable among those were the Kadambas of Hangal and Goa. Shown above is an excellent and extremely rare example of a medieval punch-marked gold coin of southern India ( article published in ONS newsletter No. 160). This is an uniface gold coin with seven punches, four of which are prominent while three are partly struck at the border of the coin. The two prominent punch marks create two Shri alphabates in Telugu-Kanerese which depicts lord Vishnu. The third punch mark corresponding to a triangular motif, represents spearhead. The fourth punch mark represents Telugu-Kanarese inscription which reads Bhairava. Two marks at the lower corners represent lions (stylized) while the seventh punch mark at the lower left corner perhaps represents sun and moon.
The common gold coins of south India were known as Pagoda, Varaha and Gadyana. All the three represents the same gold coin weighing approximately 3.2 to 3.36 gms (about 50-52 grains). The term Gadyana has been used to represent a gold coin of 48 rattis or approximately 5.2 gms in a famous book Lilawati, written by Bhaskaracharya. No coin type is available today which exactly corresponds to the standard of Lilavati. The term Gadyana has been referred first in AD 733 and was continued to be referred in inscriptions of Rashtrakutas, Gangas and Eastern Chalukya dynasties of south India. Gadyana has also been referred in inscription of Northern India where it was a gold coin weighing about 4.01 gms (32 gunjas or 62 grains).
Most likely the coin shown above is a Bhairava-gadyana minted by Jayasimha Jagadekamalla. He has minted coins of very similar fabric and weight which depict triangular motif, attributed as spearhead. His coinage can be easily attributed due to the presence of legends like Jagadeka or Jagadeva or Jaya on those coins. Possibly, in the same tradition of earlier south Indian dynasties, Rashtrakutas, Gangas and Eastern Chalukya, Jayasimha Jagadekamalla too minted a gold coin called Bhairava Gadyana, with distinct punch-mark of his own dynasty, a spearhead.
Shown above is second type of gold coin minted by Chalukyan rulers which are die struck. This represents an extremely rare specimen which is minted by Someswara I. Someshwara conquored Vengi in 1049 AD and issued this eries of gold coins. Some of the coins of similar type bear legend Sri Venga Vadi Gonda, the conquorer of Vengi. The obverse shows a large caprisoned boar or Varaha (represents one of the incarnaion of Lord Vishnu) which was Lanchhana or royal emblem of this dynasty. Above the boar is a pellet and crescent, representing sun and moon. Near the neck of Boar is a lampstand which has shown on coins of Eastern Chalukyas and was never been observed in Western Chalukyas coin. The reverse shows the artistic scrollwork. All the three royal families, Eastern Chalukyas, Chalukyas of Vengi and Western Chalukyas have been known to mint coin depicting Boar, looking right. The coin shown above appears to be the only known coin of Western Chalukyas which show Boar looking towards left and along with a lampstand.Someshwara's son Vikramaditya VI (1076-1127 AD) was a famous king of Chalukyan dynasty. He started a new era replacing old `Shaka' era. His reign is landmark in history of Hindu Law. The great jurist Vijnaneshwara was patronised by him. Celebrated author Bilhana who wrote Vikramadeva-Charita was also in his court. He also known to have patronised numerous poets. His son and successor Someshvara III (1126-1138 AD) was also a writer of repute. After death of Someshwara III the Chalukyan empire started it's decline. After two centuries of rule, in 1190 AD this dynasty disintegrated and their territory was divided among three separate Kingdoms: Hoysalas of Dorasamudra, Kakatiyas of Warangal and Yadavas of Devgiri. Hoysalas occupied all of Karnataka region, Kakatiyas occupied Andhra pradesh while Yadavas occupied Maharashtra.
Yadavas of Devgiri
Bhillama was the founder of Yadava (Also known as Jadhav) dynasty although it was his grandson Singhana, who made it the premier kingdom of Deccan. Singhana was great patron of learning and literature. He established the college of astronomy to study the work of celebrated astronomer Bhaskaracharya. We can read about his magnanimous donations which are carved in stone (written in earliest Marathi language) slabs in the temple of Goddess at Kolhapur in Maharashtra. Composition of famous works of scholars like Hemadri (who was responsible for introducing a style of architecture also called Hemandpanthi), Bopadeva and Dhnaneshwar (a prodigy who at the age of 16 translated Bhagavat Gita from Sanskrit to Marathi, perhaps the best and sweetest poetry ever written in Marathi) were composed during reign of Yadava dynasty.
Yadavas had capital at Devagiri fort (Also known as Daulatabad), perhaps the strongest fort of India. It is the best example of medieval fort building style. In spite of it's strength, it fell to the first mulim invasion of southern India. In 1294, Allauddin Khilji capured the fort defeating Yadava king Ramchandra. Khilji extracted massive amounts of gold and precious metals from Yadava king. Soon after in 1312 his general Malik Kafur again invaded Devgiri followed by masacre of members of royal family. Thus Hindu sovereignty in Maharashtra came to an end in 14th century after more than two hundred years of glorious reign of Yadavas. Thus for the first time Maharashtra was ruled by the muslim invaders which was continued till Marathas again got united and emerged as supreme power in seventeenth century under command of Shivaji Bhonsale. Shown above is the nice example of a gold coin issued by Ramachandra Deva which shows `Trishul" (trident) below the legends. Lotus is shown in middle while conch is shown on top.
Bhonsale of Pune
The rise of the Maratha power is the most important factor in Indian politics during seventeen century. After fall of Kingdom of Yadavas to Allauddin Khilji, they lost their independence but acquired political and military experience for next 2 centuries by serving under muslim sultanates of Deccan. In seventeen century Shahaji Bhonsale, a gallant and capable soldier rose to distinction and acquired vast territory covering western Maharashtra, Karnataka and part of Tamilnadu. He even played as Kingmaker in Nizam Shahi rule of Deccan. He married Jijabai, hailed from the royal family of Yadava (Jadhav in Marathi) kings of Devagiri. Her only son Shivaji was the hero of Maratha national unity whose glorious achievements have enfluenced post Mughal Indian history considerably.
Shivaji was born at Shivneri fort in 1627 (according to some historians 1630 AD or 1686 Samvat). Shahaji gave part of his `Jagir' or fiefdom (included Pune, Supe and Chakan) to his wife Jijabai and son Shivaji. Jijabai was a lady of extraordinary intellect and was solely responsible for making Shivaji's career as the independent Hindu King in muslim (Mughal) dominated Indian scenario. Shivaji at very young age realized the importance of guerilla warfare and taking advantage of growing weakness of Deccan sultanates, seized many forts in western Maharashtra and later annexed small Maratha principality of Jawali. Later in daredevil act, he killed Afzal Khan, most powerful nobel and general of Bijapur court. He came in direct conflict with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who never trusted Shivaji. He sent his able general and governor of Deccan Shaista Khan to destroy Marathas. After two years of sporadic fightings, one night Shivaji secretly entered into Shahista Khan's palace, slew his son, his 40 bodyguards and attacked Khan. Khan barely escaped with his life by jumping out of the window but during this lost his thumb and two fingers, chopped by Shivaji's sword. This daring attempt on the life of Mughal viceroy who was also Emperor's uncle, immencely increased the prestige of Shivaji in Mughal court. Soon he performed another adventerous feat which was no less than earlier one. He sacked and plundered the richest Mughal port, Surat in 1664. More than 10 million rupees were taken while the Mughal governor of Surat took to his heels instead of resisting Shivaji.
At this juncture, Aurangzeb sent Jaysingh, Raja of Amber (Jaipur), a brave but tactful general who had long military experience in many campeigns of empire. His foresight and diplomatic skills were far superior to other Mughal generals. After few brave attemps to save his territory, Shivaji concluded a peace treaty at Purandhar fort and on insistance of Jay Singh, agreed to pay visit to Aurangzeb at Imperial court of Agra (it is difficult to understand what led Shivaji to agree to this proposal and many theories have been proposed by historians). Shivaji was coldly received by Aurangzeb, which wounded Shivaji's honour. He accused emperor of breach of faith whereupon he was imprisoned. He escaped from prison along with his son Prince Shambhuji and most of his colleagues (a fantastic episode which I am planning to write in a separate subsection, let me know if anybody is interested). Later shrewd Aurangzeb granted him title of Raja (king) and gave Vidarbha region of Maharashtra (Also called Berar).
On June 6th 1674, Gaga Bhutt, a learned priest from holy city Benaras, ceremenously crowned Shivaji as a Chatrapti, king of all sovereign rulers. The detail description of coronation, celebrated with great pomp and splendour is written by an English ambassador Oxenden, who attended crowning of Shivaji at his capital, Raygad. Shivaji's coronation laid the foundation of Maratha dynasty which ruled major part of cental India for next 2 centuries. Shivaji died bit prematurely at age of 50 in 1680 AD. At his death his vast kingdom consisted of almost whole of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, part of Gujrath and Tamilnadu states of modern India.
Unquestionably, Shivaji was a daring soldier and a skilled military conquorer but above all he was very successful ruler. According to most historians, he was great administrator, meticulous organizer and fine statesman. He looked after his kingdom with the help of a cabinet consisted of 8 ministers called Ashtapradhana. Modern historical research has proved that revenue administration of Shivaji was humane, efficient and was in interest of his subject. He organised great Maratha army (remained strongest till the end of 18th century, the best proof of his military genius). He built navy which gave considerable trouble to English, Dutch and Portugese navies. In his private life, his moral virtues were exceptionally high. He was tolerant towards all the religions and records exist where he granted lands to muslim shrines and Capuchin fathers (Christian monks). He had strict code for his army not to harm mosques, books of any religion and women. Both as a ruler and a man, Shivaji occupies a very distinguished place in Indian history.
Peshwas of Pune
Shivaji the great was followed by his two sons, Shambhuji and Rajaram, both ruled briefly. Brave Shambhuji fought gallantly with Mughals but was captured by fanatic Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and was tortured to death. Rajaram kept the battle going but died soon. The young son of Shambhuji, Shahu was made in charge of Marathas. Shahu turned out to be a smart ruler who appointed an intelligent Brahmin, Balaji Vishwanath as his Peshwa (prime minister). After death of Shahu, Marathas united under a confederacy and owed nominal allegiance to adopted son of Shahu and later kings. The Maratha confederacy which built the empire consisted of five families with Peshwas of Pune as major power brokers. The other 4 families were Shindes (Scindhias) of Gwaliar, Gaikwars of Baroda, Bhonsale of Nagpur and Holkars of Indore. Shown below is coin issued by Peshwas at their capital Pune or Poona. Ankush, a royal symbol is seen on obverse of coin, at 9 `o' clock position.
Holkars of Indore
Indore state originated when Malhar Rao Holkar, a brave cavalary commander was granted all the territory noth of Narmada river in 1728. This made Holkars ruler of large part of the northern India and in time Holkars and Shinde became very dominant Maratha powers. Shown above is a beautiful silver rupee of Malhar Rao Holkar which was minted in the name of puppet Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, who was under protection of Maratha confederacy.
Jaswant rao Holkar was a brave Maratha ruler of Indore and the only one who challenged supremacy of Peshawas. In 1802, Jaswant Rao Holkar finally defeated powerful Peshawas ending their dominance in Maratha confederacy. He even defeated British army led by Col. William Monson. Later, lack of support from other Maratha chiefs lead to his defeat to British although Holkars kept ruling the Indore state till 1947.
Shown above is a heavy silver Nazarana Rupee of Jasawant Rao Holkar. This has been minted in the name of Jaswant Rao and Shah Alam II, Mughal emperor who was a puppet ruler under Maratha protection. All the Marahta chiefs minted coins in the name of puppet emperor Shah Alam II till 1857. The coin shown below is his regular silver coin displaying royal emblem of dynasty, sunface.
Bhonsale of Nagpur
Bhonsale ruled in central India with capital at Nagpur. Raghuji Bhonsale II was the last great king of this dynasty. He died in in 1816 and was succeded by his imbecile son, Parsoji. His ambitious cousin Appa Sahib and Malhar Rao Holkar II rose in arms against British in Battle of Sitabardi (Nagpur). They lost the war and large parts of their kingdoms was annexed. British established minor son of Raghuji II on Nagpure throne who took name as Raghuji III. He died without natural heir and thus `Doctrine of Lapse' was applied by lord Dalhousie. Bhonsale lost the Kingdom and British took control of Nagpur state by 1853. Shown below is a nice example of the silver rupee minted by Raghuji Bhonsale III. The Maratha flag `Jaripataka' is clearly seen on the reverse of coin (F shaped in lower left corner on coin). This symbol, representing the dynasty was introduced only after 1825 AD. As usual this coin is very similar to the silver rupees of Mughals and minted in the name of puppet emperor Shah alam II.
Rise and Fall of Marathas
After defeat of Peshawa Baji Rao II in 1818 by British , the political supremacy of Marathas which was built on the ruins of Mughal empire, came to an end. Shivaji the great brought the Maratha empire into existance which was taken to its zenith by Peshwa Baji Rao I and remained undisputed military power till begining of 19th century. Maratha empire covered practically all of central and Northern India. The Mughal emperor was under protection of Marathas and acted as puppet emperor with real power vested with Peshawas (or Shindes). This empire produced fine soldiers and statesman like Shivaji, Peshwa Baji Rao I, Peshwa Madhav Rao, Malhar Rao Holkar, Mahadaji Shinde and Nana Fadnavis. Unfortunately later Maratha chiefs had no foresight and they indulged more in intrigue and conspiracies against their own than realizing superior British diplomacy and military organization. British took full advantage of this internal confrontation and defeated most chiefs separately. Inability of all the Maratha chiefs to consolidate their military resources against British was the major cause of Maratha decline which in turn resulted into passing power to foreign nation. Soon after the collapse of Maratha empire, British took possesion of whole subcontinent in less than a quarter century as no formadible power left in India to challenge them.
Collapse of Marathas had far reaching consequences in the Indian history. The fragmentation of Maratha unity and eventual loss helped British to defeat many other minor rulers of India. After fall of Marathas, most kings and rulers accepted British supremacy with little resistance, retaining very little political and almost no military independence (also referred as Princely states of India).
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