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  The Marathas

The Sikhs

 The Marathas

The Marathas' rise to power was a dramatic turning point that accelerated the demise of Muslim dominance in India. Maratha chieftains were originally in the service of Bijapur sultans in the western Deccan, which was under siege by the Mughals. Shivaji Bhonsle (1630-80 A.D) is recognized as the "father of the Maratha nation." Shivaji Bhosle, founder of the Maratha Empire, was born in 1630 AD, in the fort of Shivneri, 40 miles north of Pune. By 1647, Shivaji had captured two forts and had the complete charge of Pune. He slowly started capturing forts in the region, Purandar, Rajgad, Torna. In 1659 Shivaji succeeded in killing of famous Adilshahi general Afzal Khan and demoralizing his army. He took advantage of this conflict and laid the foundation of Maratha Kingdom near Pune, which later became the Maratha capital. Shivaji used guerilla tactics and brilliant military strategies to lead a series of successful assaults in the 1660s against Mughal strongholds, including the major port of Surat. He lost to Aurangzeb's General Jai Singh and was arrested in 1666. He made a daring escape and regained his lost territory and glory. By 1673, he had control over most of western Maharashtra and had made 'Raigad' capital. In 1674 he assumed the title of "Chhatrapati" at his elaborate coronation.  At the time of his death in 1680, nearly whole of the Deccan belonged to his kingdom. He had developed an efficient administration and a powerful army.

His son Sambhaji succeeded Shivaji. He was taken prisoner and executed by Aurangzeb, in 1689. Rajaram, Shivaji's second son then took the throne. After the death of Rajaram in 1700 Tarabai, the widow of Rajaram, put her young son Sambhaji II on the throne, at the tender age of ten, and continued the struggle against Aurangzeb. Tarabai continued to fight against the Mughals and captured Rajgad, the former capital of the Maratha's. The fight against the Mughals ended with the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. Balance of power shifted towards Marathas, which was soon to be controlled by Peshwas.

Shivaji's grandson and Sambhaji's son Sahuji was released from Mughals captivity in 1707. He challenged Tarabai and Sambhaji II for the Maratha leadership and with the help of his Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, Sahuji became the Maratha Empror. Though as a Maratha Emperor Shahuji had a huge territory in his possession but he was mostly a titular head of the Maratha emipre. He kept away from regular politics and settled down at Satara. Maratha Empire was virtually  governed by the Peshwas of Pune. After Shahuji's death in 1749 his adopted son, Rajaram II succeeded him.  

Peshwa dynasty 1713 to 1818

Balaji Vishwanath - (1713 to 1721) - In 1713,  Peshwa, Balaji Vishwanath was appointed a Peshwa (Prime Minister) by Sahuji. Balaji Vishwanath assisted a young Shahu to consolidate his grip on an empire.  In 1717 a Mughal emissary signed a treaty with the Marathas confirming their claims to rule in the Deccan. 1718 marked the beginning of the Maratha influence in Delhi. Balaji Vishwanath's died in 1721.

Bajirao Peshwa I  (1721 to 1740) - After death of Balaji Vishwanath, his elder son Bajirao, became the Peshwa . Pune had regained its status as capital of Maratha Kingdom from Rajgad. In 1734, Bajirao captured the Malwa territory in the north, and in 1739, he drove out the Portuguese from nearly all their possessions in the Western Ghats. Bajirao died in 1740. Baji Rao's son, Balaji Bajirao (Nanasaheb) succeeded as the Peshwa. He defeated Ahmad Shah Abdalli in 1756 near Delhi. But in Third Battle of Panipat (1761), between Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdalli, Marathas lost the war. This war destroyed both Abdalli and Peshwas. Balaji Bajirao died soon after the war shattered by the death of his older son and brother.

His second son Madhav Rao assumed the title of Peshwa in 1761. He achieved many remarkable victories and restored the glory of Maratha kingdom to a large extent. His outstanding achievements included defeat of Nizam of Hyderabad, Hyder Ali of Mysore and Bhosle of Nagpur. In 1769, Marathas lead by Mahadaji Shinde, headed the North India campaign. They defeated the Jats and took hold of Agra and Mathura. Madhav Rao died in 1772 at an early age of 27 years.

Narayanrao Peshwa (1772 to 1773) just ruled for one year and was murdered in a palace conspiracy. Raghunathrao was proclaimed the next Peshwa, although he was not heir to the title. He was displaced from power by a clever plot by twelve Maratha chiefs and infant son of Madhav Rao called Sawai Madhavrao was then declared the next Peshwa. The chief administrator was Nana Phadnis. He handled the Peshwai well and with great unity among Maratha chiefs. They defeated the rising British power in 1784, near Pune and halted their advancements, temporarily till the premature death of Sawai Madhavrao in 1795. In 1796 Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao became the Peshwa.  Nana Phadanis looked after the Maratha kingdom well until his death in 1800 A.D. After that Baji Rao II signed a treaty with the British in 1802, which weakened the Peshwa power. His son, Nanasaheb Peshwa opposed the British with whatever support he could muster. By 1818 the Peshwa power came to an end. Nanasaheb Peshwa's fight still continued. But the failure of 1857 war put an end to any lingering hopes. (Anglo Maratha Wars click here)

The Sikhs

Rooted in the bhakti movements that swept across North India during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Sikh religion appealed to the hard-working peasants. Guru Nanak Dev born in 1469 was the first Sikh guru. The Sikh khalsa (army of the pure) under tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh rose up against the economic and political repressions in Punjab toward the end of Aurangzeb's rule. By the 1770s, Sikh hegemony extended from the Indus in the west to the Yamuna in the east, from Multan in the south to Jammu in the north. But the Sikhs were a loose, disunited, and quarrelsome conglomerate of twelve kin-groups. Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) became King of Punjab in In his kingdom Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims lived together in comparative equality and increasing prosperity. Ranjit Singh employed European officers and introduced strict military discipline into his army before expanding into Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Ladakh. British signed a peace treaty with him. His rule was called as the 'golden period of Punjab'. After his death there was a power vacuum and infighting amongst the successors of Ranjit Singh. In 1846, the first Anglo-Sikh war commenced at Mudki where Sikh forces were defeated because of treachery of their generals. There after the British power became dominant in politics of Punjab and in 1849 after another Anglo-Sikh war Punjab was formally annexed to British Empire.

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