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426
MAHRATTAS


and grew in importance as the Mahratta kingdom rose, while the king sunk into the condition of a puppet. Thus the Mahratta power was consolidated throughout nearly the whole of Maharashtra under the Brahman péshwa as virtual sovereign, with his capital at Poona, while the titular Mahratta raja or king had his court at the neighbouring city of Satara. Despite his political importance, however, the raja was still venerated as the descendant of Sivaji.

Then several chiefs carved out principalities of their own from among the ruins of the Mogul Empire. Thus Raghoji Bhonsla established himself in the tracts lying underneath the southern base of the Satpura range (namely, Nagpur and Berar), overran Orissa and entered Bengal. Damaji Gaekwar descended from the Western Ghats upon the alluvial plains of Gujarat around Baroda; Tukoji Holkar subdued the uplands of Malwa beyond the Vindhya range on the north bank of the Nerbudda; and Mahadji Sindhia obtained possession of large tracts immediately south of Agra and Delhi, marched into Hindustan and became virtually the master of the Mogul emperor himself (see GWALIOR). Sivaji's own father had founded a dominion at Tanjore in the extreme south, which, however, never had relations with the central power at Poona. The same may be said of the state of Kolhapur, allotted to a younger branch of Sivaji's family. But these principalities, though independent respecting internal administration, and making war or peace with their neighbours according to opportunity, owned allegiance to the péshwa at Poona as the head of the Mahratta race. On state occasions heads of principalities would visit Poona by way of acknowledging the superior position of the peshwa. On the other hand, the péshwa was careful to obtain the sanction of his nominal sovereign at Satara to every important act of state. Thus a confederation was formed of which the Brahman péshwa or head was at Poona, governing the adjacent territories, while the members, belonging to the lower castes, were scattered throughout the continent of India. Such was the Mahratta Empire which supplanted the Mogul Empire. The Mahratta power grew and prospered till it embraced all western and most of central India.. Its culminating point was reached about 1150, or about a century after Sivaji first rebelled against his Mahommedan sovereign.

Its armies drew soldiers from all parts of India. The infantry was not of good quality; but its cavalry was really an enormous force, numbering fully a hundred thousand in all. The horsemen were splendidly audacious in riding for long distances into the heart of a hostile country, without support, striking some terriiic blows, and then returning rapidly beyond reach of pursuit. They could truly boast of having watered their horses in every Indian river from the Cauvery to the Indus. If attacked, however, in a competent manner, they would not stand; and afterwards, in conflict with the British, whole masses of them behaved in a dastardly manner. As their ambition grew the chiefs began to organize their troops after the system learnt from the English and French. In this way several Frenchmen-Benoit de Boigne, Perron and others-rose in the Mahratta service to a position dangerous to the British. But the new system was unsuited to the Mahratta genius; it hampered the meteoric movements of the cavalry, which was obliged to manmuvre in combination with the new artillery and the disciplined battalions. Mahratta elders hence uttered predictions of military disaster which were in the end more than fulfilled.

The rapid and amazing success of the Mahratta confederation rendered it the largest Hindu power that ever existed in India. But it lacked the elements of true greatness. It was founded by plundering expeditions, and its subsequent existence was tainted by the baseness of this predatory origin. With the exception of the péshwas, its chiefs were little more than free booting warriors, for the most part rude, violent and unlettered. Their custom was to offer their neighbours or victims the alternative of paying chauth, that is, one-fourth of the revenue, or being plundered and ravaged. Thus the Mahratta chouth came to have an ominous significance in Indian history. Desultory efforts were made to establish a civil government, but in the main there was no administration formed on statesmanlike principles. The peshwas, on the other hand, as Brahmans, were men of the highest education then possible in India. But they were absorbed by the direction of military and political combinations, and by intrigues for the preservation of their own power; and, even allowing for all this, they failed to evince the civil capacity which might have been anticipated. While several displayed commanding abilities, and some possessed many virtues, one alone attempted to conduct an administration in an enlightened manner, and he died prematurely. There were at the same time powers existing in India to keep the Mahrattas in check, and some parts of India were excepted from their depredations. The English power was rising at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The nascent Sikh power prevented Mahratta incursions from being permanently successful in the Punjab. As the MogulEmpire broke up, some separate Mahommedan powers rose upon its ruins. The nizam of the Deccan established himself at Hyderabad, comparatively near the headquarters of the peshwa. Hyder Ali was proclaimed sultan of Mysore in the south. Ahmed Shah Abdali burst upon India from Afghanistan. The Mahrattas bravely encountered him at Panipat near Delhi in 1761, and were decisively defeated. The defeat, however, did not essentially shake the Mahratta confederation. It was collision with the English that broke that Wonderful fabric to pieces.

The first collision with the English occurred in 1775, arising from a disputed succession to the péshwaship. The English government at Bombay supported one of the claimants, and the affair became critical for the English as well as for the Mahrattas. It was at this conjuncture that Warren Hastings displayed his political genius and rendered signal service to his country, by succouring from Bengal the defeated Bombay army and negotiating a peace (in 1782) that restored the status quo. The next collision happened in 1803. The péshwa had fallen into grave difficulties with some of the principal members of the Mahratta confederation. He therefore placed himself under British protection, and this led to the great Mahratta War, in which the Marquis Wellesley displayed those talents for military and political combination which rendered him illustrious. It was during the campaigns which ensued that General Arthur Wellesley defeated Sindhia and the Bhonsla raja at Assaye, and General Lake won the victories of F arrukhabad, Dig and Laswari over Sindhia and Holkar. The three confederates, Sindhia, Holkar and the Bhonsla, concluded peace with the' British government, after making large sacrifices of territory in favour of the victor, and submitting to British control politically. It was during these events that the British won the province of Orissa, the old Hindustan afterwards part of the North-Western Provinces, and a part of the Western coast in Gujarat. The third collision came to pass between 1816 and 1818, through the conduct, not only of the confederates, but also of the péshwa (B aji Bao) himself. During the previous war the péshwa had been the protégé and ally of the British; and since the war he had fallen more completely than before under British protection-British political officers and British troops being stationed at his capital. He apparently felt encouraged by circumstances to rebel. Holkar and the Bhonsla committed hostile acts. The predatory Pindaris offered a formidable resistance to the British troops. So the péshwa. ventured to take part in the combination against the British power, which even yet the Mahrattas did not despair of overthrowing. After long-protracted menaces, he attacked the British at Kirkee, but failed utterly, and fled a ruined man. Ultimately he surrendered to Sir John Malcolm, and was sent as a state pensioner to Bithiir, near Cawnpore. The British, however, released the raja of Satara from the captivity in which he had been kept during the péshwa's time, and reinstated him on the throne, with a limited territory. Owing to these events the British government became possessed of the Konkan and of the greater part of the Deccan.

It remains to mention briefly the fortunes of each remaining member of the once imperial confederation. The principality of Satara was held to have lapsed in 1848 by the death of the