Page:Shivaji and His Times.djvu/30

This page needs to be proofread.


But the basis of their character remained the same,—activity, courage, self-reliance, self-respect and love of equality. With the loss of their own cities and capitals on the Godavari and the Krishna in the 14th century, they were pressed back to the sterile western edge of the plateau and became poorer and more isolated. In the lonely struggle with Nature and beasts, they developed greater cunning, without losing their valour and hardiness. Indeed, in their combination of courage, cleverness and power of endurance,—in their ability to plan and execute surprises and night-attacks, in the skill of their soldiers to extricate themselves from a tight corner or vary their tactics according to the changing phases of a battle, without waiting for guidance from a superior,—the Marathas resemble the Afghans most among all Asiatic races.

Social distinctions were fewer and much less sharp among the 16th century Marathas than among richer and more civilised communities. The rich man was not immeasurably above the poor in such a simple society; and even the poorest man had his value as a fighter or indispensable labourer; at least, he preserved his self-respect, because where few had anything to spare, none was tempted to

peasantry (of the Kunbi caste), "They are hard-working, temperate, hospitable, fond of their children and kind to strangers. At the same time they are cruel in revenge, and seldom scruple to cheat either Government or their creditors." {Bom. Gaz. xviii. pt. I, 288.)