Factors Leading to the Rise of the Marathas:
The rise of the Maratha power in the second half of the 17th century is an epoch-making event in Indian history. It is dated from the time of Chhatrapati Shivaji, who transformed the peaceful peasantry of Maratha into a powerful political force and carved out an empire in the teeth of Deccan Sultans and Great Mughals. The Marathas were the short-statured, hardy and industrious natives of Maharashtra. Most of them served under the Sultans of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golcunda etc. The various factors leading to the rise of the Marathas in the 17th century are the following-
(1) Role of Geographical Location- The geographical location of the Maharashtra region should be taken as one important factor. The region was a geographically protected region and it was encircled through Sahayadri, Satpura and Vindhya mountain range. So the people residing in this area developed a sense of autonomy. Secondly, this region was less productive from an agrarian point of view. Even from the viewpoint of trade and craft production, the region was poor. So in order to get the extra income, some enterprising person preferred an adventurous life. It was in this context, they developed a sense of resistance.
(2) Role of Maharashtra dharma- Ranade lays great stress “on the close connection between the religious and political upheaval in Maharashtra”. The spread of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra inculcated the spirit of oneness among the Marathas. Sivaji’s father teacher Samarth Guru Ramdas, the author of the book Dasbodh taught the philosophy of action or karma and exhorted Shivaji’s son Sambhaji to unite all Marathas and to propagate the “Maharashtra Dharma“. By Maharashtra dharma, he meant a liberal religion that was free from caste discriminations, raised the status of women, preferred Bhakti to rituals and checked the excesses of polytheism. This was the dharma preached by the saints from the days of Jnaneshvar and Namdev to Tukaram, and Samarth Ramdas gave expression to this noble vision in his work Anandavana Bhuvana. The ‘elevated teachings’ of the saints played a significant role in provoking and sustaining a new national spirit among the Marathas and provided a fresh spiritual background for their political activities.
(3) Misrule of Deccan Sultans- Another factor that helped the rise of the Marathas was the misrule of Deccan Sultans. A large portion of Maharashtra was under the rule of the Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur. These two had divided Maharashtra between themselves. Adil Shahis and Nizam Shahis were very narrow in their outlook and oppressed the people over whom they ruled. They have also sworn enemies of each other. They constantly fought each other and as a result, the people of Maharashtra suffered untold hardships.
(4) Internal Conflicts- In Maharashtra, there were also many Deshmukhs and Deshpandes who owned jagirs. They cared only for their jagirs and were least concerned about their country. This constant fighting amongst themselves also caused great misery to the people. There was misrule everywhere. The people of Maharashtra were, thus, tired of this oppression.
(5) Shivaji’s Personality- The Marathas slowly but steadily gained power under the leadership of Shivaji (1627-1680). They threw off the Muslim yoke and organized themselves into a powerful nation. Shivaji’s own personality played a great part in the rise of the Maratha power. He brought under his banner the different Maratha Chiefs, welded together the scattered atoms of the Maratha nation and filled them with the feelings of self-respect and faith. He fought successful wars first against the Sultans of Bijapur and Golcunda and then against the Mughals. In this way, he laid the foundation of an independent state. He filled the Marathas with such an inspiration that even after his death, they did not sit idle and continuously went on extending the boundaries of their empire. Thus the Maratha power took its birth and later on played an important part in the history of India. The greatest contribution of Shivaji is that he created in Maratha’s national awakening to continue the struggle even after his death and many ups and downs.