The origin of the Marathi speaking community of Maharashtra
cannot be identified with certainty. Whether the term itself is derived from
Maharashtra or whether the land assumes the name from its dwellers is difficult
to say. But it cannot be denied that there exists a great admixture of
aboriginal to elements in the Marathas, of all grades.
Marathi, which evolved from MaharastriPrakrit, has been
the lingua franca of the people of this area from the 10th century onwards.
And, in the course of time, the term ‘Maharashtra’ was used to describe a
region which consisted of Aparanta, Vidarbha, Mulaka, Asmaka and Kuntala.
The tribal communities of Nagas, Mundas and Bhils
inhabited this area, also known as Dandakaranya, in ancient times. They were
joined by the Aryans, the Sakas and the Hunas, who came from the North, as
well as by foreigners, who arrived by sea. The Dravidians from the South
colonised the land, joining a group which collectively came known as
The Marathas dominated the political scene in Maharashtra
from the middle of the 17th century to the early 19th century. Although for
historical purposes the term ‘Maratha’ is used in a comprehensive sense to
include all Marathi speaking people, in actual fact the word signifies the
distinct community which has dominated the political scene of Maharashtra
since medieval times.
Maloji Bhonsale (1552-1606) joined Nizam Shah with a
small band of cavalry. His son, Shahji (1599-1664) served under Nizam Shah
and Adil Shah, and came to prominence as a leading Maratha.
Born on February 19, 1630 at Shivner to Shahji Bhonsle
and Jija Bai, he inherited the Jagir of Poona from his father till 1637.
After the death of his guardian. Dadaji Kondadev, in 1647, he assumed full
charge of his jagir.
Before that, at the age of 18, he conquered Torna, built
forts at Raigarh & Pratapgarh (1645-47). Afzal Khan was deputed by the Adil
Shah ruler to punish Shivaji, but the later murdered Afzal in 1659.
Later Shaista Khan, governor of Deccan, was deputed by
Aurangazeb to put down the rising power of Shivaji in 1660. Shivaji lost
Poona and suffered several defeats till he made a bold attack on Shaista’s
military camp and plundered Surat (1664) and later Ahmadnagar.
Raja Jai Singh of Amber was then appointed by Aurangazeb
to put down Shivaji (1665) and Jai Singh succeeded in besieging Shivaji in
the fort of Purandhar. Consequently the treaty of Purandhar (1665) was
signed according to which Shivaji ceded 23 forts to the Mughals and pay a
visit to the Mughal court at Agra
Recognition of Shivaji’s right to certain parts of
Bijapur kingdom by the Mughals.
Grant of a mansab of 5000 to Shivaji’s son.
Shivaji’s visit to Agra, his imprisonment and escape
Four years of military conquests recovering all his
former forts and territories, his coronation at Raigarh in 1674 and
assumption of the title of “Haindava Dharmodharak” (Protector of Hinduism).
His alliance with the Qutb Shahis of Golconda and his
campaign into Bijapuri Karnataka and conquest of Gingee (Jinji), Vellore,
In 1674 he was coronated at Raigarh and assumed the title
of ‘Haindava Dharmodharak’ (Protector of Hinduism). Shivaji died in 1680.
He stabilised the state with effective civil and military
administration and adopted a policy of religious tolerance to accommodate
all religions and sects in his state.
He was the first Maratha Chhatrapati (ruler) and issued
the gold coin, shivarai hon, on the occasion of his coronation (1674).
His premature death at the age of 50 (April 5, 1680)
created a vacuum.
Sambhaji, the elder son, defeated Rajaram, the younger son of
Shivaji, in the war of succession. He provided protection and support to Akbar,
the rebellious son of Aurangzeb. He was captured at Sangamesvar by a Mughal
noble and executed.