History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2012: Q.5 (e)

Q.5 (e) Give social background to the rise of the Maratha movement during the seventeenth century.


There lies the social background to the rise of Maratha movement during seventeenth century. Shivaji tried to raise the status of his family by entering into matrimonial alliances with the leading deshmukh families-Shirkes, Morays, Nimbalkars. Thus he followed a dual policy, i.e, curtailing the political power of the bigger deshmukhs on the one hand, and entering into patrimonial alliances with them for claiming equal status on the other hand. His coronation (1674) not only put him higher in status among other Maratha clans, but also put him at par with other Deccani rulers. His assumption of superior status of suryavamsi kshatriya with the help of the leading brahmans of Benaras, Gagabhat, was a definite move in this direction. Shivaji not only got prepared suryavamsi kshatriya geneology of his family linking it with Indra, but also claimed the high sounding title of kshatriya kulavatamsa (the ornament of kshatriya families). Thus, by confirming higher status among the Maratha families he claimed exclusive right to collect sardeshmukhi which was earlier enjoyed by other Maratha families under the patronage of Shrikes, Ghorpades etc.

This clearly emphasises the social tensions prevalent in the Maratha society. They were mainly agriculturists and also formed a fighting class. Yet, they were not kshatriyas in status. Thus the social movement launched by Shivaji served a powerful means to weld together the Marathas and the kunbis (cultivating class). Kunbi peasants, kolis and other tribals of Maval area who rallied round Shivaji in large numbers were also motivated by the desire to raise their status in the social hierarchy.

The intellectual and ideological framework for the rise of Maratha was provided by the bhakti movement which got “crystallised into “Maharashtra dharma”. This helped in providing the Marathas a cultural identity as well. Emphasis of the bhakti saints on egalitarianism provided ideal background vis-a-vis justification for the mobility in the varna scale by individuals and groups. Rise of Marathas of such humble origins as the Sindhias exemplifies the success of the movement. During this time, a sizeable number of groups improved their status in the varna hierarchy and legitimised their right to political power.

Satish Chandra also finds socio-economic content in the rise of the Marathas. Shivaji’s success lay in his ability to mobilize the peasants in his area. It is generally argued that he discontinued jagirdari and zamindari and established direct contact with the peasants thus freeing them from exploitation. But according to Satish Chandra, he did not do away with the system at all. Instead, he curtailed the powers of big deshmukhs, reformed the abuses and established necessary supervisory authority. Hence, he made the old system work better. Besides, their power was also restricted by curtailing their armed retainers. This is the main reason that Shivaji’s military strength did not consist of ‘feudal levies’ of the bigger deshmukhs. Petty landholders, who were often at the mercy of bigger deshmukhs, benefited by this policy. In fact, it was in these petty landlords that his strength lay. For example,the deshmukhs of Mavle, who were the first to rally to Shivaji’s side, were petty landholders. Besides, his emphasis on extension and improvement of cultivation benefitted not only the peasants in general but also these petty landholders in particular.

 Thus, the Maratha rise had deep-rooted socio-economic reasons.

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