The Marathas, organised under Shivaji, posed the most formidable challenge to the Mughal Empire. Shahu the grandson of Shivaji was imprisoned by Aurangzeb in 1689 and released in 1707 after his death.
Balaji Vishwanath, the Peshwa of King Shahu led the Marathas to become a strong power in the Deccan. He made Zulfiqar Khan to pay Chauth and Sardeshmukhi in the Deccan. In 1719 he came to Delhi with a Maratha force to help the Saiyid brothers to overthrow Farrukh Siyyar.
In 1720, Balaji was succeeded by his son Baji Rao I who was the greatest exponent of guerrilla tactics after Shivaji. He led a number of campaigns against the Mughals. Under his leadership Maratha control extended to Malwa, Gujarat and parts of Bundelkhand. He also forced the Nizam of Hyderabad to grant Chauth and Sardeshmukhi to the Marathas. He expanded the Maratha power in the North.
Balaji Baji Rao who is popularly known as Nana Saheb in 1740 succeeded Baji Rao. After the death of Sahu in 1749 the Peshwa became the real ruler of the Marathas. He made Poona his headquarters. He extended the Maratha power in all parts of India. In 1751 he took Orissa from Bengal Nawab. In 1760 he defeated the Nizam of Hyderabad.
In the North, the Maraths became the power behind the Mughal throne. From Delhi the Marathas turned to Punjab and expelled the agent of Ahmad Shah Abdali who formed an alliance with the kings of Rohilkhand and Awadh. Nana Saheb sent an army led by his cousin Sadashiva Rao Bhau. At the third battle of Panipat in 1761, the Maratha army was completely routed by Ahmad Shah Abdali.
The Peshwa died soon after this defeat. Madhav Rao became the next Peshwa in 1761. He defeated the Nizam, compelled Haider Ali to pay tribute and brought the Mughal emperor Shah Alam back to Delhi. Madhav Rao died in 1772 after which the Maratha power began to decline.
A fight broke out between Raghunath Rao, the younger brother of Nana Saheb and Narayan Rao the elder brother of Madhav Rao. Narayan Rao was killed in 1773 and was succeeded by his minor son Sawai Madhav Rao. Raghunath Rao went over to the British for
Help. This resulted in the First Anglo-Maratha War. Now, the Maratha power was divided into a number of Maratha Sardars. ….
Baroda came under the Gaekwad,
Nagpur under the Bhonsle,
Indore under the Holker and
Gwalior under the Sindhia.
Sawai Madhav Rao died in 1795 and was succeeded by the worthless Baji Rao II, the son of Raghunath Rao. The British were now able to crush the Maratha power during the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha Wars (1803-1805 and 1816-1819).
First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82): Struggle for power among the Marathas and attempts of the British to take advantage of this struggle resulted in the First Anglo-Maratha War. The British defeated the Marathas at Talegaon in 1776. A Treaty of Salbai was concluded in 1782 by which status-quo was maintained. This Treaty bought peace for the British against the Maraths for the next 20 years.
Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05): Wellesley’s desire to impose Subsidiary Alliance on the Marathas, strife among the Maratha chiefs, the signing of the Subsidiary treaty at Bassein by the Peshwa (Bajirao II) with the British became the principal causes of the Second Anglo-Maratha War. The British defeated the combined forces of Sindhia and Bhonsle and signed Subsidiary Treaties with them.
Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-18): The Maraths resented the loss of their freedom to the British and hated rigid control exercised by the British residents on the Maratha chiefs. The Peshwa was dethroned and sent to Bithur near Kanpur and the British annexed his territories. The kingdom of Satara was created as a symbol of Maratha pride.