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Maratha Wars (177582, 180305, 181718)

The Maratha / Mahratta Wars (177582, 180305, 181718) were three conflicts between the British and the Maratha confederacy, resulting in the destruction of the confederacy. Maharashtra lies on the western shore of middle India and is in shape a triangle. Its base is the sea from Daman to Karwar. The perpendicular side is formed by a line running from Daman beyond Nagpur. The hypotenuse is formed by an irregular line from beyond Nagpur to Karwar. The area of this tract is over 100,000 square miles and its population exceeds thirty millions. The people that inhabited it varied just as Frenchmen of different provinces varied. But it had distinct characteristics, which differentiate it from other Indian peoples.

The people of Maharashtra as a rule lacked the regular features of the Northern Indian. Their tempers, too, were usually less under control than those of the dwellers in the Gangetic plain. But their courage was at least as high as that of any other Indian nation, while their exquisitely keen sense of humor, the lofty intelligence of their educated classes, their blunt speech and frank bearing rarely failed to win the love and admiration of those Englishmen whose lot it was to serve among them the Indian Government.

Maharashtra had three distinct divisions. Of these, the seaboard below the Sahyadri Mountains is known as the Konkan; the tract occupied by the Sahyadris is known as the Mawal; while the wide, rolling plains to the east are known as the Desh. Maharashtra receives from the monsoon a rainfall that varies greatly. In many parts of the Konkan 100 inches in a single year are not unusual. In the Sahyadris as many as 400 inches have been recorded. In the eastern parts of the Desh a fall of 20 inches is welcomed with the utmost gratitude. The Konkan is, owing to its low level, hotter than the other two divisions. It is, however, in parts extremely fertile. The Mawal is cool and eminently healthy for Europeans, but, except for its ricefields, of little value for cultivation. The Desh is barren to the west, but grows richer to the east, where the deep black soil needs only rain to produce crops in abundance. The climate of the Desh, while hotter than that of the Mawal, is still pleasant and salubrious.

The power of the Mahrattas in southern India began to be formidable under the guidance of Sevaji, who had been originally a leader of banditti, and had gained the chieftaincy of the wild mountain tribes between Canara and Gujart. Sevaji had acquired great strength during the civil wars which preceded the accession of Aureng-zib, but he had submitted to the conqueror and offered to lead a part of the imperial forces against the Persians. A wanton insult from the emperor drove him to rebellion, and his progress in the south was facilitated by a simultaneous rising of the Afghans, who never forgot that the empire of northern India belonged to them before the arrival of Baber. The Afghan chiefs were invited to a banquet, and treacherously murdered; an act of treachery disavowed by Aureng-zib, but by which he profited without scruple.

It was impossible to employ such arts against the Mahrattas: Sevaji and his successor Sambaji were too suspicious to place themselves voluntarily in the emperor's power. Sambaji was, however, surprised and made prisoner while amusing himself in the mountains; he was at once put to death, his capital was forced to surrender, his wives and his infant son were made prisoners. As Aureng-zib had previously subdued the kingdoms of Golconda and Peijapore, his empire over southern India seemed on the point of being completed; but Rama, the brother of Sambaji, with other Mahratta chieftains, maintained the war, eluding encounter when pursued, and issuing from their fastnesses to devastate the country so soon as the imperial forces were withdrawn. So enriched were they by the spoils they obtained, and so strengthened by the number of desperate adventurers who joined their ranks, that towards the close of Aureng-zib's reign, the advantages of the war had decisively turned in their favour. This contest continued to the emperor's death, which took place in the ninety-fourth year of his age and forty-eighth of his reign (AD 1707).

The Mahrattas, a warlike race fast rising into importance, ravaged the imperial territories, while the feeble emperor wasted his time in indolent luxury. These freebooters extended their incursions to the very gates of Dehli, and, though they suffered a defeat, they induced the imperial generals to purchase their future forbearance by a large and dishonourable bribe. The injury which his invasion had inflicted on the empire, was incurable; the army was destroyed, the treasury exhausted, nearly all financial resources cut off: the Mahrattas ravaged the South, and all the provinces which had escaped their devastation were laid waste.

The energy, ferocity, and cunning of the Mahrattas, soon made them the most conspicuous among the new powers which were generated by the curruption of the decaying monarchy. At firstwthey were only robbers. They soon rose to the dignity of conquerors. Half the provinces of the empire were turned into Mahratta principalities. Freehooters sprung from low castes, and accustomed to menial employments, became mighty Rajahs. That was the time, throughout India, of double government. The form and the power were every where separated. The Mussulman nabobs, who had become sovereign princes-the Vizier in Oude, and the N izam at Hydrabadstill called themselves the viceroys of the house of Tamerlane. 1n the same manner the Mahratta states, though really independent, pretended to be members of one empire.




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