Why did Maratha empire fall ? Major reason discussed

Brief Introduction

In this enthusiastic article, we will discuss the top causes for the decline and fall of Maratha empire. As the rise of the Maratha empire credited to the great Maharaja Chatrapati Shivaji, the fall of the Maratha empire happened because of the internal dispute.

The Marathas were considered the most powerful empire between mid 16th century to 18th century. When the whole nation was gripping into the Islamic rule I. e. Mughal empire, Nizamshahi kingdom, Adil shah kingdom in Bijapur, then it was Marathas who healed the nation and brought back the legacy of Bharat. There was no match of the courage and the powerful strength of the Marathas.

But by the end of the 18th century, the reign of the Marathas kingdom went into a wrong hand which created fault lines among the Marathas . Let us discuss the top causes of the decline and downfall of Marathas empire.

Some of the most significant causes or reasons for the decline of the Maratha empire were :

  • The internal convulsion among Marathas for attaining the throne of the Peshwa .
  • lack of organisation
  • Absence of strong Central power
  • Absence of Well-drilled Army and Modern Guns and Munitions
  • Claimed of individual leaders Supremacy and the right approached of British diplomacy to take the advantages of the Marathas internal revolt.
  • Another bigger reason was the acceptance of multiple treaties with British which took the Maratha’s empire to the lowest degree of its maneuvering. The “Treaty of Bassien” was proven to be the last nail in the coffin for the Marathas and for the British it was the beginning of their new era in India.
  • Instead of engaging with each other for the collective interest of Bharat Supremacy, the Marathas were fighting among themselves for the power gaining which was seen by Lord Wellesley , governal – general in the East India Company , with great interest.
  • Another bigger cause was the tussle between Yashwantrao Holkar and Peshwa Bajirao II gave a golden opportunity to the British to establish their Supremacy in India. The back to back sign of treaties made the British to control and to restrict the power of Marathas and other great Indian leaders to the minimum. 

These domestic entanglements and  distraction in the Marathas state open the solid scope for the English to get settled down and rise their power exponentially. 

Fault lines among Marathas leadership were keenly watched by the British . The decline of the Marathas empire started soon after the death of Peshwa Madhav Rao I on 18th November 1772 AD .

As it had been said by the great historian Grant Duff that the loss of Peshwa Mahdhav Rao I was one of the main cause of the downfall of Marathas empire.

There is no doubt that Raghunath Rao was a great patriotic warrior who had contributed a large in winning many of the Marathas battle but his hunger for becoming Peshwa after third battle of Panipat which took place on Jan 1761 AD made him to go out of his patriotism and loyalty towards the Marathas and became a self – centred person. 

The jealousy of Raghunath Rao had been seen for the first time when he signed an accommodation with Nizam Ali of Hyderabad in January 1762 AD which was very much favourable to the Nizam even after the magnificent winning of the Marathas against Nizam Ali.

This accommodation irritated and displeased all those Marathas Warriors who wanted to crush the Nizam. But the verily and the brilliancy of young Peshwa Madhav Rao I handled this situation with great perfection.

He was the one who revived the Maratha power in south as well as  in the territories of North too. Till the time he was alive, he created a strong Maratha empire even after the internal revolt of Raghunath Rao and the intervention of the British in Maratha’s affairs. 

The scenario started to get worsen when Bajirao II, the son of Raghunath Rao, succeeded the throne of Peshwa on 5th December 1796 AD. Though he became Peshwa, he was too indolent to his duty and was only enjoying his superiority unrestricted. 

The tussel going on between Peshwa Bajirao II and Daulat Rao Scindia for the money and administration depleted the power of Marathas to its lowest phase. 

Below are some of the major treaties signed between the Marathas and the British which was proven to be the reason for the decline of the Maratha empire.

List of Treaties Signed with British By the Marathas

Treaty of bassein

 Bajirao II’s greed to get the throne of Peshwa again after losing it against Yashwantrao Holkar compelled him to sign the ” Treaty of Bassein ” with the British in 1801 which was implemented in 1802 AD. 

According to this treaty, Peshwa received on a permanent basis more than 6000 infantry , European artillerymen attached, proper equipment of warlike stores and ammunition. 

But the cost which Peshwa had to pay to sign this treaty took away the sovereignty of the Marathas .

  •  According to this treaty, Peshwa agreed for the payment of these troopy by ceding the territories ( situated in four different parts of peshwa’s possession) yielding an annual income of around 26 Lakhs to the British. 
  • The Peshwa gave the right to the Britishers to act like an arbitration whenever any dispute occurred. 
  • He gave up all his claims of chauth on the Nizam’s dominions. 
  • He was restricted to employ European soldier in his army camp .
  • According to valentia , an English Traveller, the “Treaty of bassein” had infact annihilated the Marathas Empire. 
  • The Treaty had put an end to the Marathas independency . It gave the British the unquestionable Supremacy over the Marathas state. This indirect Supremacy paved way for the British to build the empire in India. 

Treaties signed with Daulat Rao Scindia

After signing the ” Treaty of Bassein ”  with Peshwa Bajirao II in favour of helping to get the throne of Peshwa , the British invited Daulat Rao Scindia to shake his hands with them but it was clearly rejected by Daulat Rao . 

This rejection and other circumstances led Lord Wellesley to declare war against Daulat Rao Scindia. 

In retaliation, Daulat Rao Sindhiya with the help of Raghuji Bhosle, Gosain Himmat Bahadur, Yashwantrao Holkar and with others wanted to make a Maratha coalition but miserably failed due to the sideline of Yashwantrao Holkar.

The treachery of Daulat Rao Sindhiya to kill Yahwantrao Holkar after this coalition made Yashwant Rao to make sideline. 

This failed Maratha coalition resulted in defeat of Daulat Rao Scindia against the British. 

Wellesley started to capture Ahmadnagar on 12th August 1803. Followed by Champaner and Pavagad, the province of cuttack.  On 23rd September 1803 AD, in the battle of Assaye, the combined forces of Scindia Bhosle ,Gopal Rao Bhau, Vithal Pant Bakshi were defeated by the army of Wellesley. 

Treaties signed with British

On 15th October 1803 AD, Burhanpur . Then victory was followed by capturing Gujarat ,Bundelkhand and Odisha. On 21st October Asirgarh came into the hands of Wellesley and stevensons. Agra on 17th October. Gawilgarh on 15th dec. The battle of Lakshwari was won by Lake on 1st November 1803.

Eventually , Daulat Rao Scindia left with no choice but to sign treaty with the British . Below are the terms of the treaty.

  • According to treaty , Daulat Rao Scindia ceded to the British Ahmednagar, Broach, and territories of between Ajanta and Godavari – Treaty of surji-Anjangaon in 1803 AD
  • Daulat Rao Sindhiya accepted the Treaty of bassein and to maintain the Treaty policy, he surrendered his territories between the Yamuna and the Ganga and all those situated to the north of Jaipur , Jodhpur and gohad. 
  • He signed a treaty with the British on 27th February 1804 which meant to a defensive Alliance with the British.
  • By the Treaty of Deogaon, signed on 19th December 1803 AD , Raghu Ji Bhosle ceded to the British the provinces of Odisha and the whole of the territories and share of the revenues to the west ward of the river Vardha and South of the Hills on which stand Narnaulla and Gawilgarh. 

Treaty signed with Yashwantrao Holkar

Yashwant Rao Holkar was a great freedom fighter who fought fearlessly and brilliantly against the British to protect the nation. If he would have got the support from his native leaders, he would have won the battle against the British . But lack of co-operation from other kings compelled him to sign treaty with the British . 

  • According to the Treaty signed with the British Yashwant Rao Holkar had to renounce all his claims on the north of Chambal and Pune and Bundelkhand.
  • He was restricted from recruiting any European soldier in his service without the permission of the British.

Lack of well-drilled army and modern guns and artillery

This was one of the major reasons for the downfall of the Maratha empire. They didn’t possess long range guns.

It had been seen during the third battle of Panipat which took place in 1761 AD that the lack of the artillery and modern guns became the chief cause of the dreadful loss of battle against Ahmed Shah Abdali (Durrani ) in Panipat . 

As it is said that “ someone’s weakness could become someone’s strength “. This is exactly what happened with the Marathas. The British had enough supply of modern guns and ammunition.

The two policies  of the British : one divide and rule and second highly supply of modern guns and artillery compelled Indian leaders to sign the treaty with the British. 

Lack of leadership

Mere superiority in numbers or weapons do not decide success in wars . The brilliant leadership played a key role in winning a war. One of the best examples of it is the victory of Yashwant Rao Holkar against the British.

Holkar merely because of his proper tactical disposition ,skillful handling in the field with brilliant strategy and arms of superior calibre won multiple battles against the British. 

Even Peshwa Madhav Rao I had won the battle against Nizam of Hyderabad in 1762 AD without getting artillery and army support from the British.

The marathas in their 19th century started to lose the battle one after another not merely because of less artillery and modern guns but because of losing their trust in their cavalry and well trained infantry. 

Even in the battle of Panipat, sadashiva Rao bhau declined the idea of Malhar Rao Holkar of using guerrilla warfare tactics during the war.

Marathas had the expertise in Gurilla attack but as it was ignored by Sadashiv Rao, Marathas came into the Panipat battlefield without any strategy which was another big cause for the loss of Panipat Battle. 

There is in fact no limit to the successes which will be gained by forces with a high morale over extraordinary odds where their opponents are in demoralized condition.

Related Post which you should must read :

Peshwa Bajirao I history | empire builder of Maratha
Maharani Tarabai – A Maratha warrior Queen who protected the Swarajya
Tukoji Rao Holkar – one must know the great warrior of Holkar clan
Ahilyabai Holkar : A great fighter queen who ruled Malwa


Leave a Comment