The Legacy of SHIVAJI the GREAT by Col Anil Athale (1761 to 1823)

  • Insights into Maratha history, period post 1761 from Col Anil Athale book.

Part One is from Shivaji to Battle of Panipat. This part covers Preface, Prologue, Laying the Foundation, Maratha Uprising, Conflict at Sea, Maratha Disaster at Panipat.


Part 2 is wars between Marathas and British i.e. 1761 to 1823.


Usually, I avoid reading books on history because they are thick and my reading pace slow. Since I have been reading Col Athale’s articles on for years knew about his writings, sharp mind and understanding of military strategy. So I was happy to know about his book. 


The good part is it is all of 241 pages within which Col Athale (retd) covers Maratha history from Shivaji (born 1627) to its end 1823. What I also liked is that it provides insights and analysis of events. It gives shortcomings in Maratha strategy in a non-biased way, at the same time heaps praise when earned.


It is happy to see many books on Maratha History being published. For certain reasons, their history is not known across India. To an extent, we must thank Bollywood for movies Mastani (Bajirao Peshwa), Tanaji (Tanhaji Malasure), Manikarnika (Rani Laxmibai) for renewed  interest in Maratha history.


Books as this put the contribution of Marathas in perspective. This is important because Marathas of today do not brag about the contribution of their forefathers.


What I have done is to give key information. The focus is on insights. All from the book so all credit to Col Athale and publisher Indus Source.


When matter taken verbatim from book it is in inverted commas or else rephrased in normal font. My comments are in italics. Summary is chapter-wise as appears in the book. I have links to articles on site esp. at end of article for points of history not covered in book.


Hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I did. To buy book online The same Preface and Prologue are there in both parts.



1. “Why did the Marathas, who fought the Mughals so valiantly, succumb to the British so tamely?”

2. “Controversies and distortions during period of Shivaji’s rule are on account of the fact that the entire records of his rule were burnt on 19/10/1689, when the Mughals under Zulfikar Khan captured the Maratha capital of Raigarh.”

3. “With these multiple sources and working for over nine years, I feel satisfied that I have been able to get a fairly authentic picture of the epic Anglo-Maratha struggle for an empire in India.”



1. The British acquired India from the Marathas not the Mughals.

2. For close to thirty years (1771-1802) it was the Marathas who ruled most parts of Central and North India. Read  Did Muslims rule India for 800 years

3. Even in Maharashtra the victory of Maratha General Mahadji Shinde over the British in the Battle of Wadgaon (near Pune) is forgotten not to forget the Anglo-Maratha battle in Aligarh (modern day Uttar Pradesh) in early 19th century.

4.  Most are unaware that the Bhonsles of Nagpur ruled Orissa for a while and their invasion of Bengal.

5. The fight between the Maratha Empire and English was not one-sided. Gen Wellesley, famous for victory over Napolean regarded the Battle of Assaye as the most difficult of his career. Read  about Battle of Assaye

6. In the 13th century tribes from Afghanistan captured most of the northern plains. Next, was a Seljuk Turk Babur. Only Northern part of India fully came under Muslim domination.

7. “Restrictive practices for women, marriage ceremonies at midnight and the spread of fatalism were the side effects of this prolonged Muslim rule. The ancient history of India was supplanted by the court historians of Delhi.” That is the reason why even today weddings in north India take place at night.

8. The mountainous area had very little agricultural surplus and its people lived a difficult life. Thus Maharashtra. Shivaji warned Aurangzeb, “My land is harsh, the people born here are hardy. Your elephants and guns cannot move freely in this area. Should you try to subjugate my people, you will be met with fierce resistance?

9. “The rise of the Marathas lit the fires of early Indian nationalism. The slogan of Swaraj was first raised by Shivaji. He called it ‘Hindavi Swarajya’ or self-rule for the entire country.”

10. “Shivaji attempted to revive ancient Indian culture by commissioning a compendium of Sanskrit terms (Rajya Vyavahar Kosh).”

11. So why was Shivaji’s role diminished in our history? One, contemporary politics in independent India sought to legitimise Mughal rule. Two, electoral politics in Maharashtra diminished his stature by making him a parochial Maratha figure. Three, the British need to exploit history to justify their role.

12. The British fought wars against the Sikhs and Gorkhas too but their history only admires them. One, they showed no interest in assuming a pan-India role. Two, they became staunch British allies in saving the empire when it was on the ‘verge of extinction in 1857-58’.

13. “It was misplaced Maratha generosity that permitted letting the British off the hook in the Battle of Wadgaon in 1779.” Decades later, post the 1965 and 1971 wars India let the Pakistan off the hook.

14. “The battles of Assaye and Laswari, proved that Shinde’s battalions, trained on European lines, were more than a match for the British army.” They were let down by the treachery of their commanders in the battles of Delhi, Assaye, Aligarh.

15. The Peshwa was not fully independent. Major policy decisions were taken  a gathering of all the Sardars (feudal lords) called the Maratha Mandal.

16. Indians, including the then Marathas, had a weakness for a defensive instead of offensive strategy.

17. “The uncovering of the past is an important component for the regeneration of national pride, a pride i.e. based on genuine achievements of the past.”


Part 1 covered Laying the Foundation, Maratha Uprising, Conflict at Sea, Maratha Disaster at Panipat. Read from point 126 onwards.


Ch 5 End of Mughal Empire (1772) and Prelude to 1st Anglo-Maratha War (1774-1782)

Mahadji Shinde. Old pic showing is credit Yale Centre for British Art. 

126. The Peshwa died in 1761. The Nizam and Hyder Ali tried taking advantage but were defeated.

127. Mahadji Shinde (Scindia) born in 1727 rose. In 1769, under Peshwa Madhavrao, along with Tukoji Holkar he re-established Maratha hold over Delhi and Mughal Emperor.

128. The Marathas took revenge on the Rohillas for supporting Abdali. Shinde killed app 15,000 Rohillas in a single battle. This victory paved the way for Maratha domination from the banks of rivers Ganga-Yamuna till Sutlej. This Maratha sway was to last for nearly 30 years, till 1803.

129. Madhavrao died in 1772, succeeded by his brother Narayanrao who was killed in 1773, allegedly by uncle Raghunathrao (later convicted by Justice Ramshastri Prabhune).

130.  On 12/12/1774 the British launched an attack on Sashti island (part of modern day Mumbai). It was the start of the 1st Anglo-Maratha War. Marathas lost the island due to superior to British numbers and naval supremacy.

131. In 1772 the East India Company was nearly bankrupt. It got a loan but its activities came under control of British Parliament. The Marathas could have taken advantage but were a house divided and with little money. The old system of sending proportionate revenue to the central government had broken down.

132. In 1776 Marathas and British signed a treaty by which the former could keep Bassein and the latter Sashti. The latter would stop supporting Raghunath Rao.

133. There was a revolt against British rule in the North American colonies. It was natural that the French would enter the fray in India. The idea of a Maratha-French alliance alarmed the British.


Ch 6 British attack on Poona and lost victory

134. But the British were bent on making Raghunathrao Peshwa. Both parties prepared for war. Book has the details.

135. The British assembled forces and hoped to cross the Western Ghats and invade Pune. The Marathas broke the British lines of communication. The British decided to withdraw at night. However, Nana Phadnavi’s spies got to know of the British move. No sooner did the British begin retreating the Maratha cavalry attacked them from both sides.

136. They sued for peace. The British signed the Treaty of Wadgaon in 1779 and agreed to give back all territories captured since the last treaty 1756.


In Battle of Salher 1672, Shivaji’s Generals did not spare the Mughals.

137. Shivaji annihilated the enemy in Pratapgarh. Here the Marathas allowed the enemy to return to Bombay.

138. The Marathas could have attacked Mumbai and evicted the British. Conditions were favourable to them. Learn from Shivaji Maharaj.

139. As soon as the Bengal Army reached Bombay hostilities resumed. The Battle of Wadgaon was the last time the Marathas fought unitedly against the British.

140.   They fought the Battle of Addas in 1775 where both sides claimed victory. This was the first time that the British army came face to face with Maratha cavalry and the main army.


Ch 7 Second Attack on Poona and anti-British coalition

141.  In 1780 the Marathas, Nizam and Hyder Ali concluded a treaty by which Marathas would keep British Goddard and his army engaged, Hyder Ali was to capture Madras, Nizam was to assist Hyder, Bhonsles of Nagpur were to attack Bengal and no party was to conclude a separate peace with the British.

142. British diplomacy detached Bhonsles from the alliance. The latter and Peshwa always had an uneasy relationship because Bhonsles thought they were on par with the Peshwas. Since the Bhonsles had a paid for army, mainly non-Maratha, they were in need of funds always. For any government financial resources availability so important.

143. In 1780 Fateh Singh Gaikwad became the first ever Maratha General to accept British protection.

144. Mudoji Bhonsle’s army was on his way to Bengal. It unnerved the British. The former demanded 20 lakhs. Eventually an agreement was reached. While negotiations were on, the British mustered a force to attack Mahadji Shinde in the north. Bhonsles allowed British forces to pass through Orissa and go to help Madras Presidency who were under attack from Hyder Ali.

145. At this time British Maratha fight at Malanggad (mountain fort). To read

146. The Quadruple Alliance started coordinated attack on the British. However, the British won over the Nizam by giving him Guntur.

147. Hyder Ali defeated the British Army in the Battle of Perumbakkam. Unlike the Marathas, Hyder forced the British to throw their guns in a pond and hotly chased survivors who ran to Madras.

148. Goddard captured Bassein in 1780, Marathas could not prevent loss.

149. The British planned to attack Poona but plans failed. The Marathas took back virtually the entire coastal territories conquered by the British since 1774 except Bassein and Sashti. Marathas had won a major defensive victory.

150. The Maratha victory against the main British army of Goddard was marred by the inactivity of the Bhonsles in Orissa and lack of major success for Mahadji Shinde in the north.


Ch 8 Treaty of Peace and Treaty of Salbai (1783)

151. “But the purely cavalry-based forces of Mahadji Shinde could not close in for the kill, a weakness seen in every single battle between the Marathas and the British.”

152. Parties explored aligning with the French to defeat the British but that did not work out. The book has the details.

153. The Treaty of Salbai was signed in 1783. It was regarded as a victory for Maratha diplomacy. In return for peace, the British relinquished all conquests except Sashti. The British “virtually renounced their treaty with Fateh Singh Gaekwad and he was put back in the Maratha domain.” Raghunathrao was handed over the Peshwa and sent to confinement in the murder of Narayanrao Peshwa. In return, the Marathas agreed that they would have no truck with the French in future. Smart move by Marathas. Approach has relevance today.

154. The first Anglo-Maratha war lasted nine years, 1774 to 1783.

155. The Marathas used cavalry to harass the British and hit at their logistics. The latter mean a ‘scorched earth’ policy and economic devastation of the population. “The Marathas thus lost support even in their own territory.”

156. The Marathas had a wonderful weapon in their war-rockets. The Gardis, as the rocket troop of the infantry were non-Maratha.

157. Difference in fighting styles. The infantry-artillery system of the British meant the army fought as a whole. Maratha armies, like Indian ones, were at their best at a unit level. Once the battle was joined there was very little control.

158. Bengal Presidency provided vast financial resources to fight wars. Unlike the Marathas who had limited resources in Maharashtra. Plus, the large areas under king of Kolhapur, never took part in the fighting.

159. In this war the Marathas paid a heavy price for letting the British destroy their navy in 1756. Then or now, Navy is an important part. 

160. Mahadji Shinde realized importance of infantry and artillery so he used European adventurers to establish gun and musket factories in Agra, Ujjain and Mathura. However, he did not establish any institutions for training or studying the art of weapon-making.

161. Eventually, it was French procrastination and De Bussy’s dislike of the Marathas that saved the English in India.

162. The rise of Mahadji Shinde signified the decline in the power and importance of the Peshwa. Read   About Mahadji Shinde

163. At the start of the 19th century, the kingdom established by Shivaji was unrecognizable. “Considerations of birth reigned supreme which was a measure Shivaji had severely disapproved of.”

164. Mahadji raised an efficient artillery force and infantry to become the virtual master of the whole of north India. He became Deputy to the Peshwa that gave him legitimacy to interfere in any part of India including Bengal. The Rajputs had to pay taxes to the Marathas, something they disliked.

165. In the Battle of Lalsot, the combined Rajput forces soundly defeated the Marathas. He signed a treaty of friendship with the Sikhs and recruited them to his army. With this force in 1790, he defeated the Rajput rulers of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur who now paid taxes to the Marathas.

166. The British refused to pay the Marathas share of revenues from Bengal. Shinde tried to create an anti-British front but failed due to lack of response.

167. The last great Maratha General, Mahadji Shinde passed away in Poona in 1794.

168. Shinde realized the need to modernise armies but did not train Indians in the European art of war, so was over-dependant on the Europeans.

169. Mahadji tried to usurp the Holkar state after Malharrao Holkar died but Ahilyabai resisted. “The Bad blood caused by these events was to haunt the Marathas for a long time.” 


Ch 9 The Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803)

170.  Peace between Marathas and British lasted for 20 years i.e. 1783 to 1803.

171. Departing from the practices of Shivaji and even Bajirao I, all appointments from Peshwa to a Naik who commands 10 soldiers, became hereditary. This reduced military efficiency. Ambitious & capable individuals switched sides.

172. Nana Phadnavis died in 1800 and with that died all wisdom in the Maratha Empire. Though not a soldier he had a good understanding of Indian politics.

173. Maratha unity and the growing power of Western-styled armies in the Battle of Kharda, against Nizam, alarmed the British.

174. Due to deaths of Shinde, Holkar, Peshwas there was a leadership vacuum.

175. The 2nd Anglo-Maratha War took place in 1803-04 due to British interference in Maratha politics triggered by internal troubles of the Marathas.

176. The Treaty of Bassein was signed in 1802. With that Peshwa Bajirao II becoming a virtual prisoner of the British.

177. The War was fought on 4 fronts, Cuttack in the east, Bharuch on the western coast, near Aurangabad and in the valley of Ganga-Yamuna in north.

178. Daulatrao Shinde’s French General Peron defected to the British as did others. General Lake installed Shah Alam under British control in Delhi and moved to Agra. Here the French officers surrendered. Loss of Agra meant the gun foundry established during the Mahadhi Shinde was lost.

179. Shinde’s General Ambuji Ingle advanced to fight the British. The Battle of Laswari was the last important battle of the Second Anglo-Maratha war.


Ch 10 War in the South: The Battle of Assaye and Beyond

Battle of Assaye. Pic courtesy Uday S Kulkarni. 

180. Marathas were good at cutting supply lines. So British formed a corps of bullocks to carry their supplies, used the Banjara tribe as travelling tradesmen.

181. British marched to Pune from the south, installed Bajirao II as Peshwa under the terms of the Treaty of Bassein and tried to divide Yashwantrao Holkar and Daulatrao Shinde. Raghuji Bhonsle assumed leadership of the Marathas.

182. Maratha forces consisted of armies of Shinde and Bhonsles. Pohlman had requested Shinde to be relieved. Begum Sumru was in secret correspondence with the British. Peron, the king-pin of European trained troops of Shinde was in touch for the British to change sides.

183. The battle began at Assaye. “The Marathas greatest failure was in the field of intelligence in not keeping track of the movement of British forces.”

Read about   The Battle of Assaye

184. “The battle lasted barely three hours from 3 to 6 pm. British suffered 1200 casualties and the Marathas around 2,000. At the end of the army the Shinde army withdrew towards Ajanta ghat. Wellington’s army was in such distress that it did not purse the withdrawing Marathas.”

185. The army of Raghuji Bhonsle did not take part in the fighting. The Marathas wanted to avoid giving a pitched battle to the British.

186. The British fought a tough battle, it was no victory. However, the Battle of Assaye lowered Maratha morale. Shinde army reputation took a beating.

187. Had Holkar joined Shinde and Bhonsle too the picture would have been different. Thus, the Battle of Assaye was indeed one of the most decisive battles of Indian history.

188. The Battle of Laswari (near Agra) in the north was between Gen Lake and Shinde army. It saw hand-to-hand combat. The war is remembered as it showed that under honest leadership the Indian soldier was still capable of fierce resistance. It marked the end of European-styled battalions of the Shindes.

189. News of defeat of Abuji Ingle in battle of Laswari reached Shinde so he started talks with the British for peace. The British fought with Bhonsle army, he too signed an accord by which he gave up the province of Cuttack in Orissa to the British and Bidar to the Nizam. Shinde was confined to a small area around Ujjain.

190. Now the British had to fight only Holkar. Hereafter, the Marathas were fighting for survival. Their dream for an Indian Empire ended with the Second Anglo-Maratha war.

191. The author refers to the brave Yashwantrao Holkar. Read about him here

Yashwantrao Holkar.  

192. Holkar was an o/s cavalry man, had excellent relations with the Jats and Sikhs. He fought with the British in 1804. Loss of the British meant princes and local rulers deserted the British and joined the Marathas.

193. In January 1805, Lake surrounded the Bharatpur Fort. Continuous fighting strained both sides. The British offered the Jats a truce in April 1806.

194. Lord Cornwallis took over as Governor General and asked for peace with the Marathas, he signed a treaty giving up virtually all British conquests of the Second Anglo-Maratha War (SAMW)


195.  SAMW was fought for 2 years, it marked the end of the Maratha Confederacy.

196. Lack of unity and intelligence yes. But the Generals lacked the wherewithal of a full-fledged government that existed only in Pune.

197. “Marathas reliance on European mercenaries was a major reason for their defeat.”

198. The French fighters kept their money in British banks in Calcutta and depended on British ships to return to Europe. So how could they be trusted?

199. Shivaji’s ideology of Hindavi Swarajya had faded. Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath accepted the status of Marathas as a Mughal vassal.

200. “Outside Maharashtra, the Marathas began to be perceived as mere tax collectors of the Mughals.”

201. The Maratha armies during SAMW were Maratha in name only. Most of the ranks esp. in regular forces were filled by Muslims, Jats, Sikhs and those from Awadh province. These and Indian soldiers of the Bengal British Army shared close kinship.

202. Marathas had inferior weapons esp. artillery.

203. War rockets effective in the first war were not used in the second. The British made sure that no Indian had access to the magazines and laboratories where explosives and ammunition were made.

204. Local support for the Marathas, so crucial in war against the Mughals, was missing in their wars against the British.

205. When Cornwallis made peace the Marathas became complacent. PEACE is time to build your strength. Meanwhile the British were gaining in strength, the industrial revolution made them stronger.

206. The final round of battle between Marathas and British was 1818-1823.


Ch 11 Struggle for Empire: The Final Act (1817-1818)

207.  Shinde signed treaty with British in 1805.

208. Gen Lake in pursuit of Yashwantrao Holkar reached within 50 kms of Amritsar & threatened Ranjit Singh with consequences if he helped Holkar. Singh asked Holkar to quit Punjab. A frustrated Holkar signed Treaty of Rajghat in November 1805. He died in 1811.

209. The period of peace of 13 years between Marathas and British was wasted by the Marathas. They carried out no modernization of their forces. Bajirao II and Daulatrao Shinde were busy enjoying their positions. Peace is the time to build strength and overcome shortcomings.

210. In Maratha principalities things were not good. Appasaheb in Nagpur usurped throne from Raghuji Bhonsle’s son Parsoji after killing him in which British helped. Shinde was busy with wine and women. Unlike between 1783 and 1802, the period between 1805 and 1817 saw a decline in the Maratha army.

211. Pindaris mainly consisted of disbanded Mughal soldiers and mainly from North India with a high % of Muslims. By the early 19th century they had become strong so the British targeted them.

212. Shinde gave Asirgarh Fort and Burhanpur to the British in 1817.

Album of Asirgarh Fort

213. The Battle of Mehdipur led by Y Holkar’s widow Tulsibai was fiercely fought with the British in 1817. Power of Holkar’s was broken forever. Appasaheb Bhonsle of Nagpur lost in 1817 and became a British pawn.

214.  Peshwa Bajirao II took on the British, without the backing of Shinde and Holkar, faced a force that was nearly ten times his army.

215. When the British Bengal army was fighting the Nepalis in 1814, the Marathas remained passive. They assumed British policy of non-interference would continue forever.

216. “It will not be an exaggeration to say that in the Third Anglo-Maratha the bulk of the fighting was done by musket-welding mercenary soldiers.  The Maratha cavalry was ineffective against the guns and drilled infantry of the British. Mountain forts that played a crucial role in Shivaji’s time had fallen into disuse.” Leadership too was not inspiring.

Key Notes

217. Maratha caused the destruction of their navy in 1756. It gave the British a chance to have a presence on the western coast.

218. When the Marathas won in the Battle of Wadgaon in 1779, they should have annihilated the enemy. Instead, they let the British off the hook.

219.  Betrayal by European mercenaries in the Battle of Assaye and later in battles of north India cost them dear.

220. An offensive spirit was absent in the 2nd and 3rd Maratha wars.

221. Marathas did not develop infantry and artillery, key reason for failure against the British.

222. Compromise by successive Peshwas made Marathas mere tax collectors for the British. The larger goal of Hindavi Swarajya was lost.

223. After the third Peshwa dynastic rule became prevalent unlike the British which had good junior leadership. Moreover, Peshwas started promoting their own community alienating others unlike Shivaji and probably Bajirao Peshwa.

224.  Political disunity amongst the Marathas, the bane in the Second War, continued to persist.

225. Maratha dependence on imported arms and gunpowder and foreign mercenaries lead to a major weakness.

226. The rise of parochial regional parties in Maharashtra diminished the status of Shivaji from that of a national figure to a Maratha King.

227. Finally, the often held view that India obtained independence through peaceful means “promotes a curious psyche that elevates victimhood to the heights of achievement.”


It is because of Shivaji the Great and the Marathas that India did not get Islamised. Khushwant Singh wrote, “It could be said that the battle of Panipat that was fought between the Marathas and Afghans was really won by the Sikhs.” History of Sikhs Volume 2 Pg. 145


To read all articles on Maratha History


Also read

1. Four articles on Patwardhans of modern day Karnataka

2. Two articles on Why Marathas invaded Bengal in the 18th century

3. Judicial system of the Marathas

4. Prataprao Gujar, Commander-in-chief of Shivaji army

5. Two articles on Who ruled Maharashtra before Shivaji

6. Marathas made Temples across India in the 18th century

7. Santaji Ghorpade who defeated the Mughals

8. Pilaji Jadhavrao – A brave Maratha Subedar

9. How the Marathas captured Attock in modern day Pakistan

10. The story of Thanjavur’s Maratha Kings

11. Album Maratha Palace, Tanjore

12. Why Ahilyabai Holkar was a great woman


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