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Mughal Maratha Wars

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Mughal Maratha Wars

In the 17th century, the Mughal Empire in India was perhaps the most powerful land-based empire on the planet. Having almost conquered the entirety of the Indian subcontinent, the Mughal Empire had but one enemy remaining: a small resistance in the west from a new and rising Maratha Empire. Under Emperor Aurangzeb, the Mughals had a military with over half a million soldiers, powerful cavalry, gunpowder artillery, and elephants. The war should have been a quick victory for the Mughals, but after decades of fighting the war saw its surprising end.

Mughal-Maratha Wars Summary

The Mughal-Maratha Wars were a series of multi-generation conflicts fought between the mighty Mughal Empire and the recently established Maratha Empire, which was located on the Deccan Plateau in Western India. As a devout Muslim, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb renounced his empire's tolerance of Hinduism, instead deciding to impose a jizya tax (a tax on only non-Muslim practitioners) and input Muslim belief into Mughal law. Hindu nationalists in the west, led by Shivaji Maharaj in the 17th century, took a stand against religious oppression and created the rebellious Maratha Empire.

The Mughal-Maratha Wars Emperor Aurangzeb Study SmarterPortrait of Emperor Aurangzeb. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Mughal-Maratha Wars are a deep and rich period of history in India, though it may seem confusing at first. Please reference the organizational table and simple timeline below if you feel overwhelmed during this article. History can often be as complex as it is fascinating!

Mughal Maratha-Wars Organization Table

Mughal Empire Maratha Empire
  • Powerful and extremely wealthy land-based empire in control of most of the Indian subcontinent.
  • Established in 1526 by Babur, a great-grandson of Timur the Lame, warlord and proclaimed descendent of Genghis Khan.
  • Expansionist Muslim empire, little religious toleration under the current emperor.
  • Led by Emperor Aurangzeb (reigned 1658-1707)
  • Military strength of half a million men.
  • Small empire based in Western India on the Deccan Plateau.
  • Established in 1674 by Shivaji Maharaj.
  • Rebellious empire, created by Hindu nationalists to defend Hindi belief in Western India.
  • Leadership exchanged hands during the war: Shivaji Maharaj (reigned 1674-1680), Sambhaji (1681-1689), Rajaram (1689-1700), and Tarabai (1700-1707).
  • Military strength of about 150,000 men.

Mughal-Maratha Wars Timeline

  • 1674: After a series of attacks against the Mughal Empire, Shivaji Maharaj proclaims himself emperor of Maratha.

  • 1680: Shivaji Maharaj dies. The Mughal Empire suppresses the rise of the Maratha Empire.

  • 1681: Sambhaji, son of Shivaji, proclaims himself the new emperor of the Maratha Empire. Emperor Aurangzeb travels west with his army, believing that he can easily quell the Marathan uprising.

  • 1689: After 8 years of battling the Mughal Empire, Sambhaji is captured and executed. That same year, Sambhaji's brother Rajaram becomes emperor of a reinvigorated Maratha Empire.

  • 1698: The current Maratha capital of Jinji is captured by the Mughal military. The Mughals incur heavy casualties.

  • 1700: Rajaram dies of lung disease. His wife Tarabai inherits control of the Maratha Empire. Aurangzeb realizes that he is losing but continues the war.

  • 1707: Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb dies, marking defeat as Maratha forces invade Delhi and fracture the Mughal Empire.

Causes of Mughal-Maratha Wars

For many years, the Mughal Empire reigned with a policy of religious tolerance. When Aurangzeb became emperor of the Mughals in 1658, he brought his Islamic faith with him. Along with the jizya tax, largely affecting Hindi people in India, Aurangzeb was accused of burning down Hindi temples and subjugating followers of the faith.

Wherever I look, I see only God... I have sinned terribly, and I do not know what punishment awaits me.

-Emperor Aurangzeb

The Mughal-Maratha Wars indirectly begin with Shivaji Maharaj, born in 1630 as the son of a wealthy regional general. Arguably instigated by sanctions against Hindi people in India, Shivaji attacked multiple Mughal military posts in Bijapur. After achieving initial success, he was beaten by a Mughal force sent by Emperor Aurangzeb and imprisoned, along with his son Sambhaji Maharaj. This did not stop Shivaji, however; in 1666 he escaped prison with his son.

The Mughal-Maratha Wars Sambhaji Study SmarterModern-day statue of Sambhaji Maharaj. Source: Apricus, CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated, Wikimedia Commons.

Growing in popularity and power in the west, Shivaji established the Maratha Empire in 1674 and named himself its leader. Territorial disputes continued in the Deccan Peninsula, but it was not until 1680 that war began in earnest. Shivaji died that same year, with his son Sambhaji inheriting the empire. Meanwhile, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb positioned himself and his army of half a million men in the Deccan Peninsula to destroy to Maratha Empire.

Mughal-Maratha Battles:

Throughout the conflict, the Marathas were greatly outnumbered by the Mughal forces. But while the Mughals waged costly and conventional warfare against their foes, believing that superior numbers and resources would win battles, the Marathas waged their own kind of war using guerilla tactics. Cutting off supply lines, conducting hit-and-run raids, and utilizing knowledge of the land to their advantage, the Marathas consistently found the upper hand in military engagements during the Mughal-Maratha Wars. Even more so, the Maratha people were fighting for everything they believed in: their families, home, freedom, and religious practice of Hinduism. By contrast, the Mughal army was comprised of many foreign mercenaries with little passion for their cause.

Mughal vs Maratha War

The Mughal-Maratha Wars proceeded from 1680 to 1707, covering nearly three decades of war. Sambhaji Maharaj's reign marks the first official Maratha reign of the conflict. He was later replaced by his brother Rajaram in 1989, and then Rajaram's wife in 1700. While the war ended in the hands of Shivaji's son's wife Tarabai, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb witnessed the rise and fall of his empire throughout the lengthy conflict.

The Mughal-Maratha Wars Battle Study SmarterArt depicting the Siege of Golconda. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Sambhaji's Reign during the Mughal-Maratha Wars

During Sambhaji's reign of the Maratha Empire, from 1681 to 1689, the Marathas and Mughals fought back and forth battles, with the Marathas gaining the upper edge. The Mughals had the support of Portuguese forces in the region, but even European intervention was denied by the Marathas. Sambhaji carried on his father's tradition of defiance for nearly a decade, until he was betrayed by one of his men and captured by the Mughals. Sambhaji was executed, and his wife and son were captured.

…the conquest of the Deccan, to which, Aurangzeb devoted the last 26 years of his life, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory, costing an estimated hundred thousand lives a year during its last decade of futile chess game warfare. The expense in gold and rupees can hardly be accurately estimated.

-Historian Stanley A. Wolpert

Rajaram's Reign during the Mughal-Maratha Wars

Rajaram, Sambhaji's brother, took up the mantle of leadership over the Maratha Empire from 1689 to 1700. He continued in his brother's footsteps, leading his people to victory after victory in the war. Aurangzeb soon realized that his armies were being humiliated and that the war would not end anytime soon. The Mughals found some victory in capturing the Maratha capital of Jinji, but their casualties had been very high and the Marathas simply relocated their command to another city.

Tarabai's Reign during the Mughal-Maratha Wars

Following Rajaram's death in 1700 due to lung disease, Tarabai inherited the Maratha Empire, as well as the war it was waging. Like her husband and his brother, Tarabai led the Maratha Empire to victories in the wars against the Mughal Empire.

The Mughal-Maratha Wars Tarabai Study SmarterPainting depicting Tarabai. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

During the most intense period of war, Tarabi served as regent ruler of the surprisingly successful Maratha Empire. With the Mughal treasuries emptying, the Marathas mounted effective counter-attacks into the Mughal territory, taking the battle outside of their home in the Deccan Plateau. In 1707, Emperor Aurangzeb died and left his Mughal Empire in a state of ruin. In defending their homeland, the Marathas had won the war.

Aftermath of the Mughal-Maratha War

The Maratha Empire continued to expand after the war, eventually breaking into smaller states during the second half of the 18th century. The Mughal Empire continued on, greatly diminished by losses from the Mughal-Maratha Wars. With India largely divided after years of war, the British were given an opening.

The East India Trading Company first ingrained itself in the Indian economy, providing opportunities for Indian troops as mercenaries in foreign wars. British politics followed, then the British military. After the failed Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British, coordinated mainly by the last vestiges of the weakened Mughal Empire, Britain had secured a firm grip on the subcontinent.

Mughal Maratha Wars - Key takeaways

  • The Mughal-Maratha Wars took place from 1680 to 1707 and were fought between the rebellious Maratha Empire and the mighty Mughal Empire.
  • The Marathas were led by three different rulers over the course of the war: Sambhaji, Rajaram, and Tarabai. The Mughals were ruled by Emperor Aurangzeb from the beginning of the war to his eventual death in 1707.
  • The Maratha Empire captured land and resisted Mughal invasions as a response to the subjugation of Hindu people in India, beginning the war. Emperor Aurangzeb was a strict Muslim who acted against the Hindu religion.
  • With the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the Maratha Empire secured victory during the Mughal-Maratha Wars.
  • The devastation of the Mughal-Maratha Wars and the following political turmoil opened India up to greater European intervention. The British began dominating India in the second half of the 18th century.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mughal Maratha Wars

The Mughal-Maratha Wars were a series of conflicts fought between the Maratha Empire and Mughal Empire in western India from 1680 to 1707. 

The Marathas fought the Mughals to defend their free religious practice of Hinduism in India under a Muslim-dominated Mughal Empire. 

Under the reign of Tarabai, the wife of one of Shivaji's sons, the Maratha Empire defeated Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, ending the Mughal-Maratha Wars. 

In the early 19th century, the Maratha Empire was conquered by invading British forces.

After nearly three decades of fighting, Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707. With his death and the diminishing power of the Mughals, the Maratha Empire secured victory against the mighty Mughal Empire in the war. 

Final Mughal Maratha Wars Quiz


What was the jizya tax?

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A tax on only non-Muslim people in India, imposed by Emperor Aurangzeb preceding the Mughal-Maratha Wars. 

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Why did the Maratha Empire rebel against the Mughal Empire? 

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Emperor Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire was imposing harsh restrictions on Hindu people in India. 

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Who was the founder of the Maratha Empire? 

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Shivaji Maharaj

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Who had the more powerful military before the onset of the Mughal-Maratha Wars? 

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The Mughal Empire

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What is the name of the region that the Maratha Empire was built upon (where much of the Mughal-Maratha Wars took place)? 

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The Deccan Peninsula 

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What best describes Tarabai as leader of the Maratha Empire? 

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The last Maratha leader of the Mughal-Maratha Wars, the former wife of Rajaram who saw her empire to final victory in the war. 

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How did he Mughal-Maratha Wars end? 

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With the death of Emperor Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire's military and economy were deflated. The Marathas were successful in defending their homeland and began to invade Mughal territories. 

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What was the significance of the capture of the Maratha capital of Jinji during the Mughal-Maratha Wars? 

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The Mughals were successful in capturing the city but had incurred heavy casualties in doing so. 

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How did the Mughal-Maratha Wars impact India's relationship with European powers in the 18th century? 

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The devastation of the conflict and resulting instability opened up opportunities for greater British intervention in India. 

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What happened to Sambhaji, the first ruler of the Maratha Empire during the Mughal-Maratha Wars? 

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He was captured and executed by the Mughals after having been betrayed by one of his men in 1689.  

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