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History: The Marathas & The Europeans

The Marathas

The rise of the Maratha power played an important role in the second half of the 17th century. In the Middle Ages, the Marathas upheld the national cause under the Yadavas of Devagiri. But with the defeat of Ramachandradeva by Ala-ud-din Khalji, they lost their independence. But in the 17th century they were organised into a national state.



Shivaji was the hero of the Maratha national movement. He was born in 1627 (or 1630) and his mother Jiji Bhai groomed him by infusing high and inspiring ideas of heroism, spirituality and chivalry into Shivaji's mind. In 1646 he captured the fortress of Torna. Since then he raided, sacked acquired and annexed many forts and territories. With cunning planning and shrewdness, he always outwitted his enemies and opponents. In 1674 Shivaji crowned himself king at Rajgarh. He died on 14th April 1680 at the age of 53 (or 50).

Shivaji, a born leader who could throw a spell over all who came in contact with him, elevated himself by his unusual bravery and diplomacy. He brought together the Maratha race that was scattered through many Deccani kingdoms. The Maratha nation that he built up defied the Mughal Empire during and after Aurangaseb's reign. It remained the dominant power in the 18th century. The Maratha power competed with the English for supremacy in India until it was finally crushed in the time of Lord Hastings.

The Europeans

India had commercial relations with the west from time immemorial. By 7th century AD, Arabs were dominating India's sea-borne trade. The geographical discoveries of the late 15th century produced far-reaching consequences on the trade relations of different countries.

The Portuguese

The discovery of a new route to India by Vasco da Gama who landed in Calicut on the 17th of May 1498 brought the merchants of Portugal to India. Alfonso de Albuquerque came to India in 1503. He laid the foundation for Portuguese power in India. When he died in 1515, Portuguese were left as the strongest naval power in the west cost of India.

A number of important settlements were gradually established near the sea by the successors of Albuquerque. These were Diu, Daman, Salsette, Bassein, Chaul and Bombay, Goa, San Thome near Madras, Hugli in Bengal and a major part of Ceylon. But they lost their authority over the places due to many reasons except Goa, Daman and Diu those they held until 1961.

The Dutch

With a view to getting direct access to the spice markets in the Southeast Asia, the Dutch formed the Dutch East India Company in 1602. In 1605 they captured Amboyna from the Portuguese. They conquered Jakarta in 1619 and captured Malacca in 1641. They got possession of the last of Portuguese settlements in Ceylon.

Commercial interest drew Dutch to India as well. They established factories in Gujarat, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and the Coromandal coast. But they confined themselves to Malay Archipelago while the English, their trade rivals, concentrated in India.

The English

The completion of Drake's voyage around the world in 1580 and the victory over the Spanish Armada encouraged some English sea captains to undertake voyages to the eastern waters. A major step towards England's commercial prosperity was taken up on 31st December 1600 by giving the monopoly over eastern trades to The East India Company. They arrived early in the 17th century and established trading posts along the coasts. In 1668 Bombay was transferred to the company by Charles II, who got it from the Portuguese as part of the dowry of his wife Catherine of Braganza, at an annual rental of ten Pound Sterling. They have started factories in many places and many commercial treaties were signed with local rulers. Thus the British made their presence felt but entirely on commercial terms.

The French

Though the desire for eastern traffic was displayed itself at a very early period, the French were the last to come to India. By 1668 the French established their first factory at Surat followed by another at Machilipatnam in 1669. In 1673 the French obtained a small village from the Muslim Governor of Valikondapuram and laid the foundation of Pondicherry.

The European rivalry between the Dutch and the French adversely affected the French in India. They gradually lost their influence and abandoned their factories at Surat, Machilipatnam and Bantam. Later with turn of tide, they occupied Mauritius in 1721, Mahe on the Malabar Coast in 1725 and Kariakal in 1739.

The British Raj

The rivalries developed among the European countries influenced the policies of their counter parts in India. They allied with the local rulers for consolidating their positions in India. Though initially commercial, they developed territorial and political ambitions and manipulated local rivalries and enmities to their advantages. The British were the ultimate winners in this political manoeuvre

In the period between 1740 and 1765, they steadily increased their influence politically, militarily and commercially. They engaged the French in battles and ultimately defeated them. Their victory over the Nawab of Bengal in 1757, in the battle of Plassey established their supremacy in the east cost. In 1765 they concluded a treaty with Bengal where the entire management of administration should be left with a minister who would be nominated by the British and could not be dismissed without their consent. This practically kept the control of Administration in their hands while the Nawab remained merely a figurehead. They gradually extended their rule over the entire subcontinent either by direct annexation or acting as suzerain for local rulers.

Unlike former rulers of India, the British continued its commercial activities monopolising on all trades. India gave a major boost to the Industrial Revolution by being the provider of cheap raw material and capital. India was a large captive market for British Industry.

By the middle of 19th century, the major part of the subcontinent was under direct British rule while many local rulers were retained as subsidiaries of the British Empire. This left them completely to the mercy of the Company administratively and militarily. By 1757 India became the British Empire achieved by unrestrained and unscrupulous methods employed by the British with the only intention to expand the Empire by any means.