History of the Marathas Part 1

The Marathas 1600-1818 (The New Cambridge History of India)In presenting to my readers this humble attempt to popularise some of the ballads of the Marathas, it may not be out of place to submit a slight sketch of the early history and the poetic literature of the people whose national energies they commemorate. The Maratha race has been for centuries, and is still, among the most important of those which inhabit the Indian Peninsula. The three most powerful of the Hindu princes who acknowledge allegiance to the Imperial Crown of Britain, viz. Sindia, Holkar, and the Gaikwar, are Marathas, and their court language is Marathi, though this is not the language of the countries over which they rule. But every one of. these three princes has his ancestral home in the Maratha Dcccan and bears a Marathi name. The same is the case with the princely house of Tanjore. The Maratha ditch at Calcutta testifies to exploits at a scene even more distant from Maharashtra, and on the fatal day of Paniput the Maratha armies upheld the cause of India against the Afghan invader fifty miles to the northward of Delhi, the capital of the Great Mogul.

The British dominion, quelling all internal aggression by a might too great to be contested, has left no opportunity of judging whether the flood-tide of Maratha success would ever have ebbed back into its ancient boundaries, or even have been there overwhelmed by the waves of a newer and more vigorous race of Asiatic conquerors; but during the years when India was 'becoming red,' the Marathas were probably still the most powerful political integer within it, and if the British flag were withdrawn again into the ocean, and if (an impossible ' if) no other European power intruded, I at least believe that once again, from the Punjab to Cape Comorin, princes and people would listen to the thundering tramp of the Maratha horsemen.

The Marathas claim to be the people of the Maharashtra, or great nation. There has been much speculation as to the origin of the word Maratha. Some take it from Rathod, the name of a Rajput clan, with the prefix inaha^ or great. I believe the word Rathod is in fact derived from nearly the same source as the word Maratha, that is, from the word Ratta, or Rathakuda. Some deduce Maratha from Maharashtra, and some from the word Marahatta; others hold it to be a corruption of the word Maharatha, or Maha-ratta. Dr. Bhandarkar, in his history of the Deccan, observes that from cave inscriptions it is apparent that from early times tribes of Kshatriyas or Warriors, calling themselves Bhojas or Rathis, were predominant in the country, and that, in the northern part of the Deccan or Maharashtra, they called themselves Maharathis or Great Rathis, but that in other places the name in use must have been Rathis or Rathas. That the name Ratha, or rather Ratta, was common in the Southern Maratha country, is made clear from the interesting account of old inscriptions relating to the Ratta chieftains of Belgaum and Saundatti published by

Mr. J. F. Fleet, CLE., of the Indian Civil Service (Journal R. A. Society, x. 167-298). In ancient copper-plate grants, as well as inscriptions, we often meet the word Maharatha, and I am inclined to think that the derivation from Maha-ratta is correct. A race is sometimes named after a country, sometimes a country after a race. The Sassenachs of Scotland are called Scotch because they live in Scotland, though they have no affinity to the race which has given its name to the country. England is called England after the Angles or English, who were by no means the most important section of the Danish

or Low Dutch invaders. I think it probable that the name Maharashtra was derived or Sanskritised from the word Maharatta, that is, a race of Maharathas or great warriors, and not that the word Maratha comes by the inverse process from Maharashtra. The best proof of this is that the land of the Marathas is known in their early Puranas as Dakshinapatha or Dandakaranya, and not Maharashtra. At any rate, whether the word Maratha is derived from Maha-rathod, Mara-hatta, Maha-rashtra, or Maharatha, there is little doubt that it is meant to signify a race brave and hardy, and probably pugnacious.

The earliest mention of the word Maharatta that I know of is in connection with a deputation of missionaries to various countries by King Ashoka to propagate the faith of
Gautama Buddha.
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