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The Marathas - Maratha Administration under Peshwas (1714-1818) | 11th History : Chapter 15 : The Marathas

Chapter: 11th History : Chapter 15 : The Marathas

Maratha Administration under Peshwas (1714-1818)

The Peshwa was one of the Ashta Pradhan of Shivaji. This office was not a hereditary one.

Maratha Administration under Peshwas (1714-1818)

The Peshwa was one of the Ashta Pradhan of Shivaji. This office was not a hereditary one. As the power and prestige of the king declined, the Peshwas rose to prominence. The genius of Balaji Vishwanath (1713-1720) made the office of the Peshwa supreme and hereditary. The Peshwas virtually controlled the whole administration, usurping the powers of the king. They were also recognized as the religious head of the state.

Central Secretariat

The centre of the Maratha administration was the Peshwa Secretariat at Poona. It dealt with the revenues and expenditure of all the districts, the accounts submitted by the village and district officials. The pay and rights of all grades of public servants and the budgets under civil, military and religious heads were also handled. The daily register recorded all revenues, all grants and the payments received from foreign territories.


Provinces under the Peshwas were of various sizes. Larger provinces were under the provincial governors called Sar-subahdars. The divisions in the provinces were termed Subahs and Pranths. The Mamlatdar and Kamavistar were Peshwa’s representatives in the districts. They were responsible for every branch of district administration. Deshmukhs and Deshpandes were district officers who were in charge of accounts and were to observe the activities of Mamlatdars and Kamavistars. It was a system of checks and balances.

In order to prevent misappropriation of public money, the Maratha government collected a heavy sum (Rasad) from the Mamlatdars and other officials. It was collected on their first appointment to a district. In Baji Rao II’s time, these offices were auctioned off. The clerks and menials were paid for 10 or 11 months in a year.

Village Administration

The village was the basic unit of administration and was self-supportive. The Patel was the chief village officer and was responsible for remitting revenue collections to the centre. He was not paid by the government. His post was hereditary. The Patel was helped by the Kulkarni or accountant and record-keeper. There were hereditary village servants who had to perform the communal functions. The carpenters, blacksmiths and other village artisans gave begar or compulsory labour.

Urban Administration

In towns and cities the chief officer was the Kotwal. The maintenance of peace and order, regulation of prices, settling civil disputes and sending of monthly accounts to the governments were his main duties. He was the head of the city police and also functioned as the magistrate.

Sources of Revenue

Land revenue was the main source of income. The Peshwas gave up the system of sharing the produce of the agricultural land followed under Shivaji’s rule. The Peshwas followed the system of tax farming. Land was settled against a stipulated amount to be paid annually to the government. The fertility the land was assessed for fixation of taxes. Income was derived from the forests. Permits were given on the payment of a fee for cutting trees and using pastures. Revenue was derived even from the sale of grass, bamboo, fuel wood, honey and the like.

The land revenue assessment was based on a careful survey. Land was divided into three classes: according to the kinds of the crops, facilities for irrigation, and productivity of the land. The villagers were the original settlers who acquired the forest. They could not be deprived of their lands. But only the Patel could represent their rights to the higher authorities.

Other sources of revenue were Chauth and Sardeshmukhi.

The Chauth was divided into

i.    25 percent for the ruler

ii. 66 percent for Maratha officials and military heads for the maintenance of troops.

iii.   6 percent for the Pant Sachiv (Chief, a Brahman by birth)

iv.    3 percent for the tax collectors.

Customs, excise duties and sale of forest produce also yielded much income. Goldsmiths were allowed to mint coins on payment of royalty to the government and getting license for the purpose. They had to maintain a certain standard. When it was found that the standard was not being met all private mints were closed in 1760 and a central mint was established.

Miscellaneous taxes were also collected. It included 1. Tax on land, held by Deshmukhs and Deshpandes. 2. Tax on land kept for the village Mahars. 3. Tax on the lands irrigated by wells. 4. House tax from all except Brahmins and village officials. 5. Annual fee for the testing of weights and measures. 6. Tax on the re-marriage of widows. 7. Tax on sheep and buffaloes. 8. Pasture fee. 9. Tax on melon cultivation in river beds. 10. Succession duty. 11. Duty on the sale of horses, etc. When the Maratha government was in financial difficulty, it levied on all land-holders, Kurja-Patti or Tasti -Patti, a tax equal to one year’s income of the tax-payer.

The administration of justice also earned some income. A fee of 25% was charged on money bonds. Fines were collected from persons suspected or found guilty of adultery. Brahmins were exempted from duty on things imported for their own use.

Police System

Watchmen, generally the Mahars, were employed in every village. But whenever crime was on the rise, government sent forces from the irregular infantry to control crimes. The residents of the disturbed area had to pay an additional house tax to meet the expenditure arising out of maintaining these armed forces.

Baji Rao II appointed additional police officers to detect and seize offenders. In the urban areas, magisterial and police powers were given to the Kotwal. Their additional duties were to monitor the prices, take a census of the inhabitants, conduct trials on civil cases, supply labour to the government and levy fees from the professional duties given to the Nagarka or police superintendent.

Judicial System

The Judicial System was very imperfect. There was no codified law. There were no rules of procedure. Arbitration was given high priority. If it failed, then the case was transferred for decision to a panchayat appointed by the Patel in the village and by the leading merchants in towns. The panchayat was a powerful institution. Re-trial also took place. Appeals were made to the Mamlatdar.

In criminal cases there was a hierarchy of the judicial officers. At the top was the Raja Chhatrapati and below him were the Peshwa, Sar- Subahdar, the Mamlatdar and the Patel. Flogging and torture were inflicted to extort confession.


The Maratha military system under the Peshwas was modelled on the Mughal military system. The mode of recruitment, payment of salaries, provisions for the families of the soldiers, and the importance given to the cavalry showed a strong resemblance to the Mughal military system.

The Peshwas gave up the notable features of the military system followed under Shivaji. Shivaji had recruited soldiers locally from Maratha region. But the Peshwas drafted soldiers from all parts of India and from all social groups. The army had Arabs, Abyssinians, Rajputs, Rohillas and Sikhs. The Peshwa’s army comprised mercenaries of the feudal chieftains. As the fiefs of the rival chiefs were in the same area, there were lots of internal disputes. It affected the solidarity of the people of the Maratha state.


The cavalry was naturally the main strength of the Maratha army. Every jagirdar had to bring a stipulated number of horsemen for a general muster, every year. The horsemen were divided into three classes based on the quality of the horses they kept.

Infantry and Artillery

The Marathas preferred to serve in the cavalry. So men for infantry were recruited from other parts of the country. The Arabs, Rohillas, Sikhs and Sindhis in the Maratha infantry were paid a higher salary compared to the Maratha soldiers. The Maratha artillery was manned mostly by the Portuguese and Indian Christians. Later on, the English were also recruited.


The Maratha navy was built for the purpose of guarding the Maratha ports, thereby checking piracy, and collecting customs duties from the incoming and outgoing ships. Balaji Vishwanath built naval bases at Konkan, Khanderi and Vijayadurg. Dockyard facilities were also developed.


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