Shahaji's son, Shivaji, born at the Shivneri fort on February 19, 1630, was
the creator of the Maratha nation. He united the Maratha chiefs from Maval,
Konkan and Desh regions and carved out a small kingdom by defeating the alien
powers. He stabilised the state with effective civil and military administration
and adopted a policy of religious tolerance to accommodate all religions and
sects in his state. He was the first Maratha Chhatrapati (ruler) to start the
Raj Shaka (royal era) and issue the gold coin, shivarai hon - on the occasion of
his coronation (1674). His premature death at the age of 50 (April 5, 1680)
created a vacuum.
Shivaji's son, Sambhaji (1657-1689), during his short reign of nine years, in addition to domestic feuds, was confronted with the Siddis, the Portuguese and the Mughals. His cold-blooded murder (1689) by the Mughals inspired a wave of patriotism in the Maratha region, and the Marathas, under the leadership of his brother, Rajaram (1670-1700), waged a War of Independence against the imperial army of Aurangazeb who, until his death (1707), struggled in vain to eradicate Maratha power.
Historians regard Bajirao I the founder of Greater Maharashtra, because it was under his reign that Maharashtra became the centre of Indian politics. During his short career, he established Marathi supremacy in the Deccan and political hegemony in the North. His son, Balaji (1740-1761) succeeded him and expanded the Maratha borders to Attack (Punjab). The Peshwas thus became the de facto rulers of Maharashtra, and Pune became the centre of Maratha politics. The tragic disaster of the Marathas at Panipat (1761) at the hands of the Afghan ruler, Abdali, temporarily weakened their power but did not destroy it. Madhavrao I (1761-1772), a noble Peshwa, restored Maratha prestige by defeating the enemies and introducing efficient administration. His premature death was a great destabiliser of Maratha power. Grant Duff says, "The plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha empire than the early end of this excellent prince."
The domestic feuds that ensued led to the murder of the next Peshwa leader, Narayanrao (1773), whose posthumous child, Madhavrao II (1773-1795), managed the affairs of state with the help of the Barbhai council, of which Nana Phadnis and Mahadji Shinde were prominent members. Power thus shifted from the Peshwas to the Karbharis (managers). The English gradually began to intrude into Maratha territory. They were humbled in 1781, but the last Peshwa, Bajirao II (1795-1818) succumbed, and surrendered power in 1818. Mountstuart Elphinstone, the liquidator of Maratha power, then created a Maratha state at Satara by installing Pratap Singh (1793-1847), a descendant of Shahu, on the throne as Raja to win the sympathies of the Marathas. He was deposed in 1839, and his brother Shahaji became Raja. The state lapsed to the English in 1849. Thus the hegemony of the Marathas-who had dominated the political scene of Indian history for over two centuries-came to an end.