Visual Art During the Maratha Period

One of the primary sources of gleaning the life, styles, and lifestyles of historical figures is through art. Art achieved great heights during the Mughal patronage and continued to flourish under Jaipur and Deccan patronage. After the decline of the Mughal empire, artists sought patronage in Rajasthan and in the Deccan. It is generally assumed Aurangzeb is responsible for the decline of the arts in the Mughal dominions. Yet, there is evidence that it was not always so, and he moved away from arts at a later stage in his life.


Aurangzeb holds court, as painted by (perhaps) Bichitr; Shaistah Khan stands behind Prince Muhammad Azam By Cordanrad [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The migration of artists was not just a result of their quest for favourable patronage, it was also political. An artist was a part of the loot of the war and ended up moving to serve a new master, in a new region, in a new culture. This led the blending of various styles, a coming together of schools, so-to-speak.

The decline of the Mughal Empire led to the migration of artists to the Deccan, where they would receive patronage to continue their work. However, we see little development of visual art (specifically, painting), during this period, in Maharashtra and specifically in Western Maharashtra, the seat of the Peshwas. The rule and reign of the Peshwa era, from the mid-1700s, was growing around the same time that the Mughal empire was in decline, so it would seem that the artists would make a beeline to this power centre too. Yet, it seems, that this did not happen. There are paintings of Maratha chieftains and others that were created during this period, but these were primarily created by artists from other dominions and schools of art. It is not until the later decades of the 1700s that we see some development in the painting discipline, by the Marathas. And this development had much to do with the contact of the Marathas with Rajasthan and European influences, than the natural transmigration of artists from the north or from the Deccan. If any significant advances were made (in the art of painting) in this region in the late-17th or the early-18th century, there is a serious lack of evidence, documentation, and research.

Little is known of Maratha painting. A few superb miniatures have come to light, but it is still impossible to reconstruct the extent or the chronology of any school. Probably each centre of Maratha power had its own regional style of portraiture; outside the Deccan the maharajas of Gwalior and Baroda must have also patronised miniature painting which had some links with Deccani styles because of the ruling families’ dynastic ties to Maharashtra. (Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999)


Inscribed above: Maharaja Sambhajiraje.  Maratha, late 17th century.  Opaque pigments and gold on paper, 146 by 220mm (including border). - See more at:

Inscribed above: Maharaja Sambhajiraje. Maratha, late 17th century. Opaque pigments and gold on paper, 146 by 220mm (including border). – See more at: An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings

Also, in this post, I refer specifically to Western Maharashtra, because a well-known school of painting was established by the Tanjore branch of the Marathas (1674 – 1855) to promote visual art.

This is not to say that there was no development or evolution of art during the reign of the Marathas. Significant advances were made in performance art and “craft-related art” during this period, which perhaps, will be the subject of another post.

Chh. Shivaji’s preoccupation was primarily with building an empire and his priorities therefore did not include patronage of art. During the establishment of the Maratha supremacy, in the early years, available resources were strategically invested in military affairs and the resurrection and establishment of a people-friendly and functional administrative system. It is no surprise then, that of the available contemporary portraits of Shivaji, not a single one has been painted by a Maratha artist. There is however, another argument that merits discussion. One of the purposes of the paintings in the Mughal Empire was documentation. We see glimpses of the lives, events, and the environment of the Mughal ethos in these paintings. And if documentation be the purpose, the Marathas were definitely not lacking. Visual documentation is cumbersome and time-consuming. The Marathas chose prose over painting, in the form of Bakhars.

The term Bakhar is a metathetical form of the Arabic word Khabar, which means news or report. […] The writers of Bakhars wrote imitating the Tawarikhs of the muslim potentates. […] Rajwade estimates the total number of bakhars at more than two-hundred. Actually only half of them are extant and of these about seventy have so far been published. (The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Maratha Supremacy. Ed. R. C. Majumdar and V. G. Dighe. 3rd ed. Vol. VIII. Bombay: Bharatīya Vidya Bhavan)

From the mid-1700s we see increased interaction of the Marathas with powers, north of the Narmada, when campaigns were led into Malwa, Gujarat, Bundelkhand, and other parts of Madhya Pradesh. Baji Rao I was welcomed in the courts of Rajasthan as the leader of the Marathas. Almost instantly we see the inclusion of a certain Bhojraj, a well-known artist from Jaipur, who was brought to Pune for the paintings at Shaniwar Wada. Also,

Some great paintings were produced, especially at provincial Deccan centres where artists often worked with greater originality than those at Hyderabad, and at the courts of Maratha rulers, who, after decades of guerilla warfare against the Mughals, were now settling down in the cities of the western Deccan. (Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999)

The intrigues of the court were not merely political in nature, they were cultural too. Manuscripts in Maharashtra which were devoid of any illustration were now being worked on by artists from Rajasthan. Miniatures in the Rajput and Pahari style were being created with religious motifs and symbolism.

Madhu Rao Narayan the Maratha Peshwa with Nana Fadnavis and attendants Poona 1792 by James Wales

Madhu Rao Narayan the Maratha Peshwa with Nana Fadnavis and attendants Poona 1792 By James Wales, 1792 ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As we approach the late-1700s we see the European influence. Sir Charles Warre Malet was the first British Resident at the Peshwa’s court. he was instrumental in getting James Wales, the Scottish artist to Pune. Wales came to Pune in 1790 and created some of the iconic paintings of Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa, Nana Phadnavis, and MadhavRao Scindhia. It was during this time that Sir Malet suggested the establishment of a school of art, which Wales supervised. This is perhaps for the first time, we hear of any formal discipline for painting, in the history of the Marathas. We are aware of one graduate of this school, Gangaram Chintaman Tambat, whose works are still available to us. Undoubtedly, the work of this “Maratha School” has visible European influence.

Parasnis, D. B. "Shanwar Wada." Poona in the Bygone Days

Parasnis, D. B. “Shanwar Wada.” Poona in the Bygone Days

This perhaps marks the reappearance of painting in Maharashtra after a very long time. We see emergence of wall art in places like Wai, Menavali, Motibag, and Satara. We further see the record of names of Maratha artists like Ragho, Tanhaji, Anuprao, and Mankoji.

Vishnu, Menavali. Apte, B. K.; Maratha Wall Paintings: Wai, Menavali, Satara, Pune

Vishnu, Menavali. Apte, B. K.; Maratha Wall Paintings: Wai, Menavali, Satara, Pune

In the early 1800s, it seems that a “Maratha School” was well-established, however, it never reached the popular heights awarded to the Mughal, Deccan, Rajput, or Pahari schools.

Maratha darbar

Durbar hall, unidentified, Maratha school, c.1820. By Maratha school [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While painting as a pursuit and patronage did not find a significant expression in the Maratha context for a long time, it did come to the fore after the late-1700s. Perhaps it was too little, too late. Much later, however, some great artists have emerged from this region to make a significant mark in this space.


  1. Pritchett, F. (n.d.). Aurangzeb holds court, as painted by (perhaps) Bichitr; Shaistah Khan stands behind Prince Muhammad Azam. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  2. Chowdry, A. (2008). The studio practices of painters of the Mughal ateliers. In Contributions to the symposium on the care and conservation of Middle Eastern manuscripts: The University of Melbourne, Australia, 26-28 November 2007 (p. 37). Melbourne, Vic.: Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.
  3. “Tanjore Paintings: Marathas.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.
  4. Kulkarni, AR. Maharashtra in the Age of Shivaji: A Study in Economic History. 2nd ed. Pune: Diamond Publications, 2008. 18. Print.
  5. Apte, B. K. “Introduction.” Maratha Wall Paintings: Wai, Menavali, Satara, Pune. Bombay: Maharashtra State Board for Literature & Culture, 1988. Ix. Print.
  6. Parasnis, D. B. “Shanwar Wada.” Poona in the Bygone Days. Bombay: Times, 1921. 8. Print.
  7. Chavan, Kamal. Maratha Murals: Late Medieval Painting of the Deccan, 1650-1850 A.D. Delhi: B.R. Pub. ;, 1983. 16. Print.
  8. Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski. Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999. 248. Print.
  9. “Language and Literature in the Eighteenth Century.” The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Maratha Supremacy. Ed. R. C. Majumdar and V. G. Dighe. 3rd ed. Vol. VIII. Bombay: Bharatīya Vidya Bhavan, 1977. 666. Print.


The Palkhed Campaign, 1728

About the Campaign

The Palkhed campaign of 1728, is notable for two reasons. First, this campaign has been chosen as brilliant in strategy (“A masterpiece of strategic mobility…“) by Field Marshal Montgomery in his book, A History of Warfare. Whether this was a completely thought-out strategy or circumstances helped formulate this strategy is definitely worth investigating. Secondly, a few historians would claim that the success of this campaign established the Maratha supremacy in the Deccan – and gave way for further adventures; another factor that is worth investigating.

What it did definitely achieve was the handover of the claim of the chauth and sardeshmukhi from Nizam-ul-Mulk to the Shahu


The roots of this campaign were laid early during the reign of Farruksiyar (1713-1719), when the Sayyed brothers agreed to the collection of chauth and sardeshmukhi by the Marathas throughout the six provinces of the Deccan:

  1. Khandesh
  2. Berar
  3. Aurangabad
  4. Bidar
  5. Bijapur, and
  6. Hyderabad

The Nizam was not in favour of this, and after 1720, when the Nizam was again appointed the Vazir of the Mughal Empire, he suspended chauth and sardeshmukhi payments.  This was the primary factor for the Battle of Palkhed. Nizam-ul-Mulk used the grounds that it was unclear, between Shahu and Shambhaji, who the rightful claimant of the chauth and sardeshmukhi was. Also the timing was important because the Peshwa (Baji Rao) and the Maratha Armies were in Karnataka (the state, south of Maharashtra).

Other factors that fuelled the need for the campaign were:

  • Existence of hostility between the courts of Satara (Shahu) and Kolhapur (Shambhaji). This hostility was turned to advantage by Nizam-ul-Mulk, who formed an alliance with Shambhaji, against the Shahu (and Baji Rao)
  • Differences between the Peshwa (Baji Rao) and the Pratinidhi (Shripat Rao). The latter preferred to have good relations with Nizam-ul-Mulk, whereas Baji Rao pursued and advocated an expansionist policy.


Baji Rao and the Maratha armies were called back from the south, from the Karnataka campaign. In May 1727, Baji Rao then asked Shahu to break of negotiations with the Nizam-ul-Mulk (Nizam-ul-Mulk had called for an arbitration over the payment of the chauth and sardeshmukhi) and started mobilizing an army. Baji Rao moved towards Aurangabad.

After a skirmish near Jalna (the Marathas by now had become famous for their strategy of not engaging with the enemy) with Iwaz Khan (the General of Nizam-ul-Mulk), as could have been predicted, Baji Rao moved away from the battlefield, towards Burhanpur (north of Maharashtra, see map below).

Nizam-ul-Mulk’s army pursued Baji Rao. Baji Rao then moved westwards to Gujarat from North Khandesh. However the Nizam-ul-Mulk gave up the pursuit and moved southward towards Pune.

It is worthwhile to note how the two armies functioned. The Nizam is known to have carried huge armies with him, including supplies to last for the duration of the campaign. His army included heavy artillery which slowed down the pace of the army, especially in the rough and uneven terrain of the region. In fact, the Nizam used to carry his jenana or women-folk with him during his campaigns. The Maratha armies however were very light and found supplies on the way by plundering and looting out-posts on the way.

As Nizam-ul-Mulk left the pursuit of Baji Rao and moved towards the headquarters of the Shahu stronghold, posts like Udapur, Avasari, Pabal, Khed, and Narayangarh surrendered to Nizam-ul-Mulk, who then occupied Pune and advanced towards Supa, Patas, and Baramati.

In Baramati, Nizam-ul-Mulk got news of Baji Rao moving towards Aurangabad. Nizam-ul-Mulk began moving northwards to intercept the Maratha Army. By this time he was confident of crushing Baji Rao and his army. It was not to happen so. The Raja of Kolhapur, Shambhaji (not to be confused with Sambhaji, son of Shivaji) refused to join him in this campaign against Baji Rao. Nizam-ul-Mulk was cornered in a waterless tract near Palkhed of 25 February 1728. Nizam-ul-Mulk’s army refused to fight. While he used his artillery to good effect to keep the Marathas away from his army, there was no way for him to escape. Through Iwaz Khan, the Nizam-ul-Mulk sent out word of his plight, and his army was allowed to move to the vicinity of the river.


A peace treaty was signed on 6 March 1728 at Mungi-Paithan. The agreements were:

  • The Nizam recognise Shahu as the rightful leader of the Marathas and that the Nizam would not support Sambhaji (of Kolhapur) and give custody of Sambhaji to the Marathas.
  • Release all chauth and sardeshmukhi payments to the Marathas and honour the Sanad of 1719 (Granting the Shahu the revenues of the six provinces of the Deccan)
  • All Maratha sardars who were removed would be reappointed.

The Nizam agreed to all the clauses except the handover of  Sambhaji of Kolhapur.


Animated Map

(Watch the video in HD for a clearer view of the map)

(c) Atul Sabnis. All rights Reserved.


Kate, P. V. (1987). History of Marathwada under the Nizams. Marathwada under the Nizams, 1724-1948 (pp. 11-14). Delhi, India: Mittal Publications.

Pitre, K. G. (2004). Peshwaicha Kaal. Marathyanche Yuddhtihas (Marathi) (pp. 53-55). Pune: Continental Prakashan. (Original work published 2000)

Gordon, S. (1998). The Marathas 1600-1818. New Delhi: Foundation Books.