THE HISTORICAL TUG OF WAR for power between Marathas and Brahmins has influenced Maharashtra’s politics since the time of the Maratha empire.
Founded by the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji Bhonsle I, who assumed the title of Chhatrapati, the kingdom reached its peak in the 1750s, when it spanned approximately two and a half million square kilometres—from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu to present-day Peshawar in Pakistan in the west, and Bengal in the east.
The rapid expansion of the empire in the mid-eighteenth century happened during what is known as the Peshwa era. A few decades after the death of Shivaji, the Peshwas—Brahmin executives of the Maratha Chhatrapati—became more powerful than the Chhatrapati himself. While the Maratha Chhatrapati was reduced to a titular head, the Brahmin Peshwa held the highest administrative office. To keep the kingdom together, the Peshwas granted semi-autonomy to Maratha chieftains such as the Pawars of Dhar, the Scindias of Gwalior and the Bhosales of Nagpur, and the empire became a confederacy. But to this day, the disempowerment of Maratha rulers by Brahmin ministers rankles for the Maratha community.