Book Review: ‘The Economy of the Maratha Kingdom’ by Kedar M. Phalke

Exploring the Flourishing Maratha Era: Economy, Governance, and Culture


Book Title: The Economy of the Maratha Kingdom c. 1595–1707
Author: Kedar M. Phalke
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Number of Pages: 656
ISBN: 978-9357024914
Date Published: Aug. 10, 2023
Price: INR 721

The Economy of the Maratha Kingdom by Kedar M. Phalke Book Cover

Book Review

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Marathas held significant power and were well-organized rulers known for their strong commitment to “freedom from fear.” They employed a distinctive taxation system called Chauthai, which imposed annual taxes on land, ploughing bullocks, and capital involved in cultivation. This tax was based on profits and income and was not akin to modern income tax. The Marathas were effective administrators, actively promoting education, freedom of speech, press, religion, and expression.

They also controlled the trade of essential commodities such as grains, salt, sugar, and medical provisions. Revenue collection was pivotal to Maratha’s governance, and they excelled as traders, engaging in the commerce of cotton, leather goods, and spices. Their primary domestic trade revolved around cotton and silk textiles.

The Economy of the Maratha Kingdom” by Kedar M. Phalke offers a comprehensive insight into this kingdom’s economy, administration, and social structure. The book delves into revenue administration, agrarian economy, markets, revenue sources, foreign trade, currency systems, demography, and the decline of the Mughal Empire. The contents are divided into twelve chapters and are complemented by illustrations, maps, abbreviations, four appendices, notes, and a glossary to enhance clarity. The bibliography lists the various resources and materials used by the author during his research. The language, narration, content, and artifacts presented in the book are captivating and commendable.

Within the book’s pages, the author acquaints readers with the illustrious rule of the Maratha Kingdom. By the 18th century, the Marathas strategically established villages in the heartlands of the region, spurring population growth and agrarian settlements. Nonetheless, the Poona heartland suffered from inadequate irrigation and a sparse population, posing developmental challenges. Maratha rulers implemented concessional assessments, revenue remissions, and loans to bring new lands under cultivation to address this.

They also incentivized the construction of agricultural infrastructure, including dam-allocated lands. These efforts resulted in economic stratification among peasants, with smaller landholdings diminishing and more prominent landowners increasing due to population, taxation, and food grain prices. The non-cultivating privileged class further solidified its influence over peasants, leading to social differentiation in rural areas.

During the Maratha Empire’s reign, Maharashtra and surrounding regions experienced a flourishing economy, marked by credit institutions operating in towns and rural areas to finance indebted nobility and peasants. The import of copper and cowries in the 18th century Deccan region indicated a vibrant local market hub.

Villagers engaged in local market transactions and received daily wages for agricultural labor, craftsmanship, and domestic services. Cash and kind loans were prevalent among landowners, peasants, agricultural laborers, craftsmen, and soldiers, highlighting a widespread grasp of quantity and calculation among the common populace.

The Marathas primarily consisted of cultivators, landowners, soldiers, traders, and ruling chiefs. Their key sources of income included Land Revenue, Octroi, TaxesConclusion, Textile Industries, International Trade, and Minting. Agricultural activities in the plateau region involved ploughing fields with bullocks and most farmers owned cattle. The prominent Bendur or Pola festival celebrated decorated cattle through processions. To prevent theft and wild animal predation, houses were shared among people.

Staple foods encompassed wheat cakes, rice, lentils, clarified butter, vegetables, and condiments. Less affluent individuals consumed jowar, bhajari, and lentils, while the poorest subsisted on spiced millets. Marathas consumed meat and fish but refrained from beef and pork.

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Led by influential administrators like Shahji, Shivaji, Dadaji Kondadeo, Moropant Pingale, Annaji Datto, Sambhaji, Rajaram, and Ramchandrapant, the Marathas introduced a distinctive land revenue system. In contrast to the Mughals, the Marathas upheld fairness and avoided oppressive land revenue and tax practices, ensuring equitable treatment and nondiscrimination.

They refrained from imposing harsh taxes on other religions, such as kharaj and jiziya. Unlike the Mughals, the Marathas were committed to preserving culture and refrained from engaging in social degradation or cultural destruction.

In conclusion, the meticulously researched work “The Economy of The Maratha Kingdom” by historian Kedar M. Phalke is an essential read for historians and enthusiasts of economics alike.

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