Military Wiki
Maratha Navy
Mahratta pirates attacking the sloop 'Aurora', of the Bombay Marine, 1812; beginning of the action.jpg
Mahratta Grabs and Gallivats attacking the sloop Aurora of the Bombay Marine.
Active circa 1650-1750
Country India
Allegiance Maratha Empire
Type Navy
Size Peak Size - Around 60 warships
Daria Sarang (Admiral of the Mahratta Fleet)[1] Supreme commander

The Maratha Navy refers to the naval wing of the armed forces of Maratha Empire, which existed from around mid-17th century to mid-18th century in India. Maratha naval power dominated the military scene in India for three centuries.[2] The founder of Maratha Empire Chhatrapati Shivaji is considered as the Father of Indian Navy.[3]

Formative years

The legendary emperor Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of Mahratta polity, was the founding father of the naval arm of the Maratha Armed forces. Historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar has noted that nothing proves Shivaji’s genius as a born statesman more clearly than his creation of a navy and naval bases.[4] Under his command, a series of naval bases sprang up along the Konkan coast. He organized two fleets – one under the command of Admiral Mainak Bhandari and the other under Daulet Khan. The officers of Maratha Navy included mercenaries like Siddis and Portuguese, however the sailors were mostly Konkanis.[5] Circa 1659, the Maratha Navy consisted of around 20 warships. In accordance with the established Maratha military culture, Shivaji extended the practice of hiring foreign mercenaries to his navy. One such Portuguese mercenary was the officer named Rui Leitao Viegas, who was appointed to command Shivaji’s fleet.[6]

Maratha Grabs and Gallivats attacking an British East India Company ship

A painted scroll showing Gurab, Galbat and other types of warships of the Maratha Navy

The first test of strength of the Maratha Navy came in 1679, although the British had a taste of it during Shivaji’s attack on Surat in 1664. In 1679, Shivaji annexed the island of Khanderi, situated 11 miles off the entrance to Mumbai. The Anglo-Siddi combine made several sea-borne attacks on the island, but could not dislodge the Marathas from there. The British, the Portuguese, and the Mughals were made to realize that Shivaji was not only powerful on land, but was showing his strength equally at sea.

Under Admiral Kanhoji Angre

A portrait of Admiral Kanhoji Angre

After the death of Admiral Sidhoji Gujar in 1698, the Maratha Navy as such managed to survive primarily because of the untiring efforts of the legendary Admiral Kanhoji Angre. Under this new chief of Maratha Navy, the British naval power was checked along the west coast of India. Admiral Kanhoji Angre owed allegiance to the reigning monarch Chhatrapati Shahu and his chief minister Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath and succeeded in getting their support for establishing an Indian naval presence on the Konkan coast. Under Kanhoji’s command the Marathas developed naval base at Vijayadurg and dockyard facilities for building vessels, mounting guns, and preparing them for sea. Their armada then consisted of 10 Gurabs/Grabs (warship) and 50 Gallivats (warboat). Some of the Grabs were as big as 400 tons and the Gallivats were 120 tons.[7] They also possessed Pal (Maratha Man-of-war), which was a three-masted boat with guns peeping on the broadsides.[8] By the beginning of the 18th century, Kanhoji Angre was in the possession of the entire coast from Savantwadi to Mumbai. There was hardly a creek, cove, harbour, or estuary, where he had not established fortifications, such as fortress or citadel with navigational facilities. Any ship voyaging through Maratha territorial waters was to pay a levy called Chouth, thus showing Angre's supremacy in those areas.[9] Angre remained undefeated against the combined British-Portuguese Naval force till his death in 1729.[10]


The Maratha naval power dwindled rapidly by the middle of the eighteenth century, especially when compared to the British Navy. Unlike Kanhoji Angre, his successor Admiral Tulaji Angre, defied the authority of the then reigning Peshwa, de facto chief of Maratha Empire, Nanasaheb Peshwa. The British took advantage of the opportunity and burnt major part of Tulaji’s fleet. The Peshwas (in concert with the British) waged a war against Tulaji. The Peshwas tried to revive the navy under the command of the Dhulaps, but without success. Thus the Maratha Navy could never reach its past glories and was in a crippled state by the beginning of the First Anglo-Maratha War.[11] In the 1760s and 1780s, the Maratha Navy was commanded first by Rudraji Dhulap and later by Anandrao Dhulap. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, as and when the Marathas were at war with the English or Haider Ali of Mysore, the Maratha Navy took part in offensive operations against enemy ships. In 1818, upon the conclusion of the third and final Anglo-Maratha War, the Angre family became the feudatory of the British and the small Angre state was finally annexed to British India in 1840.[12]

In popular media

The 2007 Hollywood film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End portrays a character named Sri Sumbahjee, which is a purported reference to a Maratha Naval officer


  • The Western Naval command of the Indian Navy has been named INS Angre, in the memory of the legendary Admiral Kanhoji Angre[13]
  • In April 1999, the Indian Postal Service released a Rupee 3 stamp showing a Gurab (naval ship) of Kanhoji Angre's fleet as depicted in a c. 1700 AD painting.

See also


  1. Sardesai, HS. Shivaji, the Great Maratha, Volume 3. Cosmo Publications. pp. 649. 
  2. "Bharat-Rakshak". 
  3. Sheshadri, Veena. India: A to Z. Puffin Books. pp. 22. ISBN 978-93-5118-426-3. 
  4. Bhave, YG. From the Death of Shivaji to the Death of Aurangzeb: The Critical Years. Northern Book Centre. pp. 28. 
  5. Sridharan, K. Sea: Our Saviour. New Age International (P) Ltd.. pp. 42. 
  6. Cooper, Randolf GS. The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. Cambridge University Press. pp. 31. 
  7. Sridharan, K. Sea: Our Saviour. New Age International (P) Ltd.. pp. 43. 
  8. Sorokhaibam, Jeneet. Chhatrapati Shivaji: The Maratha Warrior and His Campaign. Vij Books. pp. 38. 
  9. Sridharan, K. Sea: Our Saviour. New Age International (P) Ltd.. pp. 43. 
  10. Chander, Prakash. India: Past and Present. APH Publishing Corporation. pp. 236. 
  11. Kantak, MR. The First Anglo-Maratha War, 1774-1783: A Military Study of Major Battles. Bombay Popular Prakashan. pp. 21. 
  12. Sharma, Yogesh. Coastal Histories: Society and Ecology in Pre-modern India. Primus Books. pp. 66. ISBN 978-93-80607-00-9. 
  13. "Global Security". 

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