Childhood & Early Life
Tarabai was born on April 14, 1675, into the Mohite household of the Maratha Empire.
Her father, Hambirao Mohite was a famed commander-in-chief of the Maratha army. As a result, she was trained in the arts of archery, sword-fighting, military strategy and statecraft from an early age.
At the age of eight, she was married to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s younger son, Rajaram. This was at a time when the Mughals and the Marathas battled each other constantly to gain control over the Deccan.
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In 1689, Chhatrapati Sambhaji was killed when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s army laid siege to Raigad, and his wife, Yesubai, and son, Shahu, were taken prisoners.
Thus, the title of Chhatrapati passed on to Rajaram, who, along with Tarabai, had managed to escape the siege and reach Gingee Fort (Tamil Nadu), the southernmost post of the kingdom.
When the Mughal army laid siege to the fort, she took command owing to Rajaram’s deteriorating health and managed to hold the fort for eight years. There she also gave birth to Shivaji II in 1696.
With Rajaram succumbed to a chronic lung ailment in 1700, she declared her four-year-old son, Shivaji II, as the successor to the throne and thus became the queen regent, a title she held for eight years.
As regent, she led from the front. She successfully used Aurangzeb’s own tactics against his army and administration. Thus, her forces penetrated deep into the Mughal-held territories of Gujarat and Malwa by 1706. She even managed to appoint her own ‘kamaishdars’ (revenue collectors) in these territories.
With Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, a succession struggle broke out between his sons, Azam Shah and Shah Alam. To create dissention among Tarabai’s followers, the Mughals released Prince Shahu, the son of slain Sambhaji from captivity as a new claimant to the Maratha throne.
She refused Shahu’s claim which resulted in a full-fledged battle. But it also triggered desertion by a few of her commanders who felt that Shahu’s right to succession was most in accordance with the law. She had to finally concede the title of Chhatrapati to him in 1708, thanks partly to the intervention of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath.
Tarabai set up a rival power structure in Kolhapur, but that too was taken away from her by Rajaram’s second wife, Rajasabai, who put her son, Sambhaji II, on the Kolhapur throne instead. Consequently, she and Shivaji II were imprisoned; her son passed away in 1726 while still a prisoner.
Later, when Sambhaji II turned hostile against Chhatrapati Shahu, the latter freed Tarabai from prison and invited her to stay in Satara palace, albeit without any political powers.
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During the final years of Shahu’s life, she brought a child to him and presented him as Ramraja (Ramraja II), her grandson, who she had concealed from everyone fearing for his life. Since Shahu had no heirs, he adopted the young prince who became Chhatrapati Rajaram II following the former’s death in 1749.
However, when Rajaram II did not heed to her wishes to remove Nana Saheb from the post of Peshwa, she had him thrown into a dungeon in Satara in 1750 and citing that he was an imposter, she disowned him. In that period, a section of the Satara garrison also rebelled against her, and while she quelled the mutiny, she also realized it would be difficult to hold on to power.
She finally agreed to a truce with Peshwa Nana Saheb in 1752, wherein she accepted the latter’s authority, and her role as that of a dowager, albeit a sovereign and powerful one. Nana Saheb reinstalled Rajaram II as the titular Chhatrapati.
During her eight-year reign as regent of the Maratha Empire, Tarabai was personally responsible for leading the Maratha rebellion against Aurangzeb, who at the time was perhaps the most powerful ruler in the world. That the Marathas were able to gain inroads into the Mughal strongholds of Gujarat and Malwa is a testimony to her military strategy and leadership.
A Mughal chronicler described how Tarabai’s greatest strength was in gaining the confidence of her officers, as a result of which the Maratha power increased by the day despite the best attempts of the Mughal king Aurangzeb.
The Portuguese in their chronicles referred to her as ‘Rainha dos Marathas’ (Queen of the Marathas).
Family & Personal Life
Tarabai was one of the three wives of Chhatrapati Rajaram I. She got married to him when she was only eight years old.
She had one son, Shivaji II, who was born in 1696 in Gingee Fort at a time when the Mughal army had laid siege on the fort. He served as the Raja of Kolhapur between 1710 and 1714.
She passed away on 9th December 1761, aged 86, in Satara, having had outlived her family as well as her political adversaries.