History of Maratha Empire is studied on the basis of available historical
sources which include written documents, material sources and
even oral traditions. It is important to evaluate these sources considering their authenticity and reliability.
Few inscriptions and coins from the Maratha period are also available. Oral
traditions were also eventually penned or collated by writers. But the
largest source for studying Maratha history is written documents.
A broad categorization of these literary sources can be done as under -
These are documents and letters issued from various administrative offices
regarding land and revenue, institutional grants, decrees, court orders,
panchayat decisions and so on. These also include records maintained in
courts and administrative offices of various emperors, jahgirdars, watandars
and so on, including inter-office communication etc. The main objective
behind these documents is not to inform people about the history
but they are only prepared in the course of administering the region.
This covers accounts written by people having access to official
records, thereby, considered to be more authentic than Historical Literature.
So this includes, but is not limited to court records, Shakavalis, official
biographies and collections of public or historical documents. The primary
objective behind these records is to let others know about the history.
These are the personal notings, diaries or travelogues recorded by individuals
in their own capacity.
This includes literary work which is not 100% history but has some important
aspects of history woven into it. It includes poems, bardic compositions,
plays and such other literary content with fair amount of history embedded
in it. This also includes biographies written by unofficial biographers.
When a document states that it is written by someone or written by someone for
someone and is actually found to be as per that, then it is said to be authentic
or genuine. If someone prepares a document to make it appear as if it was
written by Shivaji, or for whatever reasons, changes some part in an authentic
letter, such letter would be considered fake. While determining authenticity,
it is important to know that authenticity of the document is different from
correctness of contents of the document.
There are two types of authentic documents, original and copies. Original are
those which bear the original signature and stamps of issuing authorities. Copies
are those which are prepared later from such original documents but are still
authentic from a historical perspective. The copies can also differ as those made
by the writer of the original document and those made by someone else. Those can
be hand copies or photo copies made at a much later date. Photo copies still retain
most of the pecularities of the original letter, except probably the paper and ink
Copies can have flaws that creep in while making the hand copy. These however, do
not impact the authenticity of the document, though they may affect the content.
The key aspects that determine the authenticity of a document are as under -
a. Paper and Ink
b. Seal and signature
c. Layout and writing
e. Language and Script
g. Historical content
h. Relevance with similar documents
For more details on authenticity, please go through Annexure 1 from Shree Raja
Shivachhatrapati, Khand 1 Bhaag 2 by Shri Gajanan Bhaskar Mehendale.
These sources can also be sliced as contemporary or from later
period, the former holding better value in terms of reliability in
most cases. Such slicing is always relative to the time period of the
document and the content to which it relates.
For example, a document dated in 1740 CE refering to an incident in
1680 CE makes it a document from later period. While a letter from
1680 CE mentioning an event in the same year or close to that year
makes it a contemporary document, and thereby generally held to be
Even the author of a document can become a deciding factor while establishing
whether a document is contemporary or from later period. For example, someone
who has personally been a part of or has seen events in 1680 CE may write them
down fifty years later in 1730 CE, still making it a contemporary document.
Though the reliability of later period documents is lesser than the contemporary
ones, they can also shed light on some interesting facets of history. This is
especially true in case of oral traditions which flow across generations till
they are documented by someone later.
Reliability of a document is primarily dependant on three things -
a. Source Type
c. Time Period
Of the given source types, Public Documents
are generally considered to be most reliable, especially if they are contemporary.
This means that they are documents of the first grade in terms of
reliability. Historical Accounts and Personal Accounts may contain
some amount of subjectivity or bias on the part of the person writing it
or for whom it was written. So they are normally treated as second grade
documents in terms of reliability. Historical Literature falls
in the third grade due to its free form and creative nature. But it
also may contain some very interesting aspects of history.
As a general rule, a first grade document will be relied upon in case of
a disagreement with a second or third grade document. But when a first grade
document is not available to support a second or third grade document, that
reference cannot be discarded just because it is not first grade. Second and
third grade documents are also useful in highlighting
events which do not have supporting first grade documents.
Authenticity of a document can be decided on the basis of points described in
the relevant tab. The good thing about this parameter is that if the right
methods are applied, a document can be said to be either authentic or fake.
There is little room for an in-between possibility.
As a general rule, any contemporary document is more reliable than a document
from a later period. But in specific cases, the source type is also important
while evaluating the reliability.
These sources are in many languages, Indian and foreign, making the effort
of translating and collating them, quite humongous. The amount of material
available in all these languages makes it a formidable study. A quick
classification on the basis of language would be as under -
Indian languages - Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Bengali, Rajasthani
Foreign languages - English, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Farsi
Along with the different languages there are primarily four scripts used
in these documents namely - Modi, Roman, Farsi and Devanagari. Most of the
documents are in Farsi and Modi though many forign sources are in Roman script.