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This article is about the specific "Maratha caste". For the wider group of Marathi speakers, see Marathi people.

Maratha Solider.jpg

Engraving of a Maratha Soldier by James Forbes, 1813.
Religions Om.svg Hinduism
Languages Marathi ( मराठी )
Populated States Major: Maharashtra
Minor: Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

The Maratha (IPA: [ˈməraʈa]; archaically transliterated as Marhatta or Mahratta) is a group of castes in India found predominantly in the state of Maharashtra. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Maratha group of castes is a largely rural class of peasant cultivators, landowners, and soldiers. Some Maratha and Kunbi have at times claimed Kshatriya (the warrior and ruling class) standing and supported their claims to this rank by reference to clan names and genealogies linking themselves with epic heroes, Rajput clans of the north, or historical dynasties of the early medieval period."[1]

The term Marāthā has three related usages: within the Marathi-speaking region it describes the dominant Maratha caste; outside the Marathi-speaking region it denotes anyone who speaks Marathi; and historically, the term is used to denote the Maratha Kingdom founded by Shivaji in the seventeenth century and continued by his successors.[2]

The Marathas primarily reside in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu. Those in Goa and neighbouring Karwar are known specifically as Konkan Marathas as an affiliation to their regional and linguistic alignment.[3]


Maharashtra (in red) is the homeland for most of the Maratha people.

The modern Marathi language developed from the Prakrit known as Maharashtri.[4] The words Maratha and Marathi may be a derivative of the Prakrit Marhatta found in Jain Maharashtri literature.

The generally accepted theory among the scholars is that the words Maratha and Maharashtra ultimately derive from a compound of Maha (Sanskrit for "great") and rashtrika.[5] The word rashtrika is a Sanskritized form of Ratta, the name of a tribe or a dynasty of petty chiefs ruling in the Deccan region.[6] Another theory is that the term is derived from Maha ("great") and rathi or ratha (charioteer).[6]

An alternative theory states that the term derives from the words Maha ("Great") and Rashtra ("nation/dominion").[citation needed]

Varna status[edit]

The varna of the Maratha was contested issue especially when they lost to British in 19th century , with arguments for their being of the Kshatriya (warrior) varna, and others for their being of peasant origins. Dating back to the time of Shivaji, the brahmins of indian subcontinent had performed coronation of shivaji as head of kshatriya . Brahmins of british india refuted the Maratha claim to Kshatriya status,but [Rajashri shahu] did not pay heed to their arguments and established a new seat of shankaracharya at Kolhapur..[7]

Maratha clans[edit]

Robert Vane Russell, an untrained ethnologist of the British Raj period, basing his research largely on Vedic literature,[8] wrote that the Marathas belong to one of the 96 different clans, known as the 96 Kuli Marathas or Chhānnava Kule.[9]

The organisation of this clan system is varied in the popular culture and by historians. It is first mentioned by Mahalingdas , a shaiva poet , contemporary of saint Eknath his popular books simhasanbattishi and panchopakhyan .Further a listing was attempted in 1889,[9] but the general body of lists are often at great variance with each other.[10]


Before Shivaji[edit]

Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire.

During ancient period around 230 BCE Maharashtra came under the rule of the Satavahana dynasty which ruled the region for 400 years.[11] The greatest ruler of the Satavahana Dynasty was Gautamiputra Satakarni. The Vakataka dynasty ruled Maharashtra from the 3rd century to the 5th century.[12] The Chalukya dynasty ruled Maharashtra from the 6th century to the 8th century and the two prominent rulers were Pulakesi II, who defeated the north Indian Emperor Harsha and Vikramaditya II, who defeated the Arab invaders in the 8th century. The Rashtrakuta Dynasty ruled Maharashtra from the 8th to the 10th century.[13] The Arab traveler Sulaiman called the ruler of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty (Amoghavarsha) as "one of the 4 great kings of the world".[14] From the early 11th century to the 12th century the Deccan Plateau was dominated by the Western Chalukya Empire and the Chola dynasty.[15] The Seuna dynasty ruled Maharashtra from the 13th century to the 14th century.[16] A number of Maratha warriors, including Shivaji's father Shahaji served the various Deccan sultanates.[17][18][19]

Maratha Empire[edit]

Maratha Empire (orange) at its peak.
Main article: Maratha Empire

In 1674, Shivaji Bhosle carved out an independent Maratha kingdom from within the Bijapur Sultanate with Raigad as its capital,[20] and successfully defended his territory from the Mughals.[21] Confronted by the far greater forces of the Mughal Empire, Shivaji employed guerrilla tactics, which leveraged strategic factors such as demographics, speed, and focused surprise attacks (typically at night, and in rocky terrain) to defeat more numerous forces. In his "History of Warfare" (1983),[22] Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery summarized these tactics, describing Shivaji as a military genius. After the death of Shivaji, the Marathas waged war with the Mughals from 1681 to 1707. The Marathas eventually emerged victorious.

After the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Shivaji's grandson Shahu became ruler of the Marathas in 1707; during his rule he appointed Peshwas as the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire. The Maratha Empire expanded greatly by Bajirao Peshwa and other maratha sardars like Shnde, Holkar, Pawar and Bhosale, at its peak stretching from Tamil Nadu[23][24] in the south, to Peshawar[25](modern-day Pakistan) on the Afghanistan border in the north, and with expeditions to Bengal in the east. The Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali, amongst others, was unwilling to allow the Maratha's gains to go unchecked. In 1761, the Maratha army lost the Third Battle of Panipat to Abdali's forces, which halted their imperial expansion.

Ten years after the battle of Panipat, Madhavrao Peshwa reinstated Maratha authority over North India. In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, semi-autonomy was given to strongest of the knights, creating a confederacy of Maratha states. They became known as Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and Malwa, the Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, and Bhonsales of Nagpur.[26][verification needed] In 1775, the British East India Company intervened in a succession struggle in Pune, which became known as the First Anglo-Maratha War.

The Marathas remained the preeminent power in India until their defeat by the British colonists in the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818). Through the British East Indian Company, Britain then controlled most of India.[27]

The history of the states and dynasties comprising the Maratha Empire constitutes a major portion of the history of late medieval India. Among its effects, the Maratha empire:

  • were the primary force responsible for weakening and eventually ending the Mughal domination of India.[citation needed]
  • were among those who participated in the revival of the power of Hindus in north India after many centuries of Muslim rule. At this time they were seen as major supporters of the Hindu cause.[28]
  • led to the dilution of the caste system as a large number of lower castes, Brahmins and other castes fought along with them.[29][page needed]
  • encouraged the use of Sanskrit and development of the Marathi language, and was seminal to the consolidation of a distinct Maharashtrian identity.[20]

Maratha dynasties and states[edit]

Internal diaspora[edit]

The empire also resulted in the voluntary relocation of substantial numbers of Maratha and other Marathi-speaking people outside Maharashtra, and across a big part of India. Today several small but significant communities descended from these emigrants live in the north, south and west of India. These descendant communities tend often to speak the local languages, although many also speak Marathi in addition. Notable Maratha families outside Maharashtra include Scindia of Gwalior, Gaekwad of Baroda, Holkar of Indore, Puar of Dewas & Dhar, Ghorpade of Mudhol, and Bhonsle of Thanjavur.[26]

Political participation[edit]

Marathas have dominated the state politics of Maharashtra since its inception in 1960. Since then, Maharashtra has witnessed heavy presence of Maratha ministers or officials (which comprises 25% of the state) in the Maharashtra state government, local municipal commissions, and panchayats.[30][31] 10 out of 16 chief ministers of Maharashtra hailed from the Maratha community as of year 2012.[32]

Military service[edit]

Beginning early in the 20th century, the British recognised Maratha as a martial race of India.[33] Earlier listings of martial races had often excluded them, with Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the Indian Army 1885–1893, stating the need to substitute "more warlike and hardy races for the Hindusthani sepoys of Bengal, the Tamils and Telugus of Madras and the so-called Marathas of Bombay."[34] Historian Sikata Banerjee notes a dissonance in British military opinions of the Maratha, wherein the British portrayed them as both "formidable opponents" and yet not "properly qualified" for fighting, criticising the Maratha guerrilla tactics as an improper way of war. Banerjee cites an 1859 statement as emblematic of this disparity: "[T]here is something noble in the carriage of an ordinary Rajput, and something vulgar in that of the most distinguished Mahratta. The Rajput is the most worthy antagonist, the Mahratta the most formidable enemy." [35]

The Maratha Light Infantry regiment is one of the "oldest and most renowned" regiments of the Indian Army.[36] Its First Battalion, also known as the Jangi Paltan ("Warrior Platoon"),[37] traces its origins to 1768 as part of the Bombay Sepoys. The battle cry of Maratha Light Infantry is Bol Shri Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai! ("Cry Victory to Emperor Shivaji!") in tribute to the Maratha sovereign.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maratha (people) – Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  2. ^ "Maratha". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. 
  3. ^ "Maratha (people)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. 
  4. ^ The Linguist List
  5. ^ Maharashtra State Gazetteers: General Series. Directorate of Government Print., Stationery and Publications. 1967. p. 208. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  6. ^ a b K. Balasubramanyam (1965). the mysore. Mittal Publications. p. 174. GGKEY:HRFC6GWCY6D. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Kurtz, Donald V. (1994). Contradictions and Conflict: A Dialectical Political Anthropology of a University in Western India. Leiden: Brill. p. 63. ISBN 9789004098282. 
  8. ^ Bates, Crispin (1995). "Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: the early origins of Indian anthropometry". In Robb, Peter. The Concept of Race in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 240–242. ISBN 978-0-19-563767-0. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  9. ^ a b Russell, Robert Vane (1916). Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India 4. Lal, Rai Bahadur Hira. London: Macmillan & Co. pp. 201–203. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  10. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (2002). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780521523080. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  11. ^ India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic: p.440
  12. ^ History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. by Sigfried J. de Laet,Joachim Herrmann p.392
  13. ^ Indian History - page B-57
  14. ^ A Comprehensive History Of Ancient India (3 Vol. Set): p.203
  15. ^ The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 by Romila Thapar: p.365-366
  16. ^ People of India: Maharashtra, Part 1 by B. V. Bhanu p.6
  17. ^ Gordon, Stewart (1993). The Marathas 1600–1818. The New Cambridge History of India (Indian States and the Transition to Colonialism). 2, Part 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780521268837. "Second, we have seen that Marathas regularly served in the armies of the Muslim Deccan kingdoms." 
  18. ^ Mahrattas, Sikhs and Southern Sultans of India: Their Fight Against Foreign Cite: "Shahji served with distinction and valour under Malik Ambar, the able minister of the Muslim kings of Ahmadnagar. Malik Ambar taking advantage of the guerilla tactics so admirably suited to the hilly regions of western Deccan"
  19. ^ Behula Khan, Subhadra Sen Gupta & Monisha Mukundan, SJ Mitchell Cite:The Marathas served in the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda. When these kingdoms became weak, the Marathas declared their independence.
  20. ^ a b Vartak, Malavika (8–14 May 1999). "Shivaji Maharaj: Growth of a Symbol". Economic and Political Weekly (Economic and Political Weekly) 34 (19): 1126–1134. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  21. ^ Pearson, M. N. (February 1976). "Shivaji and the Decline of the Mughal Empire". The Journal of Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies) 35 (2): 221–235. doi:10.2307/2053980. 
  22. ^ 'A History of Warfare: Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (January 1983), ISBN 978-0688016456
  23. ^ Mehta, J. L. Advanced study in the history of modern India 1707–1813
  24. ^ Mackenna, P. J. et al. Ancient and modern India
  25. ^ Alexander Mikaberidze (31 July 2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 43–. ISBN 978-1-59884-337-8. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  26. ^ a b Saxena, Sunil K. (2011). History of Medieval India. Pinnacle Technology. ISBN 9781618202635. 
  27. ^ Chhabra, G.S. (2005), Advance Study in the History of Modern India, New Delhi: Lotus Press, ISBN 81-89093-06-1
  28. ^ The Cambridge History of India: The Indus civilization. Supplementary volume – Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler – Google Books. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  29. ^ Gordon, Stewart (1993). The Marathas 1600–1818. The New Cambridge History of India (Indian States and the Transition to Colonialism). 2, Part 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521268837. 
  30. ^ Mishra, Sumita (2000). Grassroot Politics in India. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. p. 27. ISBN 9788170997320. 
  31. ^ Dhanagare, D. N. (1995). "The Class Character and Politics of the Farmers' Movement in Maharashtra during the 1980s". In Brass, Tom. New Farmers' Movements in India. Ilford: Routledge/Frank Cass. p. 80. ISBN 9780714646091. 
  32. ^ Economic and Political Weekly: January 2012 First Volume Pg 45
  33. ^ Deshpande, Prachi (2007) [2006 (Permanent Black]. Creative Pasts: Historical Memory And Identity in Western India, 1700–1960. New York & Chichester: Columbia University Press. p. 189. ISBN 9780231124867. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  34. ^ Samanta, Amiya K. (2000). Gorkhaland Movement: A Study in Ethnic Separatism. New Delhi: APH Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 9788176481663. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  35. ^ Banerjee, Sikata (2005). Make Me a Man!: Masculinity, Hinduism, and Nationalism in India. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780791463673. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  36. ^ Frank Edwards (2003). The Gaysh: A History of the Aden Protectorate Levies 1927–61 and the Federal Regular Army of South Arabia 1961–67. Helion & Company Limited. pp. 86–. ISBN 978-1-874622-96-3. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  37. ^ Roger Perkins (1994). Regiments: Regiments and Corps of the British Empire and Commonwealth, 1758–1993 : a Critical Bibliography of Their Published Histories. Roger Perkins. ISBN 978-0-9506429-3-2. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 

Further reading[edit]