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Not to be confused with Mahar (Sindhi tribe).
For other uses, see Mahar (disambiguation).
Regions with significant populations
Marathi, Varhadi
Om symbol.svg Hinduism Dharma Wheel.svg Buddhism P christianity.svg Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Marathi people

The Mahar is an Indian community found largely in the state of Maharashtra, where they comprise 10% of the population, and neighboring areas.[1] Most of the Mahar community followed social reformer B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism in the middle of the 20th century.[2][3] The community is included in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes category by the Indian government.


The Mahars have often been considered as the original inhabitants of what is now the Indian state of Maharashtra and, according to Shridhar Venkatesh Ketkar, a historian of the region, the state's name derives from theirs (Maharance raṣṭra means land of the Mahars).[4]


Middle Ages[edit]

During the Bhakti era of Hinduism several Mahar saints such as Chokhamela, Karmamela, Banka, Nirmala., Soyarabai and Bhagu became popular.[5][6][7]

Peshwa Rule[edit]

The Mahar were subjected to painful degradation during the rule of the Peshwas, who treated them as untouchables.[8]

British India[edit]

A Mahar Man winding thread from The tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India (1916)

Mahars were considered an Untouchable caste by the Hindu community but under British rule they became aware of scope for social and political advancement.[9] Their traditional role had been low-status but important in the village system.[9] Traditionally, they lived on the outskirts of villages. Their duties included those of village watchman, messenger, wall mender, adjudicator of boundary disputes, street sweeper, and remover and processor of carcasses. They also worked as agricultural labourers and held some land, though they were not primarily farmers.[10]

In the 20th century, significant numbers left their traditional villages and moved into the urban centres of India in search of better employment and educational opportunities.[10] They gave up their traditional jobs in cities, and to a large extent in rural Maharashtra, and took employment in the mills, docks, construction sites and railways.[11] They created a receptive body of urban workers who were ready to join a political movement for higher status and equality.[12]

In 1873, Jyotirao Phule, the founder of Satyashodhak Samaj—which aimed to abolish religious slavery from the influence of Brahaminical scriptures—organised Mahars. Their first conference was held in Mumbai in 1903.[13][14] Mahar were not allowed to enter the Hindu temple and were considered pollutants. Even their entry into the shrines of Hindu gods was restricted.[15]

Military role[edit]

The Mahar have served in various militaries for the last several centuries. The Maratha emperor Shivaji recruited a number of Mahars into his army in the 17th century.[16] They served as guards in hill forts and as soldiers.[17]

During the colonial period, large numbers of Mahars were recruited for military duties by the East India Company and the British Raj. The Battle of Koregaon (January 1, 1818) is commemorated by an obelisk known as the Koregaon pillar—which was erected at the site of the battle—and by a medal issued in 1851. The pillar featured on the Mahar Regiment crest until Indian Independence; it is inscribed with the names of twenty-two Mahars killed at the Battle.[18]

The Mahar were initially heavily recruited into British military units, but this process slowed after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The recruitment of Mahars was halted under Lord Kitchener in the early 1890s. Before the Sepoy Rebellion, Mahar regiments made up one-sixth of the Bombay units of the East India Company, but after the Rebellion, and the reorganization of British Indian units, Mahars were pensioned off and gradually removed from military service.[19][20] Mahar recruitment reached its nadir in the early 1890s (sources differ as to exact year) when Kitchener halted the recruitment of Untouchables in Maharashtra in favour of "martial races," such as the Marathas and other north-western communities.[3][21] The Mahar community attempted to confront this block with a petition circulated among the Mahar, Chamar, and Mang former soldiers—all Marathi-speaking Untouchables—but the movement was unable to organise and submit their petition.[3] In 1941, the Mahar Regiment was formed.[22]



In late nineteenth-century , Otto Weishaupt's attempts to evangelise in Sangamner area of Ahmadnagar district met with little success with communities such as the Brahmins, Muslims and Bhils but his efforts to promote Christianity did appeal to the Mahars of the area.[23] There were also some Mahar converts to Christianity in other areas of Ahmednagar district around the early twentieth century.[24]


The Christian conversion movement became overshadowed by the emergence of B. R. Ambedkar's Buddhist conversion movement[25]

When Ambedkar formally converted to Buddhism at Nagpur in 1956, many Mahars were among those of his followers who chose to do the same.[26] As Buddhists, they gave up their traditional Hindu occupations and sought to redefine their social status.[citation needed] Ambedkar died about two months after this mass conversion.[27] At the same spot, after his cremation, more Mahars were converted to Buddhism.[28] Now, this community is the third most populous in Mumbai.[1]

Mahars who have converted to Buddhism are called "Neo-Buddhists". Some Buddhist leaders among the population prefer that the term Mahar no longer be applied to these converts.[29] Buddhism appealed to the sense of equality in the Mahar;[30] an intellectual of Mahar origin said, "I have accepted Buddhist doctrine. I am Buddhist now. I am not Mahar now, not untouchable nor even Hindu. I have become a human being".[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fred Clothey (26 February 2007). Religion in India: A Historical Introduction. Psychology Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-415-94023-8. 
  2. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "The ‘Solution’ of Conversion". Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Orient Blackswan Publisher. pp. 119–131. ISBN 8178241560. 
  3. ^ a b c Zelliott, Eleanor (1978). "Religion and Legitimation in the Mahar Movement". In Smith, Bardwell L. Religion and the Legitimation of Power in South Asia. Leiden: Brill. pp. 88–90. ISBN 9004056742. 
  4. ^ Das, Sisir Kumar, ed. (2006). "The Narratives of Suffering: Caste and the Underprivileged". A History of Indian Literature 1911-1956: Struggle for Freedom: Triumph and Tragedy (Reprinted ed.). Sahitya Akademi. pp. 306, 440. ISBN 978-81-7201-798-9. 
  5. ^ Anna S. King; J. L. Brockington (1 January 2005). The Intimate Other: Love Divine in Indic Religions. Orient Blackswan. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-81-250-2801-7. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Stewart-Wallace, editorial advisers Swami Ghananda, Sir John (1979). Women saints, east & west (1. U.S. ed.). Hollywood, Calif.: Vedanta. p. 61. ISBN 0874810361. 
  7. ^ Mikael, edited by Aktor, (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 86. ISBN 8763507757. 
  8. ^ Joshi, ed. by Barbara R. (1986). "Roots of Revolt". Untouchable! : voices of the Dalit liberation movement. London: The Minority Rights Group. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0862324602. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Gupta, Dipankar (May 1979). "Understanding the Marathwada Riots: A Repudiation of Eclectic Marxism". Social Scientist 7 (10): 3–22. JSTOR 3516774. 
  10. ^ a b Britannica Online: Mahar. Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  11. ^ Gandhi, Raj S. (Spring–Summer 1980). "FROM CASTE TO CLASS IN INDIAN SOCIETY". Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 7 (2): 1–14. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Zelliott, Eleanor (1978). "Religion and Legitimation in the Mahar Movement". In Smith, Bardwell L. Religion and the Legitimation of Power in South Asia. Leiden: Brill. pp. 90–92. ISBN 9004056742. 
  13. ^ Mikael, edited by Aktor, (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 103. ISBN 8763507757. 
  14. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1997). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley : father of the Indian social revolution. ([New ed.]. ed.). Bombay: Popular Prakashan. pp. 126–127. ISBN 817154066X. 
  15. ^ Galanter, Marc (1966). Smith D.E., ed. South Asian politics and religion (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 283. 
  16. ^ Richard B. White The Mahar Movement's Military Component.
  17. ^ edited Shinoda, Takashi; Shinoda, compiled by Takashi (2002). The other Gujarat. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 4. ISBN 8171548741. 
  18. ^ Kumbhojkar, Shraddha (2012). "Contesting Power, Contesting Memories - The History of the Koregaon Memorial". The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  19. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "Ambedkar: Son of Mahar Soldier". Dr. Ambedkar and untouchability : fighting the Indian caste system. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. ISBN 0231136021. 
  20. ^ Rao, Anupama (2009). The caste question : Dalits and the politics of modern India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520257618. 
  21. ^ Kamble, N. D. (1983). Deprived castes and their struggle for equality. Indiana University: Ashish Publisher House. pp. 129–132. 
  22. ^ Mahars Turn Sixty. (1941-10-01). Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  23. ^ Shelke, Christopher (2008). God the Creator : universality of inculturality. Roma: Pontificia università gregoriana. pp. 166–167. ISBN 887839128X. 
  24. ^ Rege, Sharmila (2006). Writing caste, writing gender: reading Dalit women's testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan. p. 139. ISBN 8189013017. 
  25. ^ Stackhouse, editors, Lalsangkima Pachuau, Max L. (2007). News of boundless riches : interrogating, comparing, and reconstructing mission in a global era. Delhi: ISPCK. pp. 230–232. ISBN 8184580134. 
  26. ^ Pritchett, Frances. "In the 1950s" (PHP). Retrieved 2006-08-02. 
  27. ^ Gautam, C. "Life of Babasaheb Ambedkar". Ambedkar Memorial Trust, London. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  28. ^ Detlef Kantowsky (2003). Buddhists in India today:descriptions, pictures, and documents. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. 
  29. ^ "Maya under fire from Dalit leaders in Maharashtra". (2007-12-01). Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  30. ^ Pandey, Gyanendra (6–12 May 2006). "The Time of the Dalit Conversion". Economic and Political Weekly 41 (18): 1779+1781–1788. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  31. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "The ‘solution’ of conversion". Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Orient Blackswan. p. 138. ISBN 8178241560, 9788178241562.

Further reading[edit]

  • Constable, Philip (May 2001). "The Marginalization of a Dalit Martial Race in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Western India". The Journal of Asian Studies 60 (2): 439–478. doi:10.2307/2659700. JSTOR 2659700. (subscription required (help)).