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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 symbol.svg Hinduism
Languages Marathi, Konkani, Malwani, Varhadi, Khandeshi
Populated States Major: Maharashtra
Minor: Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhrapradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh 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, "Marathas are people of India, famed in history as yeoman warriors and champions of Hinduism."[1]

The Marathas primarily reside in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhrapradesh, 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.[1]

Territory under Maratha control in 1760 (yellow), without its vassals.

Robert Vane Russell, an untrained ethnologist of the British Raj period, basing his research largely on Vedic literature,[2] wrote that the Marathas are subdivided into 96 different clans, known as the 96 Kuli Marathas or 'Shahānnau Kule'[3] Shahannau means 96 in Marathi.

The general body of lists are often at great variance with each other.[4]


Main article: Maratha Empire

The history of the Marathas has been documented from the time of the Maratha empire. It has been subject to distortion, in part because of the extreme veneration of Shivaji that appeared in documents and hagiographies from the late 17th century until fairly recent times and in part because of misunderstandings that arose from inquiries relating to pre-colonial Maratha government by British Raj administrators from around the 1820s onwards. In addition, there was substantial rethinking of the past due to the British attempts to categorise the country in terms of caste and because of "debates" that emerged between Christian missionaries in the middle of the 19th century.[5]

A number of Maratha warriors, including Shivaji's father, Shahaji, served the various Deccan sultanates.[6][7] By the mid-1660s, Shivaji's revolt against Aurangzeb, who was then the Mughal ruler, had proved to be an unusually successful example of a commonplace occurrence. He was able to establish an independent Maratha kingdom within the Bijapur Sultanate and he successfully defended it against Aurangzeb's attempts to topple him.[8] These successes involved an alliance of Hindus including Brahmins and Shivaji's status as a Hindu king was legitimized by his coronation.[9]

After the death of 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 Shinde (Gwalior), Holkar (Indore), Gaekwad (Baroda), Bhonsale (Nagpur) and Puar (Dhar/Dewas), at its peak stretching from Tamil Nadu[10] in the south, to Peshawar[11](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, the Puars of Dhar & Dewas and Bhonsales of Nagpur.[12][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 Maratha empire remained the pre-eminent 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.[13][page needed]

Maratha Helmet
Maratha Armory
Maratha Armor
Signature Maratha helmet with curved back.
Maratha Armour from Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.

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.[14]

Varna status[edit]

The varna of the Maratha is a contested issue, with arguments for their being of the Kshatriya (warrior) varna, and others for their being of peasant origins. This issue was the subject of antagonism between the Brahmins and Marathas, dating back to the time of Shivaji, but by the late 19th century moderate Brahmins were keen to ally with the influential Marathas of Mumbai in the interests of Indian independence from Britain. These Brahmins supported the Maratha claim to Kshatriya status, but their success in this political alliance was sporadic and fell apart entirely following independence in 1947.[15]

Political participation[edit]

Arms of Maratha
Leaving for the Hunt, Gwalior, Edwin Lord Weeks, 1887

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 in the Maharashtra state government, local municipal commissions, and panchayats, although Marathas comprise only around 25% of the state population.[16][17] 10 out of 16 chief ministers of Maharashtra hailed from the Maratha community as of year 2012.[18]

Military service[edit]

Beginning early in the 20th century, the British recognised Maratha as a martial race of India.[19] 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."[20] 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:

There 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.[21]

The Maratha Light Infantry regiment is one of the "oldest and most renowned" regiments of the Indian Army.[22] Its First Battalion, also known as the Jangi Paltan ("Warrior Platoon"),[23] 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! ("Hail Victory to Emperor Shivaji!") in tribute to the Maratha sovereign.


Marathas are known to be non-vegetarians. They do not eat beef, like most Hindus. They were fond of hunting wild boar, partridge, hare, black buck and other antelopes. [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Maratha (people)". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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 978-0-52152-308-0. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Gordon, Stewart N. (1993). The Marathas 1600–1818. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-0-52126-883-7. 
  6. ^ Gordon, Stewart N. (1993). The Marathas 1600–1818. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-52126-883-7. Second, we have that Marathas regularly served in the armies of the Muslim Deccan kingdoms. 
  7. ^ Bhatia, H. S. (2001). Mahrattas, Sikhs and Southern Sultans of India: Their Fight Against Foreign. Deep & Deep Publications. p. 18. ISBN 978-8-17100-369-3. 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Kurtz, Donald V. (1994). Contradictions and Conflict: A Dialectical Political Anthropology of a University in Western India. Leiden: Brill. p. 61. ISBN 978-9-00409-828-2. 
  10. ^ Mehta, J. L. Advanced study in the history of modern India 1707–1813
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Saxena, Sunil K. (2011). History of Medieval India. Pinnacle Technology. ISBN 978-1-61820-263-5. 
  13. ^ Chhabra, G.S. (2005) [1971]. Advanced Study in the History of Modern India. Lotus Press. ISBN 81-89093-06-1. 
  14. ^ "History of Medieval India". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  15. ^ Kurtz, Donald V. (1994). Contradictions and Conflict: A Dialectical Political Anthropology of a University in Western India. Leiden: Brill. p. 63. ISBN 978-9-00409-828-2. 
  16. ^ Mishra, Sumita (2000). Grassroot Politics in India. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. p. 27. ISBN 9788170997320. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Economic and Political Weekly: January 2012 First Volume Pg 45
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Samanta, Amiya K. (2000). Gorkhaland Movement: A Study in Ethnic Separatism. New Delhi: APH Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 9788176481663. Retrieved 2012-10-03. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ "Castes and Tribes of Southern India". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "Animal Kingdoms". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  26. ^ "Google". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "Shivaji, the Great Maratha". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  28. ^ "India's Communities". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers: Hoshangabad". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  30. ^ "Traditn Econ Vill Ind Ils 74". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  31. ^ "Upper Crust ::: India's food, wine and style magazine". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  32. ^ "Census of India, 1961". Retrieved 18 August 2015. 

Further reading[edit]