According to Louis Dumont, it is derived from the word panch, meaning five, and refers to communities that have traditionally worked as blacksmiths, carpenters, goldsmiths, stonemasons and coalmen. These groups include the Lohars and Suthars of South India. David Mandelbaum noted that the name had been assumed by the blacksmiths, carpenters, coppersmiths, goldsmiths and stonemasons of South India as a means towards achieving social upliftment, calling themselves Panchala and claiming that they are Brahmins who descend from Vishwakarma. They do not, however, believe that they are equal among themselves: they perceive distinctions between their various occupational groups.
Krishnaji Nageshrao Chitnis describes the Panchala as a "composite caste" in his study of the Marathas and prefers the occupation of brass-smiths to that of workers with coal. He notes that it is also used to describe a wider range of occupations that includes barbers, carpenters, shoemakers, weavers and washermen but excludes the smiths. Further, he notes that although the term may have its origin in the number "five", there are usages that extend to a greater number, including the Kumbhar potters and Kasar makers of glass bangles.
- Perez, Rosa Maria (2004). Kings and Untouchables: A Study of the Caste System in Western India. Orient Blackswan. p. 80. ISBN 9788180280146.
- Streefkerk, Hein (1985). Industrial Transition in Rural India: Artisans, Traders, and Tribals in South Gujarat. Popular Prakashan. p. 99. ISBN 9780861320677.
- Chitnis, Krishnaji Nageshrao (1994). Glimpses of Maratha Socio-economic History. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 115. ISBN 9788171563470.
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