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Kunbi (Marathi: कुणबी, Gujarati: કુનબી, alternatively Kanbi) is a generic term applied to castes of traditionally non-elite tillers in Western India.[1][2][3][4] These include the Dhonoje, Ghatole, Hindre, Jadav, Jhare, Khaire, Lewa (Leva Patil), Lonari and Tirole communities of Vidharbha. [5] The communities are largely found in the state of Maharashtra but also exist in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Goa. Kunbis are included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in Maharashtra.[5][a]

Sant Tukaram, one of the most revered Varkari saints of the Bhakti tradition of Maharashtra belonged to this community. Most of the Mawalas serving in the armies of the Maratha Empire under Shivaji came from the community. The Shinde and Gaekwad dynasties of the Maratha Empire are originally of Kunbi origin. In the fourteenth century and later, several Kunbis who had taken up employment as military men in the armies of various rulers underwent a process of Sanskritization and hence started identifying themselves as Marathas. The boundary between the Marathas and the Kunbi however became obscure in the early 20th century due to the effects of colonization, and the two groups came to form one block, the Maratha-Kunbi.

Tensions along caste lines between the Kunbi and the Dalit communities were seen in the Khairlanji killings, and the media have also reported sporadic instances of violence against Dalits. Other inter-caste issues include the forgery of caste certificates by politicians, mostly in the grey Kunbi-Maratha caste area, to allow them to run for elections from wards reserved for OBC candidates. In April 2005 the Supreme Court of India ruled that the Marathas are not a sub-caste of Kunbis.


  1. ^ In Hinduism, communities are divided into four main social classes, also known as Varna in Sanskrit. Each class is further sub-divided into a multitude of castes. The term 'Caste Hindu' is used to refer to these four main classes.Lamb 2002, p. 7 The Dalits (also known as Mahars and Harijans)Lamb 2002, p. 7 were traditionally outside of caste system and can now be said to form a fifth group of castes. The first three Varnas in the hierarchy are said to be dvija (twice-born). They are called twice born on account of their education and these three castes are allowed to wear the sacred thread. These three castes are called the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas. The traditional caste-based occupations are priesthood for the Brahmins, ruler or warrior for the Kshatriyas and businessman or farmer for the Vaisyas. The fourth caste is called the Shudras and their traditional occupation is that of a labourer or a servant. While this is the general scheme all over India, it is difficult to fit all modern facts in to it.Farquhar 2008, pp. 162–164 These traditional social and religious divisions in the caste system have lost their significance for many contemporary Indians except for marriage alliances.Lamb 2002, p. 7 The traditional pre-British, and pre-modern, Indian society, while stationary, afforded very limited caste mobility to those from non-elite castes who could successfully wage warfare against (and seize power from) a weak ruler, or bring wooded areas under the plough to establish independent kingdoms. According to M. N. Srinivas, "Political fluidity in pre-British India was in the last analysis the product of a pre-modern technology and institutional system. Large kingdoms could not be ruled effectively in the absence railways, post and telegraph, paper and printing, good roads, and modern arms and techniques of warfare.".Srinivas 2007, pp. 189–193


  1. ^ Lele 1981, p. 56 Quote: "Village studies often mention the dominance of the elite Marathas and their refusal to accept non-elite Marathas such as the Kunbis into their kinship structure (Ghurye, 1960; Karve and Damle, 1963)."
  2. ^ Gadgil & Guha 1993, p. 84 Quote: "For instance, in western Maharashtra the Rigvedic Deshastha Brahmans are genetically closer to the local Shudra Kunbi castes than to the Chitpavan Konkanastha Brahmans (Karve and Malhotra 1968)."
  3. ^ Dhar 2004, p. 1218.
  4. ^ Singh, Lal & Anthropological Survey of India 2003, p. 734.
  5. ^ a b Dhar 2004, pp. 1179–1239.