From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"A Mahar woman", a watercolour by M. V. Dhurandhar, 1928
Regions with significant populations
Major: Maharashtra, Goa
Minor: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat,and other.
Marathi, Varhadi, Konkani, Hindi
Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam
Related ethnic groups

The Mahar (also known as Maha, Mehar, Taral, Dhegu Megu)[1] is an Indian community found largely in the state of Maharashtra, where they comprise 16% to 18% of the population, and neighbouring areas.[2] Most of the Mahar community followed B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism in the middle of the 20th century.[3][4] As of 2017, the Mahar caste was designated as a Scheduled Caste in 16 Indian states.


The Mahar caste were considered an Untouchable community by the Hindu castes. However, they were socio-economically well above most other untouchable groups because their traditional role had been important in the village administrative system, had necessitated that they had at least a rudimentary education and frequently brought them into contact with upper-caste Hindus,[5] they lived on the outskirts of villages and their duties included those of village watchman and trackers of thieves, messenger, wall mender, adjudicator of boundary disputes, street sweeper, supplying coarse cloth to the village and removers and processors of carcasses. In return for these services, the village granted them a watan, or rights to small piece of land, to do their own cultivation, the watan also included share of village produce.[6] They also worked at times as agricultural labourers.[7][8][9]

Pre-colonial period[edit]

During the Bhakti era of Hinduism several Mahar saints such as Chokhamela, Karmamela, Banka, Nirmala., Soyarabai and Bhagu became popular.[10][11][12]

The Mahar were subjected to degradation during the rule of the Peshwas, who treated them as untouchables.[13] Specifically, they had to walk with a broom tied to their loincloth to wipe off their foot prints and an earthenware pot tied to their neck so their spit could not fall on the ground thereby polluting the road for hindus.According to Mukta Salve, a fourteen year old Mang girl educated by Jyotirao Phule in the 1850s, human sacrifices of the untouchables were common.For example, they could be buried alive under building foundations of Hindus, they were not allowed to move in public places in the mornings or evenings as their long shadows could defile caste hindus.Mukta is also critical of the Mahar community for feeling superior to the mangs and shunning social relations with them.They were not allowed to read and write. Also passing the Talimkhana (local gymnasium) by an untouchable often resulted in his or her head being cut off and literally played with.Those resisting any sanctions could be trampled under an elephant on the grounds of the Peshwa's palace.[14][15][16][better source needed]

British India[edit]

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

Under British rule, the Mahars became aware of the scope for social and political advancement Their traditional role had been low-status but important in the village system.[5] A number of Mahars joined the army during the early British era.[9]

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.[17][18] Mahars were not allowed to enter Hindu temples and were considered unclean. Even their entry into the shrines of Hindu gods was restricted.[19]

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,[7] 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.[20] They created a receptive body of urban workers who were ready to join a political movement for higher status and equality.[21]

Military role[edit]

The Mahar served in various armies over several centuries, the Maratha king Shivaji recruited a number of them into his army in the 17th century.[22] They served as guards in hill forts and as soldiers.[23]

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 (1 January 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 the Independence of India; it is inscribed with the names of 22 Mahars killed at the battle.[24]

The Mahar were initially heavily recruited into the East India company military units, but this process slowed after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, their recruitment was halted under Lord Kitchener in the early 1890s. Before the rebellion, Mahar regiments made up one-sixth of the Bombay units of the East India Company but thereafter they were pensioned off and gradually removed from military service.[25][26] 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,[4][27] 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.[4] The attempt at a challenge had been spearheaded by Gopal Baba Walangkar, himself a Mahar and former soldier, but he found that Mahar military pensioners were unwilling to sign because they feared that they might lose their pensions.[28]

In 1941, the Mahar Regiment was formed.[29]


As of 2017, the Mahar community was designated as a Scheduled Caste (SC) in 16 Indian states, being: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh Assam, Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Telangana and West Bengal.[1]

Mahar population in India by state, 2001[30]
State Population Notes
Andhra Pradesh[a] 28,317
Arunachal Pradesh 64[31]
Assam 1,725
Chhattisgarh 212,099 8.77% of state SC population
Dadra and Nagar Haveli 271 6.60% of state SC population
Daman and Diu 5
Goa 13,570 57% of state SC population
Gujarat 26,643
Karnataka 64,578
Madhya Pradesh 673,656
Maharashtra 5,678,912 57.5% of state SC population
Meghalaya 53
Mizoram 9
Rajasthan 7,241
West Bengal 28,419


Mahar is numerically the largest Scheduled Caste in Maharashtra state with 56.2% Buddhists, 43.7% Hindus and 0.1% Sikhs according to 2001 Indian Census.[32]


In the late 19th century, Otto Weishaupt's attempts to evangelise in the 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 there.[33] There were also some Mahar converts to Christianity in other areas of Ahmednagar district around the early 20th century.[34]


The Christian conversion movement became overshadowed by the emergence of B. R. Ambedkar's Buddhist equivalent.[35] When he converted to Buddhism at Nagpur in 1956, many Mahars were among those of his followers who chose to do the same,[36] 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,[37] at the same spot, after his cremation, more Mahars were converted to Buddhism.[38] Now, this community is the third most populous in Mumbai.[2]

Some Buddhist leaders among the population prefer that the term Mahar no longer be applied to these converts.[39] Buddhism appealed to the sense of equality in the Mahar;[40] 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".[41]

Dalit literature[edit]

According to Eleanor Zelliot, Dalit literature originated in Marathi-speaking areas of Maharashtra, she credits Ambedkar, a Mahar himself, for inspiring many Dalit writers. Baburao Bagul (1930–2008), Shankarrao Kharat, and Bandhu Madhav were early Marathi writers from the Mahar community.[42] The Mahar writer Namdeo Dhasal (who founded Dalit Panther) was significant in the Dalit movement.[43] Other notable Mahar authors writing in Marathi include Shantabai Kamble, Raja Dhale, Daya Pawar, and Narendra Jadhav.[44]



  1. ^ In 2001, Andhra Pradesh included what later became the state of Telangana


  1. ^ a b "State wise list of Scheduled Castes updated up to 26-10-2017". MSJE, Government of India. 26 October 2017. Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  2. ^ a b Fred Clothey (2007). Religion in India: A Historical Introduction. Psychology Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-415-94023-8.
  3. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "The 'Solution' of Conversion". Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Orient Blackswan Publisher. pp. 119–131. ISBN 8178241560.
  4. ^ a b c Zelliot, 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.
  5. ^ a b Gupta, Dipankar (May 1979). "Understanding the Marathwada Riots: A Repudiation of Eclectic Marxism". Social Scientist. 7 (10): 3–22. JSTOR 3516774. (Subscription required (help)).
  6. ^ Kulkarni, A. R. (2000). "The Mahar Watan: A Historical Perspective". In Kosambi, Meera. Intersections: Socio-Cultural Trends in Maharashtra. London: Sangam. pp. 121–140. ISBN 978-0863118241. Retrieved 2016-12-13.
  7. ^ a b Britannica Online: Mahar. Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  8. ^ Mendelsohn, Oliver; Vicziany, Marika (1998). The untouchables : subordination, poverty and the state in modern India. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 0521553628.
  9. ^ a b Jacobsen, Knut A., ed. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. New York, New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 362–363. ISBN 978-0415738651. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  10. ^ King, Anna S.; Brockington, J. L. (2005). The Intimate Other: Love Divine in Indic Religions. Orient Blackswan. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-81-250-2801-7.
  11. ^ Stewart-Wallace, editorial advisers Swami Ghananda, Sir John (1979). Women saints, east & west. Hollywood, Calif.: Vedanta. p. 61. ISBN 0874810361.
  12. ^ Mikael, edited by Aktor, (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 86. ISBN 8763507757.
  13. ^ Joshi, Barbara R., ed. (1986). "Roots of Revolt". Untouchable! Voices of the Dalit Liberation Movement. London: The Minority Rights Group. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0862324602. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  14. ^ Sangharakshita (1 January 2006). Ambedkar and Buddhism. p. 43.
  15. ^ Dominik Geppert; Frank Lorenz Müller, eds. (2016). Sites of Imperial Memory: Commemorating Colonial Rule in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries (Studies in Imperialism MUP). Manchester University Press. p. 64,65.
  16. ^ K. Suneetha Rani (25 September 2017). Influence of English on Indian Women Writers: Voices from Regional Languages. SAGE Publishing India. pp. 91–. ISBN 978-93-81345-34-4.
  17. ^ Aktor, Mikael; Deliège, Robert (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 103. ISBN 8763507757.
  18. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1997). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley : father of the Indian social revolution (New ed.). Bombay: Popular Prakashan. pp. 126–127. ISBN 817154066X.
  19. ^ Galanter, Marc (1966). Smith, D. E., ed. South Asian politics and religion (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 283.
  20. ^ Gandhi, Raj S. (Spring–Summer 1980). "From Caste to Class in Indian Society". Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. 7 (2): 1–14. JSTOR 23261720. (Subscription required (help)).
  21. ^ Zelliot, 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.
  22. ^ Richard B. White The Mahar Movement's Military Component.
  23. ^ edited Shinoda, Takashi; Shinoda, compiled by Takashi (2002). The other Gujarat. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 4. ISBN 8171548741.
  24. ^ Kumbhojkar, Shraddha (2012). "Contesting Power, Contesting Memories - The History of the Koregaon Memorial". The Economic and Political Weekly. EPW. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  25. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "Ambedkar: Son of Mahar Soldier". Dr. Ambedkar and untouchability : fighting the Indian caste system. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231136021.
  26. ^ Rao, Anupama (2009). The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520257618.
  27. ^ Kamble, N. D. (1983). Deprived castes and their struggle for equality. Ashish Publisher House. pp. 129–132.
  28. ^ Teltumbde, Anand (2016). Dalits: Past, present and future. Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-31552-643-0.
  29. ^ Mahars Turn Sixty. (1 October 1941). Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  30. ^ "Census of India - Tables on Individual Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST)". Officer of the Registrar General. 7 March 2007.
  31. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 14 November 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  32. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 14 November 2012.
  33. ^ Shelke, Christopher (2008). God the Creator : universality of inculturality. Roma: Pontificia università gregoriana. pp. 166–167. ISBN 887839128X.
  34. ^ Rege, Sharmila (2006). Writing caste, writing gender: reading Dalit women's testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan. p. 139. ISBN 8189013017.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Pritchett, Frances. "In the 1950s" (PHP). Retrieved 2006-08-02.
  37. ^ Gautam, C. "Life of Babasaheb Ambedkar". Ambedkar Memorial Trust, London. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  38. ^ Kantowsky, Detlef (2003). Buddhists in India today:descriptions, pictures, and documents. Manohar Publishers & Distributors.
  39. ^ "Maya under fire from Dalit leaders in Maharashtra". Indian Express. 1 December 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-01-03. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  40. ^ Pandey, Gyanendra (6–12 May 2006). "The Time of the Dalit Conversion". Economic and Political Weekly. 41 (18): 1779+1781–1788. JSTOR 4418177.
  41. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). The ‘solution’ of conversion': Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Orient Blackswan. p. 138. ISBN 978-8-17824-156-2.
  42. ^ Zelliot, Eleanor (2007). "Dalit Literature, Language and Identity". In Kachru, Braj B.; Kachru, Yamuna; Sridhar, S. N. Language in South Asia, Part 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 450–454. ISBN 978-0-52178-141-1.
  43. ^ "Of art, identity, and politics". The Hindu. 23 January 2003.
  44. ^ Jadhav, Narendra (2005). Untouchables : my family's triumphant escape from India's caste system. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0520252639. Retrieved 2017-01-04.

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)).