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The Mahars are an important social group within the Indian state of Maharashtra state and surrounding states. A grouping of related endogamous castes, the Mahar are the largest scheduled caste group in Maharashtra.[1] In the early 1980s, the Mahar community was estimated to make up about 9% of the population of the state of Maharashtra.[1] . According to Mr. R.V. Russell, "the most probable meaning of Mahārāshtra would therefore seem to be ‘The country of the Mahārs.’". [2] [3]

The Mahars traditionally lived on the outskirts of villages and performed a number of tasks related to the boundaries of the community.[1] In the 20th century significant numbers of Mahars began to leave their traditional villages and move into the urban centers of India in search of better employment and educational opportunities.[1]

The Mahars have excelled in military services for the last several centuries and Shivaji recruited a large number of Mahars into his army in the 17th century.[4] During the colonial period, a large number of Mahars were recruited for military duties by the East India Company and the British Raj. This martial tradition has continued and has found expression in the organization of a Mahar Regiment by the Indian Army in 1941.[5]

The Imperial Gazetteer of India, writing about Nagpur district, India, described the social status of the Mahars in the early 1900s:

“Mahars form a sixth of the whole population, the great majority being cultivators and laborers. The rural Mahar is still considered impure, and is not allowed to drink from the village well, nor his children may sit in school with those of the Hindu castes. But there are traces of decay of this tendency, as many Mahars have become wealthy and risen in the world.”[6]

Traditionally considered lower in the Hindu caste system, during the 20th century a number of Mahars converted to Buddhism, including one of the most prominent Mahars Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar, the first individual from a traditionally untouchable caste to receive a university education, encouraged Mahars to leave Hinduism in protest of their caste status. Mahars who have converted to Buddhism are referred to as 'Navbuddha' (Neobuddhists). Some Buddhist leaders among the population have expressed a desire for the 'Mahar' label to no longer be applied to Buddhist converts.[7]


It is clear that Mahars were among the earliest inhabitants of the Marathi-speaking area of India, if not the original dwellers. Their myths reinforce the epithet bhumiputra, "son of the soil," which implies original ownership of the land. The first Mahar to figure in history is Chokhamela, a fourteenth-century poet-saint in the devotional religious tradition that allowed participation by all castes. Chokhamela, the Untouchable Mahar, along with his wife, her brother, and their son are all historic figures in the Warkari cult. The sixteenth-century Brahman poet, Eknath, wrote more than forty poems as if he were a Mahar, underlining their importance to the everyday world of that time. In the seventeenth century, Mahars were part of the armies of the Maratha king Shivaji, and in the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth Century, Mahars joined the British armed forces and served until the army was reorganized on a "martial peoples" basis in the late nineteenth century. Former army Mahars were the first to petition the British government for redress and for equal treatment.

Mahars who worked on the railways or in the ammunition factories, who were thus free from traditional village work, created a receptive body of urban workers who were ready to join a movement for higher status and even equality.

There were a number of local leaders in Poona and Nagpur, but Bhimrao Ramji is still seen by Mahars, Buddhists, and many other educated Untouchables as the supreme example of Untouchable achievement. Statues of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar dot the landscape of Maharashtra, and he is often shown with a book in his hand, symbolizing the constitution of India, for his crowning achievement was to serve as chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution and as law minister in independent India's first cabinet.


Mahars were the largest Untouchable caste in Maharashtra, comprising 9 percent of that area's population. Although the majority have converted to Buddhism, some converted to Christianity earlier than Buddhist conversion by B.R. Ambedkar. District like Ahmednagar, where Mahar Christians are more than Mahar Buddhist. According to history Mahar evangelized or converted by British missionaries and American missionary in 1800 CE. Mahar Christian also found in many parts in Maharashtra such as Solapur, Pune, Raigad, Aurangabad, but majority of Mahar Christians are in Ahmednagar. Mahar Christians has different identity. many Christians have developed a lot socially and financially, literacy level is also high among Christians than Buddhist.

However as Mahar Buddhist receives reservation and quota for schedule caste, Mahar Christians are forbid ignored, although they come from same group Mahar, which classify as schedule cast this cause the undevelopment among Mahar Christians.

The cultural relations of those remaining in the villages have not changed. Mahars traditionally were in opposition to Mangs, an Untouchable caste of rope makers seen as lower than Mahars. The Chambhars, a caste of leather workers, were held to be of higher status than Mahars. The other two major blocks of castes in Maharashtra are Brahmans, who are seen as the theoreticians of the discriminatory practices against Untouchables and the basic enemy, and Marathas, landowning agriculturists who in the current period are the chief instigators of violence against Untouchables and Buddhists who attempt to free themselves from village duties.


Notable Mahars:

  • Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (India's first Law Minister, architect of Indian Constitution)
  • Subedar Ramji Sakpal (father of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar) (Subedar Major—a VCO or Viceroy Commissioned Officer (the equivalent of a Sergeant Major)—in a battalion of the British Indian Army's Mahar Regiment)
  • Saint Chokhamela (a prominent saint of Varkari tradition , a devotee of vithoba)
  • Padma Shri Bhaurao Krishnaji Gaikwad famously known as Dadasaheb Gaikwad was a politician and social worker from Maharashtra, India Republican Party of India
  • Dr Narendra Jadhav ( Member, Planning Commission, a principal advisor to the RBI and a former advisor to the executive director at the IMF)
  • Prof.Sukhadeo Thorat [1] ] (India's first dalit Chairman of the University Grants Commission, the apex body of higher education in India)
  • Bhalchandra Mungekar (member of Planning Commission of India)
  • Shankar Ramchandra Kharat (writer)
  • Mukul Balkrishna Wasnik (Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment)
  • Matt Mahar V (Famous poet and social innovator - commonly known as the "life of the party")

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Britannica Online: Mahar
  2. ^ The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India - Volume IV of IV. see MARATHA
  3. ^ Sir H. Risley’s India Census Report (1901), Ethnographic Appendices, v. 1 p. 93.
  4. ^ http://asnic.utexas.edu/asnic/sagar/spring.1994/richard.white.art.html
  5. ^ Mahars Turn Sixty
  6. ^ Imperial Gazeteer of India, vol. 2, p. 310
  7. ^ "Maya under fire from Dalit leaders in Maharashtra"
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