Not to be confused with Mahar (Sindhi tribe).
For other uses, see Mahar (disambiguation).
Regions with significant populations
Marathi, Varhadi
Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Marathi people

The Mahar is an Indian community found largely in the state of Maharashtra, where they comprise 16% of the population, and neighbouring areas.[1] Most of the Mahar community followed India's first minister of law and social reformer B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism in the middle of the 20th century.[2][3] The community is included in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes category by the Indian government.


Historically, the Mahars were considered an Untouchable caste by the Hindu community. Their traditional role had been important in the village system.[4] Traditionally, they lived on the outskirts of villages. Their duties included those of village watchman and trackers of thieves, messenger, wall mender, adjudicator of boundary disputes, street sweeper, staging tamashas, 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. They also worked at times as agricultural labourers.,[5][6][7]

Middle Ages

During the Bhakti era of Hinduism several Mahar saints such as Chokhamela, Karmamela, Banka, Nirmala., Soyarabai and Bhagu became popular.[8][9][10]

Peshwa Rule in 1700s

The Mahar were subjected to painful degradation during the rule of the Peshwas, who treated them as untouchables.[11]

British India

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.[4] A number of Mahars joined the army during the early British era.[7]

In 1873, Jyotirao Phule, the founder of Satyashodhak Samajwhich aimed to abolish religious slavery from the influence of Brahaminical scripturesorganised Mahars. Their first conference was held in Mumbai in 1903.[12][13] Mahars were not allowed to enter Hindu temples and were considered polluters. Even their entry into the shrines of Hindu gods was restricted.[14]

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.[5] 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.[15] They created a receptive body of urban workers who were ready to join a political movement for higher status and equality.[16]

Military role

The Mahar have served in various militaries for the last several centuries. The Maratha emperor Shivaji recruited a number of Mahars into his army in the 17th century.[17] They served as guards in hill forts and as soldiers.[18]

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 (January 1, 1818) is commemorated by an obelisk known as the Koregaon pillarwhich was erected at the site of the battleand by a medal issued in 1851. The pillar featured on the Mahar Regiment crest until Indian Independence; it is inscribed with the names of twenty-two Mahars killed at the Battle.[19]

The Mahar were initially heavily recruited into British military units, but this process slowed after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The recruitment of Mahars was halted under Lord Kitchener in the early 1890s. Before the Sepoy Rebellion, Mahar regiments made up one-sixth of the Bombay units of the East India Company, but after the Rebellion, and the reorganisation of British Indian units, Mahars were pensioned off and gradually removed from military service.[20][21] 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.[3][22] The Mahar community attempted to confront this block with a petition circulated among the Mahar, Chamar, and Mang former soldiersall Marathi-speaking Untouchablesbut the movement was unable to organise and submit their petition.[3] In 1941, the Mahar Regiment was formed.[23]



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.[24] There were also some Mahar converts to Christianity in other areas of Ahmednagar district around the early 20th century.[25]


The Christian conversion movement became overshadowed by the emergence of B. R. Ambedkar's Buddhist conversion movement[26]

When Ambedkar formally converted to Buddhism at Nagpur in 1956, many Mahars were among those of his followers who chose to do the same.[27] As Buddhists, they gave up their traditional Hindu occupations and sought to redefine their social status. Ambedkar died about two months after this mass conversion.[28] At the same spot, after his cremation, more Mahars were converted to Buddhism.[29] Now, this community is the third most populous in Mumbai.[1]

Mahars who have converted to Buddhism are called Neo-Buddhists. Some Buddhist leaders among the population prefer that the term Mahar no longer be applied to these converts.[30] Buddhism appealed to the sense of equality in the Mahar;[31] 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".[32]

In a survey conducted by Uttara Shastree she found that the neobuddhists follow a mixture of old Hindu and some new Buddhist traditions like celebrating Dr. Ambedkar's birthday[33]

See also


  1. 1 2 Fred Clothey (2007). Religion in India: A Historical Introduction. Psychology Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-415-94023-8.
  2. Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "The 'Solution' of Conversion". Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste. Orient Blackswan Publisher. pp. 119–131. ISBN 8178241560.
  3. 1 2 3 Zelliott, 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.
  4. 1 2 Gupta, Dipankar (May 1979). "Understanding the Marathwada Riots: A Repudiation of Eclectic Marxism". Social Scientist. 7 (10): 3–22. JSTOR 3516774. (subscription required (help)).
  5. 1 2 Britannica Online: Mahar. Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  6. 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.
  7. 1 2 Knut A., . Jacobsen (ed.) (2015). Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. New York, New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 362–363. ISBN 978-0415738651. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  8. 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.
  9. Stewart-Wallace, editorial advisers Swami Ghananda, Sir John (1979). Women saints, east & west. Hollywood, Calif.: Vedanta. p. 61. ISBN 0874810361.
  10. Mikael, edited by Aktor, (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 86. ISBN 8763507757.
  11. 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 16 July 2013.
  12. Mikael, edited by Aktor, (2008). From Stigma to Assertion : Untouchability, Identity & Politics in Early & Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 103. ISBN 8763507757.
  13. Keer, Dhananjay (1997). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley : father of the Indian social revolution. (New ed.). Bombay: Popular Prakashan. pp. 126–127. ISBN 817154066X.
  14. Galanter, Marc (1966). Smith, D. E., ed. South Asian politics and religion (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 283.
  15. 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)).
  16. Zelliott, 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.
  17. Richard B. White The Mahar Movement's Military Component.
  18. edited Shinoda, Takashi; Shinoda, compiled by Takashi (2002). The other Gujarat. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 4. ISBN 8171548741.
  19. Kumbhojkar, Shraddha (2012). "Contesting Power, Contesting Memories - The History of the Koregaon Memorial". The Economic and Political Weekly. EPW. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  20. Jaffrelot, Christophe (2005). "Ambedkar: Son of Mahar Soldier". Dr. Ambedkar and untouchability : fighting the Indian caste system. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231136021.
  21. Rao, Anupama (2009). The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520257618.
  22. Kamble, N. D. (1983). Deprived castes and their struggle for equality. Ashish Publisher House. pp. 129–132.
  23. Mahars Turn Sixty. (1941-10-01). Retrieved on 2012-03-28.
  24. Shelke, Christopher (2008). God the Creator : universality of inculturality. Roma: Pontificia università gregoriana. pp. 166–167. ISBN 887839128X.
  25. Rege, Sharmila (2006). Writing caste, writing gender: reading Dalit women's testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan. p. 139. ISBN 8189013017.
  26. 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.
  27. Pritchett, Frances. "In the 1950s" (PHP). Retrieved 2006-08-02.
  28. Gautam, C. "Life of Babasaheb Ambedkar". Ambedkar Memorial Trust, London. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  29. Kantowsky, Detlef (2003). Buddhists in India today:descriptions, pictures, and documents. Manohar Publishers & Distributors.
  30. "Maya under fire from Dalit leaders in Maharashtra". Indian Express. 1 December 2007. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  31. Pandey, Gyanendra (6–12 May 2006). "The Time of the Dalit Conversion". Economic and Political Weekly. 41 (18): 1779+1781–1788. JSTOR 4418177.
  32. 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.
  33. Shastree, Uttara (1996). Religious converts in India : socio-political study of neo-Buddhists (1. ed. ed.). New Delhi: Mittal Publ. pp. 67–82. ISBN 8170996295. Retrieved 30 November 2016.

Further reading

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