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Marāthā (Marathi: , also Mahratta) has three related usages: within the Marathi speaking region it describes the dominant Maratha caste or to the Maratha and Kunbi castes together; outside Maharashtramarker it can refer to the entire regional population of Marathi-speaking people; historically, it describes the Maratha empire founded by Shivaji in the seventeenth century and continued by his successors, which included many castes.

In 1798 Colonel Tone, who commanded a regiment of the Peshwa’s army, wrote of the Marāthas: “The three great tribes which compose the Marātha caste are the Kunbi or farmer, the Dhangar or shepherd, and the Gawli or cowherd; to this original cause may perhaps be ascribed that great simplicity of manner which distinguishes the Marātha people.”

The Maratha caste consists mainly of rural cultivators, landowners, and soldiers. At times, Maratha and Kunbi have claimed kshatriya standing, based on clan names linking them with Rajput clans and historical medieval dynasties. In theory, there are ninety-six Maratha clans. The exact names of the ninety-six are greatly disputed, with different authorities giving names that vary widely. Adding to the confusion, Kunbi families often adopted the names of their Maratha chiefs.


The etymology of the words "Marātha" and "Marāthi" is uncertain. It may be a derivative of the Prakrit word Marhatta found in Jain Maharashtri literature, itself from Sanskrit Maharāṣhṭra "great realm" (from maha "great" and rāṣṭra "nation, dominion, district"). One theory holds that a reference to a clan known as Rāṣṭrika in some of Ashoka's inscriptions alludes to a people of the Deccanmarker who were progenitors of the Marathi-speaking people; that the later "Mahārāṣhṭri Prakrit" is associated with these people

Other theories link the words Marātha and Rāṣhṭri with Ratta, supposedly a corruption of Rāshtrakuta, the name of a dynasty that held sway over the Deccan from the 8th to 10th centuries.

All theories however affirm, as do linguists, that the modern Marathi language has developed from the Prakrit known as Mahārāshtri.

Shivaji Maharaj accompanied by Maratha comrades
Shivaji Maharaj accompanied by Maratha comrades

Maratha clans

According to some sources, most Marathas must belong to one of the 96 different clans, known as the "96 Kuli Marathas". The actual organization of this clan system is disputed in the popular culture and by historians. An authoritative listing was apparently first attempted in 1889 and a list finalised in 1956 by the Government of India.


Pre-1600s (before the rise of Shivaji Maharaj)

Pre-Shivaji Maharaj history of Maratha is unilluminated, however some clans were recognised among Maratha 96 Clans. All the Maratha clans and their subdivisions were serving non-Hindu kingdoms and infighting, but Rajmata Jijabai started a trend toward greater Maratha unity.

Maratha Empire

The extent of the Maratha Confederacy c.1760 AD, roughly corresponding to its peak (denoted by the yellow region)

Different Maratha (also called as Rastriks or Maha-rathis or Mahrattas) rulers during Medieval period (before 12th century) include Satavahana and Rashtrakuta. They re-united into historical prominence under the leadership of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century. Shivaji Maharaj, born into the Bhosale clan of Marathas, secured an independent state by dint of lifelong struggle and thereby founded an empire, the remnants of which lasted until the independence of India in 1947. The state thus founded by Chhatrapati Shivaji attained its zenith under the Peshwas in the 18th century, extending from the Indusmarker in present-day Pakistanmarker to Orissamarker in the east and from the Punjab to central Karnatakamarker in the south. The kingdom of Thanjavurmarker in present-day Tamil Nadumarker was also ruled by a Maratha dynasty, albeit outside the ambit of the main Maratha Empire. At its peak, the Maratha Empire established a protectorate over the Mughal emperor and paramountcy over the numerous Rajput chieftains of Gujaratmarker, Rajasthanmarker, Central India and elsewhere. They had also brought the Punjab under their sway and ended Muslim rule there, setting the conditions for later Sikh control. This vast empire declined gradually after the third battle of Panipat (1761); by 1818, all of present-day India had fallen to the British East India Company.


The history of the states and dynasties comprising the Maratha Empire constitutes a major portion of the history of late medieval India. While that extensive history is detailed elsewhere, it is noteworthy that the rise of the Marathas:
  • represented the revival of the political power of the Hindus in north India after many centuries of Muslim rule;
  • prevented the spread of the Mughal Empire and associated Islamic culture to south India;
  • led to the dilution of the caste system as a large number of Brahmins and other castes fought along with them.
  • was the primary cause of the decline of the Mughal Empire;
  • led to the modernisation of India's armed forces, as they introduced indigenously designed and manufactured muskets (known as Gardi muskets)
  • encouraged the development of the Marathi language and was seminal to the consolidation of a distinct Maharashtrian identity.

Maratha dynasties and states

Transplanted Marathas

The empire also resulted in the voluntary relocation of substantial numbers of Maratha and other Marathi-speaking people outside Maharashtramarker, and across a big part of India. Thus, there are today several small but significant communities descended from these emigrants living in the north, south and west of India. These communities tend often to speak the languages of those areas, although many do also speak Marathi in addition.

Political participation

Marathas have dominated the state politics of Maharashtramarker since its inception in 1960.The first Chief Minister of Maharashtramarker was a Maratha (Yashwantrao Chavan).Since then, Maharashtramarker has witnessed heavy presence of Maratha community (which comprises 25% of the state population) and having more than 40% in the ministry, local municipal commissions, and panchayats.

Military service

The Maratha Light Infantry regiment of the Indian Army is one of the oldest and most influential regiments. Its First Battalion, also known as the Jangi Paltan, was raised as far back in 1768 as part of the Bombay Sepoys. The Marathas came to special attention in World War I and have been awarded 2 Ashok Chakra, 10 Param Vishisht Seva Medals, 4 Maha Vir Chakra, 4 Kirti Chakra, 1 ACCL II, 14 Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 34 Vir Chakra, 18 Shaurya Chakra, 4 ACCL III, 4 Yudh Seva Medals, 107 Sena Medals, 1 Shaurya Chakra & Bar, 23 Vishisht Seva Medals, 1 Padma Bushan, 1 Arjun Award and 3 Unit Citations.

Notable Marathas





Military servicemen

See also


  1. Letter on the Marāthas (India Office Tracts).
  2. The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India By R.V. Russell.Vol. IV. Macmillan and Co., Limited St. Martin’s Street, London. 1916 •Marātha (Soldier, cultivator and service) Origin and position of the caste pg 198
  3. The New Cambridge History of India, Volume 2, Part 4: The Marathas 1600-1818
  4. The New Cambridge History of India, Volume 2, Part 4: The Marathas 1600-1818


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