ALTERNATE NAMES: Mahrattas; Mahrattis

LOCATION: India (Maharashtra state)

POPULATION: 78.7 million (total population; 50 percent are of the Maratha and Kunbi castes)


RELIGION: Hinduism


Marathas live in the Deccan Plateau area of western India. Outside the area, the term Maratha loosely identifies people who speak Marathi. Within the region, however, it refers to the dominant Maratha and Kunbis castes (social classes). Marathas typically trace their origins to chiefs and warriors. Kunbis are mainly farmers and Sudras (servants and artisans—the lowest of the four major caste groups).

Marathas first rose to prominence in the seventeenth-century. Their hero, Shivaji (1627–80) is known for uniting Marathas against Muslim rulers in India. Shivaji carved out a Maratha kingdom in the Konkan (the coastal and western areas of Maharashtra State). During the eighteenth century, a powerful Maratha Confederacy arose. Several groups extended Maratha territory as far as the Punjab in the north and Orissa in the east. Maratha power was greatly weakened by the Afghans at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. Nonetheless, marauding bands of Maratha horsemen continued to raid as far afield as the Punjab, Bengal, and southern areas of the Indian peninsula. A series of defeats by the British in the early years of the nineteenth century led to the final collapse of the Maratha Empire.

After India's independence, Marathas promoted the formation of states based on language. Popular sentiment led to the creation of Maharashtra state in 1960 to include the bulk of the Marathi-speaking peoples within its borders.


With 78.7 million people, Maharashtra is India's third largest state. About 50 percent of the population is either Maratha or Kunbis.

Maharashtra falls into three broad geographic divisions. The Konkan is the coastal lowland running from just north of Bombay (Mumbai) to Goa. Inland from this are the Western Ghats, a line of hills that parallels the west coast of India. They are 2,500 to 3,000 feet (760 to 915 meters) in elevation in Maharashtra and reach a height of 5,400 feet (1,646 meters) inland from Bombay. Many peaks in the Ghats are crowned by hill-forts that were once Maratha warrior strongholds. To the east of the Ghats lie the plateaus and uplands of the Deccan lava region, at elevations from 1,000 to 1,800 feet (300 to 550 meters). This region is drained by the eastward-flowing Godaveri River and tributaries of the Krishna. In the extreme north is Tapti River, which flows west to the Arabian Sea.

Average monthly temperatures in Bombay range from 75° F to 86° F (24° C to 30° C ), with annual precipitation totaling 82 inches (208 centimeters). In the Ghats, some areas receive as much as 260 inches (660 centimeters) of rainfall during the monsoon. East of the Ghats, however, rainfall drops to between 20 and 40 inches (50 to 100 centimeters).


Marathi is derived from Maharashtri, a form of Prakit (a spoken version of the classical Sanskrit). Dialects of Marathi include Konkani, Varadhi, and Nagpuri. Marathi is written in a type of script known as Devanagari, or a cursive form of Devanagari called Modi.


The greatest Maratha hero is Shivaji (1627–80), who is known as a champion of Hindus. Shivaji challenged the might of the Islamic Mughal Empire and founded the last great Hindu empire in India. Many incidents in his life have entered local lore. Shivaji embraced the Mughal general and killed him with steel claws attached to his hands before the Muslim could stab him with a concealed dagger. On another occasion, Shivaji escaped from the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by hiding in a fruit basket. Shivaji's men are reputed to have captured the hill-fort of Singadh from the Muslims by sending trained lizards up its walls. The lizards carried ropes for the attackers to climb.


Marathas and Kunbis are Hindu. Although most worship one or more gods as a "family deity," Shiva is of particular importance. In villages, Shiva is worshiped in several forms. Some of these forms include Khandoba, guardian of the Deccan; and Bhairav, protector of the village. Shiva's consort Parvati is worshiped in the forms local mother goddesses such as Bhavani and Janni Devi. Maruti is a kindly monkey god who protects villagers from evil spirits. Marathas believe in witchcraft, the evil eye, and in ghosts and evil spirits who can harm the living. Mashoba is the most widely feared of the evil spirits and when wronged is believed to bring sickness and ill fortune to a village. Some Marathas worship Vishnu as well as Shiva.


Although Marathas observe major Hindu festivals, they also have their own regional celebrations. At Divali, for example, they sing hymns in praise of the Asura king Bali and worship cow-dung images of this demon-god. The birthday of elephant-headed Ganesha is a major event in Bombay. Images of Ganesha are worshiped for three days, then carried to the seashore to be immersed in the ocean. Nag Panchami, when snakes are worshiped, is celebrated widely in Maharashtra. Bendur or Pola, a festival at which bulls are decorated, worshiped, and taken in procession through the villages, is popular in the parts of Maharashtra. The folk hero Shivaji's birthday (Shivaji Jayanti) also is a public holiday.


A jatakarma, or birth ceremony, takes place a few days after a child is born. Marathas believe evil spirits may attack a newborn child in the fifth or sixth day after birth, so special rituals are performed. A purification ceremony takes place after ten days. A haircutting ceremony (chaula karma) is done on a child's first birthday.

Maratha death rites follow Hindu customs. They usually bathe a dead person and wrap the body in a white shroud. The body is then cremated, usually near a river or stream. After the body is burned, the ashes are placed in the water.


Marathas typically greet each other by saying, Namaste, which means "Greetings to you." It is said while joining one's own hands, palms together and held upright, in front of one's body.


On the Deccan Plateau, villages are tight clusters of houses. Smaller houses are simply a rectangular block of four walls forming a single room. Larger houses are made of several such blocks arranged so they make a square, with a sun-court (chowk) in the middle. Rooms include living quarters, a kitchen, storerooms, and a devgarh, where images of the family gods are kept.


The basic kin unit for Marathas is the kul, which means "family." This is a lineage made up of extended families. Members of the kul worship a common totemic symbol called devak. The devak usually is a cobra, elephant, or blade of a sword. One cannot marry someone who worships the same devak. Other than that, Marathas have few marriage restrictions. They can marry within the village, cross-cousin marriage is allowed, and a man may have more than one wife. Marriages are arranged, and a bride price is paid to the girl's family. The actual marriage is elaborate, involving twenty-four separate ceremonies. The most important of these is installation of the devak.


Maratha men wear a dhoti (loincloth made by wrapping a long piece of white cotton around the waist and then drawing the end between the legs and tucking it into the waist) or short trousers, known as cholnas. They also wear a tight-fitting coat. Sometimes they also wear a turban. Women wear the sari (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist, with one end thrown over the right shoulder) and choli (tight-fitting, cropped blouse).

12 • FOOD

The standard diet of the Marathas consists of flat, unleavened bread (roti) with pulses (legumes) and vegetables. Among the poor, a typical meal consists of millet bread eaten with chopped chilies and lentils (dal) . Among the more affluent, bread is made from wheat flour, while rice and more vegetables are served at meals. Marathas will eat fish, mutton, and chicken. For the poor, however, meat is a festival food.


The literacy rate (percentage of the population who can read and write) in the state of Maharashtra is about 55 percent. Bombay, with the University of Bombay and the Indian Institute of Technology, is one of India's major educational centers.


Marathi regional literature dates from around AD 1000. The devotional poetry and songs of Maharashtrian saints such as Namdev (1270–1350) and Ramdas (1608–81) are among its greatest achievements. The eighteenth century saw the rise of love lyrics and heroic ballads (powada) . The nineteenth-century paintings of the Peshwa period were influenced by the earlier Rajasthani tradition. Maratha history in western India abounds with the military exploits of the great Maratha dynasties.


The Maratha cavalry was renowned throughout India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many Marathas continue this tradition of service in the armed forces of modern India. Nevertheless, most Marathas and Kunbis are farmers. Still, Maharashtra is one of the most heavily urbanized Indian states. Its cities include Bombay, one of the world's major urban centers (with about thirteen million people), Pune, and Nagpur. Numerous Marathas now live in cities. They work in commerce and government, and as teachers, doctors and lawyers.


Maratha children enjoy role-playing. Boys pretend to be horse drivers or engine drivers, while girls play with dolls or at housekeeping. Organized games include various versions of tag, blind man's bluff, and hide-and-seek. Traditional Indian games such as Gulli danda (Indian cricket) and Kabaddi (team wrestling) are popular. Cricket is perhaps the most important spectator sport. Field hockey, soccer, tennis, and badminton are played in cities and towns. Popular indoor games include chess, cards, and carrom (a board game in which counters are used to knock one's opponent's counters into pockets).


Many Marathas go to local festivals and fairs, and enjoy traditional folk entertainment. The Nandivala is a traveling performer. He entertains village audiences with sound effects, tricks, soothsaying, and trained-animal shows. The Bahrupi, literally "one with many disguises," is an entertainer known for impersonating people. Bombay, India's equivalent of Hollywood, is the world's largest center of movie making and produces films in both Hindi and Marathi. Bombay is also one of India's major intellectual and cultural centers, with museums, modern and classical music, theater, and other cultural activities.


Traditional crafts in Maharashtra include weaving and metalwork, as well as local specialties such as Kolhapuri leather sandals, and the Muslim himsa (weaving) and bidri (metal inlaid with silver) work of Aurangabad.


The dominant landowning and cultivating caste in their region, the Marathas and Kunbis are unified by a shared history and a common culture rooted in the Marathi language. This sense of identity often creates problems for others who live in Maharashtra, many of whom are peasants. Maratha nationalism has led to anti-foreigner sentiments, with calls for non-Marathas to be banished from the state. The recent renaming of Bombay as "Mumbai," the Marathi name for the city, is another expression of this sense of Maratha consciousness. The Shiv Sena, a conservative, Hindu, regional political party with strong Maratha support, has recently gained power in Maharashtra. It will no doubt continue to promote its policy of "Maharashtra for Maharashtrians."


Ardley, Bridget. India. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press, 1989.

Barker, Amanda. India. Crystal Lake, Ill.: Ribgy Interactive Library, 1996.

Cumming, David. India. New York: Bookwright, 1991.

Das, Prodeepta. Inside India. New York: F. Watts, 1990.

Dolcini, Donatella. India in the Islamic Era and Southeast Asia (8th to 19th century). Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997.

Kalman, Bobbie. India: The Culture. Toronto: Crabtree Publishing Co., 1990.

Pandian, Jacob. The Making of India and Indian Traditions. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Shalant, Phyllis. Look What We've Brought You from India: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories, and Other Cultural Activities from Indian Americans. Parsippany, N.J.: Julian Messner, 1998.


Consulate General of India in New York. [Online] Available , 1998.

Embassy of India, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available , 1998.

Interknowledge Corporation. [Online] Available , 1998.

World Travel Guide. India. [Online] Available , 1998.

User Contributions:

S. K. Jadhav
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 14, 2006 @ 11:23 pm
In Maratha there are 96 Kuli-families. In case of marriage they mostly see bride/groom from 96 family. While arraging marriage they first see the relationship-connection(Padar) of the party. Normaly Maratha do not marry with Kunbi.
Mangesh Utane
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 26, 2006 @ 1:13 pm
In context not mention about Gwalior and Vidarbha which are vital
part of Maratha and Kunbi's History.

Kunbi's mostly found in Vidarbha and Kokan are culturally and financially rich due to thier productive farming assets. Kunbis are progressive, democratic and found more literate ratio campare to western Maharashtra where Maratha's are Dominated.

On globalisation front Kunbi's girls/women are also playing vital role in new generation economy growth due to thier out bound culture.
Where as Marathas are bit dormant and align to thier tranditional value's.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 22, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
My name is Chetan p. Damare & I am live in BARSHI. i proud of i am MARATHA.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 1, 2007 @ 8:20 pm
i think Marathas and Kunbi's should stick together and not let petty politicians separate us. My dad is a Maratha, mom's Kunbi. I didn't even know the difference till I was like 21. I have Maratha and Kunbi cousins and its hard for me to tell the difference between them. Remember it was our internal jealously that led to the demise of the Maratha empire.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 24, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
can a 96k girl married with kunbi.
kunbi & maratha are same cast?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 23, 2007 @ 12:00 am
yes maratha are also doing farming, so very previous days those are also known as kunbi.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 12, 2009 @ 2:02 am
i dont think that their is major diff in Maratha and Kunbi-maratha.The diff is only on paper for documantation.Nowdays this matters alot due to reservation only.Because if u see there are more than 50% maratha's who r doing Farming.
But any away i m proud to b 96K.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 28, 2010 @ 10:22 pm
HI, I M AMRUTA DHANAWADE, I M PROUD TO BE SHANNAV KULI. our ancesters were from madhya pradesh , we can know from where we actully are.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jul 11, 2010 @ 11:11 am
Hi, I am Hemlata Dorge(Maiden surname). Proud to be Ghatti 96K Maratha.
Need to mention ghatti because many people underestimate Ghattis. But for their kind information
Ghattis are more Courageous, Intellectual and business minded.
And I married a kokanastha Kunbi-Maratha boy, So far we both have not faced any problem in our married life, ya but my in-laws always discriminate ghattis. And I am going to prove them who are ghattis in their lifetime.

Anyways person is recommanded not by her/his kula or dharma, but by her/his karma, I strongly believe.
So instead of fighting with such adamant people I prefer to prove them through my Kartutva and achievements. And I would like to forward this same message to my next generation friends and followers.
Jai Bhavani!! Jai Maharashtra!!
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 26, 2010 @ 11:11 am
castinism should stop in future. all we r made from blood,bones,tissues although we are knowing that every one is having the same fundamental needs to live.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jul 12, 2011 @ 5:05 am
i want to ask 1 question.
if my surname is surve & living in ratnagiri.& my boyfrien surname is also surve but he is from satara than we can do marriage? please tell me iam waiting.

Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 28, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
I wish to take an opportunity to mention that all Maratha are same let us join our hands for uplift of our sinking community, We should learn from our great leader Ch. Shivaji Maharaj.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 22, 2011 @ 8:08 am
My pet name is shivaji. I am a maratha, bt my school name is surendra. i m very proud of maratha. I live at nagpur. and my state is maharashtra.
Ganesh Kothar
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 23, 2011 @ 7:07 am
Maratha and Kunbi are same in all respect. At the time of marriage these people tell their cast as Maratha to show that they are descendants of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. But while getting admission to school and in goverment job application they mention it as Kunbi because it is OBC and they can get reservation.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 1, 2011 @ 2:02 am
my surname is sawant & also my girlfriend surname also sawant,she is from same village..than we can do marrage please tell me i am waiting for yours answer?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 15, 2011 @ 9:09 am
Kunbis is a different caste in kokan Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri,Sindhudurg,District some part of Goa. Their surnames are totally different from that of 96 kulis Khatriya Marathas. They are basically farmers. They are very hard working, laborious, honest, well disciplined, very helpful. They are not money minded people. It is unorganized caste. Literacy rates and education level is increased in recent years.

96 kuli Marathas are are having 96 kulas with their sub kulas, having their own surnames different from another kul. They continue their Khatriya Dharma up till now and farming is also their co occupation. Particularly it is ruling community. They are found prominently in administration of state, Indian Army, police dept. trade, business in almost all the prominent field even in agriculture. 96 Kulis are having their own Gotras. They never marries with kulas of the same Gotra and/or or Surname.

I have no ideas of kunbis in the rest of Maharashtra.
Yogesh Pol
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 23, 2011 @ 5:05 am
Hi, I am from village shamgaon Satara district & taluka karad with surname- Pol. My grandfather says we r marathas but I want to know what is 96 k maratha. And wether I belongs to which category. Bcause all the qualities of maratha are matching to my family. Pls reply.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 27, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
Few Corrections:

1. Idols not images of Ganesha are worshiped for 1.5/5/10 days not 3 days, then carried to the seashore to be immersed in the ocean.

2. Marathas typically greet each other by saying, Namaskar not Namaste.

3. Didn't mention Kho-Kho as traditional sport. Info:
Shrinath Naik
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 25, 2012 @ 6:06 am
ME Marathi
It is possible that one day all the Marathas unite together and save our culture
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 26, 2012 @ 12:00 am
Can you please tell who 'Ratre' are.Are they Marathis or not and to which place they belong.Is Ratre a caste in marathis.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 10, 2013 @ 1:13 pm
can i get information about kokanatil maratha samaj rudi parampara chaliriti and aboul their marriage ceremony and old songs which they sings in their villages.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


Marathas forum