Identification. The name "Mahar" is of debatable origin. Explanations run from maha rashtra (people of the great Country, now the Indian state of Maharashtra) to maha ari (great enemy) or mrit har (he who takes away the dead animals). These various origins imply that the Mahar are the original inhabitants of Maharashtra State in western India, that they fought the Aryans or some invader, and that their traditional duties included the Untouchable work of removing dead carcasses from the Village. General designations for Untouchable castes are: Dalit (oppressed), Depressed Classes, Scheduled Castes, Avarna (outside the varna system), Antyaja (last-born), Outcastes (inaccurate, since they are in castes), or Harijans (people of god), a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi that most Mahars reject as being patronizing.
Location. Hindu Mahars and those Mahars who have converted to Buddhism may be found on the outskirts of every village and in every city of the Marathi-speaking area of India, now the state of Maharashtra. There has been considerable migration to Madhya Pradesh and some to Baroda.
Demography. In the 1981 census of Maharashtra, 3,946,149 persons listed themselves as Buddhists, most of them being former Mahars, constituting 6.28 percent of the population of the state of Maharashtra; 1,648,269 listed themselves as Mahars. In the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh, there were 75,312 Buddhists and 577,151 Mahars.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Marathi language, spoken by all people native to the Maharashtra region, is an Indo-European language, but it contains many elements from the Dravidian Family. Maharashtra is a bridge area between north and south India, and thus it reflects both zones.
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