Religious Beliefs. The religious beliefs of those Mahars who have not converted now are basically those of most Hindu low castes in Maharashtra: a strong belief in possession, participation in the festival of the god Khandoba, active participation in the warkari cult and the pilgrimage to Pandharpur, and devotion to various non-Sanskritic gods. The Mahars were traditionally the servants of the village goddess Mariai, the goddess of pestilence. Since the conversion, many of the potra] class who served the goddess have given up that work. It is clear from the Gazetteers of the British in the late nineteenth century that Mahars had many somewhat unusual religious practices, but the great rational reform movement has made any recent study of special caste practices impossible. There were devrishis (treatments of illness by ash and mantras) among the Mahars, and there still may be. Some potraj servants of the goddess still operate, but in many villages the care of the Mariai temple is now in the hands of the Mangs. The leadership of the caste discourages Hindu practices, and many that are still performed are done so without majority approval. For those who have converted to Buddhism, the rational, nonsuperstitious, egalitarian form of Buddhism promulgated by Ambedkar dominates. He died shortly after the initial conversion ceremony in 1956, and the converts have slowly built vihāras (monasteries) in which to meet for Buddhist worship, have created a sangha (community) of monks, have taught Pali and given moral lessons to the children, and have attempted to establish connections with Buddhists in other Countries. The Theravada form of Buddhism is the base for Ambedkar's teaching. His grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, is now head of the Buddhist Society of India. Belief in god or ghost possession is common in India, and Mahars not firmly fixed in Buddhist rationality take part in possession rituals.
Ceremonies. No peculiarly Mahar ceremonies have been reported.
Arts. For the Mahar, the neo-Buddhist movement has produced a flowering of arts of all sorts. Mahars traditionally were part of tamasha, the village theater, and song was traditionally a Mahar property. Since the Buddhist conversion, literature has poured forth, creating a new school of Marathi literature called "Dalit Sahitya." Poetry, plays, autobiography, and short stories now are an essential part of the very Important Marathi literary scene. There is also some emphasis on other arts, and most Dalit literary works are illustrated with Dalit art, but no one artist has yet achieved the fame of the writers such as Daya Pawar or Namdeo Dhasal. The latest trend in Dalit literature is writing by women, especially autobiographies of minimally educated women.
Medicine. The Mahar did not develop any particularly Mahar specialties in this area.
Death and Afterlife. Buddhist converts do not hold with the theory of rebirth. Mahars generally hold the standard beliefs of lower-class Hindus.