Marathas claim to be Kshatriyas descended from the four ancient royal vanshas, or branches. In support, they point out that many of their kula, or family names, are common clan names amongt the Rajputs, who are indubitably Kshatriyas. In the past royal Maratha houses have intermarried with the Rajputs. They also observe certain Kshatriya social practices like wearing the sacred thread and observing purdah. These claims are made only by the Marathas proper (i.e., the chiefs, landowners, and fighting clans). The Maratha cultivators, known as Kunbis, and other service castes, such as Malis (gardeners), Telis (oil pressers), and Sutars (carpenters) do not consider themselves Kshatriyas. Nevertheless, the fact that the Kunbis and Marathas belong to one social group is emphasized by common occurrence of Maratha-Kunbi marriages.
Social Organization. Maratha social organization is based on totemic exogamous groups called kuls, each of which has a devak, an emblem, usually some common tree that is worshiped at the time of marriage. The devak may also be an animal, a bird, or an object such as an ax. The Maratha proper, who claim descent from the original four royal houses, belong to 96 named kulas, although much disagreement exists about which kula belongs to which vansha. Further, quite a few kulas have the same name as the Kunbi kulas with whom the aristocratic Marathas deny all identity. Some of the Marathas also claim to have gotras, which is a north Indian Brahman social category; but strict gotra exogamy does not exist, and this fact might suggest that the gotras, like the vanshas, might have been adopted at some time in the past to bolster Maratha social status.
Political Organization and Social Control. In the cities and small towns some Marathas have risen to very high positions in government service, which has given them political power. Positions of importance in the cooperative sugar mills, in the managing committees of schools, in the municipalities, and in the panchayat samitis are held by Marathas in most cases. As the Marathas are the majority agricultural Community with smallholdings in this region, they still belong to the lower-income groups as a whole; but there has arisen among them a stratus of educated elite who are in higher administrative services and in industry and who hold political power. This power to a great extent has its basis in the votes of the small rural landholder.