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Maratha History: Origin of Marathas
Who Are Marathas?
The origin of the word Maratha is in the ancient Prakrit word `Marhatta'. That is a geographical term, which was used for all the people of Maharashtra. (Ancient Maharashtra was geographically bigger one than today's Maharashtra, consisting almost all the parts of Deccan). But later the word was being used for all the warrior people of Maharashtra.
King Shivaji, the great warrior of Deccan, gave an opportunity to fight against enemy to all the people, irrespective of their religion and caste. For him, everybody was a Maratha, who was helping him in his freedom struggle. So for him all his soldiers, including his Muslim soldiers (Who were in large numbers in his navy and artillery) were Marathas. If you check school leaving certificates of persons older than eighty years, you will find the words like Maratha Sutar, Maratha Parit, Maratha Lohar etc. on it. Now the word Maratha is replaced by the word Hindu.
It should be noted that Peshavas, who were Chitpavan Bramhins by caste, were also known as Marathas. The Muslim Queen of Ahmednagar Chandbibi was also known as a Maratha.
Later, Bramhins avoided to call themselves as Maratha and eventually stopped.Today in Maharashtra, a specific community who is politically strong, calls itself as Maratha. The community has 96 clans. Most of the clans are newer (which did not exist before King Shivaji) and only few clans are ancient which I would like to note here: Yadav/Jadhav, Morey, Kadam (Kadamb), Salunkhe, Rathod, Chavan, Shinde, Shelar, Sawant, Pawar, Kalchuri, Sisodia etc.
The cultivators of Maharashtra were known as Kunabis, most of whom started to call themselves as Marathas in early 20th century. This increased the number of Maratha population rapidly in Maharshtra. So they became politically stronger. Today Marthas are divided in several groups namely Deshmukhs, 96 Kulis, Common Marathas, Kadus and Kunabis. They do not intermarry. There are geographical divisions also and they generally do not marry outside their region. (Like a Maratha of Sangli district marries with the maratha of the surrounding districts of Satara and Kolhapur but not with the Marathas of Pune district. Which is just 110 Km. from Satara).
It is said that when a Kunabi becomes stronger, he becomes a Maratha, when a Maratha becomes stronger he becomes a Patil, When a Patil becomes stronger he becomes a Deshmukh.
Deshmukh was the highest Designation, like District Collector of present day, while Patil was the chief of a village. Deshmukh is like Desai of Gujarat and Karnataka, and Patil is like Choudhari of North India, Patel of Gujarat and Gouda of Karnataka.
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