Typical Maratha helmet with curved back.
Maratha Armour from Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.
The term "Maratha" originally referred to the speakers of the
Marathi language. In the 17th century, it emerged as a designation for soldiers serving in the armies of
Deccan sultanates (and later
Shivaji). A number of Maratha warriors, including Shivaji's father,
Shahaji, originally served in those armies.
 By the mid-1660s, Shivaji had established an independent
 After his death, Marathas fought under his sons and defeated Aurangzeb in the war of 27 years. It was further expanded into a vast empire by
Maratha Confederacy including
Peshwas, stretching from central India
 in the south, to
 (in modern-day Pakistan) on the Afghanistan border in the north, and with
expeditions to Bengal in the east. By the 19th century, the empire had become a confederacy of individual states controlled by Maratha chiefs such as
Nagpur. The Confederacy remained the pre-eminent power in India until their defeat by the
British East India Company in the
Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818).
By 19th century, the term Maratha had several interpretations in the British administrative records. In the
Gazetteer of 1882, the term was used to denote elite layers within various castes: for example, "Maratha-Agri" within
Agri caste, "Maratha-Koli" within
Koli caste and so on. In the
Pune District, the words
Kunbi and Maratha had become synonymous, giving rise to the Maratha-Kunbi caste complex. The Pune District Gazetteer of 1882 divided the
Kunbis into two classes: Marathas and other Kunbis. The 1901 census listed three groups within the Maratha-Kunbi caste complex: "Marathas proper", "Maratha Kunbis" and "
Konkani Marathas". The Kunbi class comprised agricultural workers and soldiers. The upper-class "Marathas proper" (comprising
96 clans) claimed
Rajput descent with
Kshatriya status, and included princes, officers and landowners. Some of the Maratha clans claiming
Rajput descent include
Gradually, the term Maratha came to denote an endogamous caste. From 1900 onwards, the
Satyashodhak Samaj movement defined the Marathas as a broader social category of non-
Brahmin groups. These non-Brahmins gained prominence in
Indian National Congress during the
Indian independence movement. In independent India, these Marathas became the dominant political force in the newly-formed state of Maharashtra.