Mahrattas a people of Central India, south of the River Ganges, inhabiting the mountains from Gwalior to Goa, and by many supposed to be the descendants of a Persian or North Indian people who had been driven southwards by the Mongols. They are a vigorous and active race, and though, like many Eastern nations, diminutive and ill formed, are distinguished for their courage. Most of the Mahrattas are Hindus in religious belief, but, unlike the devout followers of Brahma, they do not adhere to the distinction of caste very closely. Mohammedanism and Parseeism also have many followers among this people, and Judaism counts a few adherents, though so distorted by heathen practices that some ethnologists have identified the Beni Israel of the Mahratta land with the Pattans (q.v.).
History. — The Mahrattas are first mentioned in history about the middle of the 17th century. They then inhabited a narrow strip of territory on the west side of the peninsula, extending from 15° to 21° N. lat., and are spoken of as for three centuries the subjects of Mohammedanism. The founder of the Mahratta power was Sevaji (died in 1680), a freebooter or adventurer, whose father was an officer in the service of the last king of Bejapir. By policy or by force, he eventually succeeded in compelling the several independent chiefs to acknowledge him as their leader, and, with a large army at his command, overran and subdued a vast portion of the emperor of Delhi's territory. He was crowned as king in 1674. his son and successor, Sambaji, after vigorously following out his father's policy, was taken prisoner by Aurungzebe in 1689, and put to death. The incapacity of the subsequent rulers who reigned under the title of Ramrjah ("great king"), tempted the two chief officers of state, the Peishzwa, or prime minister, and the paymaster-general, to divide, about 1749, the empire between them, the former fixing his residence at Pfuna, and retaining a nominal supremacy over the whole nation, while the latter made Nagpur his capital, and founded the empire of the Berar Mahrattas. Later, however, the Mahratta kingdom was divided into a great number of states, more or less powerful and independent, chief among which were, besides the two above mentioned, Gwalior, ruled by the Rao Scindiah; Indore, by the Rao Holkar; and Baroda, by the Guicowar. Intestine wars followed this subdivision, and ultimately the East India Company was compelled to interfere. After many long and bloody contests with the British and their allies, the Mahrattas were reduced to a state of dependence. The only exception was Scinldiah, a powerful chief; who had raised a powerful army, officered by Frenchmen, and disciplined after the European method. He continued the contest until 1843. The dignity of peishwa was abolished in 1818, and his territories were occupied by the British. Nagpdir and Sattara subsequently also came to the British, but the other chiefs still possess extensive dominions under British protection.
Missions. — The earliest missions of the Christian Church in India date with the settlement of the Portuguese in Goa, where the Roman Catholics established the first bishopric in 1534. The second important hold the Romish Church secured at the two Salsettes, the peninsula and island near Bombay. From these the work was gradually pressed through the Mahratta-land. At Goa there are claimed to be 312,000, and at Bombay 20,300 Roman Catholics. SEE INDIA. The first Prottestant mission was commenced in the Mahratta-land by the American Board in 1811. For about twenty years it was confined to the territory this side of the Ghauts. Mahim, Tannah, and Chowul (Choule) were occupied for a time, but abandoned in 1826. In 1836, however, the work began to show signs of vigor and promise. At this time a mission was established on the high lands of Ahmednuggur, a city of 30,000 inhabitants, and by 1842 it became an independent mission center. For the success of this work and its present status, see the article INDIA, vol. 4, p. 555, col. 2. The Anglican Church first began missionary labors in Bombay in 1820, and gradually gained a hold at Tannah, Bandora, and Bassein. In 1832, Nasik, the most celebrated center of Brahminism in all Deccan, was secured; in 1846 the work was extended to the station Junir, and in 1848 to Malligaum. The attempt made a few years ago, at Yeolat, to Christianize exclusively by the aid of native helpers failed completely. Neither did the effort among the Illanmgs, in the neighborhood of Aurangabad (stations Buldana, etc.), prove successful. In Bombay and vicinity the Church Missionary Society sustains many schools, and Christian influences are molding the character of the rising generation. A special missionary for the Mohammedans is sustained here. See BOMBAY. The Scotch Mission commenced at Konkan in 1823;. the first stations were Bankot and Suvarndrug, but these were abandoned when the laborers were needed at Bombay. Here both the "Established Church" and the "Free Church" sustain schools. The Scotch Mission at Poonah, which originated in 1839, belongs to the Free Church. Of late years the Free Church has established missions among the Waralies (aborigines) near Daman. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel has labored in this field since 1840, but confined mainly to Bombay. Very lately the Medical Missionary Society has established an institute which will prove of valuable service to the mission work. See Sprengel, Geschichte der Maratten (Halle, 1786); Duth, History of the Mahrattas (London, 1826, 3 vols. 8vo); Grundemann, Missionsatlas, No. 12; Chambers, Cyclopaedia, s.v.