The Dhangar caste is primarily located in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The literal translation of the name Dhangar is "Who is wealthy". The word Dhangar is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Dhenu' i.e. Cow. These are quiet and innocent group of people who wander with flocks and herds. They are called by different synonyms like Dhangar, Dhangad and Dhanpal. Dhang also means a hill or a mountain. During the times of hardship some Kshatriyas went to the mountains and hills with their sheep and cows and stayed in the forests: these people are called Dhangars.
Initially there were twelve tribes of Dhangar and they had a division of labour amongst brothers of one family. This latter formed three sub-divisions and one half division (3.5). These three being Hatkar, Ahir (Gawli/Gavali) or Mhaskar(Gujar), and Khutekar / Sangar. The half division is called Khatik. All sub-castes fall in one of these divisions. All sub-divisions emerge from one stock and all sub-divisions claim to be a single group of Dhangars. Studies have revealed that they are genetically the closest. The number three and a half is not a random selection but has a religious and cosmological significance.
The main Dhangar subcastes are Ahir / Gawli / Mhaskar / Gurjar / Yadu (Yadav), Hatkar / Bargi / Barahatti / Barhatta / Bargahi / Baragahi / Barahghar / Bande (Revolutionary) / Zende (Brave) / Bhillari / Khillari / Metkari / Dange / Bakarwal / Bharwad / Baghel / Pal / Gadari / Gadariya / Gaddi / Kuruba (meaning trustworthy)/ Kanore / Kanade / Kurmar / Kurbar / Kurumbar / Idaiyan / Idaiyar / Idaiga / Konar / Golla / Neekhar / Nikher, Khutekar / Dewanga / Kshitri / Khatri, Kuktekar, Sengar / Sangar / Shegar, Lad Mendhe / Ladse, Jhade / Jhadi / Zade, Hulwan, Konkani, Mahure / Mahurai, Telange, Tellari, Warhade / Varadi / Barade, Khatik, Oraon, Talwar, Banjara / Vanjara , Kambar, Shirotya, Utekar, Gadge.
The Dhangars ignore the subcastes and project themselves only as Dhangars.
Captain Fitzgerald had observed that ‘the general idea is that originally there were Twelve Tribes of Bargi-Dhangars, who came from Hindustan, and the country about Hingoli was called Bara Hatti (Hatkar). The term Bara-Hatti could thus mean a country of the Dhangars of twelve hattis. The term Hatkar is derived from hatti. According to the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, h(p)atti has the following meanings: pen (Kannada), hamlet (Malayalam), cowstall, sheepfold (Tamil). A hatti would therefore mean a sheep pen or a camp or a settlement of sheep-keepers. In the old Kannada lexicon hattikara occurs as a synonym of govali, or cowherds. These etymological linkages indicate a connection between the sheep and cattle keepers. The term means a camp of sheep-cattle keepers. Bara-hatti means a village consisting of twelve vadis. The vadi constitutes 20-23 Dhangar families.
The word "hat" means obstinacy in Marathi and "kar" means doer meaning obstinate. Captain Fitz Gerald, once an assistant commissioner in Berar, made the following observation:- The Hatkars declare that they came prior to the Nizam becoming subhedar of deccan on behalf of the King of Delhi. The Hatkars are all Bargi Dhangars, or the shepherds with the spears. The Hatkars say that they formerly, when going on any expedition, took only a blanket seven hands long and a bear-spear, and that on this account they were called Bargir, or Barga Dhangars. The temper of Hatkars is said to be obstinate and quarrelsome. A famous couplet of a Bengali cradle song, created by Oriya and Bengali people to make their babies sleep at night is quoted below.
"Chhele ghumalo para juralo Bargi elo deshe Bulbulite dhan kheyechhe khajna debo kise?"
Hushed the child sleeps and quiet is the neighborhood now, for the Bargis have descended on our land; the bulbulis have eaten away our crops, how shall we pay our land tax?'
The “Ain-i-Akbari” describes them as being a proud, refractory and domineering race of Rajputs, living in the Basim Sircar and, with numerous armed forces, occupying the forts and controlling the surrounding districts. .
They are even now noted for their martial qualities and readily become soldiers. The armies of Shivaji were composed of recruits mainly drawn from this caste who were the most trusted by Shivaji. The bravest Maratha leaders, among whom the Holkars are the most distinguished, are of this tribe. When tending and driving sheep and goats Dhangars ejaculate 'Har, Har,' which is a name of Mahadeo used by devotees in worshipping him. The Dhangars furnished a valuable contingent to Sivaji's guerilla soldiery. The slogan of the Marathas, Har Har Mahadeo, was used by the Dhangars -- showing that Mavalas or the soldiers of Shivaji were themselves Dhangars. The Shepherds of Maratha Country are called Marathe (Bar-hatta, i.e. Hatkar) (Hatkars of Western Maharashtra and Konkan are also called Maratha Dhangar).
At the time of his Coronation, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj showed that he belonged to the Gahlot (i.e. Sisodiya/Ranas of Mewar) Clan. Shahu Maharaj coined the word Maratha for the peasant section i.e. Kunbi.
Historically "Maratha" was a common term used for people of Maharashtra region that speak Marathi. Today, however, the term "Maratha" refers only to those Marathi-speaking people who also belong to certain specific Hindu castes: for one available listing, refer to Maratha clan system. Thus, the terms "Maratha people" and "Maratha-Dhangar" are not interchangeable and should not be confused for each other. All Dhangars of Western Maharashtra and Konkan, like Holkars, can be termed Marathas, but all Marathas are not Dhangars. For one available listing of Dhangars, refer to List of Dhangar clans in India.
The Dhangars of the Northern or Southern India are reasonably considered to belong to the same race .
The Dhangar community is one of the oldest existing communities of India, tracing its history back to Mahabharata times. They have originated several ruling dynasties, most recently the Holkars of Indore. Prominent Dhangars have been Hakkaraya and Bukkaraya, founders of the Vijayanagara Empire. Dhangars have founded the Hoysalas, Holkar, Rashtrakutas, Maurya, Pallav dynasties. In addition the poets Kalidasa and Kanakadasa were also Dhangars. The famous Vithoba temple at Pandharpur was built by Vishnuvardhana, a Dhangar from the Hoysala Dynasty. The famous Meenakshi temple was built by Pallavas who were Dhangars. Lord Krishna, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ were all Shepherds. Metaphorically, the term Shepherd is used for God.
Traditionally being Warriors, Shepherds, Blanket & Wool Weavers and Farmers, Dhangars were late to take up modern day education. Though it has a notable population not only in Maharashtra but also in India, had a rich history, today it is still politically highly unorganized community and is socially, educationally, economically and politically backward. They lived a socially isolated life due to their occupation, wandering mainly in forests, hills and mountains.