The Mahar are an Indian community historically identified as untouchables. They are found largely within Maharashtra, where they comprise 10% of the population, and neighboring states. As Untouchables they were assigned a very low status in Hinduism, and as a result most of the Maher community followed social reformer B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism in the early 20th century

Early theories

The 19th century activist and social reformer Jyotirao Phule wrote that the Mahars are indigenous people of India belong to Kshatriya (warrior) varna, and they were conquered by Aryan Brahman race, which came from beyond the Indus region to invade India and the established the caste system for social control. The Mahar fought with the Brahman and their ancestors were singled out as untouchables. Phule proposed etymologies “great/terrible enemy” (maha meaning great and ari or art meaning enemy), or “those who take away dead animals” (mrit har). The name of Maharashtra state is possibly derived from “land of the Mahars”(MahāranÌ„ce rāṣṭra ).

Conversion ( Buddhism )

In Nagpur in 1956, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, seeking to remove Mahars from the strictures and discrimination of the caste system, conducted a mass conversion to Buddhism of around 500,000 of his followers in a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters on 14th October. Ambedkar completed his own conversion, along with his wife. He then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him .As Buddhists they gave up their traditional Hindu occupations and sought to redefine their social status. Ambedker died about two months after this mass conversion; his Buddhist cremation was attended by half a million people in Mumbai. At the same spot after his cremation, more Mahars were converted in Buddhism.Now this community is the third most populous in Mumbai.

Dikshabhumi, a stupa at the site in Nagpur, where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with many of his followers

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government Archaeological Survey of India as “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting”,  which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. The caves were built in two phases starting around the 2nd century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period of 460 to 480 according to the recent proposals of Walter M. Spink. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The area was previously heavily forested, and after the site ceased to be used the caves were covered by jungle until accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by a British officer on a hunting party. They are Buddhist monastic buildings, apparently representing a number of distinct “monasteries” or colleges. The caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines, included in the traditional numbering as e.g. “9A”; “Cave 15A” was still hidden under rubble when the numbering was done. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which when the river is high are audible from outside the caves

Like the other ancient Buddhist monasteries, Ajanta had a large emphasis on teaching, and was divided into several different caves for living, education and worship, under a central direction. Monks were probably assigned to specific caves for living. The layout reflects this organizational structure, with most of the caves only connected through the exterior. The 7th-century travelling Chinese scholar Xuanzang informs us that Dinnaga, a celebrated Buddhist philosopher and controversialist, author of well-known books on logic, lived at Ajanta in the 5th century. In its prime the settlement would have accommodated several hundred teachers and pupils. Many monks who had finished their first training may have returned to Ajanta during the monsoon season from an itinerant lifestyle.

The caves are generally agreed to have been made in two distinct periods, separated by several centuries.