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Maharaja Yashwantrao Martandrao Mukne of Jawhar State

Maharaja (/ˌmɑː(h)əˈrɑːə/[1] MAH-(h)ə-RAH-jə; also spelled Maharajah or Maharaj) is a Sanskrit title for a "great ruler", "great king", or "high king".[2] The title was used by the rulers of a few states informally called empires, including Raja Sri Gupta, founder of the ancient Indian Gupta Empire; and Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya Empire.[3] 'Title inflation' soon led to most being rather mediocre or even petty in real power, which led to compound titles (among other efforts) being used in an attempt to distinguish some among their ranks.

Maharani Rudrama Devi was one the few ruling queens in Indian History. She ruled for 26 years (1263–1289) and built the Warangal fort, several major temples, dharmashalas and civic services for the poor

The female equivalent, Maharani, Maharanee, Mahārājñī or Maharajin, literally 'Great Queen', denotes either the wife of a Maharaja (or Maharana, Maharao, Maharawal) or also, in states where it was customary, a woman ruling without a husband. The widow of a Maharaja is known as a Rajamata, "queen mother".[4] Maharajakumar generally denotes a son of a Maharaja, but more specific titulatures are often used at each court, including Yuvaraja for the heir (the crown prince). The form "Maharaj" (without "-a") indicates a separation of noble and religious offices, although since in Hindi the suffix -a is silent, the two titles are near homophones.


Ranjit Singh, first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire

The word Maharaja originates in Sanskrit and is a compound karmadhāraya term from mahānt- "great" and rājan "ruler, king"). It has the Latin cognates magnum "great" and rex "king".[5][6] Due to Sanskrit's major influence on the vocabulary of most languages in Greater India and Southeast Asia, the term Maharaja is common to many modern Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages. The Sanskrit title Maharaja was originally used only for rulers who ruled a considerably large region with minor tributary rulers under them. Since medieval times, the title was used by (Hindu) monarchs of lesser states claiming descent from ancient Maharajas.

Indian subcontinent[edit]

Raja as a ruler's title[edit]

On the eve of independence in 1947, the British Indian Empire contained more than 600 princely states, each with its own native ruler, often styled Raja or Rana or Thakur (if the ruler were Hindu) or Nawab (if he were Muslim), with a host of less current titles as well.

The British directly ruled two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent; the rest was under indirect rule by the above-mentioned princes under the considerable influence of British representatives, such as Residents, at their courts.

The word Maharaja may be understood simply to mean "ruler" or "king", in spite of its literal translation as "great king". This was because only a handful of the states were truly powerful and wealthy enough for their rulers to be considered 'great' monarchs; the remaining were minor princely states, sometimes little more than towns or groups of villages. The word, however, can also mean emperor in contemporary Indian usage.

The title of Maharaja was not as common before the gradual British colonisation of India, upon and after which many Rajas and otherwise styled Hindu rulers were elevated to Maharajas, regardless of the fact that scores of these new Maharajas ruled small states, sometimes for some reason unrelated to the eminence of the state, for example, support to the British in Afghanistan, World War I or World War II. The Maharaja of Punjab in the 19th century was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He earned this title by keeping the Britishers beyond the Sutlej and even crushed the Afghan Empire. Maharajas in the twentieth century were the Maharaja of Cochin and Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. Apart from princely states, rulers of some large and extended zamindaris were also awarded the title of Maharaja. The rulers of Jeypore, Darbhanga, Vizianagaram, Parlakhemundi Gidhaur were a few zamindars who were titled Maharaja for their cordiality and contribution to the British Raj.

  • Variations of this title include the following, each combining Maha- "great" with an alternative form of Raja 'king', so all meaning 'Great King': Maharana (as in Udaipur), Maharawal (as in Dungarpur/Jaisalmer), Maharawat (Pratapgarh), Maharao (as in Kotah, Bundi) and Maharaol (as in Baria).
  • Maharajah has taken on new spellings due to the time change and migration. It has even been shortened to Mahraj and Maraj but the most common is Maharajah and Maharaj.
  • Despite its literal meaning, unlike many other titles meaning Great King, neither Maharaja nor Rajadhiraja ('King of Kings'), nor even its equivalent amongst. After ancient times, Maharaja, 'Maharajadhiraja', never reached the standing required for imperial rank, as each was soon the object of title inflation. Instead, the Hindu title which is commonly rendered as Emperor is Samraat or Samraj(a), a personal distinction achieved by a few rulers of ancient dynasties such as the Mauryas and Guptas; the Muslim equivalent of emperor would be Padshah (of Persian origin), notably applied to the Mughal dynasty, the Paramount power until the British established their raj.

Compound and dynastic ruler titles[edit]

  • Dharma-maharaja was the devout title (compare Rajadharma) of the rulers of the Ganga dynasty.

In the Mughal Empire it was quite common to award to various princes (hereditary or not) a series of lofty titles as a matter of protocolary rank. The British would, as paramount power do the same. Many of these (see also above) elaborate explicitly on the title Maharaja, in the following descending order:

  • Maharajadhiraja Bahadur (or Maharajadhiraj Bahadur): Great King over Kings, a title of honour, one degree higher than Maharajadhiraja.
  • Maharajadhiraja (or Maharajadhiraj): Great King over Kings, a title of honour, one degree higher than Sawai Maharaja Bahadur.
  • Sawai Maharaja Bahadur: a title of honour, one degree higher than Sawai Maharaja. (the term bahadur, originally 'brave' in Persian, was often used for 'one-degree' higher', and 'sawai' is 'one and a quarter higher', i.e. just a step above bahadur)
  • Sawai Maharaja: a title of honour one degree higher than Maharaja Bahadur; as granted (directly) to the Rajas of Ajaygarh.
  • Maharaja Bahadur: a title of honour, one degree higher than Maharaja.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale. The Maratha ruler preferred the title of Chhatrapati as against Maharaja and was the founder and sovereign of the Maratha Empire in India
Sri Panch Bada Mahārājādhirāja Prithvi Narayan Shah Dev of Nepal.
His Highness Maharajadhiraj Mirza Maharao Shri Sir Khengarji III Sawai Bahadur, Rao of Kutch, GCIE, KIH
Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh of Jammu and Kashmir
Maharaja Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal of Sikkim

Furthermore, there were various compound titles simply including other princely styles, such as:

Certain Hindu dynasties even came to use a unique style, including a term which as such is not of princely rank, e.g. Maharaja Gaikwar of Baroda, Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, Maharaja Holkar of Indore, three of the very highest ranking ruling Maratha houses.


At the absence of the king (maharaja), minor heir, less experienced great queen (maharani); the mother of the king takes charge of the kingdom and acts as an temporary monarch/regent. Until the heir comes to the age or the Queen is ready, the Rajamata (Queen mother) administers the kingdom. She is empowered to issue royal decree (Rajyaadesh/rajya shasan) and she will be the head of the military. Famous examples include Rajamata Shetu Lakshmi Bayi of Travincore dynasty, Gowri lakshmi bayi, Maharaji (later Rajamata) Rudrama devi of Kakatiya dynasty.[7][8] The Rajamata can overrule the advice of ministerial council, abolish or impose tax, appoint or dismiss people from a post and has unlimited powers at the absence of the king. When the king is present, the Rajamata being the mother of the king, are given with certain powers to roles. They often share the burden of the ruling king/queen. Few of the powers they are granted (not limited) with are "powers to summon the king, appoint certain people, issue police orders, religious duties, issue death warrant and other minor powers". Famous Rajamata who functioned with the is Rajamata Jijabai of vast Maratha empire, accompanying the Chhatrapati (emperor).[9]


Chakravarti is a Sanskrit term for "emperor". The meaning of chakravarti is "he, whose wheels of chariot is moving" which symbolizes that the leader who is a war hero, who commands over vast land and sea, the one who rules the people with dedication. In the Mahabharata, the Chakravarti Bharat is known to have ruled the entire sub-continent of India brought golden age to his empire. He is called as chakravarti.


Chakravartini is the female equivalent to the Chakravarti, and hence, is the "empress". She can either be the wife of the chakravarti or she herself is the ruling monarch. Chakravartini is more famously known as Samrajyani or Samrajyadekshini if she is the ruling monarch.


Yuvaraja means the crown prince of the kingdom or empire. He is granted with certain powers and responsibilities so that he can be prepared to take over as the Maharaja.


Yuvarani is the royal title given to the wife of a crown prince. A yuvarani is trained in religious, administrative and judiciary sections but is also trained to command armies in the absence of the king or emperor.


Rajakumara is a prince who is not going to be the next Maharaja. He is created as royal blood and based on the confort of the king/queen, he is conferred with certain duties.


Rajakumari is a princess who will not be the next queen. This title is usually granted to the daughter of a Maharaja.

Nobiliary and honorary use[edit]

Like Raja and various other titles, Maharaja was repeatedly awarded to notables without a princely state, such as zamindars.

  • One Raja of Lambagraon, a Jagir (in Himachal Pradesh) who served in the colonial army was granted personally the non-hereditary title of Maharaja of Kangra-Lambagraon and a personal 11-guns salute, so neither honour passed on to his son and heir.
  • In the major, Muslim realm of Hyderabad and Berar, there was a system of ennobling titles for the Nizam's courtiers, conferring a specific rank without any (e)state of their own, not unlike peerage titles without an actual fief in the UK, the highest titles for Hindu nobles being Maharaja Bahadur and Maharaja, above Vant, Raja Rai-i-Rayan Bahadur, Raja Rai Bahadur, Raja Bahadur, Raja and Rai; for their Muslim counterparts there were alternative titles, the highest being Jah and Umara; e.g. the Diwan (Prime Minister) Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad, held such a Maharaja-title.

Derived style for princes of the blood[edit]

Maharaj Kumar (or Maharajkumar) means son of a Maharaja or Heir-Apparent; the female equivalent is Maharaj Kumari (Maharajkumari): daughter of a Maharaja.


Shree Panch Mahārājādhirāja Rana Bahadur Shah Bahadur Shamsher Jang Devanam Sada Samaravijayinam, Sovereign King of Nepal

The Gorkha Kings of Nepal (now a republic) used the title of Mahārājādhirāja which was "King among Great Kings", a title of honour, a degree higher than Mahārājā. Rana Prime ministers of Nepal used the title of Shree Teen Maharaja while the Gorkha Kings used Shree Panch Maharajadhiraja.

Southeast Asia[edit]


Duan Xingzhi, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Dali, submitted to the Mongol Empire, and in return was enfeoffed as Maharaja (摩诃罗嵯) of Dali, continuing to rule the area (but subordinated to Yuan princes and Muslim governors of Yunnan), until the Ming conquest of Yunnan.[10]


When the Indonesian Archipelago was still predominantly Hindu-Buddhist (circa 3rd century CE until the 15th century CE), all of the Indianized kingdoms which ruled different areas of the archipelago was ruled by a "Maharaja" or simply referred by the locals as "Raja", such as the first and oldest Hindu kingdom of Indonesia the Kutai Martadipura in eastern Borneo, the Tarumanegara, the Srivijaya, the Majapahit and numerous other kingdoms. Traditional titles remain in use for other members of royalty, such as Pangeran Ratu for the heir and other local-Malay titles such as "Paduka Sri". The title "Maharaja" has been used to refer to kings of ancient Indianized kingdoms, such as Maharaja Mulavarman king of Kutai Martadipura and Maharaja Purnawarman king of Tarumanegara.

Maharaja was also part of the titles of the nobility in the Sumatran sultanate of Aceh. In the past, the title of Maharaja is given to a leader of the unreigning noble family and the Prime Minister Maharaja Mangkubumi. The last Prime Minister of Aceh who was installed to be the Maharaja Mangkubumi, Habib Abdurrahman el Zahir, who also acted as the foreign affairs minister of Aceh but was deposed and exiled to Jeddah by the colonial Dutch East Indies authorities in October 1878.


In peninsular Malaysia:

  • Maharaja was the title of the monarch of the peninsular Malay state of Johor(e) from 1873 to 1885. The Arabic, Muslim title Sultan, often considered of higher rank, was re-adopted later and remains in current usage.
  • The title Bendahara Seri Maharaja was used by the ruler of Pahang (1623–1853 in personal union with Johor, eventually becoming a fief of the Bendahara family), till on 6 August 1882 Tuanku Ahmad al-Muadzam Shah ibni al-Marhum Tun Ali adopted the title, Sultan.

In northern Borneo, the title Maharajah of Sabah and Rajah of Gaya and Sandakan was used from 29 December 1877 to 26 August 1881 by Baron von Overbeck (compare White Rajah).[11]

The Englishman Capt. James Brooke was declared as Rajah Brooke by the Sultan of Brunei for his role in pacifying the Sarawak revolt against the Sultan during the Raffles' stint. The word Rajah derived from the word Maharaja. In 1842, the Sultan of Brunei ceded Sarawak to Rajah Brooke who founded the Kingdom of Sarawak and a line of dynastic monarchs known as the White Rajahs.

In contemporary Malay usage, the title Maharaja refers to an emperor, e.g. "Maharaja Jepun" ("Emperor of Japan").


In Seri Malayas of the Srivijaya, under the Srivijaya satellite empire of the Majapahit Empire dominated over the whole Malayas far-reaching the present Philippine Archipelago, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia under the Srivijaya Empire of the Majapahit King Maharaja Pamariwasa. The latter's daughter Es-kander was married to an Arab (Zein Ul-Abidin), the third Makdum who promulgated Koranic studies (Madrassahs) and was a Srivijaya ruler in Seri who were a Srivijaya Monarchy. In the 12th century with the fall of the empire, the Seri King being a Muslim established the Sultanate of Brunei in 1363 with the throne name Sultan Mohamad Shah. In 1426, he established the sultanate of sulu as his death was recorded in 1431 Mt. Makatangis Sulu grave and 1432 Brunei grave. Both Sulu and Brunei claim the honor of his grave, while his brother, a Johore (Singapore) Prince Makdum Karim (Sharif Kabungsuwan of Malabang Lanao) the second Makdum after the first one Makdum Tuan Masha'ik. Karim ul-makdum re=enforced Islam, a Srivijaya Johore ruler, later established the Sultanate of Maguindanao-Ranao (Mindanao) after taking the political authority of his father-in-law Tomaoi Aliwya of the Maguiindanao family dynasty. He adapted the title as sultan Aliwya (Sharif Kabungsuwan), the first Maguindanao Sultan. The second and third Makdum's father was Sultan Betatar of Taif Arabia who was the 9th progeny of Hasan, the grandson of prophet Sayyidina Muhammad.

Compound Malay titles[edit]

The word can also be part of titles used by Malay nobility:

  • Maharaja Lela was the title of the ruler of the State of Naning (founded 1641), until it was annexed by the United Kingdom to Malacca in 1832.

Most famous was Bendahara Seri Maharaja Tun Mutahir of Malacca (executed 1509) and Datuk Maharaja Lela Pandak Lam of Perak (executed 1876).

The palace marshal of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (head of state) of modern Malaysia is called Datuk Maharaja Lela Penghulu Istana Negara.

Eventually, Maharajah Adinda was also used to refer to a particular lineage within the royal families.


Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, King of Thailand (2016–)

The King of Thailand has been called a "Maharaj" (Thai: มหาราชา).

See also[edit]

Sources and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Maharaja". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ Tej Ram Sharma (1989). A. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 81-7022-251-6. ... Literally Maharaja means 'a great king' ...
  3. ^ "Maharaja | Hindu title". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  4. ^ Hansdev Patel (1998). Royal Families and Palaces of Gujarat. Scorpion Cavendish. ISBN 1-900269-20-1.
  5. ^ Thomas J. Samuelian (2000), Armenian origins: an overview of ancient and modern sources and theories, Iravunq Publishing House, ... Cognate Chart Sanskrit: Maha Greek: Mega English: Much ...
  6. ^ Horace G. Danner, Roger Noël, An introduction to an academic vocabulary: word clusters from Latin, Greek and German, ... Mag-, great; maj-, greater; max-, greatest; IE base: meg-, yields Sanskrit maha; English much; Greek mega ...
  7. ^ "Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, The Feminist Queen of the House of Travancore". Thebetterindia.com. 27 October 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  8. ^ Srinivas, Pendem (14 March 2016). "Rudramadevi History, Achievements and Administration". Indiathedestiny.com. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  9. ^ "Rajmata Jijau Birthplace, Sindkhed Raja | District Buldhana, Government of Maharashtra | India". Buldhana.nic.in. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  10. ^ Yang, Bin (2008a), "Chapter 3: Military Campaigns against Yunnan: A Cross-Regional Analysis", Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan (Second Century BCE to Twentieth Century CE), Columbia University Press
  11. ^ P. J. Rivers, "The Origin of 'Sabah' and a Reappraisal of Overbeck as Maharajah", Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 77(1), 2004; pp. 79–80