Mahārāja (also spelled maharajah) is a Sanskrit title for a "great king" or "high king".[1] The female equivalent title Maharani (or Maharanee, Mahārājñī ) denotes either the wife of a Maharaja or, in states where that was customary, a woman ruling in her own right. The widow of a Maharaja is known as a Rajamata.[2] The term Maharaj denotes separate noble and religious offices, although the fact that in Hindi the suffix 'a' in Maharaja is silent makes the two titles near homophones.



The word Maharaja originates in the Sanskrit language and is a compound karmadharaya term (from mahānt "great" and rājan "king"). It has the Latin cognates (accusative case) magnum ("great") and rēgem ("king").[3][4] Due to Sanskrit's major influence on the vocabulary of most languages in India and Asia, the term 'maharaja' is common to many modern Indian languages, such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Oriya, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujrati, etc. The Sanskrit title maharaja was originally used only for kings who ruled a considerably large region with minor tributary kings under them. But from the medieval times the title was used even by rulers of smaller states since they claimed to be the descendants of the ancient maharajas.

Indian subcontinent


The word Maharaja, as well as a variant of the word, Maraj, is a common surname in the Indian subcontinent.[5]

Maharaja as a ruler's title

On the eve of independence in 1947, India (including present day Pakistan & Bangladesh) contained more than 600 princely states, each with its own ruler, often styled Raja 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 India; 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 "king" (as in Jammu and Kashmir), 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 colonization 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 in World War I or World War II. Two Rajas who became Maharajas in the twentieth century were the Maharaja of Cochin and the legendary Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala.

  • 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 time change and migration. It has even been shortened to "Mahraj" and "Maraj" but the most common is, of course, "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 Maharajas, 'Maharajadhiraja', ever reached the standing required for imperial rank, as each was soon the object of title inflation. Instead, the only 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, applied to the Mughal dynasty.

Salute states


The gun salutes (crucial in protocolary respect) enjoyed by the princely states that acceded to the Dominion of India on 14 August 1947, included more Maharajas than any other title, and in most of the classes, though predominantly in the higher ones:

  • Hereditary salutes of 21-guns:
  • Hereditary salutes of 19-guns (21-guns local):
    • H.H. the Maharaja Holkar (as above) of Indore
  • Hereditary salutes of 19-guns:
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Kolhapur
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Gujarkhan
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Travancore
  • Hereditary salutes of 17-guns (19-guns personal):
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Kotah
  • Hereditary salutes of 17-guns (19-guns local):
  • Hereditary salutes of 17-guns:
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Cochin
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Karauli
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Rewa
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Cutch
  • Hereditary salutes of 15-guns (17-guns local):
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Alwar
  • Hereditary salutes of 15-guns (17-guns personal):
    • H.H. the Maharaja Rana of Dholpur
  • Hereditary salutes of 15-guns:
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Datia
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Dewas Senior
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Dewas Junior
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Dhar
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Idar
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Jaisalmer
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Kishangarh
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Orchha
    • H.H. the Maharaja of Sikkim (in the Himalaya; remained independent at India's independence,joined India in 1975)
  • Hereditary salutes of 13-guns (15-guns personal and local):
  • Hereditary salutes of 13-guns (15-guns local):
  • Hereditary salutes of 13-guns:
  • Hereditary salutes of 11-guns:

Compound and dynastic ruler titles

  • 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. Many of these (see also above) elaborate explicitly on the title Maharaja, in the following descending order:

  • Maharajadhiraja Bahadur (or Maharajadhiraj Bahadur): Great Prince over Princes, a title of honour, one degree higher than Maharajadhiraja.
  • Maharajadhiraja (or Maharajadhiraj): Great Prince over Princes, 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 Mongolian, 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.
  • Maharaja Bahadur: a title of honour, one degree higher than Maharaja.
His Highness Maharajadhiraj Mirza Maharao Shri Sir Khengarji III Sawai Bahadur, Rao of Kutch, GCIE, KIH

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

  • Maharaja Chatrapati in Satara, the paramount state of the Maratha confederacy
  • H.H. the Maharaj Rana of Jhalawar
  • Maharaja-i-Rajgan: great prince amongst princes
  • Maharaja Sena Sahib Subah of Nagpur, another Mahratta state
  • Maharaj Babu: Only used by the Hazari family of South Chittagong. A title of honour.Babu was added by the subjects as Respect and Love for the Maharaja.
  • For details concerning various titles containing sahib, see there

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 houses.

Nobiliary and honorary use

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 honor passed on to his son and heir.
  • In the major, Muslim realm of Hyderabad & 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 (the lowest) 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.
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created the Global Country of World Peace in 2000 and appointed Tony Nader, now called "Maharaja Adhiraj Rajaraam", as its ruler.

Derived style for princes of the blood

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

Malay world


As many Indonesian states started out when the archipelago was still predominantly Hindu (Bali still is) or Buddhist, some have been ruled by a maharaja, such as Srivijaya, Majapahit and Kutai Karta Negara (until that kingdom converted to Islam in 1565, when the Muslim title of sultan was adopted). Traditional titles remain in use for the other members of this dynasty, such as Pangeran Ratu for the heir.

The Englishman Capt. James Brooke was declared as Raja Brooke by the Brunei Sultan. The word Raja derived from the word Maharaja. Raja Brooke, who was married to a Sarawak woman, pacified the Sarawak Revolt against the Brunei Sultan. Thus declared by the latter as Raja during the Raffles' stint.


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 (16231853 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 Alfred Dent (compare White Rajah).


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 Pamarwasa. The latter's daughter Es-kander was married to an Arab (Zein Ul-abidin) who 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 reigning title as Sultan Mohamad Shah. In 1426-1450, he also established the Sultanate of Sulu while his brother Makdum Karim (Kabungsuwan Aliwya), a Srivijaya Johore ruler established the Sultanate of Maguindanao-Ranao or Mindanao. His progeny in 1704, Sayyid Nakhoda Perkasa Angging (Maharaja Anddin) was given, by the Brunei Sultan, the title Maharaja of Brunei in the Sulu Sultanate. Thus, his successor Prince and Sultan to append the title Maharaja Adinda to the beginning of the name; Maharaja Adinda Taup the 1859 Maharaja of Jolo-Sulu and Prince Heir-apparent of Sultan Moh. Fad'l (Sultan Pulalun) at the time.


In the Philippines, more specifically in Sulu, maharaja (also spelled "Maharajah") was a title given to various sub-divisional princes after the fall of the Srivijaya of the Majapahit Empire. Parts of the Philippines may have later been ruled by community leaders as maharajah from once being under the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires.

In the establishment of the Sultanate of Sulu from approximately 1425 to 1450, the title of maharaja was even used by a Sulu sultan, such as the 1520-1548 Sulu Sultan Maharaja Upo (Sultan Shar ul-uddin Digmin, also known as Mu'izz Ul-mutawad'in), the grandson of Zein Ul-abidin or Mohamad Shah-the Brunei's Sultanate founder, a former Srivijayan ruler married to the daughter of the Maharaja of the Majapahit Empire. As the 1704 Brunei Maharaja in the Sulu-Maharaja Anddin (Sayyid Nakhoda Perkasa Angging) and as the 1859 Maharaja of Jolo, Sulu-Maharaja Adinda Taup, the Prince Heir-apparent of Sultan Moh.Fad'l or Sultan Pulalun.

Compound titles

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 UK 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.

In the Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines, the Raja Muda (Crown Prince) is the heir to the throne, the Maharaja Adinda is the second heir apparent and the Maharaja Lailah acts as chief of the palace. [6] Eventually, Maharajah Adinda was also used to refer to a particular lineage within the royal families.



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 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, 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.

See also

Sources and references

  1. ^ Tej Ram Sharma (1989), A political history of the imperial Guptas: from Gupta to Skandagupta, Concept Publishing Company, ISBN 8170222516,, "... Literally Maharaja means 'a great king' ..." 
  2. ^ Hansdev Patel (1998) Royal Families and Palaces of Gujarat. Scorpion Cavendish. ISBN 1 900269 20 1.
  3. ^ 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 ..." 
  4. ^ Horace G. Danner, Roger Noël (1990), An introduction to an academic vocabulary: word clusters from Latin, Greek, and German, University Press of America, ISBN 0819175757,, "... Mag-, great; maj-, greater; max-, greatest; IE base: meg-, yields Sanskrit maha; English much; Greek mega ..." 
  5. ^ Martin Sampath (1976). Search and Destroy. Arawak Publications. Retrieved 17 September 2011. "The commonest Hindu surname is Maharaj - also spelt Maraj, and by a few, Maharajh which is as close to a Maharajah as they can get." 
  6. ^ "Entry of the Sultanate of Sulu in the Almanach de Bruxelles."

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • maharajá — 1. El título que reciben los príncipes en la India presenta dos formas válidas en español. La etimológica maharajá (pronunciada, preferiblemente, sin aspiración de la h) es la preferida en el uso culto: «El parasol [...] le sugirió el baldaquín… …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • maharajá — sustantivo masculino 1. Marajá. marajá o maharajá sustantivo masculino 1. Antiguo título de príncipe hindú. Frases y locuciones 1 …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • maharaja — maharaja, maharajah ma*ha*ra jah, n. [Skr. mah[=a]r[=a]ja; mahat great + r[=a]ja king.] A sovereign prince in India; a Hindu prince or king in India ranking above a raja; a title given also to other persons of high rank. [1913 Webster + WordNet 1 …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Maharaja — (Sanskrit: महाराज, mahārāja; [mʌɦɑːˈrɑːʤʌ] „Großkönig“, „Großfürst“; auch Maharadscha) ist ein indischer Herrschertitel. Sein weibliches Gegenstück lautet Maharani. Zur Zeit der britischen Herrschaft über Indien gab es so genannte native states,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • maharaja — ● maharaja ou maharadjah nom masculin (mot sanskrit, de mahā, grand, et rājā, roi) Titre qui, dans l Inde, servit à désigner les rois et les empereurs dès l époque des Kushana (IIe s.), mais qui fut surtout utilisé à partir des Gupta (IVe Ve s.) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • maharaja — (also maharajah) ► NOUN historical ▪ an Indian prince. ORIGIN Hindi, from Sanskrit, great raja …   English terms dictionary

  • Maharajá — Raja i Rajgan Maharásh Sir Jagatjit Singh (7.º Maharajá de Kapurthala). Maharajá e …   Wikipedia Español

  • Maharaja — Râja Pour les articles homonymes, voir Raja. Râja féminin rani est le titre porté par les chefs hindous qui règnent sur un territoire. Lorsqu un râja est le suzerain de plusieurs autres, il prend parfois le titre de mahârâja de mahâ, grand ou l… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mahârâja — Râja Pour les articles homonymes, voir Raja. Râja féminin rani est le titre porté par les chefs hindous qui règnent sur un territoire. Lorsqu un râja est le suzerain de plusieurs autres, il prend parfois le titre de mahârâja de mahâ, grand ou l… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • maharaja — ▪ Hindu title also spelled  Maharajah,  Sanskrit  Mahārāja         (from mahat, “great,” and rājan, “king”), an administrative rank in India; generally speaking, a Hindu prince ranking above a raja. Used historically, maharaja refers specifically …   Universalium

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