The word "Dhangar" may be associated with a term for "cattle wealth" or be derived from the hills in which they lived (Sanskrit "dhang"). Ul Hassan noted that some people of his time believed the term to come from the Sanskrit "dhenugar" ("cattle herder") but dismissed that etymology as being "fictitious".
Traditionally being shepherds, cowherds, buffalo keepers, blanket and wool weavers, butchers and farmers, the Dhangars were late to take up modern-day education. Though they have a notable population, not only in Maharashtra but also in India at large, and a rich history, today they are still a politically highly disorganised community and are socially, educationally, economically and politically backward. They lived a socially isolated life due to their occupation, wandering mainly in forests, hills and mountains.[full citation needed] In Maharashtra, the Dhangars are classified as a Nomadic Tribe but in 2014 were seeking to be reclassified as a Scheduled Tribe in India's system of reservation. The Dhangar community's population in Maharashtra is around one crore (ten million), which is 9% of the total 11.25 crore (112.5 million) population of the state.
Dhangars worship various forms of gods, including Shiva, Vishnu, Parvati and mahalakshmi as their kuldevta/Kuldaivat or kuldevi. These forms include Khandoba, Beeralingeswara (Biroba), Mhasoba, Dhuloba (Dhuleshwar), Vithoba, Siddhanath (Shidoba), Janai-Malai, Janai-Navlai, Tulai (Tulja Bhavani), Yamai, Padubai, and Ambabai. They generally worship the temple of these gods that is nearest to their residence which becomes their kuladaivat and kuladevi. In Jejuri, the deity Khandoba is revered as the husband of Banai, in her incarnation as a Dhangar. He is, therefore, popular amongst the Dhangars, as they consider him their kuldevta. Khandoba (literally "father swordsman") is the guardian deity of the Deccan.
Initially there were twelve tribes of Dhangar, and they had a division of labour amongst brothers of one family. This later formed three sub-divisions and one half-division. These three being Hatkar (shepherds), Ahir (cowherds) and Khutekar (wool and blanket weavers)/Sangar. The half-division is called Khatik. All sub-castes fall in either of these divisions. All sub-divisions emerge from one stock, and all sub-divisions claim to be a single group of Dhangars. [clarification needed] The number three and a half is not a random selection but has a religious and cosmological significance.
- Shashi, Shyam Singh (2006). The World of Nomads. Lotus Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-81-8382-051-6. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Syed Siraj ul Hassan (1989). The castes and tribes of H.E.H. the Nizam's dominions. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 978-81-206-0488-9. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
- Kaka Kalelkar Commission Report, B D Deshmukh report, Edate report
- Kulkarni, Dhaval (10 February 2014). "Demands for quotas from new groups add to Maharashtra govt's woes". DNA. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- "Who are Dhangars, why demand for ST status is a challenge for Maharashtra". The Indian Express. 31 July 2018. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
- "A-10 Individual Scheduled Caste Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix – Uttar Pradesh". Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
- Mohamed Rahmatulla. Census of India Vol XXI, Hyderabad State, Part I Report. 1921, p. 244
- Cashman, Richard I. (1975). The Myth of the Lokamanya: Tilak and Mass Politics in Maharashtra. University of California Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-52002-407-6.
- Dandekar, Ajay (August 1991). "Landscapes in Conflict: Flocks, Hero-stones, and Cult in Early Medieval Maharashtra". Studies in History. 7 (2): 301–324. doi:10.1177/025764309100700207.
- G.D. Sontheimer, The Dhangars: a nomadic pastoral community in a developing agricultural environment; G.D. Sontheimer and L.S. Leshnik, eds., Pastoralists and Nomads in South Asia, Wiesbaden, 1975, p. 140.
- O'Hanlon, Rosalind (2002). Caste, Conflict and Ideology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–18. ISBN 978-0-521-52308-0.
- Baviskar, B.S., "Cooperatves and caste in Maharashtra: A case study". Sociological Bulletin, XVIII:2:1969:148-166.
- Chaubey Ganesh, "The Dhangar Songs", Folklore, Vol. I No 4, Calcutta, 1958, pp. 22–25.
- G.D. Sontheimer, Pastoral Deities of Western India, London, 1989, p. 104.
- Hutton, John Henry (1946). "Dhangar". Caste in India: its Nature, Function and Origins. Cambridge University Press. p. 278.
- Karve, Irawati, Maharashtra, Land and People. Bombay 1969.
- Malhotra, K. and M. Gadgil, "The ecological basis of the geographical distribution", in People of South Asia.
- Malhotra, K., 1980a, "Inbreeding among the four Dhangar castes of Maharashtra. India". Collegium anthropoloquium, 3.
- Malhotra, K., 1980b, "Matrimonial distances among four Dhangar castes of Maharashtra", South Asian Anthropology, 1.
- Malhotra, K., 1984, "Population structure among the Dhangar caste cluster of Maharashtra", in J.R. Lukacs (ed.), The People of South Asia.
- Prasad Satyanarain. "Modern education among the tribals of Bihar in the second half of the 19th century". Man in India, LI:4:1971:365-393.
- Saksena, R.N., and Chinchalkar, "Dhangars and Gadariyas: The Most backward divisions of Indian tribes and caste". Vanyajati, XXV:2: 1977:14–17.
- Shashi, Shyam Singh (1977). The Shepherds of India: A Socio-cultural Study of Sheep and Cattle-rearing Communities. Sundeep Prakashan.
- Prof. Prabhu N Kokane,"Socio-Legal" Identification of Scheduled Castes/Tribes & Backward Classes(year=2007)Nanded,Maharashtra.