Deshmukh (Marathi: देशमुख) or Dēśamukh is a historical title conferred to the rulers of a Dēśamukhi. It is also a surname native to the Indian state of Maharashtra,[1] but it is also prevalent in Karnataka, Telangana[2] and Andhra Pradesh.[3]


In Marathi, Desh means land, country and mukh means head or chief; thus, deshmukh means "the head" of a district.[4]

Deshmukh as a title[edit]

Local office[edit]

Deshmukh was a historical title given to a person who was granted a territory of land, in Maharashtra, Northern Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh. The granted territory was usually referred to as the Dēśamukhi. Th hye Deshmukh was in effect the ruler of the territory, as he was entitled to a portion of the collected taxes. It was also his duty to maintain the basic services in the territory, such as police and judicial duties. It was typically a hereditary system. The title of Deshmukh provided the titled family with revenues from the area and the responsibility to keep the order.[5][6]

The Deshmukh system was abolished after the independence of India in 1947, when the government confiscated most of the land of the Deshmukhs. Some families, however, maintain their status as real estate barons, most notably in Mumbai, with holdover properties that were not taken away.

It was similar in many respects to the Zamindar and Jagir systems in India, and can be considered as a feudal system. Typically taxes collected were to be distributed fairly and occasionally Deshmukhs participated in Vedic rituals in which they redistributed all material possessions to the people. However, the title Deshmukh should not be associated to a particular religion or caste. Deshmukhis were granted by the Deccan sultanates, Mughal emperors, Nizams of Hyderabad and other Muslim rulers and by Maratha emperors (Chhatrapatis) to Deshastha Brahmins[7][8], Chitpavan Brahmins, Marathas, Lingayats, Reddys, CKPs, Jains and Muslims.[9][10]

Inukonda Thirumali of Telangana describes the role of Deshmukhs:[13]

They were primarily revenue collectors; and when (magisterial and judicial) responsibilities were added to their function they became Deshmukhs, chiefs of the parganas. Gradually, each of these assignments tended to become a watan i.e., hereditary lease. Despite changes in the political authority at the top, this institution survived, since no ruler from above wished to risk disturbing local administration, headed by village officials. This institution was deeply entrenched in the region with local support and structured in organized 'community' life. The Deshmukh presided over meetings of the pargana community known as 'got sahba' [sic]['got sabha'] which decided and confirmed claims over inheritance, purchase, and transfer of waters. The Deshmukh by virtue of local sanction and consensus could not be easily displaced from above.

Barry Pavier describes Deshmukhs:[14]

These were, in the 1940s, the layer of the very large landowners in Telangana. They owned from 2,000-3,000 acres at the lower end to 160,000 acres (650 km2) at the upper scale. The reforms abandoned the previous practice, of auctioning off the revenue collection in the government-administered areas to farmers, in favour of direct revenue collection by the State. The 'revenue farmers' were given land in compensation. Most of them availed of the opportunity to seize as much of the best land as they could. They also received a pension. The Deshmukhs were thus given a dominant position in the rural economy which they proceeded resolutely to strengthen during the succeeding decades.

Writing in the nineteenth century, Major W. H. Skyes, the statistical reporter to the Government of Bombay, described the Deshmukh:[15]

The Desmukhs were, no doubt, originally appointed by Government, and they possessed all the above advantages, on the tenure of collecting and being responsible for the revenue, for superintending the cultivation and police of their districts, and carrying into effect all orders of Government. They were, in fact, to a district what a Patil is to a village; in short, were charged with its whole Government.


Most notables from modern period with this surname are social activists or politicians.


  1. ^ "Deshmukh Family History". Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press. Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press. 2013. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  2. ^ Āruṭla Rāmacandrāreḍḍi (1984). Telangana struggle: memoirs. People's Publishing House. p. vi. The Deshmukh system of allocation of whole villages to some was introduced by the Nizam when Salarjung I was the prime minister on the advice of British after 1857
  3. ^ Pranay Gupte. Healer: Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India. Penguin UK. p. 578. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  4. ^ J. G. Duff, A history of Mahratta Vol 1, p. 39
  5. ^ S.C.Dube. Indian Village. Routledge Publications. p. contents. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  6. ^ Pranay Gupte. Healer: Dr Prathap Chandra and the Transformation of India. Penguin UK. p. Contents. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  7. ^ Gregory Naik (2000). Understanding Our Fellow Pilgrims. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash. p. 66. ISBN 9788187886105.
  8. ^ Stewart Gordon (1993). The Marathas 1600-1818, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780521268837.
  9. ^ Gordon, Stewart. The Marathas 1600-1818, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0521033160.
  10. ^ Kumar Suresh Singh (1998). India's Communities, Volume 5. Oxford University press. p. 2082.
  11. ^ Appasaheb Ganapatrao Pawar. Maratha History Seminar, May 28-31, 1970: papers. Shivaji University. p. 31. Retrieved 1 February 2008.
  12. ^ Stewart Gordon (1993). The Marathas 1600-1818, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 50-53. ISBN 9780521268837.
  13. ^ Thirumali, pp top47
  14. ^ Pavier, pp1413
  15. ^ Report of Land Tenures of the Dekkan, by Major W. H. Skyes, Statistical Reporter to the Government of Bombay, Chapter VII pg9, Parliamentary Papers, Great Britain Parliament, House of Commons, HMSO 1866
  16. ^ Meera Kosambi. Gender, Culture, and Performance: Marathi Theatre and Cinema before Independence. p. 341.