Thakur is a historical feudal title of the Indian subcontinent. It is also used as a surname in the present times. The female variant of the title is Thakurani or Thakurain, also used to describe the wife of a Thakur.
There are varying opinions among scholars about its origin. Some scholars suggest that it is not mentioned in the Sanskrit texts preceding 500 BCE, but speculates that it might have been a part of the vocabulary of the dialects spoken in northern India before the Gupta Empire. It is viewed to have been derived from the "late Sanskrit" word Thakkura which, according to several scholars, was not an original word of the Sanskrit language but a borrowed word in the Indian lexis from the Tukhara regions of Inner Asia. Another view-point is that Thakkura is a loan word from the Prakrit language.
Scholars have also suggested differing meanings for the word, i.e. "god", "lord", and "master of the estate". Academics have also suggested that it was only a title, and in itself, did not grant any authority to its users "to wield some power in the state".
Nirmal Chandra Sinha stated that the word Thakura is "unknown" to the Vedic and Classical Sanskrit and finds no mention in the Sanskrit literature preceding 500 BCE. Though, he suggested that "the word was possibly current in many north Indian dialects before the Imperial Guptas". Scholars like Buddha Prakash, Frederick Thomas, Harold Bailey, Prabodh Bagchi, Suniti Chatterji, Sylvain Lévi suggested that Thakura is a borrowed word in the Indian lexis from the Tukhara regions of Inner Asia. Sinha further wrote,
It may be noted that in South India among orthodox Brahmins, Thakura or Thakur is not a popular term obviously because of its Tukhara or Turuska background.
Byomkes Chakrabarti noted that the Sanskrit word Thakkura finds mention in "late Sanskrit". However, he doubted that Thakkura is "an original Sanskrit word" and was of the opinion that Thakkura is probably a loan word from the Prakrit language.
Susan Snow Wadley notes that the title Thakur was used to refer to "a man of intermediate but mid-level caste, usually implying a landowning caste". Wadley further notes that Thakur was viewed as a "more modest" title in comparison to "R?j?" (King).
Some academics have suggested that "Thakur was merely a title and not an office whereby a holder was entitled to wield some power in the state". However, some other academics have noted that this title had been used by "petty chiefs" in the western areas of Himachal Pradesh.
The title was used by rulers of several princely states, including Ambliara, Vala, Morbi, Barsoda, and Rajkot State. Sons of thakurs were given the Sanskrit title of Kumara ('prince'), popular usage being Kunwar in the North and Kumar in Bengal and South India.
The territory of land under the control of a Thakur was called thikana.
The term Thakuri is a Nepali variation of the Hindi word thakur, which means 'master of the estate'. Indeed, Thakuris of Nepal are associated with some territory inherited from the days of Baisi and Chaubisi principalities; the term thakurai actually refers to 'fiefdom'. It is said that among those Rajputs fleeing to the hills after the Muslim invasion in India, successful adventurers among them were given the name and status of Thakuri by their Brahman followers.
Mr. Risley has also drawn attention to the fact that the supreme God "Thakur" of the Santali traditions bears a Hindi name derived from the Sanskrit origin "thakkura". But there is much doubt whether "thakkura" itself is an original Sanskrit word. The word occurs in late Sanskrit possibly being borrowed from Prakrit. But if we make a careful analysis of the different languages of the western regions of Asia from Turkish to Bengali we would surely find out traces of similarities of most of these languages with Santali and this will go to show that the tribes had their historical wanderings from the Western part of Asia to the Eastern part of India.
Bose agrees with Dr. Kane (History of the Dharmasastras, iii, 984) that thakur was merely a title and not an office whereby a holder was entitled to wield some power in the state.
...in the hills refer to a time when petty chiefs bearing the title of Rana or Thakur exercised authority over their iminutive domains...
Rights to land within any particular Thakur domain, the thikana, became complicated by the 1600s.