The present short note explains origin and history of the Malhotra surname as well as Variants of this name – Mehra, Mehrotra, Mahlotra and Mehlotra – are described as also its caste and possible geographical origins. An attempt has been made to trace history of this surname over the centuries. The information as presented in this brief note about Malhotra families shall add to pool of available information on the topic to assist in further research.
People bearing Malhotra surname now exist in many parts of India and the world . Presently they may belong to several different religions. However, this name originated among Hindu communities of North India. Most Malhotra families still continue to be Hindus and still continue to live in North India with perhaps the greatest concentration in present day Punjab. When a person from a Malhotra family changes religion to another, for example Sikhism, they often continue to use the surname Malhotra but begin using first and middle names more akin to those of their new religion.
The present author is a Malhotra. This note contains information about this family name as known to the author from his own family as well scholarly study. The author has been a professor of engineering and a scientist. He has worked in leading universities where he had access to libraries with books on various disciplines including history that provided source material. Over the past two decades, much information has also become available through the Internet. What emerged was not a complete picture. Historical records about this family name, as indeed many others in modern India, do not appear to be fully documented and compiled. Caste rivalries. caste pride, popular imagination or other considerations seem to have brought in bias and distortion in some accounts. There is a need for further study on the topic. While there is widespread agreement on certain aspects and history of family name Malhotra and its variants (Mehra, Mehrotra etc.), there are also differences on other aspects. Such different opinions will be pointed out in this brief note. It is hoped that future study, some based on modern genetic science shall help clarify these issues.
2. Variations of Malhotra Surname
It appear that over the centuries, the Malhotra Surname has emerged as a modification of other family surnames – Mehra also spelt Mahara in Kumaon Himalayas (see ) Mehrotra, Mehlotra (also spelt Mahlotra especially in its Hindi equivalent) and eventually Malhotra, in that chronological order. However, different forms of this surname continue to be in use up to the present time in different parts of India and the world, some times even within the same family since they are regarded as equivalent and interchangeable, at least among the Dhai Ghar Khatri caste grouping. Thus there have been close relatives of this author where one brother used the surname Mehra and another the surname Malhotra, both residing in Lahore, in undivided India prior to 1947. In recent decades where documentation has become more rigorous, families prefer to stick with a family name as given to them at birth rather than to change it in order to avoid confusion in official documents.
Published literature on the topic suggests that original family name was Mehra (or its variant spelling in English as Mahara). Its more elaborate and extended form in the plains of Northern India was created as Mehrotra perhaps sometime during the Mogul era in India. The geographical spread of the name Mehra is widest, stretching from Bengal in the East to North West Frontier Province in the West when India was undivided and to the North especially into Central Himalayan hill provinces. The surname used as Mehrotra is largely confined to Northern province known as Uttar Pradesh in Independent India. On the other hand, the family name Malhotra was more common in western provinces of Punjab and the North West Frontier Province of undivided India.
The transformation and interchange from R to L is not an uncommon phenomenon in various linguistic groups just as the interchange of J and G sound or J and Y in other language groups. The phonetic pronunciation of Mahlotra as Malhotra is aligned with Punjabi accents and pronunciation and it was thus rendered into English spelling during British rule in India. A Family bearing the surname Malhotra is not necessarily a Punjabi speaking family although many are. On the other hand, those using the surname as Mehrotra are likely to be Hindi speakers. Families using this surname as Mehra could be from any of the many provinces in which they live. It is an error to identify Malhotra or Mehra as belonging to Punjab, Delhi or Kumaon or by any region merely on the basis of name. For that, further enquiries have to be made as to what region the family has belonged to. Malhotra belongs to the Dhai Ghar clan of Khatri community of North India that appears to have been created in the capital of Mogul Emperor Akbar. It was located not in Punjab but in present day western Uttar Pradesh (Agra). It is where families from many parts of India came to serve the most prominent of Emperors of India. Therefore it is more accurate to identify this Khatri clan foremost as a North Indian one rather than a Punjabi one as many Khatris of Punjab tend to.
2. Khatri Caste
Hindu society is divided in various castes and sub-castes since ancient times. While the caste system has helped to strengthen and preserve family traditions through marital alliances it has also been misused. Other religions born in India such as Buddhism and Sikhism have discarded it. However, the present note is not about merits or demerits of the caste system. It neither promotes nor rejects it but mentions it merely for tracing the origin and history of the family name Malhotra.
A well-known caste in North India is the Khatri caste. Within this caste there are further divisions, groups and clans. The Sikh Gurus came from the Khatri clans and therefore much material on Khatri caste can be found in Sikh literature. An online source that compiles a lot of it is 
Many have suggested and understood that Khatri is merely a simplified more easily written and pronounced version of the more complex Sanskrit Kshatriya from the four Varna system of ancient India. These were,
Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers
Kshatriya: rulers, warriors and administrators
Vaishyas: agriculturists and traders
Shudras: service providers
Some scholars disagree that Khatri is same as Kshatriya. Whatever be the case, the fact of the matter is that many modern Indian castes cannot be identified clearly with ancient Varna. Many have emerged, as mixtures of them; many are communities that migrated later into India and identified themselves with one of the existing castes. In fact ancient literature indicates that a mixtures of Varna took place even in ancient India. Modern India having seen many an invasion, displacements and upheavals since that time is far distanced from it. Deviation from ancient classifications can only be expected as a natural outcome of historical changes that have taken place. Many modern castes are mixed and span more than one Varna.
It is also not possible to identify caste groups by occupations any more since these have changed over the centuries. Present day Khatris are in occupations ranging from teaching, military, film industry, administration and business. During reign of mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, who developed strong differences, even wars, with the Khatri community, many seemed to have left military and administrative careers and took to trading, even deep into Asia. What however does appear realistic is that while some family groups within the Khatri caste are as close to Kshatriya as can be expected in modern times, some of the groups seem removed from it. The Mehras claim to be Kshatriya of Suryavanshi clans; therefore this identification also applies to Malhotra.
4. Dhai Ghar
The Khatri caste itself is divided in many different groups. One such group is known as the Dhai Ghar Khatris or the Khatri group of two and a half houses. It consists of three family names – Malhotra, Khanna and Kapoor – perhaps because all three were considered Kshatriya and therefore it was in accord with religious custom to inter marry. Three different families are the minimum necessary to get daughters married in a Khatri sub-caste as shall be explained presently. A question arises as to why the name two and a half houses and not three houses were used for this grouping? The explanations for this differ according to different sources. According to Sudhir Kakar 
The Khatris were divided into sub-castes. The highest was the Dhai Ghar (i.e. Two and a half houses – the number three being considered unlucky) grouping, comprising families carrying the surnames of Malhotra, Khanna and Kapur.
However, this explanation does not appear complete. The Dhai Ghar Khatris are much too meticulous to be satisfied merely by nomenclature. A more realistic explanation is that while forming a group of three families half of the Mehra clans i.e. the Pahari Mehras (or Maharas) as they are called i.e. those settled in Central Himalayas were left out of the Dhai Ghar. It was not practical to arrange marriages of daughters to remote hill locations in any case, especially in previous centuries when road networks and modern transportation had not arrived. Another less likely story is that only half the Khanna were included. Therefore the use of the term, Dhai Ghar was not just more auspicious, it also appears to be a fact. Further study is required to clarify the matter. It would need documents from early days of formation of Dhai Ghar clan, perhaps from sometime around the reign of Mogul Emperor Akbar, to undertake such a study. However, knowing the Dhai Ghar Khatri clan customs personally this author feels they would have kept such family matters private to themselves, especially so as not to offend their far off clan members.
There is a defined hierarchy in Khatri family groupings. This hierarchy was necessary foremost for fixing marriages, especially until a century ago. In recent decades, these marriage rules have been relaxed. The traditional norm was that among Khatris, a daughter could be given for marriage within the same sub-caste grouping or into a group higher in hierarchy but not a lower one. However, a man could marry a girl from a lower or parallel Khatri group (the present author’s mother, Nand Rani Sahni married in 1943 was not a Dhai Ghar Khatri but rather came from khukhrain Khatris). A century ago, many prosperous Khatri men married more than once. Many women died during childbirth before advent of modern medical practices and antibiotics. Both my grandfathers had married twice. The ability to seek a bride from a group lower in hierarchy, if one was not found within the same, filled the need.
However, there are two more traditional rules that made fixing marital alliances for girls in Dhai Ghar group difficult. These are that one does not marry in the same family name, the second being that one also does not marry in the maiden family name of mother. All those matches are considered relatives much too close to marry. While this rule posed no special difficulties for Khatri sub-castes consisting of eight or twelve or even fifty-two families, it posed difficulties for the Dhai Ghar Khatris.
Many a Dhai Ghar girl (those whose mothers were also from the Dhai Ghar clans) were left with only one of the three family names to marry in. The Dhai Ghar Khatris overcame this issue by including a fourth dominant Khatri family of similar status of the regions they lived in to form a simultaneous group of four houses known as Char Ghar.
The fourth family group was Seth in regions around Lahore from where this author’s paternal grandmother came and whose maiden name was Kapoor. In other areas, it seems another family was chosen to create the Char Ghar (four house) grouping. This author does not have full information on this last aspect. It is left for further study. However it must be mentioned that another Khatri family would gladly accept this Char Ghar inclusion, firstly because giving daughters in marriages to Dhai Ghar was already acceptable and the expansion gave them an opportunity to marry Dhai Ghar girls as well. Many Dhai Ghar girls, especially from Kapoor (also spelt Kapur) families or of Kapoor origin are affectionate in nature, cheerful in demeanor and exceptionally pretty with very fair complexions; many had blue, gray or green eye colors. It is possible that this Kapoor Dhai Ghar family emerged at least in part from early immigrants into India and became a Khatri clan. Before their inclusion in Dhai Ghar, they had a clan of their own known as bahari (foreign?) baradari.
Several well-known film stars of Indian Bollywood industry come from Kapoor clans. If one were to make a merely personal subjective assessment, deviating from the scholarly nature of the rest of this note, of the three Dhai Ghar families, the Kapoors had the looks, Malhotras the brains and Khannas the physique. With every century that passes these distinctions must necessarily get blurred through inter marriages.
There are many folk stories about the families belonging to Dhai Ghar, not all agreeing with each other. It is difficult to ascertain which is fact and which fiction. An attempt has been made in this note not to include those except for brief informal comments in the last paragraph, so as to focus on principal facts and not confuse the narrative.
Thus ends a brief description of the family name Malhotra. There is a need for more research to verify, revise and add details to the content presented in this brief note. Modern genetic science can hugely assist in this task. Some studies in this direction have already begun but presently they are of a broader nature (see for example 
 Monika Krengel (1989). Sozialstrukturen im Kumaon. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 315 pages (can be found in Google books)
 http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Khatri retrieved on April 14, 2019
 Michael Bamshad et al (2001) Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations. Genome Research, 11(6), pp 994-1004, Also online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC311057/ April 2019
About the Author, (as at https://www.amazon.com/Ashok-Malhotra/e/B00502LCCI )
Dr. Ashok Malhotra spent his early childhood in Nainital. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi in Mechanical Engineering he went on to do a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at the same Institute and then moved to Canada where he obtained a doctoral degree in 1978 from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Malhotra has practiced his profession in three different countries as a scientist and a professor of engineering as well as pursuing mysticism in seclusion during breaks. Since early 2001 he has also worked in senior administrative positions. Dr. Malhotra has deep interests in spirituality human history, evolution and philosophy.
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