According to tradition, the Dhanuk community gets its name from the Sanskrit word dhanushka, meaning a bowman.
The Dhanuk (Dhanak) are strictly endogamous, and practice clan exogamy. Their main clans are the Dhankar, Dholbaja, Katheriya, Khakarpuria, Laungvasta, and Supabandha. All these sub-groups are not of equal status, and there is hierarchy on the basis of their respective occupations. A small number of the Dhanuk are a now petty landowners. Because of their switching to petty works for livelihood they are treated as Dalits. As a Dalit community, they face social discrimination whose settlements are found at the edge of villages.
In some places Brahmins are appointed as priests while in other places they use Dhanuk priests. The Dhanuk caste believes in magic, witchcraft and ghosts. They are divided into two religious groups: those who worship Kali are called Kaliyaha and others are called Maharkhiya. Those who worship Kali eat meat and drink spirit or wine, whereas Maharkhiyas do not do so. They worship a goddess called Gahil, who is one of five sisters. The other goddesses are Shitalmata and Goureya Gaiya. The main occupation of Dhanuks is working for big zamindars (landowners) and farming.
The Dhanuks live all across India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. In Nepal, they are scattered from Morang in the east to the Terai in the west. But the Dhanuk are also found in Saptari, Siraha and Dhanusa in the east. Their main area of settlement stretches from Saptari to Dhanusa in the plain inner valley south of the Churia hills. It is hard to tell the population of minority nationality of Dhanuks in Nepal. In India, they are found in a wide region stretching from Haryana to Bihar.
In Nepal, their language is Maithali. They are influenced by Hindu religion and the Indian culture across the border.
In India, the Dhanuk of north Bihar speak Maithili, while those of eastern Uttar Pradesh speak Awadhi. Jharkhand speak Santhali.