The Chinese Buddhist monk traveller Xuan Xang describes the people of Maharashtra as, “The disposition of the people is honest and simple. If they are asked to help one in distress, they will forget themselves in their haste to render assistance.”
Maharashtra displays unity in cultural diversity. The spirit of Maharashtra is cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, tolerant, and vibrant. There is enough to keep connoisseurs of temples, forts, old monuments, and art gainfully preoccupied here. The film industry in Mumbai sees thousands thronging to the city every year, hoping to make it big. Maharashtra is home to several National Parks.
The first man arrived in Maharashtra millions of years back, gradually developing his skills in agriculture and metal smelting. The coastline provided the port that brought prosperity to the land during the historic period. The region was ruled by various dynasties like Satavahanas, Vakatakas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, and many more. Deccan Sultanates shaped the culture of Maharashtra in unique ways.
The identity of Maharashtra was carved by the mighty Maratha empire. Chhatrapati ShivajiMaharaj laid down the foundation of the Maratha empire with the help of hill forts in Maharashtra, gradually evolved into the mighty empire extending up to Atak on the banks of river Indus in Pakistan.
The British Era introduced new technology which helped Maharashtra to carve a niche in the Modern World.
It was more than 66 million years ago when a series of volcanic eruptions resulted in the formation of the mainland of Maharashtra, geologically known as the Deccan Trap. Rivers like Godavari and Krishna with their tributaries irrigated the land for thousands of years and formed their valleys. Konkan, coastal Maharashtra has relatively smaller rivers.
Maps and Landscape
Located in the heart of India, with a command of the Arabian Sea through its port of Mumbai, Maharashtra has a remarkable physical homogeneity, enforced by its underlying geology. The dominant physical trait of the state is its plateau character; Maharashtra's western part of coastal plains, western upturned rims rising to form the Sahyadri Range, and its slopes gently descending towards the east and southeast. The major rivers and their master tributaries have carved the plateau into alternating broad-river valleys and intervening higher lever interfluves, such as the Ahmednagar, Buldhana, and Yavatmal plateau.
The Sahyadri Range is the physical backbone of Maharashtra. Rising on an average to an elevation of 1000m. it falls in cliffs, to the Konkan on the west. Eastwards, the hill country falls in steps through a transitional area known as Maval to the plateau level. The series of crowning plateaux on the crest forms a distinctive feature of the Sahyadri Range.
The Konkan, lying between the Arabian Sea and the Sahyadri Range is a narrow coastal lowland, barely 50 km wide. Though mostly below 200 m., it is far from being a plain country. Highly dissected and broken, the Konkan alternates between narrow, steep-sided valleys and low laterite plateaux.
The Satpuras, hills along the northern border, and the Bhamragad-Chiroli-Gaikhuri Ranges on the eastern border form physical barriers preventing easy movement, but also serve as natural limits to the state and have severe many earthquakes in district Latur.
Maharashtra was formed as a state on 1st May 196o. There were 26 districts in Maharashtra at that time. Over time some of the districts were divided, and ten new districts were formed. Today Maharashtra has total of 36 districts.
The total 30,77,132 KM area of Maharashtra is divided into six cultural zones that are also the administrative division. Those are Konkna, North Maharashtra (Khandesh), Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Vrhad and Vidarbha. These cultural zones are represented by unique cultural features.
The men in Maharashtra usually wear a Dhoti. A Dhoti is a single piece of cloth that is tucked around one's waist, and it covers the entire leg till the ankle. Dhoti-s are usually saffron or cream or white in colour. Dhoti-s are unstitched pieces of clothing that do not require any proper measurements.
Feta is the headdress Marathi men wear. It is a 'topi', or a headcover usually made up of cotton. Travellers and people working outside, under the sun especially wear this. It is also worn at ceremonies and festivals.
Maharashtrian men usually wear cotton tops or Kurtas along with Dhoti. They are very useful in the hot and humid conditions that exist in Maharashtra. These tops are thin and loose and usually white in colour. The Maharashtrian men occasionally wear waistcoat-s that make the Maharashtrian attire look more formal and proper. It is useful keeping in mind the local climatic conditions which do not allow men to wear normal coats or overcoats. Traditionally the men wear simple but sturdy footwear. Their footwears are open sandals making them comfortable for them to wear. The sandals are strong and are made up of leather.
Traditionally women wear sarees that are nine yards long. There are many variations in how women wear their saree. Some only wear knee-length sarees. Some wear it in a skirt manner without the tuck in the middle. But the 9-yard saree is the traditional costume of women in Maharashtra. Women do not have separate headwear as men do. They simply use the end of their sarees to cover their heads.
The Maharashtrian women wear choli or blouse underneath the saree to cover the upper half of the body. Similar to men's clothing, women's clothing is also made up of cotton and sometimes silk.
Maharashtrian cuisine includes mild and spicy dishes. Wheat, rice, jowar, bajari, vegetables, lentils and fruit are dietary staples. Peanuts and cashews are often served with vegetables. The meat was traditionally used sparsely or only by the well off until recently, because of economic conditions and culture.
The urban population in metropolitan cities of the state has been influenced by cuisine from other parts of India and abroad. For example, the Udupi dishes idli and dosa, as well as Chinese and Western dishes such as pizza, are quite popular in home cooking, and in restaurants.
Festival is a cultural identity of any society. Maharashtrian Society has some special festivals to celebrate. The experience of Maharashtra is diverse and rich with colourful cultures, woven into one gigantic quilt. The festivals here galvanise the sleepy thousands into fervent motion. The traveller will fall in love with the miles of silver, white beaches, stretched throughout the Western coast. Following are the exclusive Maharashtrian celebrations associated with the regional identity of the state.
Wari / Dindi / Palkhi / RathSohla:
Pandharpur Wari or Wari, is an annual pilgrimage to the town of Pandharpur, to honour the deity of Hindu God Vitthal. The wari involves carrying the paduka (a type of wooden slippers or footprints) of a saint (Sant in Marathi) in a palkhi, most notably of SantDnyaneshwar and SantTukaram, from their respective shrines to Pandharpur. Thousands of warkaris or pilgrims join this procession on foot. Warkari is a Marathi term that means "one who performs the Wari" or "one who venerates the Vithoba". The tradition is more than 700 to 800 years old.
Ganesh Utsav is celebrated in the month of Bhadrapada according to Hindu Calendar. It’s a ten days festival when people worship the Lord Ganesha at home as well as in the community. Various social and cultural programs are organized as part of this festival. It is a unique experience to visit these community pandals for the Ganesha Festival celebration to enjoy the decoration. Special food including sweet call Modak is prepared at this location in most of the houses.
Dahi-Handi is a festival when the community comes together and celebrates the birth of the Hindu god Krishna. It involves communities hanging an earthen pot filled with yoghurt (dahi), butter, or another milk-based food at a convenient or tall height. Young men and boys form teams, make a human pyramid, and attempt to reach or break the pot. As they do so, people surround them, sing, play music and cheer them on. It is a public spectacle and an old tradition.
Dasara is a special celebration for the city of Kolhapur. The royal family of the principal state of Kolhapur has set the tradition of celebration of Dasara a couple of centuries ago. The festival is still celebrated with grandeur.
Holi celebrates the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love and for many, it is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. The festival also celebrates the beginning of a good spring harvest season. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the Full Moon Day falling in the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna.
Bendur/Pola –Western Maharashtra:
Bendur or Pola is an agricultural festival celebrated in Maharashtra on the no moon day of Hindu month Shravana. Bullocks, traditionally who assist the farmer in his agricultural work, are decorated and fed with special food. It's their day of the year. In some of the villages, various kinds of competitions are organised for bullocks.
Maharashtra Tourism provides various facilities and infrastructure for tourists. There are government resorts, approved tourist guides, approved resorts and travel agents. Safety and security is the prime focus at the same time the “Maharashtra experience” is an objective. The Directorate of Tourism and Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s websites provide basic information about the available infrastructure and is supported by the Government of Maharashtra.
Maharashtra has a long tradition of religious and spiritual leaders. The tradition of Saints in Maharashtra has a legacy of more than 800 years. They have paved the foundation of Marathi culture. Their writing is considered the soul of Maharashtra. They celebrate the unity in diversity of the socio-cultural institutions in their teachings. The influence of Vedanta philosophy with sectarian religious development under the political turmoils gave Maharashtra its cultural Identity.
Maharashtra is known as the land of saints. Saints coming from different social creeds and strata were treated equally on the spiritual ground. Saints worked to bring all casts and communities together and strengthen society. Their teachings have unified Maharashtra. Despite the traditional social equality, saints in Maharashtra came to gather to rise above the social injustice with the principle of Advaita, i.e. oneness of soul and God.
Maharashtra in the medieval period has seen the rise of five significant cultic, philosophical and spiritual traditions namely, Datta cult, Natha Cult, Mahanubhava Cult, Ramdasi Cult, and Warkari Cult. They primarily talked about the principle of equality on the spiritual level. They provided the opportunity for the commoner to walk the path of spirituality based on ethical behaviour. This was a very revolutionary thought in the Medieval period.These traditions have their roots in ancient religious systems, which gradually evolved to contextualize the old religious traditions. One of the common features in these traditions is a strong tradition of teachers, i.e. Acharyas and incarnations, i.e. Avatara. All the five traditions are seen even in contemporary India evolved over the period.
The writings of the saints in Maharashtra are not just considered spiritual poems or songs. They have very high literary value. They are being performed even today after centuries by followers, commoners. The form which they have used is known as Ovi and Abhanga. These are very popular folk forms close to the hearts of commoners. Exceptionally, it is seen that other folk forms like Bharud, Gondhal, Arati, etc are being used by these saints to preach to people. They have used local language to preach, facilitating the complex spiritual teachings to reach the common man. Some of these songs are still considered literary classics even after centuries.
Pandharpur is a melting point of all medieval religious traditions, though considered as the centre of Warkatis. Warkari is the person who annually goes for Wari. Most of the saints are associated in Maharashtra with the tradition of Wari, i.e. annual visit to Pandharpur to pay homage to Lord Vithoba. Bhakti, i.e. devotion, the tradition in Maharashtra paved the foundation of this spiritual movement. It is different from the manifestations of Bhakti in Eastern Indian as well as South India.
The traditions of Bhakti are believed to have started with SanitDnyaneshwar and continued up to Saint Tukaram. The popular imagery in common Marathi mind is of the bank of river Chandrabhaga, where the Vitthala temple of Pandharpur is located, crowded due to gathering of saints who are affectionately embarrassing each other preaching Advaita, i.e. the oneness of Soul.
These teachings of the saints from medieval religious traditions also have resulted in the rise of Maharashtra as a political power. Saints like Ramdas, from SamarthaSampradaya which is also known as Ramadasi Cult, pawed the foundation of ‘Balopasana’ i.e. worship of strength by introducing a set of daily physical exercises. This prepared the ground for the Maratha empire.
Chhatrapati ShivajiMaharaj and Saints like TukaramMaharaj created rigour among Maratha warriors and united them. The Bhakti tradition in Maharashtra was not just a spiritual movement. These saints emphasized the ‘Karma theory’, i.e. action which leads to the spiritual upliftment. They gave an ethical foundation for the rise of the Maratha Empire. SamarthaRamadasa’s association with Sajjangad has resulted in rising of Sajjangad as a pilgrimage centre.
Datta Cult is very popular in south Maharashtra and Karnataka. Saints like ShripadaVallabh and NarsimhaSaraswati are well known for their spiritual teachings. Places associated with them like NarsobachiWadi and Audumbar are famous pilgrim centres. Saints like Janardan Swami and SantEknath in this tradition brought the synthesis in Datta and Warkari cults preaching Bhakti as a primary principle.
Even in the 19th and 20th centuries, this tradition of spiritual leaders continued in Maharashtra. Sai Baba, GajananMaharaj, Swami Samartha are some of the names to state here. The great legacy of 800 years resulted in the worship of intellect in Maharashtra. 20th-century saints in Maharashtra like SantTukadojiMaharaj, SantGadageMaharaj are the best examples of modern saints. They not only united people but taught rural Maharashtra about modern principles of equality, social justice through their religious writings and teachings. They not only preached but SantGadgeMaharaj established various educational institutions, animal orphanages from public funding. This is a unique example of traditional religious leaders coming up with works of modern social welfare.
Saints in Maharashtra not only talked about spirituality but also emphasized the significance of the action, ethics, learning, and devotion. They could relate nature with god and ethics with spirituality. Thus they could unite Maharashtra for a cause every time.