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Maharashtra has very ancient and diverse cultural traditions. It has always been a place where people have come from faraway lands and settled down. It also has a significant number of indigenous tribes who have their own heritage. All these communities have blended into Maharashtra’s society and they have together with the Marathi language and customs, created a rich mosaic of unique traditions that are the hallmark of the state’s culture.

Marathi Literature

Marathi: The Language

Marathi language evolved from Maharashtrii Prakrit and is the official language of Maharashtra. It is also widely spoken in Goa, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and parts of North Karnataka. It also has a significant number of speakers in Vadodara and Surat areas of Gujarat, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, Adoni in Andhra Pradesh, Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Hyderabad in Telangana. Significant numbers of Marathi speaking people live in Israel and Mauritius too. Marathi is the 15th most spoken language in the world.

Marathi is spoken not only by Maharashtrians or those who are native to Maharashtra, but also by the people who stay in this state. Thus many notable people, whose first language is not Marathi, have contributed to the propagation and the popularity of Marathi. Jamnalal Bajaj, J.R.D Tata, Walchand Hirachand Doshi, S. Fatehlal, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, George Fernandes,  Mohan Dharia, Pandit Satyadev Dubey among others have taken to Marathi and have played an important role in Marathi propagation.

The first documented Marathi writing is present at the Gomateswara statue at Sravanbelagola in Karnataka and date back to the 10th Century AD. Since then the language has grown from strength to strength. The first poetic Marathi works appear to be from the 11th Century and Shripati’s Jotishratnamala is one of them. Marathi prose works such as Mukundraj’s Vivek Sindu and Mhaimbhat’s record of the spiritual life of the saint Chakradhar Swami – the Lilacharitra.

But perhaps the most famous work was the Dynaneshwari written by Sant Dynaneshwar. This commentary on the Bhagwat Geeta - was written around 1290 for bringing the message of the Geeta  to the common man. Even today after almost 800 years, it still remains the single most important and most revered literary work in the language. The quality of writing and the universality of its spiritual message attract millions towards it even today.

Marathi language was influenced by the Bhakti movement, which was also an attempt to emphasize one’s religious roots in the wake of foreign aggression. This religious revival from the 14th to the 17th centuries led to the composition of superlative poetry by saints such as Sant Namdev, Sant Eknath, Sant Chokha Mahar, Muktabai, Janabai, Savta Mali, Samarth Ramdas and Sant Tukaram.

Marathi Literature
Sant Namdev and his devotional Hinduism aka The Bhakti Movement

Sant Namdev, a friend and associate of Sant Dnyaneshwar, has been associated with religious poetry that has been part of the Adi Granth of Sikhism. He is also credited with having composed 700 abhangs that are still popular in Maharashtra today.

Sant Eknath is known to have standardized the textual syntax of the Dnyaneshwari and also written his own variations of the Bhavat Purana, the Ramayana, and a literary account of the Rukhmini Swayamvar. He was a proponent of the Vasudeva movement and also composed many abhangs.  

Samarth Ramdas is famous as the mentor and religious guru of Chatrapati Shivaji. But he is equally respected as the author of the religious treatise, Dasbodh and the set of aphorisms, Manache Shlok that are an important part of Marathi upbringing even today.

Sant Tukaram’s abhangs have been on every Marathi person’s lips for the last three hundred years nd still hold out secular and relevant messages on leading a good life even today. Sridhar Pant also wrote some important religious texts notably the Shri Shivlilamrut.

Muslim and Christian Bhakti Literature

The Bhakti movement was also adopted by Muslim and Christian thinkers and writers and they too composed important works that have been responsible for spreading the message of Good hearted, simple, pious, and peaceful living.

Sant Sheikh Mahamad, also lovingly referred to in Marathi as “Kabiracha Shekhu” is known for Yogasangram - his collection of abhangs to Lord Govind

The Marathi Povadas (Ballads) of Garib Abdul – are also well known and from the same period.
Latib Shah was another well known Muslim saint who contributed to the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra.

During the same period, many Christian missionaries also arrived on the Konkan coast and took up Marathi to preach and proselytize Christian thought. Prominent among these are Father Thomas Stephens who composed the Krista Puran – a treatise in Marathi and Konkani on the life of Jesus Christ. This is recited by Christan communities in Maharashtra’s coastal areas even today.  This was probably the first instance of a book published in Marathi.

Lavni and Powada

Under Marathi rulers from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the Bhakti movement was replaced by theatrical and classical art movements and the proliferation of Lavani – or the romantic song performed in local theatrical groups called Tamashas. There were also literary competitions of impromptu poetry called Kalgi Tura – that were the highlight of the theatrical shows.

Not much prose was written during this period except for the Bakhars – which were chronicles of the lives of great kings and rulers of that time. They are mainly believed to be sponsored content and therefore their historical authenticity has always been questioned. But as literary pieces, they give a fascinating insight into the life of common folk and the everyday language used during that period.

Marathi LiteratureUnder the British rule, Marathi literature flourished as printing and publishing became widespread. Moropant and Bal Shashtri Jambhekar were prominent during that period. Later writers and poets such as Keshavsut, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Hari Narayan Apte, also published their best work during the Brtish Rule. Social reform movements also received a literary fillip through the works of Lokahitawadi, Madhav Govind Ranade and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule.

Drama, Literary criticism, works on historical analysis and scientific treatises all flourished under the golden period of Marathi. Romanticism was evident in the works of Madhav Julian and Nath Madhav. C.V Joshi introduced humor into Marathi Literature while Ram Ganesh Gadkari focused on tragedies. Historians such as V.K Rajwade and D.D Kosambi also published knowledgeable tomes during this period. The proliferation of writing during this period is too vast to be mentioned in brief here.

Stalwarts like Lokmanya Tilak also took time to churn out scholarly tomes such as the Geeta Rahasya even during the height of their involvement n the Freedom Struggle.  In the first half of the twentieth century, a major portion of the literary effort was devoted to the cause of the freedom struggle. The poems of Veer Savarkar, Kusumagraj, Balkrishna Bhagwant Borker, Vasant Bapat and Shahir Amar Sheikh are testimony to the varied styles of poetry that Marathi gave birth to. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar also published important works such as Who were the shudras and Riddles of Hinduism during this period.

After independence there was an exploration of several themes with influences of major literary Literary Culture of Maharashtramovements felt directly or indirectly. Writers such as P.L Deshpande and V.P Kale celebrated the newly emerging middle class. Social commentators like P.K Atre, Prabodhankar Thakre, Sane Guruji and Kaka Kalelkar stirred the hearts of the masses with their fiery and passionate writing. Grassroots poets like Bahinabai Chudhury, Sant Tukdoji Maharaj and Gadge Maharaj were introduced to the general masses through their chroniclers. A new Dalit literary movement led by powerful writers such as Annabhau Sathe and Daya Pawar was beginning to take shape. Marxist essayists such as S.M Joshi and Madhu Limaye have also been an important part of Marathi Literature.

Maharashtra has given three Jnanpith awardeesV.S  Khandekar, V. V Shirwadkar (Kusumagraj) and V.D Karandikar although many other Marathi writers have been translated into other languages and have enjoyed a cult following outside Maharashtra’s borders; the most prominent examples being Vjay Tendulkar and G.A Kulkarni.

English Literature in Maharashtra

English literatrary culture of MaharashtraMaharashtra has been home to many literary movements other than Marathi literature. Prominent among them is the great proliferation of English Literature within Maharashtra. Commonwealth Prize winner Arun Kolatkar, Nissim Ezekiel, Shrpad Dange, Dilip Chitre and Kiran Nagarkar are a few names of Marathi speaking people who have written and published extensively in English.

Many English writers have been born or have spent their formative years in Maharashtra. The foremost example among these is Rudyard Kipling who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. Kipling’s house still stands inside the premises of the J.J School of Arts in Mumbai. Other writers and poets who have spent a significant part of their lives in Maharashtra are Poetry Society of India Award winner Rajlukshmee Debi Bhattacharya, Eunice D’souza, Kersy Katrak and Commonwealth Prize winner Makarand Paranjape.
 

Urdu Literature in Maharashtra

Urdu Literature in MaharashtraMany Urdu writers and poets have lived and flourished in Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai. The Maharashtra Urdu Academy has constituted the Sant Gnyaneshwar Award for Urdu writers and the Sahr Ludhianvi award for Urdu poetry along with the Setu Madhavrao Pagadi Award for Urdu Translations to Marathi and the Haroon Rasheed Award for excellence n Urdu journalism. Towering personalities such as Sadaat Hasan Manto, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and the Jnanpith Award winner Qurratulain Haider lived in Mumbai. The Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu literature had flourished in Mumbai too with names such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi making Mumbai their home. Other Urdu writers and poets who have lived and thrived in Maharashtra are Gulzar, Nida Fazli, Saeed Rahi, Dr. Abdus Sattar Dalvi and Mohmmad Aslam Parvez

Theatre and Performing Arts in Maharashtra

Performing arts in Maharashtra
A theater act in progress / Caravan Magazine

Maharashtra has a long tradition of theater with the local Tamasha” tradition dating back to the 18th century. Marathi Lok Natya – or common people’s theater was also present as is evident from the Marathi scripts of plays belonging to the 18th century being discovered in Thanjavur.

The Tamasha movement chiefly consisted of song and dance interspersed with some theatrics called "Vag Natya". The Tamasha troupes would tour villages and towns and also perform in fairs and festivals.  Shahir Ram Joshi and Pathe Bapurao were some famous names associated with the Tamasha movement.

There were also other local song and dance forms such as “Gondhal”  - a theatrical invocation to God that was performed during auspicious occasions such as weddings and pujas. The “Kirtan” as a performing art form developed very differently from the way it had developed elsewhere in India. In Maharashtra, the Kirtan evolved as a form of dramatic story telling combined with devotional songs and sermonizing.  There were also the “Bahurupi” troupes who would tour villages performing small skits using colorful costumes. All these form the ‘Lalite Natya Kala' of Maharashtra.

By the 19th century, western theatrical influences had transformed the nature of performing arts in Maharashtra and Vishnudas Bhave presented the first Marathi theatrical play, Seeta Swayamvar in 18443. This was followed by a proliferation of Natak Mandalis or theater groups staging adaptations of mythological tales or Shakespearean themes. Annasaheb Kirloskar organized Musical Dramas in Maharashtra and set the stage for the “Sangeet Natya”.  He wrote and staged the first Marathi full length opera, Sangeet Shakuntal in 1880. Personalities like Govnd Ballal Deval, K.P Khadiilkar and S.K Kolhatkar made Marathi theater a huge commercial success in Maharashtra, a cultural movement that reached its peak in the mid 1930s with legends like Bal Gandharva and Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar being stalwarts and singing stars eulogized all over Maharashtra.

Along with Parsi theater, the Sangeet Natak was a major influence on Indian cinema, which was an extension of the song and dance drama that the Sangeet Natak created. In fact, in the days of silent movies, musical troupes were engaged by Movie theatres in Mumbai to give live background music to the movies being screened.

Marathi Theatre is still very much vibrant and has evolved to become “Marathi Rangabhoomi” a term that literally means the colorful world of Marathi. It incorporates all theatrical movements from the musical to the theatrical - and has an influential presence all over Maharashtra and beyond. Vinay Apte, Nilu Phule, Dr. Shreeram Lagoo, Laxmikant Berde, Nana Patekar, Vijaya Mehta, Amol Palekar, Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar, Bhakti Barve, Shafi Inamdar and Dilip Prabhavalkar are some of the nationally famous names that have begun their careers from Marathi Theatre 

Parsi Theater

Parsi Theatre in MaharashtraParsi Theater was a theatrical movement that started in Mumbai around 1850. Pioneered by Gustadji Dalal, it was influenced by the English theatrical plays being staged in Mumbai. Parsi theater combined mythological elements with western themes. It also created fantasy worlds and combined them with melodramatic scenes, music, and dance. Parsi Theater was responsible largely for creating a Hindustani linguistic tradition that combined shuddha Hindi and chaste Urdu and has uniquely stayed on in Bollywood cinema as “Bambaiiyya” or the Bombay dialect. Dr. Bhau Daji, Ardeshir Moos and Jamshetji Framji Madan were major personalities and mentors who made Parsi Theater a huge commercial success.

Gujarati Theatre

While the Hindustani version of Parsi theater went on to become Bollywood, the Gujarati elements stayed on and evolved into the Gujarat Theater movement in Maharashtra. Gujarati theater has flourished in Maharashtra and has produced stalwarts like Praful Desai and Paresh Rawal.

Other theatrical Movements

Parsi Theater also produced plays n English and English theater has stayed on in Mumbai with Sabira Merchant, Vijay Krishna, Dolly Thakore, Naseeruddin Shah, Sanjana Kapoor and Tara Deshpande playing important roles in its current success.

Prithvi Theater – founded by Shashi Kapoor and the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) are the principal venues for English theatre in Maharashtra.

Also See: R K Studios in Mumbai | Drama and Theatre in Nashik |

Hindi theater is also active in Mumbai and Dinesh Thakur, Nadira Babbar and Feroze Khan are some of the important personalities associated with the Hindi Theatre movement n Maharashtra.

Cuisine of Maharashtra

Maharashtrian cuisine is a rich blend of spices, vegetables, seafood, sweets and meats that are unique to the region. The main cuisine in Maharashtra that has been popularized all over the world is the Malvani cuisine. This consists of seafood cooked in coconut curry or stuffed with spices. It also consists of fish fried with rice flour or special flavors and served with a special concoction of coconut milk and Amsul (Sangria) called Solkadi.

Another popular cuisine from Maharashtra is the Kolhapuri cuisine that is synonymous with pungently hot and spicy food. Kolhapuri cuisine is typically served with chilies and two distinct curries - the red (Tambda Rassa) and the white (Pandhara Rassa). 

Bombay cuisine - is a general term given to unique food dishes that originated or were popularized in Mumbai and went on to duplicate their success all over the country. The hallmark of this street food is the use of the bread loaf (Pav) along with any dishes that are cooked and served. They include the Batata Vada and the Vada Pav. The Vada being a unique combination of spiced potatoes dipped in a paste made from gram flour and spices and deep fried. When served inside a bread loaf that has been smeared with tamarind water and garlic paste to which chilies are added – it becomes the Vada Pav.

Food Culture of Maharashtra
A platter of Pav Bhaji can be found in any corner of the state / Delfoo

The Pav Bhaji – which is a blend of all vegetables cooked in butter and spices – also became famous here and went on to conquer the world. The Misal Pav – spicy pulses curry to which chopped raw onions and Farsan items are added and served with bread loaves – is also very popular. Bombay Chaat has some unique items such as Sev Batata Dahi Puri (also lovingly called SBDP) and Ragda Pav – that are also popular.

Maharashtra is also known for sweets such as Shrikhand (strained yogurt) that is served in many flavors particularly Amrakhand (where it is mixed with Mango).  Other sweets that form part of Maharashtrian food are the Basundi (Sweetened condensed milk flavored with dry fruits), the Modak (rice flour dumplings stuffed with sweetened ground coconut) and the Chikki – a pastry made from mashed nuts, jaiggery and honey)

Apart from these cuisines, each community has their own customs and cuisines.

People and Community Life of Maharashtra

The cultural mosaic of Maharashtra has been enriched by the variety of communities that have settled here and have added their language customs, traditions, and cuisines to form a harmonious blend.

People of Maharashtra
The Brahmin community of Maharashtra / Wikimedia Commons

Chitpavan Brahmins

They are usually settled along the Konkan coast, Goa, Dakshin Kannada district in coastal Karnataka and Pune.
  • Language – They speak Chitpavani -  a unique dialect of Konkani. Though largely forgotten n Maharashtra, it is still spoken by people in south Konkan region as well as n Goa and Karnataka
  • Dress – headgear worn by the men usually consists of a Topi, though in olden days, a pagdi or pheta were used. Dhoti and Pancha are the costume for men while the nine yard sari is worn by women
  • Cuisine – Their cuisine is usually vegetarian cuisine where the hall marks are Puran Poli a delicacy prepared with either sweet flour or jaggery. Dudhi Halwa and Mattha are also savored delicacies.Use of local fruit available in the Konkan region has been a principal part of Chitpavan cuisine, therefore seasoning of boiled raw mangoes with spice or sweet called ukdamba and sakharamba is very popular.  Pickles are an important part of the cuisine too.
  • Customs – traditionally Ganesh puja has been associated with this community and they (particularly the Peshwas) are credited with having patronized and popularized the establishment of Ganesh temples and the Ganesh puja that has now become the hallmark of Maharashtra culture.

Deshastha Brahmins

They are usually settled in Khandesh, Vidarbha, and Western Maharashtra and by sheer numbers constitute 60% of the Brahmin population in Maharashtra
  • Language – Shuddha Marathi or the Marathi that was standardized as written language as opposed to Boli Marathi or spoken dialects is the language of the community.
  • Dress – headgear includes turban or topi for men while women wear a traditional nine yard sari, the most famous example being the Paithani sari
  • Cuisine – Generally more spicy than the other Brahmin communities in Maharashtra – the Deshashtha cuisine varies according to the region they inhabit but remains essentially vegetarian.
  • Customs – Most Brahmin customs in Maharashtra essentially have the Yadnyopavit ceremony where the male is initiated into Brahmacharyashram beginning his induction into formal education. Marriages also consist of seemant pujan ceremony where the groom’s family is welcomed through an elaborate ritual.

Saraswat Brahmins

The Saraswat Brahmins, unlike the Chitpavans and the Deshasthas are fish eaters and fish forms an important part of their cuisine. A particular delicacy is pickled fish that is preserved and savored round the year by the whole family. Mackerel and Shrimps are favorites among the fish dishes cooked.

Other Brahmin Communities

Several other Brahmin communities live in Maharashtra and principal among them are the Palshi Brahmins of Raigad district, the Govardhan or Gomukha Brahmins of Nashik, (Both vegetarian    communities), the Devednya Brahmins (traditional jewelers of Maharashtra) and the Gaud Kudalkeshkar Brahmins (Non-vegetarian food eaters).

The Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus and the Pathare Prabhus belong to a group whose customs and traditions are largely allied with that of the Brahmin community. 

Maratha Community

This community has been, for a large part of Maharashtra’s history, the ruling class and the landed gentry. Spread all over Maharashtra, this community also has Konkanastha and Deshastha factions.
  • Language – varies according to the region inhabited with the Konkanastha Marathas usually speaking a form of Konkani while some Deshastha factions speak Warhadi Marathi.
  • Cuisine – Those living along the Konkan coast usually eat Malvani food – a unique blend of seafood combined with spices and fruits unique to the region while their Deshastha counterparts usually eat Warhadi cuisine, which is dryer and spicier.

Koli and East Indians


Communities of Maharashtra
People from the Koli Community working for their livelihood / Wikimedia Commons

These are fisher folk usually settled along the North Konkan region that have their own unique lifestyle and are particularly known for the Koli Dance.
  • Language - They speak a unique dialect of Marathi, which is known as the East Indian Dialect amongst Christian members of this community.
  • Dress – the men wear a large handkerchief as a skirt and a monkey cap like headgear. The women wear a nine yard sari using a unique style to drape it and they also wear lots of jewels.
  • Customs – The women carry out all the financial transactions and are the money holders n the family. The men go about fishing but do not venture out during the rains. An elaborate ceremony is conducted when the men return to the sea to fish. This is called the Narali Purnima festival, where coconuts are offered to the goddess of the sea. The Kolis principally worship Ekvira Devi. However Christianity has made significant inroads into the community and many kolis are now Christians who distinguish themselves with the community name East Indians. Koli music is very popular and they do not need an excuse to start reveling in their unique music and dance.


Bene Israeli


Bene Israeli Community of Maharashtra
One of the early Bene Israeli families to settle in Maharashtra / Imj.org

This community is believed to have settled along the Konkan Coast thousands of years ago maybe even before the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Principally Jewish and believed to be one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, they assimilated into the local Marathi speaking community and came to be known as Shaniwar Telis due to their involvement in oil trade and their custom of keeping their shops closed on Saturdays.
  • Language – they speak Marathi
  • Dress – Their dress s no different from traditional Marathi dress of the Konkan
  • Customs – apart from observing the Sabbath, they also do not eat shell fish or any meat associated with animals having an exoskeleton
  • Many prominent Bene Israelis have been part of the Bollywood film industry notably Ruby Myers (Sulochana), Nadira, David and Lily Ezekiel (Dr. Asha Bhende)
 

Luso Indian Christians

Maharashtra Communities
Children from the Luso Indian Community in Maharashtra / Wikimedia Commons

This community lives in and around Korlai – situated between Alibaug and Murud on the Konkan Coast. They are basically the descendents of Portuguese officers who intermarried with the local population.
  • Language – They speak a unique language called Nou Lang, which is a Creole variant of Portuguese.
  • Customs – They mainly follow Catholic customs and rituals heavily influenced by Portuguese traditions.

Muslims

Community of Maharashtra
People from the Muslim community at a prayer meeting in Maharashtra / Beyondheadlines

Muslims make up 9% of the population of Maharashtra and most of them are Sunnis. Muslims have strong cultural roots in Maharashtra and have a unique and assimilated identity that blends seamlessly into Maharashtrian life.
  • Language - Muslims in Mumbai who belong to the Dawoodi Bohra and the Khoja Ismaili communities mainly speak Gujarati, migrants from North India speak Hindi or Bambaiyya Hindi though there is a significant number of chaste Urdu speakers. Muslims in Marathwada speak “Dakkhani” while Muslims in western Maharashtra speak Marathi. Muslims n Konkan region also speak Konkani.
  • Dress – Various Muslim communities wear different types of headgear though traditionally the men wear a skull cap and pajamas that are drawn over the ankles to facilitate during prayers. Women wear traditional saris though they have been increasingly adopting the Hijab and the purdah to wear over their dress.
  • Customs – Eid is celebrated with great fervor and Ashura in the month of Muharram is also observed. Muslim Dargahs or shrines dedicated to holy saints are present all over Maharashtra and fairs and festivals associated with these shrines are celebrated by all communities.
  • Cuisine – Traditional Muslim cuisine has always been a big crowd puller in various restaurants dotted all over Maharashtra. However many Mumbai and its surrounding areas have seen many specialties being repackaged and reinvented giving rise to unusual delicacies. These include the Fish Shawarma, the Kesar Falooda, The Aflatoon Mithai and the Rawas Biryani.

Jains

Jain Community in Maharashtra
People from the Jain community taking part in a procession / Prayagsagar

Maharashtra has a sizable Jain community and Jain shrines are dotted all over the state. Jains have made important contributions to trade and to culture and social upliftment in the state.
  • Language – Jain Maharashtri was an important offshoot of Dramatic Prakrit and contributed to the development of the Marathi language. Marathi speaking Jains are mainly concentrated in Western and Eastern Maharashtra. Jain communities in south Maharashtra either speak Marathi or Kannada and the Dakshin Bharat Jain Sabha is an umbrella organization that spearheads all social activities among these communities.Migrants from Gujarat and Rajasthan form the third group of Jains residing in Maharashtra. Though many people speak Gujarati and Marwadi at home, many of these have now adopted the Marathi language and it is impossible to distinguish them from other Marathi speaking people.
  • Dress – Marathi speaking Jains are usually indistinguishable from other Marathi speaking people while Gujarati and Marwadi Jain women usually wear their traditional attire.
  • Customs – Marathi speaking Jains are mostly Digamber Jains and identify themselves by their traditional occupations.  They have their own religious organizations called Mathas and each community is affiliated to a Matha which is headed by a religious guide called Bhattarakha.
  • The Jain communities of South Maharashtra have their own religious temples and the Murti Pujaks also pay obeisance to Lord Gomateswara at Sravan Belagola.
  • Gujarati and Marwad Shwetambar Jains have either Sthanakwasi or Derawasi affliatons.  Digamber Jains from these communities mostly have affiliations to the Sena Gana.

Parsis

Parsi community in Maharashtra
A marriage ceremony takes place in the early Parsi communities of Maharashtra / Wikimedia

Legend has it that during the 8th Century A.D six ships carrying about 18,000 Zoroastrians arrived in Gujarat and sought asylum, which was granted after certain conditions dictated by the Hindu King. These pertained to the community adopting local language and attire so that they could blend together with the local population. The community eventually came to be known as the Parsis and settled down in Sanjan close to the Maharashtra and Gujarat border. Parsis eventually came to settle down in a, Bhusawal, Pune and around Mumbai.
  • Language – Parsis speak Gujarati with a unique high pitched accent known as the Parsi accent.
  • Dress – The sadra (white shirt) and the kushti(sacred band or cord that is wound around the waist) are the mandatory attire for the Pars men and women.  The Parsi Topi is a shining black headgear and the Parsi ladies wear a Gara sari draped n a unique manner. Parsi men may even wear a skull cap that is made of china silk while women may wear a handkerchief to cover their heads.
  • Customs – Parsis have an initiation ceremony for boys and girls that is similar to the Yadnyopavit ceremony of Marathi Brahmins. This ceremony is called Navjyot or Navjote. Pars weddings happen in the evenings and are elaborate affairs where the rituals start with betrothal and end after the taking of vows and benedictions culminating in a series of questions put to the couple to reaffirm that they are entering into wedlock with their full and informed consent. Parsis dispose of their dead in Towers of Silence where the bodies are left to be consumed by the forces of nature.

Buddhists

Buddhist community in Maharashtra
The statues of Buddha in the Ajanta Caves shows the early arrival of Buddhism in the state / Bharatkumaran Blogspot

Maharashtra was a major centre of Buddhism and the entire region has many Buddhist cave temples – right from the world famous Ajanta and Eldora caves near Aurangabad to the Kanheri and Mahakali caves of Mumbai. Buddhism had disappeared from the region during the Satvahana and the Rashtrakuta periods and it was only as recently as the 1950s that a great Buddhist revival took place after the champion of the downtrodden classes, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and this was emulated by his followers in large numbers. There are approximately 5.9 million Buddhists in Maharashtra. 
  • Language – Buddhists in Maharashtra are almost entirely Marathi speaking people
  • Dress – Their dress and customs are very similar to other Marathi speaking people.
  • Customs – They observe Buddha Jayanti but are also ardent followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and regard him as a modern Bodhisatva and observe Ambedkar Jayanti (Birth anniversary) on 14th April each year as well as the Mahapari Nirvaan Din (death anniversary) on 6th December every year. Their weddings are also marked with paying respects to him.

Sikhs


sikh community in Maharashtra
People from the early Sikh settlement / Searchsikhism

Maharashtra has been traditionally and historically associated with the Sikh religion and one of the revered figures of the faith Sant Namdev hailed from Paithan near Aurangabad and is also well known and revered in Maharashtra. Nanded in Maharashtra was also the final resting abode of Shri Guru Gobind Singh – the tenth Sikh Guru. Nanded is therefore an important pilgrimage centre for all Sikhs. There are nearly 215,000 Sikhs in Maharashtra today.
  • Language – The Sikhs speak Punjabi
  • Dress – Sikh men are manly known for their turbans or Patka. They also don’t cut their hair and also wear the Kangi (comb) and the Katar or the Dagger.
  • Customs - The Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti.

Tribal Communities

tribal communitied of Maharashtra
Members of the Bhil Tribe / Wikipedia

There are 47 tribal communities in Maharashtra. Bhils, Gonds, Mahadev Kolis, Warlis, Koknas and Thakars constitute the largest tribal communities in the state.
  • Language – Warlis and Bhils have their own distinct language groups though they along with the other tribal communities use Marathi to communicate with others outside their group. Bhil languages are mostly linked to Guajarati and Rajasthan group of languages. Warlis still use an unscripted Warli language.
  • Dress – Tribal ghagras are used by Bhil women who also adorn themselves with bangles and jewels. The Warli women wear a sari that is tucked up to just under their knees.
  • Customs – Bhils are known for their Ghoomar Dance while Warli have their own circular dance pattern that is often depicted in their art. The Bhils worship the Goddess Kalii and Mogra Deo


Festivals of Maharashtra

Ganeshotsav

This is by far the most popular festival in Maharashtra and usually celebrated in the month of Bhadrapad. Running for over 10 days with a few variations, this festival is virtually a cultural carnival where many cultural events and depiction of historical and social themes are associated with the Ganesh Pandals.

Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav or public celebration of the Ganesh festival was started by Lokmanya Tilak to counter the ban on public gathering imposed by the British. Today Ganeshotsav is celebrated by Bollywood stars and is a huge commercial success with crores of rupees being earned by the Ganeshotsav mandals every year.

Gopal Kala (Dahi Handi)

Festivals in Maharashtra
Revelers celebrating Dahi Handi / Flickr

Krishna Janmashtami
is celebrated in a novel way in Maharashtra. The celebrations include emulation of the act of stealing butter by Lord Krishna in his childhood. Every street has a pot filled with goodies hanging high atop between two buildings. The challenge to break the highest pot is a dream for many Govinda pathaks or teams of devotees who practice for day beforehand at forming a human pyramid high enough for reaching the elusive pot of goodies.

Gudi Padwa

The Marathi New Year is in line with Ugadi celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and with all communities that observe the Saka calendar. The Gudi is actually a stick over which an overturned steel pitcher is kept along with a long sari usually depicting a victory flag or commemoration. Sweet sugar confectionaries are also hung from this victory emblem and it is a custom to eat this sweet confectionary along with bitter neem leaves to signify the ability to face good as well as bad times in the New Year.

The period between Gudi Padwa and Ram Navmi (or birth of Lord Rama) is a period of fasting and is usually known as the Marathi Navratri.

Ashadi Ekadashi

The Lord Vithala is worshiped by every devout Marathi Hindu and Pandharpur – the holy place where Lord Vithala resides on this earth - is regarded as the Dakshina Kashi by millions of people throughout the state. On the auspicious day of Ashadi Ekadshi, (which is the beginning of Chaturmas or four months of religious observance), millions of devotees gather at Pandharpur to pay homage to Lord Vithala. An equally large crowd gathers at Kartiki Ekadashi four months later, when the Chaturmas period ends.

Nataal

To Marathi speaking Christians, Christmas is known as Nataal and iis the occasion for preparing special sweets such as Karanji , baked cakes and other delicious confectionaries, along with special food stuff such as Chakali and shaker pale. Star shaped lanterns called Kandeels are also hung outside the houses.

Pateti

The Parsi New Year is an official holiday in many parts of the state and is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Parsis.

Pola

This is a harvest festival that is celebrated by farmers irrespective of their religious affiliation. Villages are decorated with lights and lezim dances and bullock cart races are held at many places to mark the revelry.

Don't forget to checkout the cultural aspect of the major cities of Maharashtra:
Mumbai | Pune | Nagpur | Nashik | Thane | Wardha | Ulhasnagar | Panvel | Kolhapur | Lonavala | Shirdi | Bhiwandi | Malegaon | Virar | Osmanabad | Yavatmal | Pimpri Chinchwad | Nanded | Solapur | Jalna
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