The Maharashtrians are a
vibrant, earthy people for whom life itself is a celebration. Small
wonder then that all festivals in Maharashtra are celebrated with
abundant fervor and enthusiasm. These times provide a unique
opportunity to absorb Maharashtrian culture, with all its colorful
customs, rituals and traditions. The song, music and dance that
accompany almost every festive occasion add joy and excitement to the
lives of the people from every walk of life.
These festivals attract world-renowned artistes - musicians, dancers,
painters, sculptors, weavers - who come together to pay tribute to
Maharashtra's rich culture and legacy.
The Maharashtrians are a hearty, festive people. The love for
celebration is deeply ingrained in their culture and it finds
expression through the various occasions on the Maharashtrian
calendar. There is festivity all round the year and people cherish the
good times with music, dance and delectable food.
Modern Festivals of
Lord Ganesh, the patron deity of Maharashtra, is the God of
Come August, preparations to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi - the
auspicious day when Lord Ganesh was born - begin with great enthusiasm
all over the state. The 11-day festival begins with the installation
of beautifully sculpted Ganesh idols in homes and mandaps (large
tents), colorfully decorated, depicting religious themes or current
events. The Ganesh idols are worshipped with families and friends.
Many cultural events are organized and people participate in them with
keen interest. After ten exciting days comes the time to bid farewell
to the beloved God. People take Ganesh idols in procession to the
accompaniment of music and dance for immersion in the sea or nearby
river or lake. Emotions run high as people chant 'Ganpati bappa moraya,
pudhachya varshi lavkar ya' (Oh Lord Ganesh, please come back soon
Lord Ganesh, or Ganpati as He is popularly called in Maharashtra, is
among the most beloved of Hindu Gods. As Ganesh Chaturthi - his day of
birth - approaches every year in August-September, so does the Pune
Festival, a celebration of art and culture, song and dance, custom and
Originally conceived as a localized cultural event, the Pune Festival
has, over the years, gained national and international stature and
evolved into one of India's landmark cultural happenings. It is one of
the few festivals that has been consistently and actively promoted
abroad by the government of India, as a major tourist attraction.
Some of the country's internationally renowned artistes have gathered
at Pune, and regarded it as a privilege to be invited to perform at
the festival. While it has provided a unique platform for exponents of
classical music and dance it has, keeping pace with changing times,
also helped to promote modern trends in the performing arts, notably
the dramatic arts and the traditional art of rangoli.
A rare treat, the week-long Pune Festival provides a feast of
entertainment for visitors who can participate and revel in
traditional and modern sports events, shop for exquisite textiles and
handicrafts, relish the delectable cuisine and rejoice in the colorful
customs of Maharashtra.
The Banganga Festival
Legend has it that Lord Ram, on his way to Lanka in search of his wife
Sita, stopped on the hillock of Malabar Hill. His followers were
worshippers of Shiva and they fashioned a shivalinga from sand and
called it Walluka Ishwar - 'walluka' meaning 'sand' and 'Ishwar', 'the
God'. Though surrounded by water, the people could not find fresh
water to quench their thirst or perform daily puja. Seeing this, Ram
shot a ban (arrow) into the ground and the fresh waters of the holy
Ganga sprang from that spot. Centuries later, the Shilahara kings
built a large and beautiful tank in stone, to store the water of the
Banganga. Settlers through the ages built numerous, beautifully
sculpted temples to various deities around the tank.
Every year, in January, a cultural extravaganza is organized at
Banganga, where top artistes from around the country perform live
classical music concerts. Cultural enthusiasts attend the festival and
feast the soul as well as the mind as the sun sets.
The Elephanta Festival
In February Elephanta, a small island near
is a favored destination for culture lovers. It is the site of the
Elephanta Festival, the tranquil abode of Lord Shiva, just
one-and-a-half-hour's journey by motor launch from Mumbai. Once known
as Puri or Gharapuri, the island was the proud capital of a powerful
coastal kingdom. It was named Elephanta by the Portuguese, who took
possession of it several centuries later, and found a monolithic stone
elephant at the place they first landed.
The Elephanta caves are a showcase of legends created around Lord
Shiva, beautifully presented here in all his splendor in the rock cave
temples. Every year, renowned dancers and musicians perform outside
the caves, beneath a star-studded sky, to a select and appreciative
audience. Special launch services and catering arrangements are
provided for visitors.
The Ellora Festival near Aurangabad
There was a time when the Gods grew bored in their celestial abode.
They asked the Lord if they could visit the earth. That evening, He
said they could, but on condition that they returned by dawn. The Gods
set up a city at the place they fancied and, lost in their pleasures,
they let time pass by. Since they failed to return by dawn, they were
turned to stone - in the magnificent monolith called Ellora, the
heavenly abode of the Gods on earth. MTDC organizes the Ellora
Festival here in December, inviting in renowned artistes who display
their virtuosity in music and dance. Surrounded by 1,400-year old
caves and rock carvings, artistes perform in this magnificent ambiance
to enchant the gods, goddesses and human lovers of art. The Kailas
temple, sculptured out of one huge rock, is one of the most beautiful
backdrops for an event such as this.
The Kalidas Festival at Nagpur
Kalidas was a great Sanskrit poet and dramatist, famous for his
historical drama, Shakuntalam, and for the epic poem, Meghdoot. The
Kalidas Festival brings back memories of the golden period of the
Vidarbha region. Ramgiri, or Ramtek as it is popularly known today, is
the place that inspired Kalidas and its beauty features predominantly
in his literary work.
Every year, in November, some of the greatest exponents of music,
dance and drama perform in the picturesque setting of Ramtek,
celebrating its glorious heritage over two exciting days and nights.
In Hindu mythology, the cobra has a special significance and the
earth, it is believed, rests on the head of 'Shesha' - the
thousand-hooded cobra. Snake worship is an important ritual of the
Maharashtrians, and on the festival of Nag Panchami, clay icons of
cobras are venerated in homes. People offer sweets and milk to the
snake deity and the day is celebrated with folk dances and songs,
especially in the countryside. Snake charmers carry cobras in baskets
and collect offerings from the public in the streets. A small village
near Sangli, Battis Shirale, is famous for its snake catchers, and
people throng the streets to watch the thrilling performances of
expert snake charmers.
The full moon day of the month of Shravan is celebrated with
characteristic fervor in different parts of Maharashtra and is known
variously as Narali Pournima, Shravani Pournima, Rakhi Pournima or
Raksha Bandhan. 'Naral' means 'coconut', and Narali Pournmia is thus
called because offerings of coconuts are made by people to the sea-god
on this day. Narali Pournima also marks the advent of the new fishing
season and fishermen appease the sea-god before sailing out in their
gaily-decorated boats. The festival is a day of singing and dancing.
Raksha Bandhan is also observed on this day. Sisters tie 'rakhis' or
beautifully decorated threads on their brothers' wrists. The ritual
renews the bond of affection between siblings and signifies the
brother's responsibility of protecting his sister all her life.
The birth of Lord Krishna is celebrated on Gokul Ashtami or
Janmashtami. Most devotees fast till midnight and when the birth of
Lord Krishna is announced, they eat a festive preparation of rice,
butter, yogurt, puris and potatoes. This meal, according to Hindu
mythology, was relished by Lord Krishna and his playmates in Gokul.
Another fun-filled ritual performed on this day is dahi-handi - clay
pots filled with curd, puffed rice and milk are strung high up above
the streets and groups of enthusiastic young men (and even women) form
human pyramids to reach these and break them open, the way Lord
Krishna and his friends would, after sneaking into the houses of gopis
(milkmaids) to steal and eat butter.
'Gudhi' - the bamboo staff with a colored silk cloth and a garlanded
goblet atop - symbolizes victory or achievement. Maharashtrians erect
gudhis on Padwa, the first day of the Hindu new year. People welcome
the new year with gudhi worship and distribute prasad comprising
tender neem leaves, gram-pulse and jaggery. Gudhi Padwa heralds the
advent of a prosperous new year and is considered as a shubh muhurat -
one of the most auspicious days - by Hindus.
The harvest festival is celebrated by farmers all over Maharashtra. On
this day bullocks, which are an integral part of the agricultural
chores and consequently the village economy, are honored. They are
bathed, colorfully decorated and taken out in processions across the
village, accompanied by the music of drumbeats and lezhim (a musical
instrument made of a wooden rod and an iron chain full of metallic
pieces). Pola brings out an important facet of Hindu culture, which
does not look upon cattle as mere beasts of burden, but treats them
with dignity and gratitude.
According to the great Hindu epic Ramayan, Dussehra is the day on
which Lord Ram killed Ravan, the evil king of Lanka. It is considered
as a shubh-muharat - a very auspicious day - to start a new venture.
It is a symbol of the victory of good over evil. People decorate the
entrances of their homes with torans, flower studded strings, and
worship the tools of trade, vehicles, machinery, weapons and even
books. As the evening falls, the villagers cross the border, a ritual
known as Simollanghan, and worship the Shami tree. The leaves of the
Apta tree are collected and exchanged among friends and relatives as
Diwali or Deepawali means a row
lights. The most beautiful of all Indian festivals, Diwali is a
celebration of lights. Streets are illuminated with rows of clay lamps
and homes are decorated with rangoli (colored powder designs) and
aakash kandils (decorative lanterns of different shapes and sizes).
People rise at dawn, massage their bodies and hair with scented oil
and take a holy bath. Diwali is celebrated with new clothes,
spectacular firecrackers and a variety of sweets in the company of
family and friends.
Dhanatrayodashi; Narakchaturdashi, Amavasya (Laxmi poojan),
Balipratipada and Yamadvitiya (Bhaubeej) are the five days which
comprise Diwali, and each day has a peculiar religious significance.
This joyous celebration is, on the whole, symbolic of dispelling the
darkness of misery and bringing the light of prosperity and happiness
into human life.
Sankrant means the passing of the sun from one Zodiac sign to the
other. People exchange greeting and good wishes on this day, which
marks the Sun's passage from the Tropic of Dhanu (Sagittarius) to
Makar (Capricon). Sweet and crunchy ladoos made of sesame and jaggery
are the favorite treats.
Each year, after a successful winter harvest, people get ready to
welcome the spring with Holi - the festival of colors. Holis or
bonfires are lit in the night and people gather to worship the
fire-god, who is believed to burn away all evil. On the next day,
people of all ages come outside and playfully drench each other with
colored water. Brightly colored powders are applied on faces, and
there is plenty of music, dance and sweets to fill the rest of the
day. The exuberant display of colors symbolizes the advent of a
colorful and prosperous spring season.