Saturday, 21 December 2013

Maharashtra - Another India

For my next learning journey, I've decided to learn about Maharashtra, India's second most-populated state.  If Maharashtra was an independent country, it would be 12th largest in the world, in terms of population.  With 112 million people, it's just behind Mexico and Japan.  In terms of land area, Maharashtra is a bit smaller than Poland and a bit bigger than Arizona.  Maharashtra came into existence on the 1st of May 1960 and is a successor of the Bombay Presidency (which also included the state of Gujarat).

It isn't my first time to blog about India.  Back in May-July 2010, I did a series of blog posts on Rajasthan.  Unlike Rajasthan, which I still haven't managed to visit - I have actually been to Maharashtra, having spent Christmas there in 2002.  Spending Christmas in India was quite an experience and I still remember eating cold slices of turkey with cranberry sauce, as I sat sweating in an Irish bar in the Colaba district of Mumbai.

As well as spending a few days in Mumbai, I also visited Pune, as my travelling companion was interested to find out more about the Osho ashram (which turned out to be a great disappointment).  I had the best cup of tea ever in Pune - I can almost still taste it - very milky and full of ginger.

Gateway to India by Swami Stream
After Pune, I travelled alone to Kolhapur, Maharashtra's sixth largest city, as I wanted to experience a slice of everyday Indian life - this time I wasn't disappointed.  I met my first ever Hindu fundamentalist in Kolhapur, who poked me in the chest and asked me what I was doing there (at least I figured that was what he was saying, as I don't speak Marathi!).

I also remember an incredibly attentive waiter in Kolhapur, who insisted on standing beside me through the entire meal, so he could chop up my bits of food.  I was half-expecting him to start feeding me, or eat the meal himself!

As I've started researching and reading about India's history, I can't help thinking about Maharashtra as another India. It's probably the biggest Indian regional culture which is outside the dominant Hindi mainstream.  Mumbai is the largest city in India and held an important role during the time of the British Raj - yet Maharashtra doesn't dominate the history of India.  It would seem that India's history happened in the northern states - Delhi, Punjab and, after the British arrived, Kolkata. 

I find it ironic that, despite the fact that only 12% of the state's population speaks Hindi (69% speak the state language, Marathi) - Maharashtra is the home of Bollywood, the factory for Hindi culture and dreams.  It'll be interesting to get to the heart of this cultural divide and learn about Maharashtra and Marathi people, culture and language.

Shri Ganesha by Swami Stream
I've always been attracted to the Hindu god Ganesha or Ganapati and he's particularly popular in Maharashtra.  As well as being the mid-winter solstice, today is also the beginning of Pancha Ganapati, a five-day festival in honour of Ganesha - surely an auspicious day to start blogging about Maharashtra?

The festival seems to be most popular with people of Indian descent who live in other parts of the world, especially in nominally Christian countries, like the United States, where Christmas is almost universally celebrated.  I guess Pancha Ganapati gives ex-pat Hindus a chance to celebrate family, harmony and devotion at the same time as their Christian neighbours? 

I found the following video on YouTube which explains the tradition of Pancha Ganapati - enjoy! 

Image credits:

The picture of the Gateway to India - one of Mumbai's most iconic buildings - was taken by Flickr member Swami Stream a.k.a. Swaminathan, who is from Pune in Maharashtra, as was the picture of Shri Ganesha.  You can see more of Swaminathan's photos on his photo stream, or on his website

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