/mah'heuh rahsh"treuh/, n.
a state in W central India. 57,430,000; 118,903 sq. mi. (307,959 sq. km). Cap.: Bombay.

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State (pop., 2001 prelim.: 96,752,247), west-central India.

It lies on the Arabian Sea and is bordered by the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Goa and the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli; its capital is Mumbai (Bombay). Occupying an area of 118,800 sq mi (307,690 sq km), it covers much of the Deccan plateau, containing the valleys of the Krishna, Bhima, and Godavari rivers. The population is a mixture of ethnic groups; Marathi is the state language. The region was divided into Hindu kingdoms in the 8th–13th centuries; they were followed by a series of Muslim dynasties. A Maratha kingdom ruled by 1674, and by the 18th century a Maratha empire had been established. The British gained control early in the 19th century. When India won independence in 1947, the area was known as Bombay state; it was divided on linguistic lines in 1960, creating Gujarat in the north and Maharashtra in the south. Its economy is primarily agricultural; industries include oil-refining and cotton textiles.

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      state of India that occupies a substantial portion of the Deccan Plateau in the western peninsular part of the subcontinent. Its shape roughly resembles a triangle, with the 450-mile (725-kilometre) western coastline forming the base and the interior narrowing to a blunt apex some 500 miles to the east. It has an area of 118,809 square miles (307,713 square kilometres). It is bounded by the states of Gujarāt, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnātaka (formerly Mysore) and, on the west, the Arabian Sea.

      Mahārāshtra's capital, Bombay (Mumbai), is an island city, connected to the mainland by roads and railways. Aptly called the gateway of India, it is one of India's biggest commercial and industrial centres and has played a significant role in the country's social and political life.

      Mahārāshtra is a leader among Indian states in terms of agricultural and industrial production, trade and transport, and education. Its ancient culture, at one stage considerably obscured by the dominance of the British, survives largely through the medium of a strong literary heritage. A common literature in Marāṭhī, the predominant language, has in fact played an important role in nurturing a sense of unity among the Mahārāshtrians.

Physical and human geography

The land
Relief and drainage
      Mahārāshtra presents an interesting range of physical diversity. To the west is the narrow Konkan coastal lowland, which reaches its widest extent near Bombay. Numerous minor hills dominate the relief. There are many small, swift, west-flowing streams, most of them less than 50 miles long. The biggest, Ulhās, rising in the Bhor Ghāt, joins the sea after an 80-mile course.

      The Western Ghāts (Ghats) (a mountain range at the western edge of the Deccan Plateau; ghāt means “pass” in Marāṭhi) run almost continuously 398 miles north-south, the foothills reaching to within four miles of the Arabian Sea. Elevations increase northward to peaks of some 4,720 feet (1,440 metres). There are a few passes through which roads and railroads link the coast with the interior. The eastern slopes of the Ghāts descend gently to the Deccan Plateau and are sculptured by the wide, mature valleys of the Krishna, Bhīma, and Godāvari rivers.

      Between the Narmada valley in the north, the Krishna basin in the south, and from the western coast as far east as Nāgpur, the Ghāts and the triangular plateau inland are covered with extensive lava outpourings called traps. These reach a maximum thickness of 10,000 feet near Bombay. The differential erosion of lava has resulted in characteristic steplike slopes, uniform crest lines, and a table-top appearance of many hills.

      In the east, around Nāgpur, the Deccan Trap gives way to undulating uplands (890–1,080 feet high) underlain by ancient crystalline rocks. The Wardha-Wainganga valley, part of the larger Godāvari basin, trends southward and abounds in lakes.

Soils and climates
      The lava rock breaks down into a heavy, black, fertile soil. Very old crystalline rocks in the Wardha-Wainganga valley have been eroded into light-coloured, sandy soils. Saline soils in the river valleys are a result of heavy evaporation.

      The climate is characteristically monsoonal, with local variations. India's southwest monsoon rains break on the Bombay coast usually in the first week of June and last until September, during which period they account for 80 percent of the annual rainfall. Four seasons are normal: March–May (hot and dry); June–September (hot and wet); October–November (warm and dry); and December–February (cool and dry).

      The Western Ghāts and the ranges on the northern borders greatly influence the climate and separate the wet Konkan Coast from the dry interior upland, called the Desh. Rainfall is extremely heavy in Konkan, averaging 100 inches (2,540 millimetres), with some of the wettest spots recording 250 inches, and rapidly diminishing to one-tenth of this east of the Ghāts. Rainfall increases again eastward, reaching 40–80 inches in the extreme east.

      The coastal districts enjoy equable temperatures, monthly averages ranging, as at Bombay, only a few degrees above or below 80° F (27° C). A range of more than 13° F (7° C) between day and night temperatures is unusual. Towns such as Pune (Poona), high up on the plateau, benefit from cooler temperatures throughout the year but remain equable. In the interior areas around Nāgpur, the temperatures during summer average 110° F (43° C) and in winter about 70° F (21° C).

Plant and animal life
      Forests cover less than one-fifth of the state and are confined to the Western Ghāts, their transverse ranges, the Sātpura Range in the north, and the Chandrapur region in the east. On the coast and adjoining slopes, plant forms are rich with lofty trees, variegated shrubs, and mango and coconut trees. The forests yield teak, bamboo, myrobalan (for dyeing), and other woods.

      Thorny, savanna-like vegetation occurs in areas of less than 30-inch rainfall, in upland Mahārāshtra. Subtropical vegetation is found on higher plateaus having heavy rain and milder temperatures. Bamboo, chestnut, and magnolia are common. In the semiarid tracts, wild dates are found. Mangrove vegetation occurs in marshes and estuaries along the coast.

      Wild animals include tigers, leopards, bison, and several species of antelope. The striped hyena, wild hog, and sloth bear are common. Monkeys and snakes occur in great variety, as do ducks and other game birds. The peacock is indigenous. There are national parks at Tādoba, Chikhaldara, and Borivli.

The people
      Mahārāshtrians are racially and ethnically heterogeneous. On the perches of the Western Ghāts and the Sātpura Range live the Bhīl, Warli, Goṇḍ, Korku, and Gowari, who exhibit affinities with the Australian geographic race. Almost ubiquitous are Kuṇbī Marāṭhās, supposedly descendants of waves of settlers who came from the north about the beginning of the 1st century AD. Through an agelong mixture of aboriginals and immigrants, many castes have developed, most of them in the east. The Parsis (Parsi) form another group, having fled from Iran, some time after the 7th century, to safeguard their religion.

      Marāṭhī, the official state language, is spoken by more than 90 percent of the people. Despite various regional spoken forms, its written style is uniform. Other important languages are Gujarātī, Hindi, Telugu, Kannaḍa, Sindhī, Urdū, Bengali, Malayālam, and English. Sindhī has spread in urban centres as a result of an influx of refugees after the 1947 partition. English is still used in universities, in administration (along with Marāṭhī), and in metropolitan areas. The Muslim population in general speaks Urdū, though often not exclusively. There are also many local languages, such as Koṅkaṇī on the west coast and Goṇḍī, Varhādi, and Muṇḍārī in the eastern and northern forests.

      Mahārāshtra's religious diversity reflects that of India as a whole. Hindus predominate, followed by Muslims and Buddhists. There are many Christians in the metropolitan cities. Parsis (a religious minority adhering to Zoroastrianism) live mainly in Bombay and its environs; a few are found in other cities. Other religious minorities include Jainas and Sikhs, whose small communities are widespread.

      About three-fifths of the population are rural, living in numerous villages. Greater Bombay's immense population reflects its industrial growth and commercial success. As India's best-equipped port, the city handles an enormous foreign trade. It is a centre of manufacturing, business, finance, and administration.

      Nāgpur (Nagpur), Pune, and Sholāpur (Solapur) are other major cities. Its historical and cultural importance apart, Pune has developed many industries because of its proximity to Bombay. Nāgpur was once the capital of the Bhonsle kingdom and then of Madhya Pradesh (until that state's boundaries were redrawn in 1956). The city still enjoys status as Mahārāshtra's second capital. Nāgpur and Sholāpur have textile and other agriculturally based, market-oriented industries. Pune and Nāgpur are additionally important as educational centres. Of particular historical interest is the Mughal city of Aurangābād (Aurangabad), which contains several monuments and other historic buildings and which is in close proximity to the famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora.

The economy
      The national and state governments have promoted both improved agricultural techniques and increased industrialization of the economy. As a result, Mahārāshtra has become the most developed and prosperous of the Indian states.

Resources and agriculture
      Most of Mahārāshtra's known mineral resources—including manganese, coal, iron ore, limestone, copper, bauxite, silica sand, and common salt—occur in the eastern districts, with some deposits in the west. Bhandāra, Nāgpur, and Chandrapur districts are particularly rich in bituminous coal. Undersea oil deposits were discovered near Bombay in the 1970s. The mountainous areas of the state possess significant timber reserves. Insufficient rainfall constitutes the main obstacle to agriculture. The abundant marine life of the western coast remains largely unexploited.

      Two-thirds of Mahārāshtra's inhabitants are small-scale farmers. Measures to combat food deficits have included the electrification of irrigation, the use of hybrid seeds, ultra-intensive cultivation, and incentives offered to the farmer. Sorghum, millet, and pulses (legumes) dominate the cropped area. Rice grows where rainfall exceeds 40 inches, and wheat is a winter crop in fields that retain moisture. Cotton, tobacco, and peanuts (groundnuts) are major crops in areas having 24–39 inches of rainfall. Irrigation dams in rain-shadow areas have resulted in a rich sugarcane yield. Mangoes, cashew nuts, bananas, and oranges are popular orchard crops. Considerable success has been achieved in overcoming many problems relating to soil erosion, storage, transport, and marketing.

      The manufacture of cotton textiles is the oldest and largest industry in Mahārāshtra. Bombay, Nāgpur, Sholāpur, Akola, and Amrāvati are the main factory centres; handloomed goods are produced especially in and around Nāgpur and Sholāpur. Other centres of traditional, agriculturally based industry include Jalgaon and Dhūle (edible oils processing) and Kolhāpur, Ahmadnagar, Sāngli, and Miraj (sugar refining). Fruit canning and preservation are important in Nāgpur, Bhusāwal, Ratnāgiri, and Bombay. Forest products include timber, bamboo, sandalwood, and tendu leaves (for cheap cigarettes). Small-scale agro-processing, consisting of conversion of food grains, oilseeds, and other crops into items of daily consumption, is virtually ubiquitous in the state.

      Mahārāshtra produces both hydroelectricity and thermal electricity, the former in western areas, the latter in the east. So-called superthermal power plants, which burn coal, are located near Nāgpur and Chandrapur. The nuclear power facility at Tārāpur, 70 miles north of Bombay, was India's first nuclear power plant.

      The Bombay-Pune complex boasts the state's greatest concentration of heavy industry and high technology. The petrochemical industry has developed rapidly since the installation of India's first offshore oil wells near Bombay in 1976. Oil refining and the manufacture of such items as agricultural implements, transport equipment, rubber products, electric and oil pumps, lathes, compressors, sugar-mill machinery, typewriters, refrigerators, electronic equipment, and television and radio sets are assuming increasing importance. There also is an incipient automobile industry. Bombay is the national centre for motion-picture production.

      The eastern area around Nāgpur, Chandrapur, and Bhandāra supports major coal-based industries, along with plants processing ferro-alloys, manganese and iron ores, and cement. Aurangābād and Thāne are also important industrial hubs.

      The foremost means of travel is a rail network centred on Bombay. The nation's east-west and north-south trunk routes intersect between Nāgpur and Wardha. Passenger amenities are increasing, with sleepers, diesel-electric engines, and air-conditioned coaches.

      A 20-year plan inaugurated after independence provided for a major road within five miles of every village. Missing links on the state's highways were thus completed, and district roads developed in inaccessible areas. Five national highways connect the state with Delhi, Calcutta, Allahābād, Hyderābād, and Bangalore. State and private transport operators serve all routes.

      Daily air services connect Bombay with Pune, Nāgpur, Aurangābād, and Nāshik. Bombay is located on international air routes, and Nāgpur is the centre of India's domestic air service. Inland water transport plays a limited role in Mahārāshtra, and other than Bombay there are only minor ports on the western coast.

Administration and social conditions
      Mahārāshtra comprises three conventional regions: western Mahārāshtra, Vidarbha, and Marāthwādā. It is divided administratively into 30 districts, which are themselves divided into talukas (administrative units comparable to counties).

      In common with other states, Mahārāshtra is administered by a governor and a Council of Ministers elected from members of the legislature and headed by the leader of the majority party.

      Executive authority in the state is exercised by the cabinet in the name of the governor. The district collector and chief executive officer—responsible for collection of land revenue and special taxes and for coordinating the work of other departments, are the key figures within the local administrative areas.

      The judiciary, a High Court headed by the chief justice and a panel of judges, is based in Bombay. There is a bench of this court also at Nāgpur.

      The legislature consists of two houses: the Vidhān Parishad (Legislative Council) and the Vidhān Sabhā (Legislative Assembly). Both bodies meet for regular sessions in Bombay and once annually in Nāgpur. Mahārāshtra is represented in the Lok Sabhā and the Rājya Sabhā (which are, respectively, the lower and upper houses of the Indian Parliament).

      The Public Service Commission and a State Selection Board select candidates for appointment to all state services. This process is carried out largely by means of competitive examinations.

      There are several medical colleges, the most notable being in Bombay, Nāgpur, and Pune. There are dental colleges in Bombay and Nāgpur. Traditional medicine is taught at Āyurvedic colleges in Bombay and Nāgpur. Most district hospitals maintain nursing schools. Regional blood banks exist in Bombay, Pune, Aurangābād, and Nāgpur, and emergency centres are found in all districts. The state has repeatedly received national recognition for its family-planning program. In Bombay the Haffkine Institute and the Indian Cancer Research Centre (located in the Tata Memorial Hospital) are well-known research centres.

      Welfare services address the needs of children, women, workers, and delinquent citizens but not as yet the unemployed. A Children's Act governs the prosecution and rehabilitation of youthful offenders, who may be assigned to special correctional centres called remand homes. A number of state homes shelter women in distress. The aged have rest homes, and numerous hostels accommodate working women. Training facilities exist for the physically handicapped, and juvenile guidance centres function in slum areas.

      Mahārāshtra's literacy rate—which consists of more than half of the state's adult population—exceeds the national average. The state provides free compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Vocational and multipurpose high schools also have grown in importance. The state operates two universities (including one for women) at Bombay and others at Nāgpur, Pune, Aurangābād, Ahmadnagar, Akola, Amrāvati, and Kolhāpur. In addition, there are three agricultural universities and several engineering and medical colleges. About 700 colleges affiliated with the universities offer baccalaureate degrees.

Cultural life
      Mahārāshtra is a distinct cultural region. Its long artistic tradition is manifested in the ancient cave paintings found at Ajanta and Ellora, in a number of medieval architectural masterpieces, in its classical and devotional music, and in its theatre. Pune, where numerous organizations sustain these great traditions, is the state's undisputed cultural capital.

      In rural Mahārāshtra, the foremost diversion is tamāshā, combining music, drama, and dance. The typical tamāshā troupe comprises seven artists, including a female dancer for featured roles and a bawdy clown. The theatre and the cinema are popular in urban areas.

      Mahārāshtra has many festivals throughout the year: Holī and Ranga Panchamī are spring festivals. The Dassera (Daśahara) is an autumn festival and has special significance, as it commemorates the day on which Marāṭhā warriors traditionally started on their military campaigns. Dīwālī (Diwali), coming next, is a celebration of lights and fireworks. During Polā, bullocks are given a holiday and decorated for races. The Ganesh festival during the rainy season is by far the most popular in Mahārāshtra. Its public celebration was first sponsored by the nationalist political leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893. Muḥarram honours the great martyrs of Islām, although Hindus also participate. Unique to Mahārāshtra is the Hurda party, in which a farmer invites neighbouring villagers to partake of fresh ears of jowār (sorghum). Folk songs and traditional dances accompany all these celebrations.

      The name Mahārāshtra, denoting the western upland of the Deccan, first appeared in a 7th-century inscription and in the account of a contemporary Chinese traveler, Hsüan-tsang. According to one view, the name derives from the word mahārāṭhi (great chariot driver), which refers to a skillful northern fighting force that migrated southward into the area. The group's language, intermingled with the speech of the earlier Nāga settlers, became Mahārāṣṭrī, and this by the 8th century developed into Marāṭhī. There was also a continuous influx of people from remote Greece and Central Asia.

      During this early period the territory constituting the modern state of Mahārāshtra was divided among several Hindu kingdoms: Sātavāhana, Vākāṭaka, Kalacuri, Rāṣṭrakūṭa, Cālukya (Chalukya), and Yādava. After 1307 there was a succession of Muslim dynasties. Persian, the court language of the Muslims, had a far-reaching effect on Marāṭhī. By the middle of the 16th century Mahārāshtra was again fragmented among several independent Muslim rulers, who fought each other endlessly. It was in the midst of this chaos that a great leader, Śivājī Bhonsle, was born in 1627. Śivājī showed astonishing prowess by founding a large Marāṭhā empire that shook Delhi-based Mughal rule to its foundations.

      During the 18th century almost all of western and central India, as well as large segments of the north and east, were brought under Marāṭhā suzerainty. It was this empire that succumbed to the British from the early 19th century on. When India became independent in 1947, the province, long known as the Bombay Presidency, became Bombay state. The following year a number of former princely states (notably Baroda [Vadodara]) were merged into the new state, and, on Nov. 1, 1956, a major linguistic and political reorganization of the states of peninsular India resulted in the addition of large parts of Madhya Pradesh and the erstwhile Hyderābad to Bombay state. The outcome of this reorganization was a state in which most of the Gujarātī-speaking peoples lived in the north, while most of the Marāṭhī-speaking peoples lived in the south. As a result of the demands of the two language groups, the state was divided into two parts on May 1, 1960, thus creating Gujarāt in the north and Mahārāshtra in the south.

Sitanshu Mookerjee Sudhir Vyankatesh Wanmali

Additional Reading
A good geography is B. Arunachalam, Maharashtra: A Study in Physical and Regional Setting and Resource Development (1967). Irawati Karmarkar Karve, Maharashtra: Land and Its People (1968), offers a socio-anthropological analysis of the population. S.R. Tikekar, Maharashtra (1972), is also useful.Sudhir Vyankatesh Wanmali

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Universalium. 2010.

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