Maharashtra, situated at the west of India, has 9.5% of the country’s population and 9.4% of its area. The Sahyadri range of mountains runs parallel and close to the coast of Arabian Sea, and the narrow strip of the land between the sea and the Sahyadri is known as Konkan. To the east of the range stretches the plateau of the Deccan, sloping gently away to form a table land. The Satpuda range of hills that extends along the northern boundary of the state is almost perpendicular to the Sahyadri.
Maharashtra is an artists paradise. It is not only the country’s economic heartland but an exciting rendezvous of culture. It is a pioneer in the field of social reforms, art, folk art, music, literature and other cultural fields.
Although formed as a separate state of Indian Union on May 1, 1960, Maharashtra is 2000 years old as a cultural identity.
Maharashtra ethos is a unique combination of devotion (Bhakti) and valor (Parakram). The people of Maharashtra are traditionally known as Marathas, the world does not denote to any cast or creed but the simple ideology of peaceful co-existence. The Maharashtra walks on the path shown by the saints like Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram, Eknath, Namdeo and others who taught “Bhakti”, the doctrine of total devotion to God and equality of all before him. On the other hand the massive hill forts that Shivaji Maharaj and others built along the Sahyadris and the Satpudas do not have only a military significance but also carry a message of firmness and stubbornness against injustice and exploitation.
The Chinese traveler who visited Maharashtra about 1350 years back has stated about Maharashtrians, “The people are brave, honest and simple. They are fond of learning. To their benefactors, they are grateful, to their enemies relentlessly. If they are insulted they will avenge”.
The story of the evolution of Maharashtra as a Sociopolitical entity is an interesting episode of India’s ancient history. There is no mention of Maharashtra in the Mahabharat, although references to Vidarbha in the Great Epic are legion, which proves that Aryans in their southward movement first settled in this part. Equally old was the settlement of the migrating races like the Nagas and Aryans at Aparanta, meaning the western edge of the land which also finds mention in Mahabharat and has been identified as Konkan. The valiant and proud sage Parshuram was among the first Aryan settlers of Aparanta, who as the story goes, in his retirement after the wars he waged with ruling kings of the north, made his abode in the mountain near Chiplun. For this reason the entire west coast has also been mentioned in the ancient books as Parshuram Kshetra.
A part of Maharashtra, over 2000 years back was a part of the Maurya empire, especially in Konkan region. During their reign the trade flourished and Buddhist learning was spread. Sopara and the Choul which lies on the outskirts of Mumbai, were the most flourishing trade centres. After the decline of Maurya power in the north, Maharashtra came under the domination of a series of conquerors, the aggregate period of their rule extending over nearly 1000 years.
After Mauryas, Satvahanas ruled for about 300 years up to 2nd century AD. Their seat of Government was Pratishthan (Paithan in Marathwada) and they were the first Maharashtrian rulers of Maharashtra. They were vanquished by the Kshatara rulers of Malwa. The Traikutkas who succeeded the Satvahanas as the rulers of western Maharashtra ruled from 249 AD. They had started their own calendar and are mentioned in the inscriptions at the Kanheri Caves (Mumbai).
The Vakatakas (300 to 600 AD) were the most formidable rulers who brought all the three parts of Maharashtra under them. Their seat was at Bhandak in Vidarbha near Chandrapur. They were great patrons of art and the original Ajanta caves were carved by the first Vakataka ruler. After a brief period of the Kalachari dynasty, the Chalukyas established themselves as the rulers of Maharashtra and ruled uninterruptedly up to 760 AD and later again from 973 to 1180 AD.
During the intervening period, i.e. from 760 to 973 AD. The Rashtrakutas ruled from their capital at Manyakhet (Malkhed near Hyderabad) when the Chalukyas again wrested power from them.
The year 1189 saw the end of later Chalukyas and the rise of the Yadavas of Devgiri (Daulatabad) whose rule lasted up to 1310 AD.
These central powers had their vassals like the Shilharas of Karveera (Kolhapur), the Bhojas of Aparanta (North Konkan) and the Kadambas of Gomantak (Goa) to administer their outlying territories.
Although the land changed hands from one dynasty to another almost all regular intervals and the frontiers of Maharashtra remained somewhat variable, there was comparative peace and tranquility in the land. The plastic art reached dizzy heights during the reign of the Shalivahanas, Vakatakas and Chalukyas. The numerous rock carvings in the Sahyadris and the world renowned sculpture of Ajanta and Ellora were the outstanding creation of enlightened rulers of these dynasties.
About the 9th century, the Marathi language which was already the spoken language of the people, was first made the vehicle of written literature. This process was further accelerated by the propounders of the Mahanubhav sect and Marathi, emerging out of its adolescence, came of age in the middle of the 13th century when the poets Mukundraj, Dnyaneshwar and Namdeo wrote their immortal verses in this language and Marathi became the mother tongue of Maharashtra.
After the fall of Deogiri Yadavas of 1310, Maharashtra came under the rule of successive Muslim dynasties. The first among these were the Bahamanis who had their capital at Gulbarga. As far as the Marathi language is concerned, one very significant development took place during the Bahamani period. As the Persian language gained the place of honor in the Bahamni court, it had far reaching effects on spoken Marathi, which started drawing many words copiously from the vocabulary of Persian. However Marathi literature continued to thrive uninterruptedly and a good many poets, the greatest among them being Eknath and Dasopant kept the flag of Marathi language flying. Another equally important event of this period was the installation of the idol of Vitthal at Pandharpur by the saint Bhanudas who brought it back from the Karnatak. Bhanudas also founded the “Varkari Sect” which was destined to play a decisive role in the social and cultural life of Maharashtra in the years to come.
The rule of the Bahamani lasted for two hundred years, till the middle of the 16the century when it disintegrated and Maharashtra fell into the fragments with independent rulers, ruling from Bijapur, Golkonda, Barhanpur, Bidar and Ahmednagar. The Maratha chieftains accepted service under these rules, often changing their loyalties, carried on endless wars for their employers or among themselves. As a result of this, conditions bordering on chaos and anarchy prevailed over a number of years. But as has often happened in the history of nations it was in the womb of this turmoil that great men were born, whose destiny it was to create order from the chaos and anarchy. History took turns at this juncture. A great ruler, Chhatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosale came on the scene to unite the politically disrupted and socially disintegrated Marathas under one flag.
But although Maharashtra was politically divided before the great Chhatrapati Shivaji came on the scene, saint poets from Dnyaneshwar to Tukaram and Ramdas had always fostered and kept up the social and cultural unity of Maharashtra, by putting up a stubborn resistance, against the religious bigotry either of the foreigners or of their own countrymen. This paved the way for Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Unlike the kings of the past or his own contemporaries, Chhatrapati Shivaji was not merely a ruler of the land, but a natural leader of the people, even judging by modern standards, Shivaji built the edifice of Maratha ‘Swaraj’ with the help of the common people, the Mavlas, and Hetkaris. His eight member cabinet , the crusade he carried on against the usurpers of the land, the code of conduct he prescribed for his revenue officers and his armed forces, reveals not only his administrative acumen, but also a mind that was inspired by the great ideal of service to the people. The values and the traditions which he sought to establish by these administrative measures distinctly contained the spirit of democracy. After Shivaji Maharaj, the Maratha power saw its most rapid expansion under the Peshwas, particularly the doughty Bajirao-I and his son Balaji when Maratha frontiers touched Gwalior in the North and Tanjore in the south.
The Marathas however suffered a major setback at Panipat in 1761, when they were squarely defeated by Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan. Thereafter, under the able leadership of Madhavrao Peshwa, Marathas regained their glory but it was short lived. The British had already established themselves in some places in India and were steadily spreading their tentacles. The death in 1800 of Nana Phadanvis, the Chief Minister of Peshwas and one of the best diplomats of his day saw the virtual end of the Maratha Swaraj although the last Peshwa continued to rule as the puppet of the British till 1818.
In the first half of the 19th century, the Marathas with the memories of their lost power still fresh in their mind, could hardly reconcile themselves to the rule of the foreigners. There were sporadic petty revolts as early as in the forties. The historic revolt of 1857, though massive, was crushed by the British diplomacy with an iron hand and it, therefore, suffered a great defeat.
The last quarter of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century was an age of the Renaissance in Maharashtra in the true sense of the word. It was an age of pioneers, pioneers who were Titans in their fields. Social reformers Mahatma Phule, Ranade and Agarkar, research scholars Rajwade and Bhandarkar, politicians Tilak and Gokhale, essayist Chiplunkars, novelist Apte, poet Keshavsut, playwrights Kirloskar, Deval, Gadkari, all great genuine who blazed new trails behind them for the following generations to tread in their light.
The period from 1890 to 1920 was what has been called the Tilak era in politics not only in Maharashtra but in the whole of India. The battles which Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak relentlessly waged against the British rule till the moment he breathed his last is a glorious chapter in the history of India’s struggle for independence. At the extreme end, the impatient youths led by V.D. Savarkar turned to revolutionary politics to bring a speedy end to foreign rule.
The year 1920 heralded a new era in India. The awakened masses were now on the march and the great man Mahatma Gandhi, who led them, amazed the entire world by the noble weapons in his armory – truth and non violence – the immense potential of which was proved by later developments.
Maharashtra had always been in the forefront of the struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. Also Gandhi’s emphasis on the uplift of down trodden created a new awakening among them. This process was inherited by the great leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who created among ‘Dalits’ consciousness of their rights.
The present state of Maharashtra, carved out of the bigger bilingual Bombay state consists of regions of western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada.
It may be mentioned here that under the British administration, the then Bombay province consisted of western Maharashtra and Gujarat. In 1956, the states of India were recognized on a language basis, Maharashtra state might have come into being at this time but for the debate over Bombay (now Mumbai) city.
The issue remained unsolved for next few years. However the discontent and unrest in the people provoked large scale agitations. The agitation ultimately paved the way for the formation of Maharashtra, a new state of the Indian union, on May 1, 1960. At the same time Gujarat, a separate state consisting of Gujarati speaking areas, was also formed.
Accordingly Marathwada, the Marathi speaking area of the erstwhile Hyderabad state, and Vidarbha, the Marathi speaking area of the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh state became part of Maharashtra.
Mumbai, as per the aspirations of the Marathi speaking people, remained in Maharashtra and retained its original status as the capital city. Mumbai, continues to be the heart of Maharashtra and the focal point of all the socioeconomic development.