The Maharashtrians and Mumbaikars 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. 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.
Lord Ganesh, the patron deity of Maharashtra, is the God of wisdom. 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 next year).
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.
Narali Pournima / Rakshabandhan
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. Gudi Padva held in March/April depending on the Hindu calendar. Gudi Padva is the Maharashtrian New Year, which is dedicated to Sahalivan who was a potter's son but went on to overthrow the Gupta Dynasty of Malwa. Gudi Padva also marks the beginning of the Hindu Solar year. 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.
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 gold.
Diwali or Deepawali means a row of lights. Diwali is celebrated with colourful and dazzling light all over the city like any other city in India. This Hindu festival is celebrated on the moonless night of November every year. The best area to visit in this festival is Marine Drive that shines bright in the light of the innumerable firecrackers. The earthen lamps are floated on the waters at the Banganaga tank in a traditional way. 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).Diwali is celebrated with new clothes, spectacular firecrackers and a variety of sweets in the company of family and friends. Heavy discounts are given on home appliances like refrigerator and washing machine in Mumbai. During Diwali Mumbai goes berserk with crackers.
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.
In Mumbai the Diwali festival begins with â€˜ Vasubarasâ€™. Vasubaras is celebrated in honor of cows. Married women carry out puja of cows. It is a symbol of Womenâ€™s appreciation towards cow. The first day of Diwali is Dhantrayodashi. On this day, â€˜Yama-Deep-Danâ€™ is held. â€˜Divasâ€™ made of kneaded flour are ignited and offered to Yama in the evening. As they carry out this ritual, women pray to Yama that their children and husbands be blessed with an elongated life. Lord Yama according to Hindu mythology is considered as â€˜God of Deathâ€™.Narak-Chaturdashi is the second day of this festival.
This day is celebrated as Narakasurâ€™s death in the hands of Lord Krishna. On this day people wake up at dawn. Then body massage is done with scented oil. Instead of soap utane is used. On the third day there is Laxmi Pujan. The puja is performed in the evening. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi makes a visit to every house on Diwali evening. In Mumbai many mouth-watering delicacies such as anarse, chivda, shankar-pale, karanji, kabodi, chirote, chakali, shev are prepared during festivals. People of Mumbai hang â€˜Akash-Kandilâ€™ in the balcony and lit up â€˜pantisâ€™ outside houses. People also draw colorful â€˜Rangolisâ€™ outside their house in Mumbai.Bhav-Bij is the last day of this festival. In Mumbai on this day sister perform â€˜Aukshanâ€™ of their brother and pray to God for brotherâ€™s long life. Brothers in turn give blessings and loads of gifts to their sisters.
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.
Mumbai has a huge Parsi population and Pateti or the Parsi New Year is celebrated on a large scale in August. It is also significant because it marks the day the Shahi Zoroastrian community landed in India while migrating to Persia.
All the Christians in Mumbai gather together for a week for the celebration of Mount Mary's Feast. Festivities begin on the Sunday closest to the Birthday of Virgin Mary September 8. A huge fair is held near the basilica in Bandra complete with bands, food, ferris wheels and joy rides. The Church itself comes aglow with hundreds of candles lit by the sick who pray for recovery.
Christmas is another big celebration in Mumbai. Stars and fairy lights are strung along the streets and the Nativity scene is recreated on many street corners. Christmas trees are decorated all over the city and people gather at restaurants or at home to celebrate.
Id-ul-Fitr in November is also big in Mumbai. Marking the end of Ramzan and fasting, this is the time for gorging on sivaiyan - a vermicelli based sweet dish.
Modern Festivals of Maharashtra
Every year, MTDC seeks to present the myriad facets of Maharashtra's rich heritage of the performing arts through a series of festivals held at important cultural centres. The years have added a mesmerizing allure to these events, now avidly awaited by lovers of Indian music, art and culture, who appreciate the artistry of India's leading exponents of classical music and dance who come from all over the country to perform at the festivals.
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 Mumbai, 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. Chief attraction of the festival is the illuminated Maheshmurti (Shiva-idol), in the main cave of the island. During this festival, local fisher communities present colourful folk dances and ethnic local cuisines make the ambience deliciously charming.
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.
Kala Ghoda Festival
Heldusually in Jan/Feb, Kala Ghoda festival
KALAGHODA ARTS FESTIVAL 2011- 5th –13th February 2011 is an exhibition of a world of arts that encapsulates works of artistes in the fields of music, dance, theatre, film and all the genres of art that make for the vibrantly rich culture of Mumbai , the usual venues for the activities are the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), the David Sassoon Library Garden, the Jehangir Art Gallery, among others within the area. Kala Ghoda festival is run by the Kala Ghoda Association, established in 1988 with an objective to improve the existing infrastructure of the area, and giving it a distinct identity as Mumbai's art district.During the Kala Ghoda festival, the whole of the area around Jehagir Art Gallery turns into a fair on the streets. It's a rare experience when you can walk past aesthetically designed kiosks, and savour the artistes' works created right before your eyes. After all this hectic and engaging fun you will love to treat yourself to the varied cuisine that Maharashtra offers. Relish a traditional Parsi breakfast or walk into the famous Max Mueller Bhavan and feast one's senses on a collection of award winning Indian films. In evening you can have a feast of folk dancers, musicians and singers.