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Maharashtra

Population:    79 million
Languages:   Marathi, Telugu, Urdu,
Capitol:           Mumbai (Bombay)

Gateway of IndiaThe narrow, humid coastal strip of Maharashtra, 500 kilometres long and never more than 100 kilometres wide, is separated from the dry, flat Deccan Plateau by the Western Ghats.  Historically these forested mountains, topped by areas of level ground and yielding fresh water, were ideal sites for defensive fortifications from which a long siege by large armies could be endured.  Later they provided the British with a cool scenic respite from the heat of Bombay, and today they are the destination of large numbers of Indian holiday makers, with Matharan and Mahabaleshwar being the most popular vacation spots.

The Konkan coast zigzags it way from Goa to Gujarat along the Arabian Sea with many forts located on its numerous inlets and ridges.  The recently opened Konkan Railway, running south from Mumbai through Goa to Southern Karnataka, is likely to bring some important changes and opportunities to coastal areas of the state which have been, till now, picturesque but undeveloped.

Bombay, renamed Mumbai, is a teeming metropolis of 13 million people that houses the largest slum in Asia as well as generating 35% of India's GNP and having the largest movie industry in the world.  The city's talent for generating wealth makes Maharashtra one of the country's most important states, economically, and has led Mumbai itself to develop into the most cosmopolitan and fashionable city in India with some of the highest real estate prices in the world.  (Not to mention some of the largest and most horrific slums in the world.)

Mararashtra is famous for its cave architecture, with the older Buddhist caves - temples (housing stupas) and monasteries (with living quarters for the monks) - dating back to the 2nd century BC.  Later Hindu cave temples, most famously at Ellora and Ajanta, are similar to other temples of that era in design but are carved from the top down out of solid but soft rock.

History

Its location on the path of caravan trade routes between north and south India generated the wealth as early as in the 2nd century BC for the construction of Maharashtra's first Buddhist caves.  By the 12th century Buddhism was almost totally, though apparently peacefully, replaced by the bhakti form of Hinduism.   This new form of Hinduism originated in Tamil Nadu and spread rapidly north, popularized by the poet-saints whose writings and devotional hymns are still popular today.  The bhakti school emphasized a personal and emotional relationship to the gods, primarily Shiva and Vishnu - and was open to all castes, with classical Sanskrit being for the first time replaced by commentaries and songs in local languages.

Stubbornly independent Maratha chieftains, united under the brilliant leadership of Shivaji, (1627-80) managed to withstand the powerful Moguls and even expand their territory through clever guerilla tactics.  Defeated in battle in 1664, and briefly imprisoned in Agra by Aurangzeb, Shivaji managed to escape and went on to create, by the time of his death, a stable and united Maratha state.  Though Aurangzeb succeeded, finally, in capturing Bijapur and Golconda and in capturing and executing Shivaji's son Shambhuji, he continued until his death 25 years later (1707) to fight a long series of battles against the undefeatable Marathas, whose territory extended eventually as far east as Orissa.  By the end of the 1700s, however, the British were able to take control of the by then weakened Marathas.

At Independence, Bombay Presidency became Bombay State which became, finally in 1960, Maharashtra.

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