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Religion And Rituals In Maharashtra

The state of Maharashtra is supposedly the second highest populated state of India, census of 2001 putting the figures at around 96,752,247. These people have origin from different communities and religions. The identity of Maharashtra as a culturally diverse state is because of such differences. Many religions are followed by people of this state, Hinduism being the one with maximum followers.

Diversity in the culture of Maharashtra is because of the geographical presentation and historical values of the state. Some of the oldest known religions of the country have their existence in this state. Gradual establishment of the religions and their evolution has been due to the religious influences of the past. During 13th century, many personalities helped in flourishing the bhakti movement such as Ramdas, Tularam, Inameshwaer and few others. The values expressed through their teaching and their life history had huge influence on the way the masses lived.

Hinduism

Of the entire population in Maharashtra, a majority of 82% is Hindus and this religion has had a great role in daily life of people in the state. For most of the Hindus in Marathi, Lord Ganesh has a huge popularity, Lord Vishnu also being prayed as Vitthal. Shiva is also worshipped in the name of Shankar along with his concert Parvati. Marathi Hindus are having a strong influence by the warkari traditional values. Festival of Lord Ganesh is highly popular, which owes its origin in 19th century to the start provided by Lokmanya Tilak. Many saints of bhakti era are also held in high esteem such as Savata Mali, Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram, Sant Gadge Maharaj, Rashtrasant Tukdoji Maharaj and Banjara and Chokhamela, some of these being Sant and philosophers.

Islam

The religion with the second biggest presence is that of Islam, which makes for about 12.8% of the population, having around 15 million followers. Festivals of Muslims, having high importance are Eid-ul-Azha or Bakra Eid and Eid-ul-Fitr or Ramzan Eid. Most of the Muslims in the state belong to the Sunni sect. These religious communities are spread across the state and are urbanites. Majority of these people live along the areas of Khandesh, Marathwada and belt of Thane-Mumbai. Also, a large population of Muslims is found in areas of Konkan, Vidarbha and western Maharashtra. Urbanization of this community is clear from the figure of 18.8%, which is the percentage of Muslims in Mumbai according to the census. Another large city, Nagpur, which is considered the second capital city of the state, has Muslims to the extent of 11%. 39% of people in Aurangabad are Muslims and a major portion of the population in Bhiwandi and Malegaon are Muslims.

Buddhism

In Maharashtra, Buddhism is the third religion with a major presence. Dalit Buddhist Movement of the 19th century and 20th century gave rise to the major population of Buddhists in Maharashtra. This movement was responsible for revival of Buddhism in India, which was led by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who jostled the society of Dalits by calling them to embrace Buddhism in order to get rid of the casteism in the society, where Dalits were considered to be the lowest among the classes of people. About 5% of the Maharashtrian population is Buddhists.

Jains

Jains are also found in large numbers in Maharashtra. As per the 2001 census, Jain community comprised of about 1,301,843 people. As some old temples found in Maharashtra show, this religious community had its existence more than 2500 years back in this state, reflecting the large number of Jains.

Christians

There are about 1,058,313 Christians in the state of Maharashtra. These belong to the sections of Protestants and Catholics. In the urban areas of Pune and Mumbai, there are Tamilian, Keralite, Mangalorean and Goan Christians. Two ethnic populations of Christians are found in Maharashtra.

One of these is that of East Indians, majority of who are Catholics. They are found mostly in the areas of Mumbai, Raigadh and nearby Thane districts. In 1st century AD, people from this area were being preached by St Bartholomew.

The second ethnic community of Christians is that of Marathi Christians. They are protestants primarily and reside mostly in the areas of Solapur and Ahmednagar. Various missionaries of Anglican and American origins came to this region and preached Protestantism during 18th century. Till date, these Christians follow many of the practices from their pre-Christian days.

Sikhism

From the census of 2001, it was revealed that about 215,337 people are from the Sikh religion. In the Marathwada area, Nanded is a large city, second only to Aurangabad, where a well known Sikh holy place is found in the form of Hazur Sahib Gurudwara. This place of Hazur Sahib is said to be a Takht from the 5 seats of temporal authority in the religion. This place is situated by the side of Godavari River, where people believe that the death of Guru Gobind Singh had occurred, who was the 10th Guru of Sikhs. It is inside the holy complex of Sach Khand that the Gurudwara is located. Near to the Gurudwara of Hazur Sahib is the famous Langar Sahib Gurudwara, which is well known from the large scale langar it organizes. This city has about 13 large Gurudwaras in total, having some kind of significance related to history.

Zoroastrians

Maharashtra has two communities of Zoroastrian.

Parsis are found mostly in Mumbai, who are believed to be the descendants of Zoroastrians from Iran coming into Western India, during the period of 10th Century AD, as there was lot of repression in Iran on Muslim communities.

Iranians are thought to have come to Maharashtra in the more recent years and have somewhat lesser population. These are supposed to have descended from Zoroastrians of Iran, which is reflected in their languages and cultures and the dialect of Dari is common among these people, which forms a major dialect of the Zoroastrians from Iran.

Judaism

Bene Israel community comprises of Jews in Maharashtra, which had its origin in the villages of region of Konkan, who went into the cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune during the later part of 17th century. Since the days of their origin, these people from Bene Israel section are supposed to be the largest community of Jews in the subcontinent. Their native language is Hebrew and Marathi. Nowadays, many of these people have gone into Canada, Israel and few of the countries of the Commonwealth Nations. Prior to the large migration following India’s independence, this community had about 80,000 members.

Maharashtrians Wedding Rituals

When the time prefixed as auspicious draws closers, the bride is brought by her maternal side uncle to the stage prepared for marriage. Here, the antarpat ritual has to take place, prior to which the bride and the groom are not allowed to see each other as the partition between them exists with a silk cloth. This antarpat is taken away only after the ritual is carried out with lots of mantra chanting. At this point, guests are required to shower the couple with rice which is intact in a piece. Thereafter, the processes of Saptapadi and Kanyadan are carried out like in other Hindu ceremonies, with the father giving his daughter’s hands over to groom, followed by seven pheras or rounds by the couple, moving around the holy fire.

Pre Wedding Rituals

Sakhar Puda – This ritual is one of the rituals before the wedding and is completed with sugar packets being exchanged between bride’s and groom’s families. In the present day marriages, sakhar puda is the name given to the engagement process, which is conducted a couple of days prior to wedding. On this day, the bride is presented with a sari by the groom’s side, indicative of the fact that the boy’s family is accepting the girl and marriage would now be conducted. Bride also gets green colored bangles to be worn on the hands.

Simant puja – This ritual is one of the traditions, in which the family of the to-be-groom comes for a visit to the village or residence of the girl. The family of the groom is then worshipped and provided with specially prepared lunch, which is still followed in the modern day.

Halad Chadavane – Just before the day of wedding, both the groom and the bride get turmeric paste applied on their bodies, by members of their families along with relatives, in their own homes.

Main Wedding Rituals

Marriage ceremony – When the auspicious time or shubh muhurat arrives, the uncle of the girl from the maternal side takes her on to the mandap. At the beginning of the process, boy and girl cannot see each other and therefore, the ritual requires the presence of a large screen barrier in between them, which is done by putting up a silken white cloth known as antarpat. After the initial mantras are read out, then the antarpat is removed. Thereafter, the showering of unbroken rice is done on the bride and groom. This is followed by exchange of garlands between the groom and bride and the mangal pheras or seven rounds are taken, around the holy fire.

Laxmi Narayan Puja – During the wedding, goddess Laxmi is represented by the bride and groom is supposedly Lord Narayan. Laxmi Narayan Puja is done by the ceremony of marriage is finished and in this puja, the groom and bride are prayed.

Jhal Phirawne – Jhal Phirawne is the term for the ceremony, where the hand of the girl is given to the groom. Popular name for this ritual is Kanyadaan. The specialty of Jhal Phirawne is that a dish made from cane is made where one can place 21 diyas or lamps. Starting from keeping this structure over the head of the bride, it is then put in front of each family member of the groom, with the father of the bride seeking acceptance of his daughter into their family.

Post Wedding Rituals

Suun Mukh Baghne – It is a known concept in Indian society that when the marriage takes place, two families are tied in a bond. As an extension of this thought, groom’s mother starts the process of entry of the new daughter-in-law into their family or home. The literary meaning of Suun Mukh Baghne is the mother-in-law looking into the face of her daughter-in-law. She then looks into the mirror and sees her own face. The hair of the daughter-in-law is then combed by her. The idea behind such a ritual is the acceptance of the bride by the mother-in-law as her daughter.

Changing the Bride’s Name – In Maharashtrian communities, it is a tradition to give a different name for the bride after marriage, the ceremony being conducted in the house of the groom. After the inscription of the name of Kuldevta and Om Ganeshay Nama, the groom makes a tracing of the new name of his wife in a rice filled plate.

Reception party – The Reception Party is organized on the marriage night, where special type of lunch is arranged. This lunch is first taken up by members of the family of the groom. While they are eating, the newly married couple is required to move around the mandap, in order to ensure that everyone is enjoying the lunch. Thereafter, the family of the bride is supposed to take the lunch.

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