Maharashtra is the centre of many religious and cultural traditions. In Maharashtrian villages, life revolves around fairs and festivals.
In early January people celebrate Makar Sankranti, the passing of the sun from Dhanu (Sagittarius) to Makar (Capricorn). The sky is ablaze with colourful kites. Sweets flavoured with sesame seed is an important item during this festival. In March, the festival of Holi is celebrated which is a winter harvest and the advent of spring. People throw coloured water over each other and have great fun on this occasion. This is an important festival celebrated all over north India.
Gudhi Padwa is the new year for the Maharashtrians. On this day people offer rituals, prayers, prasad of neem leaves, gram pulse and jagerry and they buy new clothes. Families erect a gudhi or bamboo staff, with a coloured silk cloth and a bright garlanded goblet is hung on top of it.
During April, Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated when thousands of Jains make pilgrimages to Bahubali, where two Jain temples have been constructed one for the Swetambara sect and another for the Digambara. Christians observe Good Friday and Easter Sunday around the same time. Buddha Purnima is celebrated in May. Muslims celebrate Bakrid in the same month and Muharram is witnessed in June in remembrance of the Prophet Mohammed on his death anniversary.
The full moon of Shravana is celebrated around August as Shravani Purnima, Rakhi Purnima and Raksha Bandhan. In the coastal areas it is celebrated as Narli Purnima to appease the sea gods. Fisher folk worship the sea and decorate their boats, sing and dance, and make offerings of coconut. Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the same day in different parts of the state.
The most important Mahrashtrian festival is Ganesh Chaturthi, in honour of Lord Ganesh. It is the birthday of Ganesh - the elephant headed son of Shiva and Parvathi. Ganesh is believed to be the harbinger of good luck who removes all obstacles to success. He brings prosperity and keeps natural calamities at bay in the lives of those who worship him. This ten day festival begins with the installation of the deity, who is then worshipped daily till the immersion on the final day. Small Ganesh idols are installed in homes. Idols can tower 10m high and weigh several tonnes. On the tenth day, serpentine processions fill the streets and with the accompaniment of drumbeats and music the image of Ganesh is immersed in the water. Devotees chant 'Ganapati Bappa Morya' which means Ganesh, Daddy, please come back soon next year.
Nag Panchami, the snake festival, is observed at the village called Battis Shitale in the Sangli district towards the end of August or early September. The devotees collect hundreds of cobras, place them in earthen pots and worship them to the accompaniment of folk dances and song. Later they are carried in processions of bullock carts and chariots. On the following day they are released into the fields from where they were captured.
Dussehra and Diwali are celebrated in October and November. Dussehra which is the celebration of good over evil is an auspicious day for new ventures. Tools of trade, vehicles and machinery are worshipped on this day. Diwali which is the festival of lights marks the end of one commercial year and the beginning of another. Homes are decorated with oil lamps. A unique Maharashtrian touch is seen in the akash kandeels or lanterns that are hung outside homes. Bhaubij, the last day of Diwali, is similar to Raksha Bandan and deals with the relationship between brother and sister.