Maharashtra is the land of legendary warriors, full of
history and adventure. Shivaji is still an immortal legend here, his
memories alive in the many forts scattered across the countryside.
Shivaji's country is a rugged land befitting people with a long history of
valour and artistic skill. Central Indian tableland merges with undulating
hill ranges, which grow into the majestic Western Ghats before swooping
down to palm-fringed beaches. Forts dominate the ranges and tell the
history of the warrior people. Caves
and temples with artistic
embellishments of unimaginable beauty mark the land and attest to the
skill of the cultured people.
The beauty of Maharashtra is in its forts, caves and temples, so much so that it is called "Dagd-Ancha Desh", meaning the Land of Rocks. It has a lot to offer to a visitor, its features are such that any tourist will definitely find something of his interest from among its beaches, forts, caves, temples, cities, wildlife sanctuaries, bird sanctuaries etc. It is a huge storehouse of timeless art and culture.
Forts are the part of glory of Maharashtra, the sole witnesses of the history of Maharashtra. Today most of them serve the purpose of tourist spots for adventure sports such as trekking, hiking, etc. Whether up in the hills or near the seas most of these forts are associated with Shivaji, the great Maratha warrior and an equally great fort builder. As many as 13 forts were developed by Shivaji on the Maharashtrian coastline, including Vijaydurg, rated as the perfect example of a great coastal fort.
There are 350 odd forts in Maharashtra. Nowhere else in the country one would encounter such a profusion of forts and such variety. Sited on an island, as at Murud-Janjira or guarding the seas as at Bassein, or among the Sahyadri hills as at Raigad, these forts numbed by sun and sleet, have not only been witness to changing times, but within their walls, throbs the heart of the Marathi blood that gave its life for the establishment of the "Hindavi Swaraj".
More than that, it was Shivaji who consciously taught the people to look upon forts with reverence and affection, and associate with them as one would with a mother. All forts have temples on them. Though the temples are humble; they were a powerful source of inspirations to the Maratha fighters on the fort to fight for the "Dharma Rakshan" (safeguarding law and order).
Caves and its architecture is another aspect of this Maratha state. The UNESCO declared Ajanta and Ellora caves as the World heritage Sites. The rock cut caves found at Ajanta and Ellora eloquently record the earliest mingling of all faiths - the Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sculptures and frescoes co-exist in total harmony.
Ajanta caves have the wild, crescent-shaped ravine pierced with more than twenty Buddhist cave temples. This makes it one of India's most spectacular sites. The Ellora caves are the finest specimens of cave - temple architecture, which house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned interiors.
Aurangabad caves excavated between the 2nd and 6th century AD, carved out of the hillside are another fine piece of architecture, housing the most stunningly intricate carvings. Karla and Bhaja caves are the largest Chaitya caves in India that date back to 2nd century BC and Bhaja are among the earliest, dating from the 2nd to the early 1st century BC, during the Hinayana phase of Buddhism. The other important caves located in the state are the Pandavleni caves, Kanheri caves, Panchalesvara caves, Pataleshwar caves and Pitalkhora caves.
The State of Maharashtra has to its credit many pilgrimage centres that are landmarks in the evolution of Indian temple architecture. The Elephanta cave temple and the Kailashanatha temple at Ellora are the two grand ancient rock cut temples in Maharashtra that are famous world wide. Also in the state are three of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines, two of the Shakti Peethas, the eight Ashta Vinayak shrines that are worth a visit.
Vitthala shrine at Pandharpur is an ancient pilgrimage center enshrining Vithoba and has been associated with the revered saints of Maharashtra. Kolhapur has many temples of which the 9th century Mahalaxmi temple is the most revered. Shirdi has acquired a lot of fame and followers for Sant Shree Sai Baba from every faith throng here all year round to pay their respects to his memory. The river Godavari has its source on the Bramhagiri hill in Nashik. A holy dip at this place is considered auspicious.