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Maharashtra

Maharashtra (məhäˈrəshtrə) [key], state (2001 provisional pop. 96,752,247), 118,530 sq mi (306,993 sq km), W India, on the Arabian Sea. The city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is the capital. The state was formed in 1960, when the old state of Bombay was split along linguistic lines into two new states, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Marathi is the official language of the state, the second most populous in India, and Hinduism is the predominant religion.

The mountains of the Western Ghats run parallel to the coast of the state, leaving a narrow strip known as the Konkan between the Arabian Sea and the interior plateau. There is a series of small ports along the coast in addition to Mumbai. Beyond the Western Ghats is a vast plateau drained by the Tapi, Godavari, Bhima, Krishna, Wardha, and Vainganga rivers. The great Tapi trough, a fertile belt where cotton is cultivated, is there. The heaviest rainfall is along the coastal area, where it averages 80 to 120 in. (203–305 cm) a year. The climate in general is tropical. In the plateau areas, only 25 to 80 in. (64–203 cm) of rain fall annually, creating a semiarid climatic zone. Rice, grown in the coastal area, is the primary food crop, but it is supplemented by the production of grain sorghum and small millet. The state is rich in minerals; manganese, iron ore, bauxite, coal, and salt are mined. Industry, including the manufacture of textiles, electrical products, and chemicals, is mainly concentrated in Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, and Nagpur.

The Muslim rulers of India controlled the area of Maharashtra from the early 14th cent. to the mid-17th cent., when the great Maratha leader Śivaji formed a Maharashtran confederacy. In the 16th cent., Portugal was the leading foreign power in the region, but Great Britain gradually gained influence and by the early 19th cent. had incorporated the Maharashtran area into the Bombay presidency, which later became a province of British India. Maharashtra is governed by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to a bicameral legislature with one elected house and by a governor appointed by the president of India.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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