Marathi speakers settled in different countries are uniting to spread their language and culture around the world.

An international panel of overseas Indians has been set up for the conservation and promotion of the Marathi language and its culture.

The International Marathi Forum, an initiative launched by the Indian state of Maharashtra, has a central coordinator and multiple deputy coordinators drawn from 17 countries, including New Zealand.

Dayanand Deshpande, president of the Wellington Maharashtra Association Inc (WMAI), is the nominee representing New Zealand on the Forum.

The Forum works in tandem with the Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha, a Marathi language research institute affiliated to the Maharashtra State government, dedicated to generating interest in Marathi language and culture among non-Marathi social groups within India.

According to the 8 June 2022 notification issued by the Forum, its role is to oversee the activities organised by the Marathi speaking communities based outside India.

Marathi Bhasha Divas or Marathi Language Day is celebrated annually on February 27 in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa to mark the birth anniversary of the doyen of Marathi letters, Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar, popularly known as Kusumagraj .

Shirwadkar was a towering literary figure whose oeuvre included 16 volumes of poetry, three novels, eight volumes of short stories, seven volumes of essays, 18 full-length plays and six one-act plays.

He was also credited with being a social reformer and humanist who exposed the social evils of his day. 

Following Shirwadkar’s demise in 1999, the Maharashtra government has regularly observed Marathi Rajbhasha Gaurav Din and instituted two special awards for initiatives to promote Marathi literature.

Shirwadkar’s literary legacy is especially remembered for his 1942 anthology of poems, titled Vishakha, that inspired a generation of Indian freedom fighters.

Shirwadkar was the recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award in 1974, the Jnanpith Award in 1987 and the Padma Bhushan in 1991.

The Wellington Maharashtrian Association celebrated Marathi Day this year, amidst Covid restrictions, by holding the Marathi Akshar Challenge (online reading competition) for children.

“We are in the process of setting up a Marathi language school in Wellington as part of the Maharashtra government’s initiative to promote Marathi language and culture,” Deshpande said.

The Wellington Maharashtrian Association, which was formed in 2017, has 110 paid members drawn from around 300 families across the greater Wellington region.

Its primary activities include screening Marathi films for its members, celebrating Indian festivals such as Diwali, Ganapati and Gudhi Padawa, inviting performing artistes from India and honouring achievers from the Marathi community in New Zealand.

Deshpande said the association supported the victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting of 2019 and also donated to the Prime Minister’s Covid relief fund.

The International Marathi Forum is set to hold its first in-person session in December 2022 at the Marathi Language Bhavan in Mumbai, India.