Saturday, 7 September 2013

The man who started Ganeshotsava

Ganesha Chaturthi was always a family affair and the festival goes back to the times of the Guptas when the first temple to Ganesha was built.
In Karnataka, the Ganesha festival is mentioned in the records of the Sathavahanas, Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas. Later, Ganesha figures during the Hoysala, Vijayanagar and Wodeyar periods.
However, the first public function relating to Ganesha in today’s Karnataka was in Belgaum when Balagangadhar Tilak visited the City and inspired the first Ganesha Mandal to be set up.
Today, Ganesha is as much a public figure as he is private and the credit for making this festival a public function goes to Balagangadhar Tilak, the freedom fighter from Maharashtra.
Tilak wanted an event to unify the people of India and he found this in the Ganapathy festival. He organised the first public Ganesha function in Pune, Maharashtra.
The festival first started out as a family affair. There were no public functions. However, the festival took on a royal hue when the Peshwas came to power in Pune in the eighteenth century. With Ganapathy being the family deity of the Peshwas, the celebrations were grand and it would commence on the first day of  Bhadrapada and they would continue for ten days. The festival ended on Anant Chaturdashi with the immersion of the Ganapathy idol in water.
The last of the Ganesha festivals celebrated by the Peshwa was in  1815 when Bajirao II was in power. When the Peshwa rule ended in 1818,  the Peshwa flag came down from Shaniwar wada, the palace of Peshwas in Pune and up fluttered the Union Jack of England.
Among the valuables the British took away from the Wada was a ruby eyed Ganesha made in pure gold and the idol was studded with diamonds and rubies. It was reportedly valued at £ 50000 in those days. From 1818 to 1892, Ganesha festival remained a family affair in Maharashtra and other parts of India.
Tilak in 1892 saw that the public function could easily unify people. The 1893 Hindu-Muslim riots at Pune and Mumbai further added to his resolve to make the Ganesha pooja a secular affair. Thus, the first public celebration of Ganesha was in Pune and at the Keshav Naik Chawl in Bombay in 1893.
He also set up the Thambdi Jogeshwari Ganapathy Pandal in Pune. This mandal exists even today and celebrates Ganeshotatsava. But it was at the Kesariwada pandal set up by Tilak established in 1893 that saw Ganesha festival turning into a socio-political movement.
After commencing the Sarvajanik mandals for Ganesha in Pune, Tilak came down  to Belgaum in Karnataka in 1905 where he asked the people to come on a common platform and celebrate Ganesha festival. This is how the Zenda Chowk Ganesh Utsav Mandal was formed and today it is 107 years old and still going strong.
There is another legend about why and how Lokmanya Tilak hit upon the idea of starting Ganesha festival in public. People of Girgaum in Mumbai say Tilak was worried about how India could attain freedom and how he could unify people.
He used to sit at bank of Girgaum Chowpaty and make idols. Many people stopped by to see the idols. This gave him the idea of gathering people to watch a statue or idol placed in a public place and which better deity than Ganesha. This is how Tilak started the tradition of Sarvajanik Ganesha Utsav by making clay idols.
Even today, Chowpathy sees huge Ganeshas being taken to the Arabian Sea for immersion.
Today, we see thousands of Ganesha mandals all over the country but except in Maharashtra, none even care to acknowledge the role of Tilak in starting them.
In Bangalore and elsewhere, the Ganesha celebrations in public continue long after the festival is over. Loud filmi music, extravagantly designed pandals and a cacophony of garish colours and designs form the background of many mandals.
Mumbai today sees some of the most elaborate celebrations and the Ganesha idols are huge and the celebrations are hugely popular.
The Lalbaugcha Raja in central Mumbai is the biggest draw and crores of people visit this pandal. Although the idol is situated in the cramped fish market and it remains the same each year, devotees flock here to seek boons from the wish-fulfilling deity. Over the years, offerings in gold and silver to this Ganapathy have increased in direct proportion to high-profile celebrity visits and constant media coverage. Last year celebrities including Amitabh Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Sonu Nigam, Shilpa Shetty, Isha Koppikar and Shankar Mahadevan visited Lalbaugcha Raja to offer their prayers to lord Ganesha.
Compared to Mumbai, the pandals in Pune are generally more orthodox and they still adhere to Tilak’s principles. Want to have a look.
Check out Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore and see how diverse the celebrations are at each of the city.  

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