An incredible history of how ‘Lokamanya Tilak’ turned a regular Hindu festival into a national movement

Sukhkarta Dukhharta Varta Vighnachi ||

Nurvi Purvi Prem Krupa Jayachi ||

Sarvangi Sundar Uti Shendurachi ||

Kanti Jhalke Mal Mukataphalaanchi..||

Jaidev Jaidev……

The gloriously huge ‘Ganapathi’ Moorthi,

Puneri dhol,

Sindhoor in air,

People celebrating with dance,

Whole area resonating with “ganapathi bappa moreya” chants.

This is the picture which comes to our mind of ‘Ganeshotsav’ of Maharashtra.

A man of a lion heart took this festival from simple household to a magnificent scale.

‘Lokamanya’ Bal Gangadhara Tilak started this Ganesh Utsav in view of bringing social and public reform.

This year marks 125 years of this auspicious celebration. It was during the time of Chatrapathi Shivaji Ganesh Utsav was celebrated with thus grandeur. Again in the 19th century it Bal Gangadhar Tilak who made this festival, a means to bind the Hindu community and made it a national movement to oppose the British government ban on Hindu gatherings through its 1892 anti-public assembly legislation.

In order to inspire the common man Tilak started Ganesh Utsav and Shivaji Jayanthi. These two festivals which were celebrated across cast and creed. There are many festive days and different festivals in the Hindu religion, but they are celebrated individually and privately. For national awakening Tilak initiated Ganeshotsav and Shivaji Utsav in 1894.

Shivaji Utsav started on Fort Raigad in 1894 and reached as far as Japan by 1905. In 1896 Ganeshotsav attained national importance.

This festival also served as a meeting place for common people of all castes and communities. It slowly became a religious and social function. The tradition of large hoardings with images of the god and immersion of Ganesh statues on the last day of the festival were started by Tilak.

In 1893, Tilak took the celebration to Bombay. The Keshavi Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav mandal, in Girgaum, is where the oldest and first pandal was set up. Over time, the streets of Mumbai and Pune turned into venues for the 10-day celebrations and huge gatherings of devotees.

Celebration of Ganapati Festival started on 16th September that year. Anticipating Tilak’s speech during Ganesh Festival thousands of people used to gather.

Soon he came to be regarded as the undisputed leader of Maharashtra and was honored with the title ‘Lokamanya’ in 1893 which became synonymous with him in the 1900.

By doing this Tilak channelised the patriotic spirit and was able to use festive mood to create a feeling of unity among people against the British. Most of the time, the singing, dancing and drama that was part of the celebration. And they were centred on nationalism and independence.

Not just during struggle of independence but also in independent India,this festival became a means of showcasing unity. During 70’s and 80’s the festival united people in a nationalist spirit as India waged wars with China and Pakistan.

The celebration of birth of lord ganesha was not new to Indian culture.

We have historic references that Ganesha Chaturthi was also celebrated by ancient kings of Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya lineage.

In Hindu culture, Gamapathi is the one who removes all the obstacles coming our way in achieving anything. He is welcomed home and after 10 days with all the respect and faith that he will visit us again next year ‘Ganapathi visarjan’ is done.

Indian festivals are representation if our feelings. To look for for a ‘moorthi’ made with different characteristics, selecting flower, ‘pandal’decoration with rangoli, everything represents our joy. Sending off ganesha is an emotional affair too. This is all possible because for a Hindu any God is like a child born in the family. Gods are our own. We pray, we taunt, we even scold our gods,because hindu culture is such, which taught God resides in us, hence no difference among any of the living beings.

This spirit of our Dharma was rightly captured by Lokmanya Tilak. He converted this feeling into a national movement.

A salute to the great freedom fighter and Happy Ganesha Chaturthi to all. May God ganesha bless everyone with happiness and prosperity and also may he keep the spirit of nationalism burning inside every Indian. After all the national movement was started by taking his name.

Dr Sindhu Prashanth