Indian festivals are full of joy, revelry, exuberance, zest, and zeal. One such festival that holds exceptional importance and a special place in the hearts of all Indians is the festival of Ganesh Chathurti. Celebrated as the birth anniversary of the Lord Ganesha, this festival has its roots running deep in the Indian history.
Initially started by the Chhatrapati Shivaji to popularise local culture, Ganesh Chaturthi became the state’s foremost festival promoting tradition in Maharashtra. Pune became the central point of the early Ganesh Utsav celebrations. It was then encouraged by the Peshwa rulers and continued to prosper with each coming year. But with the fall of the Peshwa’s the festival lost its glory. People continued to celebrate it within households but it was no longer a grand affair. Ganesh Chaturthi was then revived to its former grandeur, by the great Indian nationalist, freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Though the festival was first inaugurated by a political reformer, Bhausaheb Laxman Javale, it was Lokmanya Tilak who first popularised the festival to its ‘Sarvajanik’ stature. It is believed that when Lokmanya Tilak was deeply distressed by the plight and fate of India, he used to make Ganesha idols sitting on the sea shore. People used to stop by and look at his idols in awe.
Indians are known as god fearing as well as god respecting people. Lokmanya Tilak saw the emotions the idols invoked in the people who saw them as if the idols were calling out to them. Seeing this, Tilak realised the great power Gods and religious beliefs have over Indians, so much so that his people were ready to leave behind their differences for a common cause. Recognising this fact, he saw a ray of hope that could finally reunite the divided population of India. Hence, Lokmanya Tilak installed the first public Ganpati idol and asked people to do the same and to celebrate the festival together.
He was the one who started the concept of Ganpati being submerged that too with a great procession. At a time when any public gathering was banned by the Britishers, Lokmanya Tilak found a way to bring people together and show them what it meant to be a free nation. Lokmanya Tilak thought that by making Ganesh Chaturthi a Sarvajanik Utsav he can bridge the ever widening gap between the brahmins and the non-brahmins of India, which was a big deal in those days. He was indeed right. People from all cast and creeds flocked to celebrate their favourite Lord Ganesha’s birthday. Ganeshji is certainly the ‘God of the masses’. People instantly connected with his concept and started celebrating the festival with great ardour.
Commenced in an attempt to create a sense of nationalism and togetherness among the suppressed Indians under the British rule, Ganesh Chaturthi has come a long way since then. Though we are a free nation today but it is true that the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is still keeping alive the feeling of fellowship and patriotism in us and we all have Lokmanya Tilak to thank for it.