Public Celebrations of Ganesh Festival-A Brief History.
Festivals are an integral part of human cultural life.
From ancient times they have been celebrated not only in India but also
in different parts of the world. 'Olympian' celebrated by Greeks, 'Pithian'
to promote poetry writing and 'Nimiyan' to exhibit skills in martial arts
are, to name a few, some of the festivals celebrated outside India in
ancient times. The Ganesh festival, which has its origins in Maharashtra
in India, has been celebrated for over a century.
Ganesh festival prior to 1893
In the good old days Ganesh festival was a purely family
affair. According to the eminent historian Shri Rajwade, records reveal
that it was celebrated even during the reigns of Satwahana, Rashtrakuta
and Chalukya. There are also references in historical records to similar
celebrations during Peshwa times, Lord Ganapati being the family deity
of the Peshwas. The celebration would commence on the first day of the
month of Bhadrapada and would go on for ten days. Years later it became
a practice to end the festivities on 'Anant Chaturdashi' with the immersion
of the Ganapati idol in water. The celebrations were universally popular
with rich and poor alike. The poor were given sweets and clothes. Upper
caste Brahmins were fed on delicious meals. On the concluding day, the
idol of Lord Ganesh was carried in a beautifully decorated palanquin in
a ceremonial procession and taken to the river for immersion.
The last of the Ganesh festivals during the Peshwa regime was celebrated
in the year 1815 when Bajirao II held the power. The year 1818 saw the
end of Peshwa rule with Union Jack being unfurled on the great Shaniwar-Wada.
Among the valuables the Britishers took away was a 'ruby'eyed Ganesh idol
made in pure gold studded with diamonds and rubies. It was reportedly
valued at £ 50000 in those days. After the end of Peshwa rule, from 1818
to 1892 Ganesh Festival remained a family affair in Maharashtra. Emulating
the example of Peshwas, princely states of Baroda and Gwalior too involved
common people in the Ganesh festival. Lokmanya
Tilak was witness in 1892 where he saw the grand scale on which
the festival was celebrated in Gwalior and the enthusiastic participation
of people therein. This alone inspired him to make the Ganesh festival
a public event in Maharashtra. However it needs to be mentioned here that
social and political conditions of those times seemed ripe for making
such a move.
Background for making Ganesh Festival
as public event
in 1893 by Lokmanaya Tilak
Apart from social and political situation existing
then, Lokmanya Tilak an erudite person he was, had come across the
writings about the different festivals observed in Ancient Egypt
and was also a witness to the Ganpati Festival in Gwalior State
which inspired him to start a similar public celebration of Ganesh
Festival. Around 1892-93 the influence of Christianity on Indian
psyche had become quite obvious. Christian life-style, culture,
their concepts of religion, morality and worship made deep impressions
on the Indian mind. Indians were so dazzled by the progress made
by westerners in science and technology that they started rubbishing
our ancient learning of no consequence in the modern world. People
took pride in imitating westerners. Tilak whose mind was deeply
rooted in ancient Hindu culture and traditions, viewed the developing
situation as alarming. He saw an urgent need to reshape the Indian
society based on our own heritage and philosophy. He severely criticised
the blind imitation of western ways and said that it amounted to
spiritual and moral bankruptcy. Mr. Tilak raised a very pertinent
question that those who are blindly following the Britishers and
their culture can really occupy the places of those very Britishers
in the Indian administration! The 1893 Hindu-Muslim riots at Pune
and Mumbai further added to his restlessness. Like a true nationalist
he desired to emphasise and preserve the national sentiment by giving
due credit to all that was good in the old system. He wanted to
unite the Hindus but he was not against Islam. He was only opposed
to those Muslims incited as they were by the British to favour and
actively participate in the riots.