Ganesh as a deity
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Ganesh Festival in Free India.

From 1893 till Mr. Tilak breathed his last in 1920 public festival of Ganpati was mainly in the nature of platform for national awakening and social education. With these prime motives Lectures of eminent personalities and performances of 'Mela' (a group of singers comprising men & women) were the programmes, which used to be organised in Ganesh Festival. However, after the demise of Lokmanya Tilak this nature gradually underwent a change. Progammes for speeches to educate the masses on national problems and songs to inspire nationalism and self respect have given way to farcical skits, dramas and other forms of entertainment such as musical concerts, mimicry, etc. Independence ushered in still more changes. Exposure to the scientific progress, changes in the life style of Indian people and more so of those in Maharashtra, changes in values etc. resulted in the metamorphosing the psyche of the masses. Consequently it brought about visible changes in the concept of public festival of Ganpati. This occasion became more of an event of celebration resulting into lavish decoration, impressive processions, and creation of huge Ganesh Idols. The current emphasis is on splendour financed by coercive contributions collected from gullible public and loud music adding environmental pollution seem to be the order of the day. The ever increasing size and height of the Ganesh idols creates problems at immersion time. Vulgar dancing by inebriated young man during the processions spoils the sanctity of the festival. As a result a school of thought emerged which felt that as independence was achieved; public celebration of Ganpati Festival can be dispensed with. On an introspection of the way the festival has been celebrated since independence and particularly in the last decade or so one becomes inclined to share the view about the necessity of continuing the festival.

It is always easy to criticise. However, in the eagerness to criticise one must not lose the sight of the constructive work done by various organisers of the Ganesh Festival. One would be doing injustice to them. One cannot overlook the fact that many celebrities from the cultural fields such as Theatre, Film and Music had their initiations in the programmes presented in the Ganpati Festivals. Increasing number of Ganpati Festivals also brought with it economic activity for Artists, Pandal Contractors, Decorators etc.

It can not be denied that a situation has to be created whereby the Ganpati festival which played a pivotal role in winning the freedom for the country can also help in making it a welfare state. However, this is possible only if the educated and enlightened class once again start actively participating in the conduct of Ganpati Festival and restructures its activities. This is the need of the hour.

Maybe we need another Tilak-a true visionary-to refocus on what such festivals can and ought to do.

Vinay Rahatekar

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