As we enter our 75th year of freedom, we have a galaxy of legends to thank for ridding us of foreign occupation. But one name is often overlooked, and in part, because He isn’t human! When Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak issued his clarion call for Swarajya, the right to self-rule, he combined it with yet another masterstroke, one that became a rallying cry of the resistance.
Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival dedicated to the elephant-headed God of wisdom, has been celebrated since ancient times; it was reinvigorated by Maharashtra’s most illustrious son, Shivaji Maharaj. Whilst it was generally a private celebration, Tilak had the foresight to understand that Ganesha’s universal appeal cuts across castes and classes. He is the architect of the grand public celebration that it has become today.
The ‘Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati Trust’ based in Pune is believed to be the spark that started the fire. Starting life in 1892, the first Ganesha idol depicted the victory of good over evil, a metaphor for the country’s struggle for freedom. Tilak noticed this and praised the celebration in his newspaper, the Kesari, and then installed a Ganesha idol in the paper’s offices, thus giving birth to the Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav.
Religious celebrations, and in general public life, had become a muted affair under British rule. At a time like this, the public Ganesh Chaturthi mandals not only restored a sense of pride in our culture but also provided the perfect foil for freedom fighters to meet and organise their next moves. Even the British, who would ruthlessly clamp down on any suspicious public gatherings, were helpless in the face of this cleverly disguised celebration, and they couldn’t do much for fear of a backlash if they meddled with religious sensibilities.
But there’s more to know about Ganesha than our freedom struggle! Big Ears that listen to everything, the axe that cuts off false ego, a large stomach that can digest both the good and bad that life throws at us, and his trusty mount, the mouse symbolising complete control over desires, this Mangal Murti form of Ganesha is truly a picture that speaks a thousand words.
We bring him home in his clay form, worshipping and adorning him for 10 days, sharing our joys and sorrows with him, just like another member of the family. And when he leaves to return to his watery abode, laden with our worries, he urges us not to be too sad with those beautiful eyes, promising to be back again. Departing to the cries of “Pudhchyavarshi lavkar ya”, he also shows us by example, how we should live our lives on earth, without getting too attached, travelling light, and no matter how brief our stay, being the reason for those around us to smile.
And as we prepare to welcome him into our hearts and homes, we are in the midst of another battle for freedom - freedom from the pandemic and a fight to reclaim our lives and a sense of normalcy. It’s vitally important that like Tilak, we leverage this festival to continue to stay on guard — wash our hands, get vaccinated, and encourage those around us to get vaccinated. Together, we have, and we can win once again. Ganpati Bappa Morya!
Reasons to go green this Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganpati Bappa loves his trusty mouse and his brother Karthikeya, his speedy peacock. How can we ever do anything in Ganesha’s name, which might pollute our oceans or harm marine life? Go eco-friendly with your Bappa this year; choose clay idols over POP and natural colours over chemical colours.
Whilst it’s a great time of year to enjoy some tunes, please be mindful of the elderly and vulnerable around you, who might be unwell and may need some peace and quiet. Also, choose eco-friendly decorations and natural flowers over synthetic garlands, which may look flashier, but are harmful to the environment. Let’s take a pledge to look after Mother Earth, and do everything in our power to go green and make Ganpati Bappa happy!
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