Today the whole of India celebrates one of my favorite Hindu Festival Ganesh Chaturthi, The annual festival in honor of Ganesh or Ganapati, the elephant-headed deity who is known as the remover of obstacles and the god of auspiciousness. I don’t really follow any religion but I love the festivity and spirituality part of the religion. It’s the time of the year when you get some really nice food, meet friends and family and a holiday. Like for some other good things in India we do have to thank the British for this Public festival indirectly.
In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organized public event, to unite Indians and mobilize them with nationalistic fervour needed to counter British rule.
Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as “the god for everybody”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order “to bridge the gap between Brahmins (Upper Caste) and ‘non-Brahmins’, and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesh in pavilions. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a great Sanskrit scholar and astronomer. “Swaraj (self-rule) is my birthright and I shall have it!” were the fiery words of Tilak which roused a sleeping nation to action, making Indian people aware of their political plight under a foreign rule. Tilak did not question the British Sovereignty nor his demands were rebellious or revolutionary. All he was asking was favourable conditions in India, to enable people to learn to govern themselves.
In its present form, the Ganapati festival Is transformed into the lavish spectacle, giant statues, massive pandals, processions of worshippers, and enthusiastic chants of Ganpati Bappa Moraya! In some case really loud remixed Bollywood music.
The festival is so popular that the preparations begin months in advance. Days before the actual worship, homes are cleaned and marquees erected at street corners to house the idols of the Lord. Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting, decoration, mirrors and flowers. The artisans who make the idols of Ganesh vie with each other to make bigger and better sculptures. The sizes of the relatively larger ones range anywhere from 10 meters to 30 meters in height. These are installed in marquees and in homes prior to the Puja (worship). The festival comes to an end with immersing the holy idols in the sea.
Being in London, I really wish I was in Mumbai with my family and friends today and eating Modak (sweet steamed dumpling) favorite of Lord Ganesha and mine too.