CELEBRATIONS RELOADED: STRUGGLE OF A NATIONALIST LEADER
This Blog examines in detail the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi which is celebrated widely not only in India but by Indians living throughout the world. This Blog speaks about the dawn of its celebration and how it eventually became a festival which was celebrated by the Indian masses at a social platform while keeping aside the social, political, economic differences which existed between them. This Blog traces the history of this festival and how it became an essential tool of a great nationalist leader who was able to use this festival as an efficient instrument of struggle against the ‘Britishers’.
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Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most sacred festival which is celebrated by the Hindus throughout the world. The celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesha in Maharashtra where it actually started can be traced back to the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha ruler who saw the celebration as a promotion of Hindu Culture and a symbol of nationalism.
During his reign it was given a state patronage due to which the celebrations were on a very grand level. But over a period of time this grand community based festival lost its significance due to the lack of state patronage and the advent of British rule in India and eventually it became a private family affair which was confined within the walls of Maharashtrian families for many years.
After many years of oppression and exploitation, 1857 was a landmark year in modern Indian history as it was the year of the largest revolt ever seen by the world. It was the first real resistance shown by the Indians against its rulers in an attempt to gain complete independence. Though the armed rebellions had gained an early momentum in favor of the Indians a more organized effort by the Britishers resulted in the mutiny being brutally suppressed by the white rulers.
One of the main reasons for the failure of this revolt was that the Indians did not put up a united front, many Indians were fighting for the British during the revolt and many others were complaisant with what was going on and did not participate in the struggle which didn’t help the Indian’s cause and resulted in a shameful loss for the Indians.
The 1857 revolt was an unsuccessful resistance by the Indians but after that many orators and leaders started to put up a united front against the British rule. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Ji was one such nationalist and an independence activist who was known as “The father of Indian unrest” by the Britishers. Tilak was the one who revived the tradition of celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi and transcended it into a grand community based celebration from the confined walls of a Maharashtrian household. Throughout the 1880s the British had passed a series of ordinances which banned any public meeting. The reason behind such ordinances were that the British feared that if not kept in check such meetings and gatherings could become a breeding ground for anti-government activities which could probably then lead to another revolt or a national upheaval against the government. The Muslim population of India protested against this law and asked for exemption citing the reason that the weekly prayers at the mosque are a part of their religion and these various ordinances are against it.
Eventually the mosque prayers were exempted; However Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak felt that the Hindus were treated unfairly as the new laws effectively blocked the meeting of Hindus as Hinduism didn’t demand any such gatherings for its religious purposes on regular basis. The newly passed ordinances resulted in Hindu-Muslim riots in the early 1890s. Tilak condemned these riots and were of the opinion that more peaceful method could be introduced to restore peace between the communities. Tilak admitted that the Ganpati celebrations were revived to bring together the Hindus. Therefore it was leveraged by him as a religious exemption to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi to circumvent the British colonial law on large public assembly.
SOCIO-POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT:
According to Lokmanya was one of the most important features of this celebration was that the people showed great enthusiasm and jubilation during the festivities. He experienced that the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations acted as a ‘Bridge’ between the lower caste and the upper caste and that during this festival there was no gap between the Brahmins and the Non-Brahmins. He chose Ganesha as a tool for protest against the British, the reason being simple that Lord Ganesh had a very wide appeal and was considered as “the god for everyman”. Eventually during the early stages of Indian nationalism Lokmanya Ji was able to organize Ganesh Utsav as a social and religious function in 1893.
He was able to channelize the patriotic feeling and a sense of unity among the masses against the British which he experienced during the festivities in form of a festive fervor rather than a political gathering. The result was that within a few years this festive fever had engulfed everything which came in its way like a wildfire, slowly and steadily this form of communal Ganpati celebrations started taking place throughout Maharashtra.
This festival played an important role in a common man’s life not only because it brought a sense of joy and jubilation for a few days but also it gave them a sense of freedom which they cherished in an otherwise oppressed life of the people. During the 10 days of the festival several dances, dramas, essay competitions, debates and religious programs were organized with the central theme of Independence and Nationalism.
Many prominent leaders took part in the debate forums and silently helped the freedom struggle by presenting their ideas to the ignorant masses thus awakening in the people a sense of unity, brotherhood and love for their motherland. The social gatherings during the Ganesh Utsav played an important role as they became a meeting point of all caste and communities and became a breeding ground for nationalist ideas.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a visionary leader and a devout nationalist who went on to show us that if masses are made aware and are united they can form a very efficient tool to achieve any goal, with his progressive work while making the Ganesh Chaturthi a grand festival, he not only encouraged the people to come together in the name of God and religion whilst also achieving his goal of removing socio-economic inequalities from the society so that the common people of India can forget their differences and fight for the greater cause of “Swarajya”.
Author- ROHAN BHISHIKAR
BACL(Main Branch), Nagpur
LEGALEAGLE LAW FORUM
 Lokmanya tilak biography by A. K. Bhagwat & G. P. Pradhan.
 Lokmanya Tilak Smriti Shatabdi Visheshank ”Kevalam Gyanmurti”, Article by:- Arvind Vitthal Kulkarni
 LOKMANYA TILAK by Dhananjay Keer