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Photo by Vishal Panchal on Unsplash.

Ganesh Chaturthi plays a wider socio-political role in Maharashtra.

A person visiting Mumbai in the month of September can easily notice a mild fragrance lingering in the air. The fragrance is none other than that of the hibiscus flower. The hibiscus flower, commonly known as the shoo flower is believed to be the favourite flower of Lord Ganesha. In the month of September, every Mumbaikar is deeply immersed in Ganeshotsav. Some start preparing for the next Ganeshotsav as soon as the current one ends.

Before the festival of Ganeshotsav, or Ganesh Chaturthi, became an Indian cultural phenomenon, one can trace it's origins to Maharashtra. Ganesh Chaturthi as a festival has been historically observed in the province of Pune. Pune (also known as Poona) is dubbed the educational hub of Maharashtra. Historians see Pune as the last bastion of the Marathi manoos.

Ever since the era wherein Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire, ruled over most of western India, Lord Ganesh was seen as the family god or Kuldevata. With the unfortunate demise of the Maratha empire in the early 19th century, the festival lost its state patronage and became a private family celebration in Maharashtra. It regained its limelight when the extremist Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak reignited its long distinguished flame.

Crowds throng in at a junction to catch a glimpse of the Ganesha idol before its immersion. Photo by Vishal Panchal on Usplash.

Ganesh Chaturthi in its current form was introduced in 1892 when a Pune resident named Krishnajipant Khasgiwale visited Maratha-ruled Gwalior, where he witnessed the traditional public celebration and brought it to the attention of his friends, Bhausaheb Laxman Javale and Balasaheb Natu back home in Pune. Javale, who was also known as Bhau Rangari installed the first sarvajanik or public Ganesha idol following this.

Lokmanya Tilak praised Javale's efforts in an article in his fiery newspaper Kesari in 1893 and even installed a Ganesha idol in the news publication's office the next year, and his efforts transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organised public event. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions and established the practice of submerging the idols in rivers, the sea or other bodies of water on the tenth day of the festival.

Encouraged by him, Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganeshotsav, became a meeting ground for people from all castes and communities at a time when the British discouraged social and political gatherings to control the population. The festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the forms of intellectual discourse, poetry recitals, plays, concerts, and folk dances.

Various Ganpati idols for sale at a workshop in Mumbai. Photo by Mohnish Landge on Unsplash.

Tilak recognized Ganesha's appeal as "the god for everybody". He popularised Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival to "bridge the gap between Brahmins and the non-brahmins and also to find a context on which to build a new grassroots unity between them. The festival was successful in generating nationalistic fervour in the Maharashtrian people to oppose the oppressive British rule.

With the advent of the third wave of Covid-19 in Maharashtra, government officials have started ringing alarm bells. The fear that the ongoing surge in new cases might be fuelled by the lesser-known Delta Plus variant is high among healthcare staff. Ganesh Chaturthi and the Third Wave of the pandemic are in sync, leading to a catch 22 situation for Mumbaikars.

Keywords: Ganesh Chaturthi, Maharashtra, Third Wave, Marathas. September



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