The god of all things

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 8 September 2018

The favourite festival of Maharashtra, has seen major changes over the years. Ambika Shaligram speaks to people from the other parts of the state to find out how they are trying to give more depth to the celebrations

The favourite festival of Maharashtra, has seen major changes over the years. Ambika Shaligram speaks to people from the other parts of the state to find out how they are trying to give more depth to the celebrations

What began as a means to bring together people from all walks of life to build national spirit, has deviated to become more of an entertainment spectacle today. And yet, there are many, who are optimistic that better sense will prevail in the celebrations of Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav, which was started by nationalist leader, Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893. 

Pune being the city where the festivities first started, it has a special place in the hearts of devotees. For this story, we decided to step out of the city and see what’s happening in the other parts of the state, how some organisations are sticking to traditions, working to build communal harmony and make it a joyous and pious occasion that it’s meant to be.

In the conversations that we had with people from Konkan, Marathwada, Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra, there are certain differences and commonalities. For instance, they too have formed dhol-tasha groups or invited pathaks from Pune to perform in their towns and cities; they have appended ‘raja’ to the name of their famous or big mandal, something on the lines of Mumbai’s famous Lalbagcha Raja. 
In Pune households, we welcome Ganapati for one and half days, five days or seven days, whereas in Marathwada, the idols are installed at home for 10 days. 
Here are the utsav updates from Solapur, Nanded, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Jalgaon and Dapoli. 

Increase in Ganesh mandals 
Vishal Gadiya, Student, Aurangabad

In the last two years, social and political factors have led to an increase in the number of Ganesh mandals in the city. Now, every lane in Aurangabad has a Ganesh mandal. This is significant because the city has a history of communal riots. Most of the big mandals in Pune have their own entertainment events. Here, the mandals tie up with the local radio channel and hold lots of competitions and programmes. They are judged on the cleanliness factor or the way they have decorated the pandals.
 
Those visiting Aurangabad should visit the Ganesh mandal of Gulmandi. This is the commercial zone of the city. The idol is tall and the activities are on a big scale. They invite comedians, dancers to perform. On local level, shows of classical music are held. 

The trend of eco-friendly idols has also caught up. Workshops are being held to teach young and old how to make the idols. We also have our own dhol-tasha groups in the city, Pawan being the oldest. A new group is practising in the market area of Aurangabad. We have a few lezim groups too.

Generational conflict
Vrinda Mahadeokar, Priestess, Nagpur
Vaijayanti Ghosh, Retd professor, Nagpur

Like all other small towns and cities, the Ganapati celebrations in Nagpur too, were quiet and homely. As kids, we looked forward to visiting the Ganesh pandals in Sadar, Saraf katta, and the one in Cotton Yard. In those days, around the period of Ganapati, a festival/exhibition was held at Cotton Yard, and we all looked forward to visiting it, buying, shopping. It was a rare opportunity. Now, of course, with malls and so many stores opening up, and year round exhibitions, this charm has faded away. We also looked forward to watching dramas and movies screened on a white cloth! 

Back then, there were few Ganesh pandals; today they have doubled. We wonder how. Everything is so expensive these days, but every lane has a Ganapati and a lot is spent on decorations, especially with illumination. Typically, this has led to a generational gap and conflict. The older people, who were at the forefront in holding the celebrations earlier, don’t like the dhangad dhinga (noise) that is associated with the festival today. The younger generation says that having DJ music doesn’t mean that they are not devout enough. And, the story continues...

Mostly disciplined 
Dr Achyut Ban, Nanded

Every lane in the city (Nanded Uttar and Nanded Dakshin) has about five or six Ganesh mandals. After a drive of Ek Gaon Ek Ganapati, the numbers dropped but there are many unregistered Ganesh mandals in the city still. And, the residents have no choice but to shell out money in the form of donations.
 
I have visited Pune once during Ganapati Utsav and the scale on which it is celebrated there, isn’t seen here. Of course, the mandals here try to outdo each other when it comes to decorating the pandals or getting taller idols. There is a thrust on holding events like blood donation and health check-up camps, elocution and debating competitions for school children, rangoli competition for women, during the festival. In recent years, a few mandals are promoting Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign of the Union Government through their jhankis (or scenes). We also see a good co-operation between the police and the mandals. The police award prizes to the mandals, who are orderly, disciplined, hold socially relevant events or competitions. The Patbandhare Mandal in Shivajinagar consistently comes up with good subjects in their decoration.
 
On the last day of the festival though, a little disorderliness creeps in. Some drunkards create nuisance. Too many dhol-tasha pathaks drum up a lot of noise. But by and large, the immersion procession is peaceful and winds up by 11 pm. One lesson we are learning from Pune, is to install shadu murti or idols made of clay. 

Earlier, there would be touring talkies. Now, some mandals telecast movies in their pandals. 

Ensuring communal harmony 
Vasanti Apte, owner, Apte Jewellers, Solapur

We have a good presence of Sarvajanik Ganesh mandals in the city and some have stuck to the traditional way of celebrating the festival. In Solapur, the mandals have tried to bring together people of all faiths. For instance, the Sonya Maruti mandir is located close to a masjid. So the mandal members keep in mind the sensitivity and don’t cross the line with any overt symbolism. Also, the Ganesh idol is made of panchdhatu or five metals.
 
Then, there is Ajoba Ganapati. On installation and immersion days, when its procession enters the Haji Mai chowk (now renamed as Datta chowk), members of the Muslim community garland it, and only then it moves forward. This is an example of Hindu-Muslim unity in the city.
 
Instead of grand, architectural designs, kids and youth get together to put up skits and plays, or enact scenes from history — stories of Shivaji Maharaj, Sambhaji Maharaj, Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram — and scenes from the Ramayana etc. They put up performances on all days of the festival and the passers-by are hooked. Some Ganesh mandals also highlight social and political ills through the floats or scenes erected in the pandals. 

If you are visiting Solapur during the festival, then you should visit the Baivesh Ganapati. The idol is tall and beautifully decked up. Slightly different rituals are followed for the idol kept in Saraf katta (jeweller’s lane). The aartis that they sing are different from what we sing, they have a Karwari twang to them. They also clang zanja (cymbals) in Carnatic style.
 
In Pune, you have the dhol-tasha pathak, whereas we have lezim pathaks which are known for their melodies and disciplined way of playing.

The old and the new 
Abhishek Rahalkar,  actor, Nashik  

The festivities are on the lines of what’s happening in Pune and other big cities. But we also have some of our own beliefs and rituals. For instance, the DJ music had gripped Nashik in the recent past. Now, DJs are being replaced by dhol pathaks. We also have our lezim groups who play very well. Gulalwadi pathak is one of the oldest in the city and it plays both lezim and dhol-tasha. In Pune, people step out to go around mandals after the fifth day. In Nashik, we start visiting pandals from day one, and the numbers reduce as the immersion day nears.
 
Nashik-kars believe that if it rains on the first day of the Ganapati utsav, then it’s going to rain on all days. We call it Sondet Adaklela Paus (rain caught in Ganesha’s trunk). One good activity that is happening in Nashik is that people and mandals are donating idols at the ghats of the Godavari river. This is a good move considering that the riverine pollution is rising.  

Showcasing stunts
Pamesh Jadhav, president, 
Shahupuri Ganesh Mandal, Kolhapur 

In Kolhapur, we have sajeev dekhave (meaning scenes enacted by people), in which kids and youth put up street plays, one act plays etc. Some mandals are known for their grand decorations like creating replicas of temples or famed architectural monuments, complete with expensive carpets and chandeliers. Radha Krishna Mandal, Dilbahar Talim are some of them. This year, at Shahupuri mandal, we have the idol in Vishnu avatar, sitting on a pachyderm. 
 
We do have dhol-tasha groups but zanj (cymbals) pathak is our tradition. These pathaks play when the idols are being installed and immersed. During the 10-day festival, we have people performing stunts like breaking coconut with their forehead, or talwarbazi (sword fighting). Games like kusti (wrestling) are also played. There are navsache Ganapati (those who are said to answer your prayers) like Sambhajinagar Mitra Mandal and Shivaji Tarun Mandal in Shivaji chowk. Another procession to watch out for is that of Mahalaxmi mandir’s (the famous Ambabai temple). On the last day, the procession starts around 10 am and concludes around noon the next day.

Families come together Alhad Dandekar, Proprietor, Dapoli
The atmosphere during Ganesh Utsav in Dapoli is very homely. There is just one Dapolicha Raja mandal in Natraj chowk, and political parties install idols in their offices. But otherwise, residents visit each other’s homes for darshan. Sometimes aarti are played on the beat of the tabla. We don’t do telephone invitations; everyone just drops in. There is no DJ and no dhol music, as yet. The procession has people playing tasha or pipani.
 
The mandal at Natraj chowk is focussed on highlighting social themes. Most of the auto rickshaw drivers are members of the mandal and they spend money out of their pocket on decoration or on prasad. There is no concept of asking for donations here. The mandal recreates scenes like the Nirbhaya case or something on environment. Most of the idols are immersed after a day and half. 

For one and all
Sachin Narale, president, 
Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mahamandal, Jalgaon 

I am a civil engineer, who along with other professionals, have decided to take ownership of our social and religious festivals, so that we can control disruptive and anti-social behaviour seen in the festivities. Festivals like Ganesh Utsav have a great potential to give space to and boost the growth of leaders, thinkers, visionaries, artists etc. If the cream of the society becomes a part of these festivities, then we can curb the wrong activities that are setting a precedent.
 
The Mahamandal or federation of all the Ganesh mandals in Jalgaon, was formed two decades ago. One of the first visible changes seen after its formation was that communal conflicts lessened during Ganesh Utsav. We drafted a code of conduct which was to be implemented by the devotees. Instead of it being imposed on us from the police or administration, why can’t we bring about those changes? So we approached people from other communities and urged them to be a part of the festivities. They agreed. With that came in peace and order.
 
Our next step was to stop the usage of gulaal during the procession. Earlier, about 1,000 packets of gulaal were ripped open to fling the powder in the air. Because of this, women used to stay away from the procession. We introduced the practice of showering rose petals.
  
We also ensured that the Maha aarti at all mandals is done every evening at 8 pm. Previously, various mandals would wait for the chief guests and dignitaries to make an appearance and then do the aarti late in the night. We also took special efforts to include women in the festivities.
 
We looked at the option of having women as the office-bearers of the mandals, and the one that had an all women team became the ‘Manacha Ganapati’. 

We have also stuck to showcasing our traditional games like gof, lezim, kathya and so on. The young members of various mandals wanted DJ and Dolby music but we managed to convince them that it’s correct to have a ‘DJ-free Utsav’.
 

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