A split is visible in the society following a row over whether Lokmanya Tilak or Bhausaheb Rangari first organised public Ganeshotsav. Lord Ganesh, who was originally worshipped at temples and by the upper castes, was brought to the common man by social reformers to fight against the British. Now, considering the ongoing debate revolving around this issue, there is a need to worship Lord Ganesh to unite the society. It is a challenge for those who are involved in the activities which surround public festivities of Ganesh festival which completed the 125th year of its existence.
The visionary social reformers from the country thought of celebration of Ganeshotsav and Shivjayanti in order to unite people against the British. Sardar Khasgiwale saw Ganeshotsav at the Rajdarbar in Gwalior and thought of having a similar celebration in Pune. On his return to Pune, he called a meeting of social reformers from the city at the residence of Bhausaheb Jawale alias Bhausaheb Rangari. Maharashi Annasaheb Patwardhan, Balasaheb Natu, Ganpatrao Ghotavdekar, Lakhusheth Dantale, Balwant Narayan Satav, Nana Narayan Bhor, Khandoba Tarawade, Balwant Narayan Kokate, Mama Hasabnis, Gangadhar Raji Khair, Rambhau Bodhane and Dagdusheth Halwai were present for this meeting. It was during this meeting that it was resolved to have public celebrations of this festival. While Khasgiwale was celebrating the festival since 1888, he too resolved to bring the celebrations to the public. In the first year, Bhausaheb Rangari, Khasgiwale and Ghotawdekar installed Ganesh idols. Steadily after that, the number of mandals started increasing.
Though Lokmanya Tilak was absent during the meeting, his support to the public celebrations of Ganeshotsav is clearly visible through his editorial writings in his newspaper Kesari. “Only two words about this festival which is being celebrated publicly... Such a celebration is necessary for the progress of the nation... There are many means to bring about unity. Having a common deity is one of them... Festival organisers had always emphasised on some or the other public interest cause in all get-togethers... Be it living united or visiting Raigad together. It is the passionate wish of Kesarikars that Ganeshotsav is given a national platform.” (Editorial September 3, 1895, and September 22, 1896)
The decision of celebrating Ganesh festival publicly was made unanimously by everyone. In the first year of the celebrations held at Khasgiwale Ganesh, a lecture by Prof Jinasiwale was held in the presence of Lokmanya Tilak, similarly, in 1894, Tilak himself started the festival in Vinchurkarwada.
Bhausaheb Rangari played a significant role in turning the festival into a public ceremony. He took the lead and conducted the meetings of prominent persons at his own residence. The Ganesh idol made by Rangari himself was the one fighting a demon. The demon in the idol symbolised the British rule and the idol inspired youths to fight against the oppressive colonial rule. At the same time, he also organised lectures by freedom fighters and social reformers like Savarkar, Subhashchandra Bose, Pt Madan Mohan Malviya, Senapati Bapat, Dadasaheb Khaparde, Lokmanya Tilak, etc.
Driven by the same aim, all reformers celebrated the festival. Lokmanya Tilak also expressed his gratitude towards Bhausaheb Rangari and others in the Kesari edition on November 26, 1893, saying, “The immersion process of the Ganesh idols took a public form this year, thanks to the individuals who took efforts to make the festival public.” Within a year or two, the number of people actively participating in the festival saw a tremendous rise. After three years, Gramdaivat of Pune Kasba Ganpati, Akhil Mandai Ganpati, Shanipar Mandal, Gramdevata Tambdi Jogeshwari, Akhil Navi Peth Hatti Ganpati and Chhatrapai Rajaram Mandal also started the Ganesh festival. The festival was started to build the spirit of nationalism amongst the people.
The 125 years of Ganesh festival show that this is the only festival that binds the whole city together in a single thread. The festival brings almost the whole city to the streets. There are around 8 lakh houses in Pune and almost half of them celebrate Ganesh festival. Earlier, when the wada culture was prevalent, people went to each others’ houses to participate in aarti and used to relish on different types of prasad every day. This was how people came together to interact and to support each other. Now, the wada culture has almost disappeared and people residing in societies and apartments have started coming together to celebrate this festival. Now, many families make it a point to take their family members to pay the visit to several Ganesh mandals to enjoy the tableaux or historical scenes. The volunteers associated with these mandals too put in a lot of efforts to ensure that the scenes or decorations stand apart from other mandals in their vicinity. Many Ganesh mandals have created a name for themselves for recreating historical scenes or novel decorations.
This same unity which is clearly seen among volunteers has helped us in moving masses against the British rule. However, the purpose of Ganeshotsav has changed post independence. The recreational factor associated with public festivities give a boost to those living a mundane life. The social reformers have used this positive energy to accomplish many tasks for the greater social good and the same efforts are being made even today.