Home Muslim culture How communal conflict led to the birth of Ganesh utsav | Bombay News

How communal conflict led to the birth of Ganesh utsav | Bombay News

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What is now Maharashtra’s most famous festival has its roots in an unfortunate conflict that occurred in the late 19th century.

In August 1893, there was a communal riot after music was played at a Hanuman temple at Pydhonie in Mumbai. The riot was the first major outbreak between Hindus and Muslims in the city. Marathi textile factory workers also joined the fray and the violence escalated. According to some accounts, 75 people were killed. Riots were also reported in places like Raver and Yeola in northern Maharashtra. Eventually, the army was summoned.

As editor of Kesari and Mahratta newspapers, “Lokmanya” Bal Gangadhar Tilak took the cudgel on behalf of Hindus. He stressed that in a communal conflict, the British had to be impartial. But although the Hindus acted in self-defense, Governor Lord Harris blamed them. Thus, it became a dispute not only between Hindus and Muslims, but also involved the British government, making it a triangular fight. Tilak’s biographer, Sadanand More, pointed out that although it seemed that Tilak opposed the Muslims, his real fight was against the British, as he challenged their “divide and rule” policy.

But the aggressive embrace of the Hindu cause during such communal disputes expanded Tilak’s influence beyond the conservative Brahmins and created a constituency for him among the Gujarati and Marwari working classes and merchants in Mumbai.

The following year (April 1894), there were communal tensions over a festival at the Dulya Maruti temple in Pune and in June the ‘palkhi’ of revered bhakti saint Dnyaneshwar who was heading to Pandharpur, was stoned to death.

At the time, Muharram was the most popular event of the Bombay Presidency. In the early 19th century, people of all castes and religious faiths marked the occasion, noted Pune-based history and heritage enthusiast Sandeep Godbole. Tabots (replicas of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain) were also installed in the wadas (mansions) of prominent and aristocratic families like the Rastes, Khasgiwales and Kunjirs as well as in Shukrawar wada built by Bajirao-II, he said. added. There is a photograph of Tilak taking part in a Muharram procession at Budhwar Chowk in Pune in 1892.

Muharram was also popular in some parts of the country with a large presence of Maharashtrian Hindus. Author-journalist AJ Karandikar writes that in Mudhol (present-day Karnataka), Muharram was marked by Hindus even in those villages without any Muslim residents.

As the scholar ‘Ahitagni’ Shankar Ramchandra Rajwade writes, Bhikobadada Agashe, a renowned wrestler of Lokhande Talim, would perform the lezim before the Taziya procession of the Ghodepir dargah in Pune, along with his wards. The Ghodepir procession was so popular that an ox cart moved with it to collect the revdis (a candy) poured out to it.

Communal tensions put an end to this synthesis, with Hindus refusing to commemorate Muharram. In 1894, the number of tabots in Pune fell to only 50–75 from around 300–400 the previous year. That year, Tilak promoted the celebration of Ganesh utsav, which quickly replaced Muharram in popularity. Incidentally, like Muharram, the Ganesh utsav also ends with a procession.

Although Tilak is said to have started public Ganesh utsav celebrations, the festival was celebrated even earlier at three places in Pune, namely by Annasaheb Khasgiwale, Bhau Lakshman Javale aka Bhausaheb Rangari and Ganesh Narayan Ghotawadekar. These celebrations were expanded and popularized by Tilak after the riots.

As Tilak’s biographer, Dhananjay Keer writes: “Before the advent of Tilak, the Ganesh festival was not a public affair. It was his organizational ability that turned it into a public festival. Soon Ganesh mandals or festival societies were started all over Maharashtra. It is no coincidence that the Chitpavan Brahmin Peshwas, who as de facto leaders of the Maratha confederacy once ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent from Pune, worshiped Lord Ganapati. These public celebrations also helped to spread the worship of Ganesh to the non-Brahmin masses.

Pune was known for its wrestling tradition and had several akhadas (wrestling clubs). These wrestlers, who transcended castes and religions, were influenced by Tilak, who had learned wrestling in his youth, and his guru “Bramharshi” Annasaheb Patwardhan, a scholar and physician. Led by Rangari, Dagdu Halwai and others, these young pailwans (wrestlers) ensured the success of Ganesh festival celebrations and succeeded in “persuading” Hindus not to observe Muharram.

Ganesh festival celebrations also led to Hindu-Muslim conflict initially, including an attack on a procession at Daruwala Bridge in Pune in which Sardar ‘Tatyasaheb’ Hari Ramchandra Natu was injured.

The festival has spread beyond Pune and also taken root in Mumbai, starting with the Keshavji Naik chawl in Girgaon. Tilak visited the chawl pandal in 1901.

“It is wrong to say that the riots of 1992-93 changed the social fabric of Mumbai. It was the 1893 riot that did it,” noted Bharat Gothoskar, founder of heritage and experiential tourism initiative Khaki Tours. He said that before industrialization, Mumbai was a Hindu minority city, but the demographics had gradually changed due to the influx of the Konkan Marathi working classes who joined the textile factories.

“Before the riots, Muharram was the most popular event in Mumbai. Hindu boys would dance in the procession. Ganesh utsav had rituals like immersion processions, which borrowed practices from Muharram like dancing and decorating floats as it was done with taziya,” Gothoskar said. He added that even today in towns and villages like Solapur and Belgaum, which are located on the state border with Karnataka, images of Local deities and folk deities are part of the Muharram processions.

Cultural and religious events held during Ganesh festival celebrations have seen anti-British propaganda open. In his ‘Indian Unrest’ (1910), journalist Valentine Chirol mentions the role played by the revival of Ganpati celebrations “in stimulating political disaffection in the Deccan”.

The Ganesh utsav also helped train the first generation of Hindutva cadres. Parimala V Rao pointed out how the notion of Hindutva, distinct from Hinduism, was first used by Tilak in 1884. But Tilak was neither anti-Muslim nor Islamophobic. The Shiv Jayanti celebrations popularized by him to mark the birth of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj spread beyond Maharashtra. Speaking on the occasion in Calcutta in 1906, Tilak emphasized that Shivaji Maharaj was not an enemy of Muslims per se and that his struggle was a struggle against injustice. He also called on Muslims to join in the festivities. In 1916, Tilak and his then colleague and future architect of the partition of the subcontinent, MA Jinnah, led the “Lucknow Pact” between Congress and the Muslim League.

After Tilak died in Mumbai on August 1, 1920, one of the bearers of his mortal remains was Maulana Shaukat Ali, leader of the Khilafat movement. Another bearer was Mahatma Gandhi. Freedom fighter and poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who is credited with the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, wrote a poem in Urdu titled ‘Tilak’ which was read at the third Khilafat conference in tribute to the Lokmanya.

But, ironically, while Tilak would spur Ganesh utsav celebrations as a replacement for Muharram, mass Navratri celebrations would be used to counter him three decades later. In 1926, anti-caste activists and social reformers like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, ‘Prabodhankar’ Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, father of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, and Raobahadur SK Bole initiated public Navratri celebrations as a form of counter -culture against the ‘Brahmin -dominated’ Ganesh utsav. But this is another story.