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How Bal Gangadhar Tilak used Ganesh utsav to unite people

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New Delhi, Aug 22: Mumbai is prepping up for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival without COVID-19 guidelines after two years. This year, the celebration will be held between August 31 and September 9.

History of Ganesh Utsav
The celebration has its roots in history as it was initiated by the founder of the Maratha Empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the 16 century. However, it was revived by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who used the festival to bring Hindus and Muslims together on one platform.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Probably, the biggest weapon that the British Raj adopted to rule the country was to divide the people on the lines of their religion and caste. They were successful in creating Hindu and Muslim conflicts.

As Tilak realised the wily strategy of the English men, he decided to revive the festival in 1894 and encouraged Muslims to participate in the Ganpati Bappa festival celebration like the way Hindus joined the Muharram celebration in Pune.

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The British quickly understood that the celebration would brush aside the differences in social standing and castes. Hence, they tried to project the festival intended to propagate Brahmin superiority and an anti-Muslim activity, a journal published in Mahratta on Sarvajanik Ganesh utsav notes.

The festival not only united Muslims and Hindus but brought all castes together.

The then Police commissioner of Mumbai, SM Edward said, "Celebration of Ganesh utsav is a conspiracy which has been created against the British Government like at first it was seen as a religious movement of Hindus against Muslims. Through this Lokmanya Tilak created a feeling of national awakening among the people. Putting forth a feeling of patience and comprehensiveness of Hindu religion, he tried to reduce the division in the society and created a feeling of national unity. He made this concept acceptable to the society by taking help from Hindu religious institutions like Arya Samaj, Ramkrishna Math, etc

However, there were reports of riots during Ganesh utsav in the early years and Sardar 'Tatyasaheb' Hari Ramchandra Natu was injured during one such incident in Pune, according to a report in Hindustan Times.

"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 the floats like was done with the taziya," the daily quoted Bharat Gothoskar, founder of the heritage and experiential tourism initiative 'Khaki Tours', as saying.

"In those days untouchables were not permitted to enter the temples. But Sarvajanik Ganesh utsav was planned in such a way that Festival Ganesh Idol used to be put in different place or on the road so that people from all castes could visit and worship it," the Mahratta article adds.

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What the community festivals created was a consciousness among the people from all walks of life, religions and castes. This alarmed British authorities and they recognized that Tilak's stature among the leaders of India was growing rapidly and it was important to clip his wings.

The popularity was such that despite the British sending him to jail, the celebrations went on in Mumbai. The administration imposed several restrictions including banning melas and censoring devotional songs and poems. Yet it did not prevent people from coming together.

Thus Ganesh utsav became a symbol of unity among people across the sections.

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