THE AGE-OLD tradition of building models of forts during Diwali in Maharashtra, it seems, is slowly diminishing in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Although the number of forts on display has seen a significant decline over the years, those on display in Pune city and Pimpri-Chinchwad drew substantial audiences. These include the model of majestic Shivneri Fort — the birth place of Chhatrapati Shivaji — at Adarsh School in Shukrawar Peth and the replica of the Raigad Fort at Navin Marathi School in Rambaug. A fort-making contest and exhibition at Sambhaji Park, too, had residents making a beeline.
Meanwhile, five-year-old Swaraj Nandu Ghode’s “Sinhagad Fort”, on display in Kasarwadi, Pimpri-Chinchwad, has drawn “rave reviews”. Swaraj, who lives in a one-room tenement in a chawl, keeps pacing in and out of his house to check the fort, lest someone damages it. “Throughout the day, he is busy moving around the fort,” said his mother. His sister Vaishnovi said, “My father helped him bring the soil and set up the fort. But my little brother has gone all out to protect it.” “And he has named it Sinhagad…” she added.
However, in the suburbs, hardly any kid was seen as enthusiastic about making forts. Lahoo Landge, a local activist, said, “The traditional practice (of building forts) is on the decline, not only in a suburb like Kasarwadi, which has more of a local population, but also in places of historical significance, such as Chinchwad and Bhosari, which are struggling to take pride in their past.”
“In the age of television, mobile phones, Facebook and WhatsApp, most of the time youngsters are found busy with gadgets. They have little time even to study or eat,” he added, pointing out the various factors responsible for this “lack of interest”.
Historian Pandurang Balkawade, however, has a different take. He said that while the number of forts on display might have seen a dip, the techniques or the technologies youngsters were employing to make the forts are simply riveting. “Whether you watch the Shivneri Fort at Adarsh School or the Raigad Fort at Navin Marathi School, one is amazed at the talent of these children. They have made such fabulous mud replicas that it’s hard to separate them from the real ones,” he said.
Balkawade added that the age-old culture was not disappearing. “The forts made by youngsters are certainly becoming bigger and better than what I saw as a kid,” he said. Meanwhile, Maruti Bhapkar, an activist, claimed that the government and the civic bodies were doing little to promote the grand culture of Maharashtra. “We rarely hear that the government has announced a slew of competitions, or was holding grand exhibitions, of fort models. It is only during Diwali that some desperate attempts are made,” he said.
He added that schools and colleges are also to blame for the decline in enthusiasm among the youths about our rich tradition. “Schools and colleges have holidays during Diwali and, therefore, they don’t have to, or don’t make any efforts to, encourage children to build mud forts during the festival. This is exactly why the youngsters are hooked to gadgets and have forgotten the real world…” he said.