The Pune Municipal Corporation’s plan to celebrate 125 years of the community Ganesh festival on a grand scale has sparked a row with a city-based body disputing the claim that it was started by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak to mobilise people against the British rule.
The Srimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganapati Trust, said to be among the first three Ganesh mandals, claims it was not Tilak but Bhausaheb Laxman Jawale alias Bhau Rangari who organised the festival in a public format for the first time in 1892.
The trust also claims that the upcoming Ganapati season (slated next month) is not the 125th but 126th year of the organisation of the festival with mass participation. The trust has sent a legal notice to the state government and the civic body seeking to stop the preparations for the celebrations, its office-bearers said.
“In 1892, Bhausaheb Rangari held a meeting at his residence to put forth the idea of celebrating the festival at the community level,” said Suraj Renuse, a trustee of the Srimant Bhau Rangari Ganapati Trust. It was attended by some of the eminent personalities of the day like Nanasaheb Khasgiwale, Ganapatrao Ghotawadekar, Annasaheb Patwardhan, Balasaheb Natu, Lakhusheth Dantale, Mama Hasabnis, Khandoba Tarawade, Balawant Satav and Dagadusheth Halwai, he said.
Under Rangari’s leadership the first community Ganesh festival took place with the installation of three idols of the deity in different spots of the city, he said. The idea was to bring people of different classes and castes together and unite them against the British rule.
Within a year, the number of mandals (community units) rose sharply in the city and Tilak took note of it and wrote an article in his newspaper Kesari, stating that the festival and immersion procession that year were celebrated differently. “Tilak in his article acknowledged and appreciated the efforts of the people,” said Renuse.
In 1894, Tilak installed his first Ganapati idol in Vinchurkar Wada, he said. “So even if we presume that the community Ganesh festival was started in 1893, Tilak was nowhere in the affair in that year except his small article about the celebrations,” he contended.
“We have submitted a document — a ‘charitrakosh’ (a history reference book) of freedom fighters from western Maharashtra prepared by the government — in which it is clearly mentioned that Bhausaheb Rangari had initiated Ganesh festival at the community level in 1892,” he said. “They (the civic body and the government) are not ready to acknowledge these evidence and are trying to portray Tilak as the progenitor of the festival,” he said.
Another trust member, Rajendra Gupta, said they respect Tilak who, through his newspaper and public outreach, popularised the festival. At the same time, the person who started it should get due respect and credit, he said, adding that Rangari had donated all his property to the trust and expressed a wish that the ‘sarvajanik ganeshotsav’ should be celebrated in his name.
Mukta Tilak, mayor of the BJP-ruled Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and a descendant of Lokmanya Tilak, refused to go by the claims of the Srimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganapati Trust. “I still stand by my position that it was Lokmanya Tilak who started the community Ganesh festival in Pune in 1893 and this year it is entering its 125th year,” she said.
On the claims that Tilak had installed his first idol only in 1894, she said even if it be so, he had initiated the festival in 1893 itself by encouraging the people to come out and participate with an aim to unite and rally them against the British. “According to a book – ’60 Years of Ganeshotsav’ – by J S Karandikar published in 1957 and other historical evidence, Tilak had initiated the festival at the community level in 1893,” the mayor said.
Referring to the ‘charitrakosh’ cited by the other side, Tilak said the information with the government could be wrong. “Bhausaheb Rangari and others had installed the Ganesh idols in 1893 after Tilak had asked them to do so,” she said.
A historian from the city, requesting anonymity, said it was in 1893 and not 1892 that Rangari, Khasgiwale and Ghotawadekar celebrated the festival as a public event. On the authenticity of the ‘charitrakosh’, he said such documents are generally treated as secondary evidence as these were produced in later years. “If contemporary evidence, such as who had obtained police permission in 1892 or 1893 for celebrating the festival publicly, are obtained, they can be crucial,” he said.
The Rangari Trust said its demands to include a government declaration that it was Bhausaheb Rangari who started the ‘sarvajanik ganeshotsav’ in the city. It also wanted the festival to be celebrated in his name and inclusion of a lesson on Rangari in textbooks.
Renuse said the trust is also demanding the formation of an experts’ committee to study the available documents and bring the real history to the fore. “If the state government does not reply (to the demands) or act in the next 15 days, we will file a writ petition in the high court and start an agitation in the city,” he said.
Anand Saraf, who has been associated with the festival in the city for several years, said that this controversy is unwarranted.