Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha does not use loudspeakers or extravagant decorations during the Ganesh festival and has been ordering an eco-friendly idol of the same size from the same sculptor’s family for the past four generations.
As the Ganesh mandals across the state are competing for publicity with bigger idols, expensive themes, lighting, decoration and loudspeakers, the Ganpati of Mumbai’s first mandal sits in one quiet corner, surrounded by 150 tenants of the Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum.
Established in 1893, Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha is celebrating the festival for the 124th time this year. The Sanstha has installed a two-and-a-half feet idol which looks similar to the idols it had been getting every year during Ganesh Chaturthi.
Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha had also hosted freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1901. Tilak had first started Ganeshotsav celebrations in Maharashtra. The Sanstha is known as the pioneer of Mumbai’s Ganeshotsav. The residents of Keshavji Naik Chawl in Mumbai and Shri Bhau Rangari, Shri Khajgiwale, and Shri Ghotwadekar in Pune had first started celebrating Ganeshotsav publicly in 1893, after an appeal by freedom fighter and statesman Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The celebration was begun to provide a platform for national awakening, uniting people and social education. Lectures by eminent personalities and performances by ‘Mela’, a group of singers, including men and women, were the programmes which used to be organised during the festival.
The festival was started by Tilak to unite people and awaken society. But as time went by, the format of Ganeshotsav has changed drastically. The motive behind the festival and the way it used to be celebrated have been sidelined as the number of mandals and organisers have increased.
In the middle of all these changes, Mumbai’s oldest Ganesh mandal, Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha at Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum, has stuck to the old format and retained the traditional way of celebrating the festival. This year, the pandal has been set up in the same place where the festival was started and it has a sober format with simple lighting.
On the first day of the festival, the idol is brought in a Palkhi procession by dedicated sanstha members, wearing traditional costumes and walking barefeet. The women members dressed in their traditional Maharashtrian attire hold a ‘pancharati’ and welcome the idol. Traditional Tasha and Lezim are part of the ritual too. During immersion, the same process is followed. The priest for the Pratishthapana puja comes from the Konkan region. The sanstha’s young generation has formed a traditional Dhol-Taasha Pathak which plays tasha and dhol in the welcoming and the immersion processions.
This year too, the Ganesh idol has been placed amid fresh flowers within a temple-like structure made of thermocol.
In front of the idol, the residents have put up a small stage where children perform musical plays and dance-dramas during the 10-day festival. Religious programmes like pravachan, kirtan, mantrajagar(recitation of Vedic vesrse) and sahastravartanas are also organised.
Bhalchandra Gharat, president of the Sanstha, said, “Till date, we celebrate the festival in a very traditional manner. We do not use loudspeakers, expensive lights, decors or themes. Tilak’s idea behind introducing Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav was to get people together for discussions on political and social conditions. We seem to be forgetting all that and concentrating only on spending more.”
He added that though many people had left the chawl, there had not been a single interruption in the celebrations in the mandal’s 124-year-old existence, as the new people taking up residence at the chawl were also interested in carrying forward its legacy.