Lord Ganesha – Guardian god to Indian freedom struggle

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We pray lord Ganesha almost everyday. Have you ever wondered since when he is being prayed? since when we started celebrating Ganesha festival in such a grandeur? Ganesha has played a huge role from being guardian god to removal of obstacles to Indian freedom struggle… read on…

During Harappa and Vedic age
  • Ganesha dates back to Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 500 B.C.E.) .
  • Rigveda, one of the sacred texts of hinduism that mentions about Ganapati (Ganesha/Vinayaka).
  • The elephant head masks found at Harappa suggests that elephant head masks were worn during festivals and rituals as early as 5000 years ago.
  • Historians have reasons to believe that there must have been a group of early Indus Valley people who regarded the elephant as the guardian/deity of their clan. (1)
Middle Kingdoms and Late Medieval Period
  • The earliest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations can be traced back to the times of dynasties as Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya, according to the historian Shri Rajwade. (3)
  • However, 8th century saw the resurgence of Ganesha worship with Adi Sankaracharya gave Ganapati a prominent place in his pachyatan puja (1)
  • Ganesha was particularly worshipped by traders and merchants, who went out of India for commercial ventures. From approximately the 10th century onwards, new networks of exchange developed including the formation of trade guilds and a resurgence of money circulation. During this time, Ganesha became the principal deity associated with traders. The earliest inscription invoking Ganesha before any other deity is associated with the merchant community. (2)
Modern Period
  • In the history files, Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated as a social event especially during Maratha Empire 17th and 18th century.
  • Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi to promote culture of nationalism and felt the need for people to come together. (3)
  • However, the practice of bringing a Ganesha idol at home to mark his birthday and worshiping him with ostentatious celebrations was started by the rich Peshwas in the late 17th century.
  • Peshwas are the Prime Ministers under Maratha Rule. Peshwas celebrated the festival because they worshiped Lord Ganapati as their family deity.
  • It is said that after the end of Peshwa rule, Ganesh Chaturthi remained a family affair in Maharashtra from the period of 1818 to 1892. People used to bring the Ganesh statues and celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi at home.(3)
Colonial Period
  • With the British rule, the Ganesha festival lost state patronage and became a private family celebration in Maharashtra.
  • In 1892, the festival became a public event with Bhausaheb Laxman Javale (also known as Bhau Rangari) installing the first sarvajanik (public) Ganesha idol in Pune.
  • According to few scholars, after 1870 out of fear of seditious assemblies, British Raj had passed a series of ordinances that banned public assembly for social and political purposes of more than 20 people in British India. But religious assembly for Friday mosque prayers were exempted due to pressure from the Indian Muslim community.
  • Tilak believed that this effectively blocked the public assembly of Hindus whose religion did not mandate daily prayers or weekly gatherings.
  • Tilak leveraged this religious exemption to make Ganesh Chaturthi to circumvent the British colonial law on large public assembly.
  • In 1893, the Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak praised the celebration of sarvajanik Ganesha utsav in his newspaper, Kesari. Later on he dedicated his efforts to launch the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organised public event.
  • Tilak recognised Ganesha’s appeal as “the god for everybody”, and according to Robert Brown L (Author of Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God.) he chose Ganesha as the god that bridged “the gap between Brahmins and non-Brahmins”, thereby building a grassroots unity across them to oppose British colonial rule. 
  • In 1893, Tilak helped expand Ganesh Chaturthi festival into a mass community event and a hidden means for political activism, intellectual discourse, poetry recitals, plays, concerts, and folk dances
  • “God Ganesha: political obstacle remover Why shouldn’t we convert the large religious festivals into mass political rallies?” – Lokmanya Tilak, Kesari, 8 September 1896. (4)
What is…

Vedic Period: The Vedic period is the period in the history of India during which the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, were being composed.

Sacred texts: Religious texts (also known as scripture, orscriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning”writing”) are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or beliefs.

Clan: A close-knit group of interrelated families

Resurgence: An increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence.

Trade guilds: An association of persons of the same trade or pursuits, formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards

Patronage: Funding, financing

Seditious: Inciting or causing people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch

Ordinance: An authoritative order

Leveraged: Use (something) to maximum advantage

Circumvent: Find a way around, deceive, outwit

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