Lokmanya Tilak and ‘his’ Ganesh Festival

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 27 Aug 2017 10:11:10

Even as Ganesh festival gets going in its current form – of shockingly loud music, loud demonstration of an almost mock religious fervour, garish decorations around the Lord’s idols – one’s mind darts back to times when Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak started Ganesh festival with certain idealism of promoting patriotic feeling among people. The idea served a great purpose and started uniting people on a common platform which the then British rulers could not brand as political. Yet, from that platform came waves of patriotic actions that the British did not know how to counter.

More than a century later, Ganesh festival has assumed a form that is plainly absurd and undesirable. Times have changed, of course, and we cannot expect the same method and manner of Ganesh festival as envisaged by Lokmanya Tilak. With changing times, things do change – which they must. But the change that has come over in case of Ganesh festival is something that needs a serious consideration by our society.

This is, of course, an old issue, an old debate. Yet, it is time to bring it to fore once again so that at least I would get the satisfaction of having raised my voice of dissent, of raising my banner of revolt against the garishness that has come to mark the Ganesh festival. The same is the story about Durga festival, too, that would come a few weeks from now. Both these festivals have assumed forms that our society must discard as early as possible, and replace those with something more sober, morally and socially relevant and necessary.

It would be wrong to blame all the organisers of Ganesh or Durga festivals for spoiling the socio-religious decorum expected of such occasions. Many organisers are sober and graceful in their taste and method and manner. They do not allow any garishness and gaudiness to dominate their events. They do not allow absolutely filthy songs to be aired on loud speakers. They do not allow any disturbance to be caused to the community around. Their programmes, too, reflect their belief in classicism.

But such people are in a terrible minority these days. Unfortunately, most organisers fall prey to temptations of a low variety and indulge in garishness that is so contrary to the mood that is expected to be nursed on occasions like socio-religious festivals. The songs, the programmes, the processions, the dance-shows – everything is absolutely
off the mark of decency and decorum.

One wonders if there can be any legal bar on such things! One wonders if the civic and police authorities could do something to inject certain sobriety in Ganesh and Durga festivals. Let us not go back straight to the Lokmanya days, but let us think of a fair degree of sobriety and social thought to mark such festivals.

In fact, the trouble begins right from the tents and pandals that the organizers erect – right on roads, occupying much of the passage, engendering traffic mess, creating chaos on the roads. It is unfortunate that the cops, too, do not intervene to ensure that the traffic-flow is not impeded, that the public is not harassed. The real difficulty begins with the participation of political leaders and workers taking a plunge into organising Ganesh or Durga festivals. These people seem to have been granted a special immunity from violations of law – the legal law as well as the moral or social law.

Nobody dares to stop them. It is common knowledge that even the cops seem to ‘cooperate’ with them, unmindful of the violations. Civic office-bearers also are found patronising the Ganesh or Durga ‘mandals’ without any qualms of social morality. For them, such festivals are great occasions for mass contact for future elections. And at that point, everything assumes its own explanation – and also

Yet, it must be stated in a straightforward manner that we must change this culture. We must think of the original purpose of Ganesh festival as started by Lokmanya Tilak and think of ways and means to introduce an element of purposeful sobriety in these festivals and celebrations. Today also, lots of social evils dog us, and the society must evolve its considered response to combating those. This is not wanting to take the whole thing back into the past; this is to introduce the idea of making a better use of the festive
opportunity to bring grace and grandeur to a tradition launched by no less a person than Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.