Mumbai's first Ganesh mandal turns 125 this year!

Mumbai's first Ganesh mandal turns 125 this year, and no, it still won't play to the gallery

Rajendra More at his Girgaum workshop, where the Ganesha idol has been created by four generations of artisans. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Rajendra More at his Girgaum workshop, where the Ganesha idol has been created by four generations of artisans. Pics/Bipin Kokate

It's a slushy Friday evening in Girgaum. Keshavji Naik Chawl is a hotbed of activity. "This time, we are making a replica of the famous Ganpatipule temple of Ratnagiri," says Vinod Satpute, co-organiser and member of the Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha, which enjoys the honour of holding the first sarvajanik Ganesh mandal in Mumbai, inspired by the clarion call of freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The celebrations hold special significance this year since the sanstha turns 125.

Like every year, a two-and-a-half feet idol will arrive here from a Girgaum workshop for the Ganpati festivities. "Initially, it was an informal affair, with a few families participating in the celebrations. As community festivals became popular, more members joined in and gradually, it toot the shape of a festival," says another organiser, Dipesh Kolge, speaking of participation from the 150 tenements that make up the chawl. It was on September 15, 1901 that Tilak, who was in the city to attend the Sarvajanik Sabha (a political organisation) meeting, visited the mandal. "As founder of the Sarvajanik Ganesh festival, he was invited to many pandals. He decided to start his visit from here," says Satpude. Unlike other famed mandals, this one has no queues, CCTV cameras or metal detectors. "Everyone is free to come and seek darshan. Although, this year, celebrations are on a grander scale, we will have no loudspeakers, dhol-tasha or decor. We want to continue to keep it simple. Because Tilak's idea behind sarvajanik Ganeshotsav was to get people together."

Kusum Gogate, who at 90, is the chawl's oldest resident, feels a lot has changed, except for the size of the Ganesh idol
Kusum Gogate, who at 90, is the chawl's oldest resident, feels a lot has changed, except for the size of the Ganesh idol

Traditionally, the mandal had a tradition of holding political speeches, by the likes of SM Paranjpe, Bhalakar Bhopatkar, Senapati Bapat and Acharya Atre. Satpute says that as the festival evolved, the entertainment quotient went up. This year, the line-up includes music and dance-drama events, pravachan and kirtans and the release of a booklet and short film tracing the history of the sanstha.

Kusum Gogate, who at 90, is the chawl's oldest resident, feels a lot has changed, except for the size of the Ganesh idol. She says, "The whole set up of a chawl, where you feel like one big family is what has helped sustain this function. Many of us don't go out to visit other mandals."

Ten minutes way from the chawl is Rajendra More's workshop, where the Ganesha idol has been created by four generations of artisans. "My great grandfather, Ganpat Bhau More, started it," says More, while giving finishing touches to the idol, for which the clay is brought from Bhavnagar in Gujarat. This time, he plans to give Ganesha a golden pitambar and a neon pink shawl.

Also see: Then and Now: Smriti Irani's journey from a model to Union Minister
Then and Now: Smriti Irani's journey from a 

model to Union Minister

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