The Ganesh Festival and Lokmanya Tilak

·         Bringing Hindus together does not mean fostering enmity against the Muslims

·         The religious festivals were initiated to give ethical, social and political education

Dr.Hari Desai writes weekly column “Heritage History” for “Asian Voice”, the Newsweekly of ABPL Group, London.24-30 August 2019 You may visit or  or to read the full text and comment.
Lokmanya Bal (Keshav) Gangadhar Tilak (23 July 1856-1 August 1920), a mathematician turned political activist and Indian mass leader, was known for his forthright views expressed against the British regime. Even while facing sedition cases, he was never afraid of going to jail. Even before Mahatma Gandhi rose in the political arena of Indian freedom movement, Tilak, though to somewhat orthodox, became acceptable all over India as mass leader. He would join hands with Barrister M.A. Jinnah in 1916 Congress Session at Lucknow and address him as the Messiah of Hindu-Muslim Unity following agreement named Lucknow Pact. Jinnah, who became a villain for demanding Pakistan in 1940 and getting his dream fulfilled in 1947, did appear before the Bombay High Court for Tilak being one of his closest friends. Tilak was Lokmanya (accepted by people as their leader) but the British authorities called him “The father of the Indian unrest”. He was to be the President of the Indian National Congress at Nagpur in 1920. His untimely death in August 1920 paved way for Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership in the Congress.
Known for his radical nationalist views, Tilak through his publications Kesari and Marhattaspread the message of Swaraj (Self-rule) to masses. He is known for his quote “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”. He was keen on the elite Congress to reach the hearts and homes of the masses as he had already taken it to the door-step of the middle class people in Maharashtra through the Kesari. He had noted with regret the predominantly Western character of the Congress leaders. Again and again, in the Kesari, he harped on the rootlessness of the westernized generation. He wanted to develop, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, ‘a language and spirit’ and use methods which would Indianise the movement and bring it to the masses.
“Before an idea takes an objective form in a movement, agitation or consideration, a concrete stimulus of some actual incidents is often required. Tilak tried to use the religious fervor of the people for political purposes by reviving the Ganapati festival,” A.K. Bhagwat and G. P. Pradhan record in “Lokmanya Tilak: A Biography” with foreword by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, former President of India. “The Ganpati festival, in honour of Ganesh, the elephant headed God, the most popular of all Hindu deities, was celebrated on a large scale in Maharashtra at the time of the Peshwas, but with the advent of the English rule this festival had lost its national importance.” Tilak makes it quite clear, that even though the Ganapati celebrations were revived in 1893 to bring together the Hindus and though the immediate cause was the Hindu-Muslim riots during the period from 1890 to 1894, the object was not to foster a spirit of enmity against the Muslims.
Another festival revived by Tilak was in the name of Shivaji Maharaj, the Maratha hero.In an article entitled ‘The Need of National festivals’, Tilak refers to the part played by them in Greece and Rome. In India religion will always be regarded as of primary importance and as such the celebrations will naturally have a religious colour. Formerly such occasions were used for keeping the religious sense alive and to give ethical, social and political education to the people. In the time of the Vedas, the great sacrifices werein the nature of national celebrations. The rishis gathered at the time of the sacrifices, carried on discussions on ethical and religious problems. Such festivals were revived by the saint Ramdas in the days of Shivaji. Tilak spread the message that it was the duty of the educated people, therefore, to take an active part in these celebrations instead of lecturing on Bhakti or uttering the name of God behind closed doors.
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