Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most grand festivals celebrated all over India, mainly in Maharashtra with great pomp and vigour. It is a 10-day festival that starts on the fourth day of Hindu lunisolar calendar month, Bhadrapada or its Gregorian equivalent of August-September. Usually, clay idols of Ganesh are installed and worshipped privately by individuals in their homes or publicly in community pandals. The idol is worshipped for 10 days and then immersed in local water bodies and Lord Ganesh is believed to return to his parents’ abode in Mount Kailash.
Hadpakya or Ganesh utsav is celebrated mainly in Nagpur and Vidarbha regions. Long back my husband was posted at Madheli, a remote village in Warora taluka, Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. It was serene with farms echoing the musical tingling bells of grazing cows and goats, weekly fairs selling small and big day-to-day essential domestic paraphernalia that were bought from the nearby cities with all the other imaginable scenes for a lush green village. Here I had spent a good time enjoying the unpolluted freshness of a village, untouched by the hustle and bustle of the big cities. The life in the village was quite relaxed and the age old traditions were still carried on sincerely by the village folks.
It was here that I happened to witness a unique Ganesh utsav celebrated known as Maskariya Ganesh utsav – maskariya meaning fun-filled. It is also known as Hadpakya Ganapati – hadpak meaning pitru paksha in Marathi. It started right after the regular Ganesh Chaturthi. The Ganesh idol was installed during pitru paksha and had an element of fun in it. There were Ganesh idols carrying a cricket bat wearing a cap and there were also others which were playing the guitar and so on. The whole village had come together for the 11-day celebrations with community kitchens preparing lunch and dinner for the entire village. There were competitions, fun-filled programmes and festivity all around the village.
I was deeply intrigued and upon further enquiry, I found some interesting history behind this Ganesh utsav.
It is a 262-year-old tradition celebrated mainly in Nagpur and Vidarbha regions. It is unique in the sense that this Ganesh utsav starts during pitru paksha (a period of 16 days when homage is paid to our ancestors and no celebrations are supposed to be done during this period).
In 1755, during Ganesh Chaturthi festivities, Shrimant Raje Khandoji Maharaj of Nagpur had set out for a battle for Bengal. Before leaving, he prayed to Lord Ganesh for his victory. He won the battle and when he came back home to Nagpur, the Ganesh Chaturthi utsav had already concluded. So in order to express his gratitude to Lord Ganesh, he installed another Ganesh idol during pitru paksa and continued the celebration of his victory for the next 11 days. The celebrations had an element of fun in them. There were fun-filled entertainment programmes, folk theatre like “khadi gammat,” and “lavani”- a folk dance of Maharashtra which involves a combination of traditional song and dance to the beats of Dholki, a percussion instrument etc. So, the festivity got the name of Maskarya Ganpati.
This tradition is still carried on even now by the descendants of Raja Bhonsle in Bhonsle wada, Nagpur.
Usually, two idols are installed during the festival, which are different than the regular idols. A small one with twelve arms about 3-1/2 feet high is made of cloth and clay. The bigger one is 7 feet tall dressed up like Shivaji Maharaj. These idols are brought in Raja Bhonsle’s royal ancestral palanquin and is worshipped for 11 days. Local talent and craftsmanship is engaged in the utsav. The visarjan is done on Chaturdashi, a day before Amavasya. People from all religions come together in large numbers to participate in the celebration.
Another interesting fact related to this tradition is that during our freedom struggle, the Britishers had banned any kind of social or political gathering. Bal Gangadar Tilak after witnessing this festival wrote about it in his newspaper, Kesari. He was inspired to unite Indians by transforming the worshipping of lord Ganesh into a grand public event. In 1893, Tilak organised Ganesh Utsav as a grand social and religious function. The festival served as a meeting place for common people of all castes, creed and communities to come together at a time when public social or political gatherings were banned by the British. They were organized with donations from the neighbourhood. The celebrations were done for 11 days with processions, music and food. People could celebrate and exchange social and political issues. A sarvajanik Ganesh festival was used by Bal Gangadar Tilak to promote much needed Indian nationalism and patriotism during that time.
Maskariya Ganapathi has played a major role in our freedom struggle and this tradition has also added value to Nagpur’s uniqueness and hopefully will continue to do so for many more long years to come.