Intro: Lokmanya Tilak transformed Ganesh Chaturthi celebration into public festival in 1892. He envisages them as the instruments of public education and national rejuvenation. With high spending, loud music and blatant politicisation, in last few years there have been talks about deviation and deterioration in the celebration. Still there are some organisations that are maintaining the spirit of Ganesh Festival through various activities of social service and awakening.
Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha (SGS), popularly known as the Keshavaji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav, was the first to celebrate public Ganeshotsav in Mumbai in 1893, following the call by Lokmanya Tilak to celebrate Ganeshotsav as a Public event to educate and orgnise Hindu society against the Britishers. 122 years on and they are still very much on the right course without any deviation. SGS trustee Vinay Rahatekar told the Organiser, that his mandal is still actively committed to the social awakening. From Medical Camps to Lecture series, Students felicitation to honouring Kargil martyrs’ family members, SGS still remains an idol for the Ganeshotsav Mandals who want to serve the society in real terms.
In British times, SGS organised dramas and folk drama shows called ‘Mela’ to awaken the society against the British. Currently with changing times and changing popular interests, Rahatekar says that there are few changes in the forms of the programmes undertaken by SGS. From 1988 SGS had organised one of the best lecture series for 14 years. Those were five days series on a single subject each year, presenting all sides of a particular current topic at those times. Today SGS organises occasional lectures on various current topics presenting experts’ opinions to create awareness.
After the lecture series, SGS organised essay competitions for seven years, which received a tremendous response from people, even BARC scientists participated in those competitions.
To create awareness about the native state, SGS organised a competition called “Olakh Maharashtrachi” (Introduction to Maharashtra) for school children. For that they even created a booklet of 150 questions, which was distributed through schools. They have also donated amount to the Kargil Martyrs’ families from the funds of SGS.
SGS has a tradition of organising occasional medical camps for various health issues including heart problems, blood pressure & diabetes, and various fields like gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics, bone densitometry, dentistry etc. Around 250 to 300 patients are tested and further through each camp.
SGS even runs a programme called “Tamso ma Jyotirgamaya” (तमसोऽ मा ज्योतिर्गमय), in which a lecture of a person who has dedicated his/her life for a social cause is organised, some amount is donated to the same cause by SGS.
The organisation is also planning a visit to Nehru Science Centre and Planetarium for the children of the vicinity. Since 1935 SGS has unique constitution of its own. They have published a book titled “Sarvajanik Ganeshotsavachi Vaatchaal” in 1992 which is considered as an encyclopedia of Public Ganeshotsav Festival.
The youngsters in SGS have created their own Dhol Pathak (a group of Dhol beaters) and a Lezim (a folk dance form of Maharashtra in which a small musical instrument with jingling cymbals is used) group for the celebrations.
From this year, they are planning to organise an Industrial tours to various manufacturing industries for the youth to give them exposure in career opportunities. SGS is also planning for a career guidance programme with the help of IAS (Rtd) Avinash Dharmadhikari.
It is also launching a generic medicine awareness scheme for the people in the vicinity of Girgaon, in which a Doctor will prescribe generic medicines for the needy, which can be availed through a local medical store. A small dispensary is being set up for the purpose.
Treasurer of SGS Kumar Walekar said that the youngsters now-a-days are very career oriented but still they are managing time for the activities of SGS and the preparations of the Ganeshotsav celebrations.
Intellectual Stimulus for Modern Mumbai
Another mandal in the same Girgaon area of Mumbai is Kudaldeshkar wadi Ganeshotsav Samiti, which in the course of its history, has directed the socio-political mindset of the modern middle class of Mumbai. Established in 1929, Kudaldeshkar Wadi Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav was also the first Ganeshotsav meant for a particular community – Kudaldeshkar Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (KGSB). But the intellectual stimulation it has provided is beyond the limits of castes and creeds. Many prominent leaders in various walks of life were the gifts of this mandal to the society, Satish Samant, Ex-president of the Kudaldeshkar Wadi Ganeshotsav Samiti told The Organiser. The list includes socialists like labour leader Dr Datta samant to the Nationalists like powada singer Shahir Sabale (Powada is a Maharashtrian folk art of presenting inspirational songs depicting life incidents and characters of Kings, especially of Chhatrapati Shivaji).
Many well known orators of their times were first came to light by participating in the competition held by Kudaldeshkar Wadi Ganeshotsav, which was popular up to 1980s. Prof. Kamalakar Tirodkar, first principal of Hinduja College here, was one of them.
For many years the mandal had organised lectures of many popular leaders, social workers and writers like Kakasaheb Gadgil and Acharya Atre.
Kirtan and dramas were once a very popular and successful media the KGSB to educate the society and create awareness against evils and superstitions.
Topiwala Lecture Series which was started 42 years ago is still a popular event for its intellectual and social content. Many great personalities of their times have delivered speeches from the stage of Topiwala Lecture Series including Late Balasaheb Thakre.
Though run by a particular community, the mandal offers financial assistance to the needy in the society across the caste limits, for medical and educational purpose. They have a procedure in place to identify the actual disadvantaged individuals. Organisation of Medical camps throughout the year is another feature of this Mandal. Occasionally blood donation camps are also arranged. They have come up with a blood donars directory of youths who provide with timely donations to the patients.
The mandal also organises various competitions for the school children. Its open to all photography competition is prestigious one. “Apala Maharashtra” (Our Maharashtra) was one such popular competition, which presented Maharashtra’s history, current progress, social life and popular destinations through photographs. The exhibition of these photographs is being planned this year.
Leader in social service: Lalbaug cha Raja
The most popular public Ganeshotsav in Mumbai is Lalbaug cha Raja (“King of Lalbaug”). In Ganesh Festival’s 10 days, almost 1.5 to 1.75 crore people visit the pandal for the auspicious darshan. The line for this darshan extends up to two kilometers and reflects the tremendous devotion public has for this Ganesh idol and in Ganeshotsav mandal’s leadership in social service.
“’Deity’s money is for social cause’ is our motto”, Balasaheb Kambale, vice president of ‘Lalbaug cha Raja’ told the Organiser.
Established in 1934, by the lower middle class textile mill workers in Lalbaug, ‘Lalbaug cha Raja’ has built up several institutions to serve the poor and needy of the society. Medical and educational services are among the core activities ‘Lalbaug cha Raja’ takes up 365 days of the year. “Rugna Seva Nidhi” is a unique fund created by the them which is utilised to give financial aid to the needy and the poor patients in Government and municipal hospitals.
Ten percent of the cost incurred by these patients is bore by the organisation and is directly paid to the hospitals after patient’s verification. In 2011, the organisation also started a dialysis center for the poor, which offers all services including dialysis, on a one time registration fee of Rs.100.
‘Lalbaug cha Raja Prabodhini’ (Lalbaug cha raja academy) is another successfully run service of this committee. This academy offers many services including a fully air conditioned “Sane Guruji study center” for the students free of cost. This academy has also established a reference library-“Swatantryaveer Savarkar Sandarbh Granthalaya” which offers access to 2.5 lakh books to its eighty thousand members. “Sant Jnaneshwar Book Bank”, part of the academy, offers free text books for the academic year. The books range from school books to the books for the professional courses like engineering and medical degrees and post graduate studies.
Shree Kambale proudly says, “We have zero percent defaulters on book borrowings in the library and the book bank. And we have developed our own software for the library which is so easy that even a fifth grader can easily find the required books from the shelves.The library has 100 percent digitised records.”
The staff is employed from the local population. The unqualified ones get proper training and Kambale feels proud that they work more efficiently than the staff of any other professional institution.
“Lokmanya Tilak Sanganak Prashikshan Kendra”(Lokmanya Tilak Computer education center) run by the ‘Lalbaug cha Raja’ trains six batches of around 25 students at a time and offers various professional computer courses just for Rs.500. It also undertakes Maharashtra Government’s MS-CIT certification. The training hours are double as compared to the private institutions elsewhere.They also organise UPSC and MPSC awareness camps for free which are followed up by month long counseling by the experts, for free. One of the students from this camp, Tejas Chavan, is now a Deputy District Magistrate in Marathwada region and another one, Prasad Shingte, is the CEO of a municipality. Many have successfully entered Government services and banking sector services using guidance from the academy’s camps. A complete batch of 22 blind students, from the National School for Blind, has successfully entered the State Bank of India’s services using the special guidance from the academy.
Orgnanisations internet based ‘Webinar’ techniques are being used for various counseling and interview purposes, and has been helpful for the younger generation.
The organisation provides help in rehabilitation efforts in the wake of natural calamities. The mandal had rehabilitated a complete small village of 33 houses called ‘Juhi’ in Raigad district, Tehsil Mahad, which was destroyed in a landslide during 2005 heavy rains.
The entire work included building 33 houses, roads, drinking water pipes, sanitary disposal system, electricity, community center and a temple. This entire work was completed in just nine months.
-Rajesh Prabhu Salgaonkar (The writer is Mumbai-based correspondent)