No other city in India celebrates the Ganesha festival with as much fervour and devotion as Pune and Mumbai. Pune wins a few brownie points in that the tradition of celebrating the festival in public (Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav) originated in the city, a practice started by Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak. He began the practice to get people to rally against the British in their fight for freedom. This year ushered in 125 years of the Ganpati festival in Pune with the Kasba Ganpati and the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati temples celebrating this important milestone.
Enjoying royal patronage, built as it was by the Maratha ruler Shivaji’s mother Jijabai Bhosale, the Kasba Ganpati in Kasba Peth, the heart of Pune city, is the first among the five honoured (maanache) Ganpatis of Pune and the city’s local deity. Treasurer of Kasba Ganpati Mandal Nilesh Vakil says, “I’ve been visiting the Kasba Peth Ganpati temple since age four and it has followed the age-old tradition rather simply. We don’t throw gulal nor is there blaring music or non-vegetarian fare or alcohol.”
Many of the prominent Ganesh utsav mandals enjoy tremendous financial clout and societal prestige. The Kasba Ganpati Mandal has always endeavoured to give back to society. “Until the Kasba Mandal used the artificial tank for immersing the Ganesh idol as against immersion in the river last year, around 2,92,000 people converted to this method as against the earlier 32,000,” says Nilesh. The fifth day of the festival has women commandeering all the activities. On the 10th and last day of the festival, the Kasba Ganpati leads the immersion procession and is the first of the idols to be immersed in the water, a privilege bestowed on it by Lokmanya Tilak by virtue of its being the local deity.
In sharp contrast to the Kasba Ganpati’s simplicity lies the Dagdusheth Ganpati temple, one of the richest in the country. The Dagdusheth Ganpati has its origins in tragedy. Dagdusheth, a migrant from Karnataka who came to Pune and became a successful sweetmeat seller (halwai in Marathi) lost his son to a plague. Dejected, he and his wife found solace in building a Ganesha temple. Today, the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati temple attracts people from all walks of life—from politicians to film stars to musicians and other celebrities.
On his 125th birthday, the Dagdusheth idol sported newly-crafted jewellery made out of the 40 kg gold received as donations though the years by devotees, as well as a 9.5 kg gold crown. “We do not advocate blind beliefs. When the milk-drinking Ganesha created a furore some years back, we closed our temple with a message that read, ‘This temple’s Ganpati does not drink milk’,” says Mahesh Suryavanshi, one of the temple trustees.
Like the Kasba Ganpati, the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Trust also flexes its financial muscle to rain benefits on the less privileged. Says Mahesh, “We provide tea, breakfast and two meals to 1,200 patients at the Sassoon Hospital and free ambulance services. This year, we planted trees along the Pune-Pandharpur route undertaken by the warkaris (pilgrims).”
Adopting drought-hit Pingoli village was also on their agenda. From the Suvarnayug sports club have emerged Sumati Pujari, former skipper of the Indian women kabaddi team and Deepika Joseph, a senior on the Indian kabaddi circuit. The gulal has surely been washed away even as the idols slumber deep in the water in disintegrated array. But the reverberating words “Pudcha Varshi Lavkar Ya (Next year, return soon) bestow hope and promise.