Belagavi and its magnificent Ganesh Utasav celebrations

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Each city has some unique celebrations, Belagavi also boasts of a few and one among them is the Ganesh Festival.
The 11 days the streets are full of people wanting to see the murti’s of the different pandals and people from neighboring towns also join in the celebrations.

The Deccan Herald has published a beautiful story about the same and we are sharing the same –

A celebration that unites all – Divyashri Mudakavi

In 1893, the Indian independence struggle was at its peak. Bal Gangadhar Tilak wanted to attain Swaraj and bring in reformation by steering all the patriotic forces through a public event. To strengthen the bonds at the grassroots level, he thought of appealing them through their religious instinct. This resulted in the revival of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration.

ganesh utsav tilak belgaum
1905 photo of Market Ganesh Utsav Mandal

Tilak made Ganesh Chaturthi a mass celebration. He first used this platform to fuel patriotism in Pune and it received a good response.

Continuing his endeavour, he extended the mass celebration, called Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav, to Belagavi. With the help of freedom fighters Govindrao Yalgi and Gangadhar Rao Deshpande, who were spearheading the freedom struggle in the Belagavi region, he arranged for a mass celebration in Belagavi. The first Sarvajanik Ganesha idol was installed in the residence of Govindrao Yalgi.

In 1905, Tilak visited Belagavi and installed the first bamboo pole for the pandal of Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav. It was during that time that the first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav mandal was formed in Belagavi in Zenda Chowk (now known as Madhyavarthi Sarvajanik Shri Ganapathi Utsav Mandal). After that, five more mandals (groups) were formed and this made Belagavi a focal point for Ganesh Chaturthi even before Mumbai geared up for it. After attaining independence too, the mass celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi remained a much loved tradition.

ganesh making
PC: Anekar Pawan

Much-awaited festivity

From six mandals in the two decades following 1905 to around 400 in 2016, in Belagavi, this 11-day festival is the much-awaited time for the people of Belagavi. In the initial years, Ganesha idols of three to four feet in height used to be carried on bullock carts and installed in a modest pandal. But today, there are huge idols with ornamental and themed pandals. The mandals usually meet months before the festival to decide on the theme of the idol, decoration, and the cultural and sports festivals that will take place for nearly 10 days till Ananta Chaturdashi as per the Hindu calendar.

To make their Ganesha idols look unique and also compete with other mandals, features like natural-looking eyelashes and even eye lens are added to the idols. Many idols are also adorned with jewellery made of precious stones. They are auctioned among the devotees after the festival is over. Overall, the entire city gets illuminated in the festive spirit.

In Zenda Chowk, which is known as an old market place now, the Ganesha mandal has around 100 active members apart from other supporters. The festival has struck such a chord that around 40,000 to 50,000 people including those from neighbouring states visit the pandal during the last few days before the idol is immersed in water.

The Zenda Chowk Mandal president, Girish Patankar, and treasurer, Ajit Siddannavar, said that the Sarvajanik Ganesha festival helped bring together people during the freedom struggle and now, it has become a platform to boost social and cultural activities.

We have been conducting district-level body building championship and karela (an agriculture implement) carrying competitions every year. Cultural competitions like dance and singing are also held. Social welfare activities like blood donation camps are organised as well.”

While getting the idol to the pandal and immersing it, a procession with traditional instruments like zhanj, drums, lezims are played by youth geared in saffron pagadi (turban). The chant of Ganapathi Bappa Moraya reverberates in the air. After the 11-day festivity, these idols are immersed in man-made ponds earmarked for it.

Idol making

Belagavi is not just known for its celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi but also idol making. Sanjay Killekar, a noted sculptor who has been making huge Ganesha idols since his childhood, burns the midnight oil to meet the demand for idols. “I make around 20 big Ganesha idols in one and a half months. Each idol is around 10 to 12 feet in height. We need a lot of time to make these life-sized idols because of the detailing, artistry and engineering. Every mandal gives specifications and we have to work accordingly.” He said that his idols are booked by mandals from Belagavi, Goa and Maharashtra.

There are also particular streets dedicated to idol makers like Bapat Galli, where there are a number of families involved in making idols. Praveen Chitragar’s family is one among them.

Their family has been in the idol making business for more than a century. They even made idols for the royal family of Mysore and it was the royal family which gave them the title ‘Chitragar’. The family makes around 200 Ganesha idols of clay with a height of one-and-a-half to two-hand-a-half feet. They start their work two months before the festival.

Women are also not left behind and work with men to make the idols. They are specialised in colouring the idols which is a challenging task as clay idols do not hold paint easily. The women also affix stones on the ornaments of the idol and concentrate on beautifying it.

We were bequeathed with the talent of making Ganesha idols from our ancestors. Though we are into other professions after the festival is over, the two months before the festival are hectic. Making clay idol is tougher as we need expertise in joining the moulded parts. They are heavier also. I along with my two sisters ensure that every idol is perfect and charming,” said Shreya Chitragar. In addition to this, there are other artists who are trying to reduce the weight of clay idols by stuffing it with dry grass.

People of all religions come together to help install the idol and decorate it and participate in the celebrations. Over the years, various communities coming together to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi can be seen as Tilak’s dream being realised — that of galvanising the society.

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