It is that time of the year in Mumbai. The metropolis is awash in love for its favourite God – the elephant-headed Ganpati. From three-day, intimate pujas at home to 11-day festivities at mammoth pandals, this is the season of celebrations, of rituals, mouth-watering food and dressing up in the best of ‘traditional’ clothes. But the celebration itself has had many forms, many tales and hides extensive history behind its present avatar.
The festival wasn’t always ‘sarvajanin’ or public. And though its history can be traced to the Satvahanas (1st Century BCE – 3rd Century CE), Rashtrkutas, and Chalukyas (6th – 12th Century CE) , its reinvention is largely credited to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, ostensibly to foster ‘nationalistic’ feelings among the masses, to counter the influence of the British colonisers. Since then, the public ‘mandaps’ have built elaborate sets and Ganpati has taken many a form, only revealed to the faithful during the ‘mukhdarshan’. In recent times, however, the more famous Ganpati mandals seem to be locked in a race for the most expensive celebration or the largest statue possible.
So trust the enterprising memory of a playwright like Ramu Ramunathan, the irrepressible chronicler of Mumbai’s many lives, to bring forth a past when the Lord in his ‘mandap’ not only blessed scientific temper and rationality but also took the form of Saint Eknath to bless a young Dalit boy. In times such as these, when history seems to either not exist as or only exist in the form our rulers want it to, telling the truth becomes an act of dissent. And in the true tradition of our poets and writers, this tale too, while dissenting, entwines history, mythology, and folk tales with the stories of the wise people who live on this land and pray to its many Gods.