Ganesh Chathurthi as a national public religious event was introduced by nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Do you know how the Vinayagar or Ganesh Chaturthi (birth of the elephant-headed God), a simple home Hindu festival, had assumed a grant public event of fanfare and bhakti? Countless people may not be aware of the origin of this grand public festival event. To know it, we have to travel back to the time of our forefathers' freedom struggle under the British Raj in the 1800s.

 In the state of Maharastra, Ganesh Chaturthi is a 10 day long -drawn festival held with religious fervor. As a matter of fact it is one of the most visible and colorful  festivals celebrated across India,  Besides Maharastra and Gujarat, over a period of time, Ganesh Chathurthi has become a popular public festival in many parts of south India.

The person who  turned Ganesh Chaturthi celebration into a grand national public event was none other than Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a great freedom fighter, nationalist and teacher who once said "Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!". He noticed that Lord Ganesh was considered "the God for every man". He was the founder and consequently became the President of the Indian Home Rule League that was founded in 1914.
BMetal ganesh idol
Bal Gangadhar Tilak

 Above image: Bal Gangadhar Tilak (also known as  Lokmanya Tilak) 23 July 1856 – 1 August 1920), born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak, was an Indian nationalist, teacher, and an independence activist. He was  the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. The British colonial authorities called him "The father of the Indian unrest." He was also conferred with the title of "Lokmanya", which means "accepted by the people (as their leader)". Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj ("self-rule") and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote in Marathi: "Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!". He formed a close alliance with many Indian National Congress leaders including Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In 1879 he obtained his LL.B degree from Government Law College after graduation Tilak started teaching mathematics at a private school in Pune. Later, he actively participated in public affairs. Before Gandhi, he was the most popular  Indian political leader. Unlike  Gokhale, Tilak was a radical Nationalist but a Social conservative. He went to jail  on a number of occasions that included a long stint at Mandalay. At one stage in his political life he was called "the father of Indian unrest" by British author Sir Valentine Chirol  ...............

Tilak  popularized the festival to  bring  Brahmins and non-Brahmins under one umbrella to fight against the British and their repressive rule. Tilak was the  first leader of the Indian independence movement in the 1800s and the British tagged him as the  'The Father of Indian Unrest' and kept a tab on him. The 1857 Indian rebellion  shook the basic foundation of the British empire and it  posed serious threat to the rule of the East India Company. Bal Gangadhar Tilak who happened to be one of the prominent leaders of the Great Rebellion realized the need to unite the Indians cutting across castes, creed, etc and bring them under one entity.  It dawned on him that one way to unite the people especially the Hindus  was to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi annually as a national festival; Ganesh being  a common idol, equally worshipped by all across India.

Idol of ganesh taken to the beach for immersion, Mumbai.

It was in 1893, Tilak organized ''Ganesh Utsav'' as a social and religious function across the nation. He was the first to have  large hoardings with images of Lord Ganesh  put up in pavilions in different parts of the city and introduced the tradition of immersion of huge Ganesh statues (made of clay) on the tenth day of the festival in the sea or any other water bodies. It is to be borne in mind, the festival served two important purposes. It provided an  opportunity to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and the other being it served as a  meeting place for common people of all castes and communities, various leaders, etc to secretly  chalk out programs to confront the British to free India. At that time the British wanted to hang on to India as much as they could and to curtail the freedom movements they, as a precaution, banned  public social and  political gatherings. As they never banned festival gatherings  related to religion, the 10 day long Ganesh Chathurthi festival was looked upon as a great opportunity for the political leaders to wood wink the British and to interact with the common people regarding freedom struggle.

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations have been around for centuries, Historian mention that  the festival existed  when Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya dynasties ruled, that is from 271 BC to 1190 AD.  Some historical records point out that  Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja took keen interest in the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations with a view to  promoting culture and nationalism. It was continued during the reign  of Peshwas; to them Lord Ganesh was a family deity.