India’s oldest Ganeshotsav was created by a freedom fighter in 1892
The alleyways and narrow labyrinth-like streets of Pune hide millions of stories lost in the annals of history, and the iconic Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati Trust, located in a heritage wada, is one such story that deserves to be told.
Tucked away in a quiet corner behind the mighty Shaniwar Wada is a historic wonder symbolic of India’s bitter struggle for independence. This 129-year-old wada, who breathes with silent dignity most of the year, comes alive in all colors during the Ganeshotsav festivities. He is said to be the oldest and a pioneer in establishing the Ganesh festival as a symbol of national pride and harmony, against the backdrop of the struggle for freedom.
The Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati Trust is actually the first public Sarvajanik or Ganeshotsav launched in 1892 by a freedom fighter named Bhausaheb Laxman Javale, aka Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari.
Building a national symbol of unity
Ganesh Chaturthi in its present form was introduced in 1892, when a resident of Pune named Krishnajipant Khasgiwale visited Gwalior, led by the Maratha, where he attended the traditional public celebration and brought it to the attention of his friends, Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari and Balasaheb Natu back home in Pune.
Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari, who was also a famous royal physician and freedom fighter, saw the potential of this festival and installed the first “sarvajanik” or public idol of Ganesha in his house or “wada” located in an area called Shalukar Bol.
He then installed a unique idol of Ganesha which represented the deity killing a demon. Made of wood and sound, the imagery was a far cry from Lord Ganesh’s usual calm and composed demeanor, as it symbolized the victory of good over evil. The Ganesha represented India as a nation fighting for its freedom against the colonialists.
This decision by Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari quickly gained ground when freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak praised his efforts in an article in the iconic Kesari newspaper on September 26, 1893. Tilak even went ahead to install an idol of Ganesha in the Information Publishing Office in 1894 as a symbol of national pride and unity.
Thanks to Rangari and Tilak, Ganeshotsav eventually became a national festival where people from all castes and communities came together to celebrate their national identity through intellectual speeches, concerts, folk dances and music, plays. , poetry recitals, etc.
The Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati Trust continues to worship the same 129-year-old idol to this day.
A refuge like a fort
Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari, besides being a doctor, was famous throughout the country for his many skills. He was involved in the knitting and dyeing of fabrics which were traditionally done by his community.
This work also earned him the nickname âRangariâ.
But his “wada” housed more than decades of colorful traditions or life-saving medicines. It was a refuge and meeting place for revolutionaries to discuss strategies against the British Indian government.
For a traditional structure, it was ahead of its time in terms of design, with unique locks and latches that ensured the secrecy and safety of the freedom fighters hiding there. The unusual lock allowed authorized people to open doors through a small hidden grove, even when locked from the inside.
Plus, it also had a central locking system that allowed three of its main doors to lock instantly using tiny pulleys attached to it, in the event of an emergency. With hidden chambers to hide weapons and a secret escape route leading to the riverbed, this wada served as a fort in disguise against Imperial forces.
Whether it was the fierce idol of Ganesha, the festival, or the “wada” that housed him and protected hundreds of revolutionaries, Bhausaheb Rangari’s immense contribution to India’s freedom struggle is perhaps -be less known, but will never be forgotten.
The location of the historic building in the old town of Pune continues to remind us of the exemplary work of these freedom fighters.
While Tilak’s vision was to popularize Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival that could bridge the divide between caste and status and instill a nationalist fervor to oppose colonial rule; it was Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari who was the first to light this fire of change.
Edited by Yoshita Rao