Symbols of syncretism

Ganesh festival pandals cross religion barrier

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:40 pm IST

Published - August 29, 2014 05:07 am IST - Pune

Nagpur: Devotees carry a Ganesh idol to the pandal on the eve of Ganesh festival in Nagpur, Maharashtra on Thursday. PTI Photo  (PTI8_28_2014_000101B)

Nagpur: Devotees carry a Ganesh idol to the pandal on the eve of Ganesh festival in Nagpur, Maharashtra on Thursday. PTI Photo (PTI8_28_2014_000101B)

In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, then a 37-year-old journalist, took a momentous step to popularise the worship of Ganesh, using it as a powerful tool in the battle against the British Raj.

But even before that, a pandal on the city’s Laxmi Road used the Ganesh festival to foster communal harmony. A rhapsodic moment in 1887 led two Hindus and two Muslims to set up the ‘Guruji Talim Mandal’, the oldest Ganesh pandal in the city and, perhaps, in Maharashtra.

“Guruji Talim was a training ground for young wrestlers, including many Muslims. Bhiku Shinde and Nanasaheb Khasgiwale, along with their Muslim friends, the Nalbandh brothers, Hasham and Rustam, decided to install a Ganesha and started celebrating the festival even before Tilak’s Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav,” says Pravin Pardeshi, president, Guruji Talim Mandal, adding with a measure of pride that “there may be richer Ganpati pandals, but ours was built on the edifice of communal harmony.”

“At the time of its inception, members of the Muslim community actively participated in the rituals of Guruji Talim. Now, only Muslims with a memory of its history congregate here. In our riot-stricken times, I feel such examples should be widely propagated so as to forge stronger community bonds,” said Aaqil Madani, who has been visiting the pandal with his father since his school days.

In a similar vein, Ganesh mandals erected around syncretic structures such as the renowned Babu Jamal dargah in Kolhapur district have worked towards enhancing tolerance and understanding between religious communities.

“The dargah is a rarity as it has an engraving of Lord Ganesh in the entrance to the Islamic tomb.

As a result, the Ganesh puja near the structure is celebrated with great fervour by members of both communities,” says Bharat Khanwalkar, a resident of the area.

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