It was this time of the year. The year was 1975. Emergency had been declared across the country.
The premises of Sanghaniketan in Mangaluru’s Pratapnagar which was the centre of the RSS activities in the city, which would host the ‘Ganeshotsav’, was suddenly kept under strict surveillance.
No festivities were to be held. The entire premise was locked and guarded heavily by cops.
The forces that be called Sanghaniketan a centre of anti-national activities and sealed it just in time for the celebrations.
It was an open hall back then unlike the large airconditioned and glass doored spacious premise now. The entry to the hall as well as the roads that lead to it were all manned by police officials in a bid to ensure no gathering takes place and no people turn up.
Despite this, on the Chaturthi of 1975, Ganesha decided to show up at the premise.
‘A karyakarta had managed to install him the previous evening without being noticed leaving the cops perplexed.News spread around that Ganesha had appeared in the hall and people began to also head to see him,’ shares Satish Prabhu, Pradhan Karyadarshi, Sarvajanik Shri Ganeshotsava Samiti.
As per a letter dated 28 August 1977, written by a committee secretary M Namdev Shenoy, the news spread all over that ‘a three foot Ganesha has arisen at the sanghaniketan’.
The letter describes that ‘although heavily guarded, Ganesha was seated at his usual spot, smiling royally, with coconuts, fruits and fragrant incense sticks lit around. People rushed to the spot but since entry was barred, they saw him form afar and returned’.
”The police had to ensure their vans were parked such that they blocked all entry. They then performed the puja themselves and did the visarjan that evening,” quips Prabhu.
Two years of the emergency period when the government prohibited the conduct of the Ganeshotsav, the venue of the celebrations stayed undecided until a day before.
“We had gone to the High court too appealing for the conduct but we didn't get permission. Hence we then had to conduct it in the verandah of a house of a Swayamsevak Sujir Raghu Nayak on a small scale” explains Vinod Shenoy of the Samiti.
Until emergency, he was just known as ‘Sangha Ganapati’ since it was a bunch of Swayamsevaks led by Mulki Marthappa Prabhu who started the public worship of Ganesha inspired by the call given by Balgangadhar Tilak and the celebrations in Mumbai. But then he truly became everyone’s or ‘Sarvajanik’ Ganapati.
As per the letter, the highest funds since 1948 too came in 1976 and people whose spirit resonated with that of the karyakartas and their will to resist the emergency and the forces behind it joined hands to make it a success.
The letter also states that finally now in 1977, all the leaders of the samiti ‘who had been imprisoned are free and so are the ones who had gone underground‘ and that they are all preparing for a grand celebration of ‘Swatantrya Ganapati’.
It was the first public community Ganeshotsava to be held in the district. Today, hundreds of such public gatherings take place across the district. Most of the large scale ones were started by swayamsevaks, under different names and bodies, inspiring hundreds of others to conduct the same on a smaller scale too.
But the one at the sangh, emphasize the samiti members, is different because ‘our celebrations remain Dharmik’. ’The events we hold raise Dharmic awareness but the aim is to also enhance social consciousness and forster nationalism,’ say members, describing the various activities undertaken by the trust in the run upto the annual celebrations.
Vande Mataram echoes through the hall, as Swarajya meets the organisers at the venue to know more of this ‘Childlike Ganesha who weighs atleast seven to 8 quintals’.
Young girls and boys recite the entire Vande mataram with all its stanzas, as they take part in the competition for the best recitation. Essay competitions, singing, various Indian sports like Kabaddi, elocution, rangoli and drawing competitions with a religious or nationalistic theme too are held every year in the week before Ganesha makes his arrival, say the organisers.
No DJ music, no filmy songs or dance performance, nothing that isnt culturally of this land is witnessed at this celebration, while they are now turning into a norm at many others, with grandeur being associated with pop culture.
Discipline is the decor here and Dharma the deck on which takes place this annual gathering. The entire Hindu community across castes, communities, sects comes together to bring home the Lord of the Ganas.
In the last 7-8 yeasrs, Mangalorean Christians too (who more often than not acknowledge their Hindu ancestry) pay a visit to Sanghaniketan and make an offering as a sign of respect, say organisers.
The samiti initially constituted of members from the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community (which owed its vocal allegiance to the Sangh in the coastal region during its initial days post independence). Today, though, people from all communities also are part of committee with ‘nationalism being the only marker for involvement and participation’.
The committee is formed each year and dissolved post the audit of the funds of the event, under the aegis of the parent body the Keshava Smriti Samvardhan Samiti(R).
While the celebrations stayed low key initially, another interesting episode of ’prohibition and restrictions’ turned it into an annual ritual for the entire town that has even people overseas visiting ‘the one who grants all wishes’ each year to see him seated grand those five days.
In 1978, a murder of a newspaper editor led to section 144 being imposed across the city. At the end of the weeklong celebrations, permission for the procession of the idol was repeatedly denied as it passed by a mosque on the route.
This left the organisers extending the celebrations for another seven days with various programmes and activities being announced that saw greater participation of people.
A week later, permission was denied yet again and that made it a total 21 days of celebrations that meant the Ganeshotsava saw three to four times the number of people who would otherwise attend it.
From then onwards, ‘sangha Ganapati’ truly turned into ‘sarvajanik ganapati’ as almost all of the city was now part of the mega celebrations and he was now seen as the one who truly ‘removed all obstacles’.
No funds are collected for organising the festival. Various pooja’s are organised of which the Alankar Pooja, priced at Rs 2000, sees atleast a hundred each day, is dedicated as the ‘Vidya Nidhi Pooja’ and the entire proceeds are dedicated to the education of poor students.
While the Janmashtami and Ganeshotsava are the main two cultural religious celebrations, the samiti else indulges mainly in activities that bring about socio-economic development - from yoga and samskrit classes, supporting education of deserving students from various schools, providing residential facilities and education for rehabilitated students from the north eastern states, and various other ‘nation building‘ activities.
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