Talk about Ganesh Chaturthi and the first thing that comes to mind is the celebrations in
Maharashtra. Ever thought why is Ganesha one of the most popular deities in Maharashtra? Even though Lord Ganesh is one of the most popular gods in Hindu pantheon, in the state of Maharashtra in Lord Ganesh has an edge over other deities. India
Adi Shankaracharya in ninth century AD popularized the panchayatana - the worship of five major deities in Hindu homes. Shiva, Vishnu, Surya, Shakti and Ganesha were the five idols that Adi Shankara asked people to worship at home. In tenth century AD, Ganapataya Sampradaya, a religious movement with Lord Ganesha as the supreme deity, gained momentum among Marathi speaking people. The sect equated Ganapati with Brahman and believed that Ganesha is the visual representation of ‘
OM’ – the very first sound or Vaak.
The Bhakti cult that revolved around Ganesha produced several famous saints like the Moraya Gosavi who lived at Morav near Pune in early seventeenth century. These saints made Ganesha cult famous and this was followed by the formation of Ashta Vinayaka Temples. During the same period numerous sacred literatures dedicated to Ganesha was produced. Poet Ramadasa composed several songs dedicated to Vinayaka. These bhajans gave Ganesha the position of the bringer of happiness and remover of obstacles. And this is what common people wanted from the Gods.
In the seventeenth century, Peshwas made Ganesha their family deity. Maharaj Chhatrapati Shivaji’s mother built the famous
at Kasbapeth in Pune and the family visited the shrine before embarking on any mission. The devotion of the Peshwas and the later rulers and their missionary seal in building temples dedicated to Ganesha paved the way for Ganesha becoming the most popular deity. Ganapati Temple
In modern times it is a well known fact Bal Gangadhar Tilak, freedom fighter, used Ganesh Chaturthi puja to forge unity among Maharashtrians and there by he gave a new surge to the Indian independence movement. In late 19th century, Tilak initiated a community festival of Ganesha in Pune and it was soon adopted in other parts of
Maharashtra. But why did Tilak choose Ganesha? Because the cult of Ganesha was already popular in the State. And like Lord Vitthal of Pandarpur, Ganesha transcends the boundaries of sect, caste and religion.