Shreemant Halwai mandal – Ganesh Chaturthi

Pune leads the community

Every year prominent people and celebrities visit the Shreemant Halwai mandal during the 10-day festival and offer gold ornaments. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai have been there, as also Sanjay Dutt.

Ganesh Chaturthi is an occasion when the Lord of Wisdom is believed to bestow his presence on earth for his devotees, and his idols are worshipped in every household. While He may come everywhere on the earth, the elephant-headed god loves to make a special appearance in Pune, which has become synonymous with the 10-day Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav (community Ganesha festival), beginning Ganesh Chaturthi and ending on Anant Chaturdashi of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada.

Pune is the socio-cultural capital of Maharashtra and no wonder it was here that the seeds of the Sarvanajik Ganeshotsav were sown by Lokmanya Tilak over a century ago to arouse the masses against the tyrannical British rule.

Beginning with a handful of mandals, there are now 5000 and more which participate in the festivities.
The celebrations have changed over the years but the exuberance has remained the same, drawing huge crowds from all over the state and outside. Pune’s Ganesha mandals are distinguished for their colourful decorations and lighting, unlike Mumbai, which is known for the height of Ganesha idols.

These decorations are based on mythologies as well as on current issues such as Indo-US nuclear deal. In 1998, some mandals had recreated the Pokharan atomic tests. Sensing the tourism potential of the 10-day Ganeshotsav, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) started organising a ‘Pune Festival’ during the same period, inviting guests from abroad.

Tilak was inspired by the massive Ganeshotsav celebrations organised by Sardar Khasgiwale in Gwalior way back in 1892. The very next year, with the help of well-known social figures of those days like Bhau Rangari, Ganpatrao Ghovedkar, Dagadusheth Halwai and others, he made a beginning of the public festival in Pune.
While Tilak’s aim was to educate the masses, the festival took on some unwanted practices in the past few decades with erection of huge pandals, blaring loudspeakers playing vulgar numbers, extortion of money in the name of vargani (donation) and obscene dancing by youth during immersion procession.

In recent years, there has been a reawakening among the people, and the festival is regaining its old charm and values.

The stalwarts
Pune’s Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav is known for its five stalwarts. These are five most revered Ganesha mandals, which are known for their strict adherence to the true festive spirit. They are Kasba Ganapati mandal, which traditionally holds the first place in the immersion procession since 1894, Tambadi Jogeshwari, Guruji Talim, Tulshibaug and Kesariwada.

The last one was established by Tilak himself at the office of his newspaper Kesri, which played a prominent part during the initial years of the freedom movement. Kasba Ganapati is also Pune city’s Gramdaivat (presiding deity).
By far the most famous of all the Ganesha mandals in Pune, however, is Shreemant Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati, established in 1893. Shreemant literally means rich or prosperous and true to its name, this Ganapati and the mandal which organises it are the richest in every sense, from the collection of donations to the golden ornaments adorning the idol.

Year after year prominent people and celebrities visit the mandal during the 10-day festival and offer gold ornaments. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai have been there, as also Sanjay Dutt. Almost all chief ministers have made special offerings to the deity.

The mandal was started by Shreemant Dagadusheth Halwai, a local sweetmeat shop owner, who had lost his son the previous year. His spiritual guru asked him to create an idol of Ganesha and worship it as his son. With his contribution and Lokmanya’s blessings, the mandal was established.

Till 1978, the celebrations were simple. The next year, the mandal erected a huge replica of the famous Meenakshi temple. The replica was a grand success and became the highlight of the festival. Since then, the mandal has been erecting replicas of renowned temples and palaces of the country.

This year, the mandal is recreating the replica of famous Akshardhan temple of Delhi (another Akshardham temple is at Gandhinagar, which was the target of terrorist attack in 2003).

The mandal treasurer Shankarrao Suryavanshi said that work on the replica has been going on since past three and half months under the supervision of leading art director M L Kulkarni aided by 40 skilled artists. It will be inaugurated by Maharashtra’s cooperation minister Patangrao Kadam.

The money for such extravagance comes from donations given by devotees at the mandal site itself, as well from the sale of coconuts offered to the deity. In fact, what distinguishes this mandal is the number of coconut offerings. The mandal earns crores out of sale of these coconuts alone.