Belagavi and the genesis of Ganesh pandals in Karnataka

Belagavi has a unique place in the history of Karnataka as it was here that the Ganesha festival was first celebrated as a public event, and was kick-started by none other than the legendary freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Installation of Ganesh idols in pandals commenced in the city during the freedom struggle to forge unity among the people. Freedom fighters Govindrao Yalgi and Gangadhar Rao Deshpande planned Ganesha festival as a public event in 1905 for the cause of uniting the people of all faiths to fight the British. 

The first ‘sarvajanik’ Ganesha idol was installed at Govindrao Yalgi’s residence. Tilak had commenced the installation of Ganesh idols in Pune to unite the people and showed the way for the people of Belagavi, then known as Belgaum, to unite for the cause of freedom and installed the first Ganesh idol, which is now in the market area of the city. With the British keeping a close eye on Tilak's movement, he immediately left the venue after installing the idol. 

"The legacy to unite the people with Ganesha festival as a link has continued and we are conducting various programmes to showcase our unity," says Ajit Siddannavar, the treasurer of Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mandal, Market.

Siddannavar said the idol installed in 1905 was the first in Karnataka and second in India after Pune. Since the year 1905, Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mandal, Market, has stood as an ideal example of unity and integrity with people from different faiths celebrating the festival and increasing the grandeur every passing year. 


Members of Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Mandal, Market in Belagavi posing for a group photograph during the Ganesh festival celebrations in the year 1960.

"Along with religious programmes, we are also holding cultural and social programmes. We also conduct body-building competitions to spread the message of ‘health is wealth’ among the youth," Siddannavar said.

Since 2005, the Mandal has not been collecting donations from the people but has been managing the festival expenses from the interest earned from deposits and sponsorers. More than 1 lakh people visit the pandal every day during the 10-day celebrations.

But there has been a sea of change since 1905. The number of Ganesh Utsav Mandal’s gradually began to increase in different suburbs and localities with each of them making their best effort to present the deity and other displays in an attractive manner. While some Mandals are nearing the century mark, some of them are closing in on the 50th year.

Every suburb in the city now has a Ganesh Utsav Mandal and in some lanes, two idols are installed at either end. Even new layouts and lanes have begun installing Ganesha idols, taking the number to 378 in the city limits. Apart from this, villages on the outskirts of the city, too, are competing with their urban counterparts.

 


Vinayak Jyotiba Patil paints Ganesha idols at his workshop in Belagavi. (Pic special arrangement)

From kerosene lit lamps to modern LEDs illumination, Ganesh pandals, too, have witnessed a change from traditional decorations to modern ones. Pandals are taking shapes of famous temples across the city. The size of Ganesha idols has increased in the recent years with more than 10-feet tall idols becoming the norm.

The city also boasts of having the third and fourth generation of Ganesha idolmakers. While some Mandals have stuck to a single idolmaking family, others in recent years are also getting idols of their choice from Pune and Kolhapur in Maharashtra.

This year, a total of 378 idols will be installed in the city and the number of idols installed in the district could cross the 4000 mark.

 

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