Tuesday, 18 January, 2022
HomeOpinionBal Thackeray’s father and Ambedkar used Navratri festivities to counter Brahmin Ganesh...

Bal Thackeray’s father and Ambedkar used Navratri festivities to counter Brahmin Ganesh utsav

Keshav Sitaram Thackeray ‘Prabodhankar’ had joined BR Ambedkar in a movement to allow ‘untouchable’ to worship alongside Brahmins during Ganesh utsav in Mumbai.

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Like most festivals during the Covid-19 pandemic, Navratri festivities are a low-key affair this year. However, few know that the public celebrations of Navratri in Maharashtra were launched by anti-caste activist and social reformer ‘Prabodhankar’ Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, the father of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, as a form of counter-culture against the ‘Brahmin-dominated’ Ganesh utsav that preceded it.

The Ganesh utsav in Mumbai’s Dadar area, saw donations being collected from people across caste lines. However, the organising committee was dominated by Brahmins, who kept other social groups away from it. The speakers, singers and kirtankars (those who give religious discourses) who performed during the festival were also Brahmins.

An example of this toxic upper-caste authoritarianism and Babasaheb Ambedkar’s personal conviction and courage in standing up to it has been cited in Changdeo Khairmode’s biography of the icon of the oppressed classes (Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar-Volume II, Sugava Prakashan, Pune).


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Obstacles to an inclusive Navratri

According to Khairmode’s book, Ambedkar had been invited by the organising committee of the Ganesh utsav to speak during the festival. However, this raised the hackles of Savarna Hindus, who felt that a Dalit’s presence would ‘defile’ the idol and ‘condemn them and their successive and preceding generations to damnation in hellfire’. These upper castes of Dadar began ‘conspiring in secret’ to prevent Ambedkar from speaking at the venue, writes Khairmode.

There were also death threats made to Ambedkar. But, despite the advice of his associates, he decided to go keep his appointment. Khairmode writes: “Saheb (Ambedkar) said, one has to die someday or the other. Then, why shouldn’t one die fighting?”

An undeterred Ambedkar left for the function with a loaded revolver in his coat pocket. His bodyguard Balaram Mane also summoned some Mahar (a Dalit caste that converted to Buddhism with Ambedkar in 1956) wrestlers, who protected Ambedkar at the venue. Though there were some unsuccessful attempts to disrupt his speech, in his oration Ambedkar stressed that the Hindu community could never be strengthened unless it discarded its obscurantist notions. Ambedkar, who would renounce Hinduism for Buddhism after his attempts to seek humane treatment for Dalits came to naught, also called for upper castes and untouchables to be treated at par.

In his autobiography Majhi Jeevan Gatha (The story of my life) (Collected Works of Prabodhankar Thackeray, Vol-I, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Aani Sanskruti Mandal, Mumbai), Prabodhankar says that in 1926, progressive and non-Brahmin youth sought permission for other castes and erstwhile ‘untouchables’ to worship the deity during the Ganesh utsav in Dadar. Ambedkar and his associates tried to negotiate with the organising committee to let Dalits worship and participate in the festival’s cultural programmes. However, the committee members refused, according to Khairmode.

While Prabodhankar cites the year all these negotiations took place as 1926, Khairmode wrote that it was 1928.

On Ganesh Chaturthi (which marks the beginning of Ganesh utsav), a group of hundred-plus people led by Ambedkar, social reformer Rao Bahadur S.K. Bole, and Prabodhankar pressed for this demand outside the venue near Tilak Bridge in Dadar. Prabodhankar threatened that if the ‘untouchables’ were not allowed to worship the deity by 3 pm that afternoon, he would smash the idol.

Eventually, a middle ground was arrived at. It was decided that a Brahmin priest would consecrate the idol, after which Ambedkar’s associate Ganpat Mahadev Jadhav ‘Madkebua’ would have a bath and hand over a bunch of flowers to him to be offered to the Lord.

Prabodhankar says that many were rattled by this protest. Some Brahmins who were due to chant mantras became upset over the idol being ‘defiled’, and decided to stay away at the last minute. To prevent a repeat of such incidents, the organising committee announced that the Ganesh festival would not be celebrated in Dadar again.

This led to a whisper campaign being launched, blaming Prabodhankar for the turn of events. Prabodhankar writes that the Bahujan samaj wanted to be part of a festival that encompassed members of all castes and creed. Hence, Prabodhankar and Bole decided to launch the public celebrations of Navratri that were more inclusive.


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A new vision

“The presiding deity of Maharashtra is Shri Maybhawani (the Mother Goddess), who allows access to everyone (regardless of caste). Her Navratri is like a national festival in Maharashtra… (The) Navratri utsav was celebrated in every house and on every fort during the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It was during the rule of the (Brahmin) Peshwas and because of their emphasis on Ganesh worship that these celebrations took a back-seat,” writes the Thackeray family patriarch. He adds that Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak launched the public celebrations of the Ganesh festival (in 1893) and rejuvenated the Peshwa-era tradition.

Prabodhankar, Bole, and their associates started the Lokahitavadi Sangh, which hosted the first such public celebration of Navratri at Dadar through the Shri Shiv Bhawani Navratri Mahotsav in 1926. The concept of a festival encompassing all Hindus, including the erstwhile ‘untouchables’, saw the participation of huge crowds, with people across castes from places as far as Palghar and Kalyan in Maharashtra joining in.

In a break from the upper-caste dominated Ganesh festival celebrations, a Mahar was given the opportunity of unfurling the saffron flag at the venue. During Ghatasthapana, the first day of Navratri, a couple from the community also performed religious rites, which was a revolutionary act in those days. The cultural events saw participation from thousands as non-Brahmin orators, poets and shahirs (balladeers) performed, thus running counter to the traditional practice of members of the priestly class dominating this sphere.

On Dussehra, a massive procession was organised. Ambedkar also spoke on the occasion. Prabodhankar says that after the Navratri festival at Dadar, this led to similar mass celebrations being organised across Maharashtra.


Also read: The ‘softening’ of Shiv Sena — belligerent under Bal Thackeray to more liberal under Uddhav


Shiv Sena’s complicated legacy

Prabodhankar was involved with the Navratri utsav in Dadar till 1929. Later, he moved to Karjat. However, the tradition still continues at the Khandke buildings in Dadar.

Incidentally, Navratri occupies an important place in the Shiv Sena’s history and iconography. In 1966, the party, which was launched earlier that year in June, held its first public rally on Dussehra, which marks the culmination of the festival. The tradition of an annual Dussehra rally, where party supremo Bal Thackeray, and later, his son and party president Uddhav, have addressed the party, continues to this day at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, close to the Khandke building.

Uddhav Thackeray is the first person from his political family to hold a position in the government, and will be the first to address the Dussehra rally as both the Shiv Sena president and Chief Minister of Maharashtra. But this year, the pandemic and physical distancing regulations may lead to the rally taking place online.

However, despite Prabodhankar’s roots in the non-Brahmin and social reform movements, the Shiv Sena has often taken contrarian positions. This included opposing the anti-black magic bill (which was finally approved after rationalist Narendra Dabholkar’s still unresolved murder in 2013).

Prabodhankar was a close associate of Ambedkar. According to Ambedkarite-intellectual J.V. Pawar, it was at Prabodhankar’s urging that Ambedkar supported the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti in 1956, which was crusading for the cause of Maharashtra’s statehood.

However, the Shiv Sena later took up cudgels against the renaming of the Marathwada University after Ambedkar. The party has also fought bloody street battles with the Dalit Panthers in 1974, during Mumbai’s infamous Worli riots, and objected to the Maharashtra government printing Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles in Hinduism’, objecting to references about Hindu deities.

The author is a Mumbai-based journalist and author of ‘The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas’. Views are personal.

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61 COMMENTS

  1. My God versus your God. My idol versus your idol.

    This is the 21st century where the fact is our immune systems cannot handle a totally new virus. These comparisons of whom you worship and which festival you celebrate does not matter to Nature.

    This country is made up of bonkers spending time on all these kinds of comparisons…

  2. After reading a few comments it can definitely be said that majority of the caste hindus need intellectual regeneration , otherwise , they will lose the ground to non hindus, especially Evangelical Christianity which has become powerful in the north eastern states.Dalits and Adivasi s are now fed up with Hinduism.These two groups and OBCs will create a new India where real democracy will be based on equality , liberty and fraternity.

  3. When you chose to deliberately and constantly refer to a person decorated with more degrees and recognitions than your “leash owners” collectively have, it shows the depth you have sunk to.

  4. With agenda of fake hindu shiv sena is going to sink in the state otherwise congress and NCP will take down shivsena very cleverly without any proof, and about print media , it is paid media everyone knows that!!!

  5. This is totally nonsense, no facts in this article…completely misleading innocent people. The print is anti hindu and anti national

  6. Commies are using media to express their anger after failing to defeat NAMO. Commies are bad loosers, once considered as epitome of liberal idea, now marked as master of racism.what steep fall in public eye…shame on you!!

  7. Purpose of this article on the eve of 2020 D isn’t understood! Now the biggest Pan-India Ganesh utsav is held at Lalbaug in Mumbai, whose idol, लालबाग चा राजा is now a World Celebrity Deity! Brahmins are microscopic minorities in all fields & services including politics but Dalit attrocities haven’t stopped, in fact they remain more violent & aggressive & perpetrators are upper-caste non-Brahmins! Nothing positive or creative in this article & it’s contrary to media role

  8. When You are done with Muslim appeasement, go for division and hate among Hindu groups. Hats off to the journalism level of The print.

  9. some social justice activists also say that durga was a prostitute sent by aryans to defeat native mahishasur. so what narrative should we believe,one by mr kulkarni or one by bengal leftists. kulkarni must know that these scathing villyfying pieces wont give healing touch that is required

  10. If you want to break the exploitation of temples and the promotion of idolatry and superstition, there is no point Dalits setting up another idol and idol house to compete with the Brahmin one. That just continues the mess. It is best to convert and finish caste and superstition for good.

  11. Only a dirty and filthy minds of PRINT can do this anti social editorials and coverage. Have some same you bigots.

  12. When you don’t have any communal headlines to write bring Ambedkar into the matter, easy.
    @author,can you please find out if sitaram thackeray used toothpaste or toothpowder in the mornings?

  13. Instant journalism of today makes things binary and then pick a favourite target and bash it up. Here it is Lokmanya Tilak who is being paraded as a Brahmin leader with Peshwa mindset. Still Jinnah found it worth defending him. for his iconic statement of “Swaraja is my birthright and I shall have it”. Like all faiths, rituals in Hinduism have some strict norms of purity. I am a brahmin but as a child was beaten when I touched family deities without bathing. Yes, that was too puritanical, you may say, but Corona is telling us now that some of these purification processes were not just fads. Yes, Savarna Hindus have erred badly in not allowing Dalits in temples and have paid for it. But to paint the entire festival as pro-this caste or pro that caste is unhealthy. By the way, Savarkar another Brahmin and Hindutvavadi hate figure, was a pioneer for asking temples to be opened up for Dalits. Such biased articles do not matter much, because how many read English in India and then how many comment but fools like me. He He he.

    • What is your point ? You want to tell us you are Brahmin who sincerely accepts Dalits ? If you did, you would not so proudly say you were Brahmin.

      ‘….but Corona is telling us now that some of these purification processes were not just fads.’

      It requires a pure unsullied Brahmin mind to understand your statement.

      • How many castes and creeds you have in your faith…I must say countless……How many girls will you get when you die??…..Thank God at least Hindus don’t have shit in their minds like in yours…

      • What’s wrong with saying that he’s a proud Brahmin. Many converts proudly say that they’re Christians or Muslims. Many Dalits proudly proclaim that they’re Dalits.

  14. Bull shit, I belong to a Brahmin family. Our ancestors have been celebrating Navaratri for close to 100 years, on a minimum minimum level

  15. U r anti hindu agenda One Day Gonna Be Screwing you Lets forgrt old things Today I Celebrate Navrstri And Ganesh Utsav With Dalits And other hindus With unity and Joy

  16. Think The print is hell bent on driving and also deeplng wedges between Brahmins and others paing pictures dipicting Brahmins as the root cause of all caste driven ills of Indian society.un fortunately Brahmins have become whipping boys as they have become politically very poor and defence less. Should the country foget the contribution by Brahmins which put India at ahigh cultural pedastal among contemporary cultures

    • The only contribution of Brahmins is the caste system. You are an unscrupulous and scheming race. If we had a French or Russian revolution, Brahmins would have their heads on the chopping block.

      • And the only contribution of yours is LIE ,HATE, FORCEFULL CONVERSION, ROBBERY,RAPES……ALL this comes from middle east……its their culture …….57 Rapistan…

  17. Very nice article, informative as well as lucid writing. I have got lot of Idea about the issue. I feel sorry when in the name of caste many try to get at the top. One can be great by activities only and that is why to counter mainly Brahminism in then Bengal Brahmo Samaj was initiated by stalwarts including Rabindranath Tagore and his father.
    I wish to mention here that Swami Vivekananda was not Brahmin but Indian culture and Hindu religion were popular in the world because of him. And same is the case of Rishi Aurobindo.

    • But Brahmins were and are the drivers of Hindu fascism – Golwakar, Savarkar, the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha. Any coincidence ?

    • Brahma samaj was feudal in character, vivekananda became populer bcoz of blessings from Ramkrishna…perfect social system is only possible by blessings from Brahminism.

  18. The very idea of the deity being taken on a procession in southern India was to allow those who cannot visit temples to have Darshan.

  19. This news paper divides hindus in the name of ganesha chaturthi & NavRatri , they praise tanishq ad but here they divide hindu ,they hates hindus, it is same way where Leftist Historian wrote the NCERT History books , praising mughal and sidelined the great hindu ruler, in the name of facts they creates a bad Manipulated script of any flop movie, these leftist are dominated only in news papers , but in the Ground they self certified intellectual proven failed.

  20. Shiv Sena is of late becoming an anti-hindu party. Many of my groups think the same especially the aloof attitude at the Palghar lynching of unarmed Sadhus by converted Christian armed communists! Also his willful absence refusing the invitation at lord Ram’s temple at Ayodhya is viewed with crossed fingers by his partymen

  21. Instead of hurting the sentiments of great social leaders, it is essential to give importance to education and empowerment to socially backward communities. It is not the question of entering temples that will uplift the downtrodden but fair representation in all levels of society. Nothing can be changed overnight it takes generations to change the mindset. Unfortunately, reservation is a tool of upper castes to systematically sideline the marginalised community. It’s a trap in which the Dalits are entangled. Dalits should voluntarily give up reservation and assert more on education, self employment, skill development and provide dignified life to the next-gen.

  22. at this age and time if a newspaper is bringing caste it shows u have political motive specially language. Being used Today is era when u travel u don’t know who is sitting next u.if a religion is evolving hope u support by providing positive reporters rather than this cheap antics to antagonise people.and u think being brahmin is easy in today world where u have made them look like vermine

  23. For those who dividing are the poisonous dogs…all are hindu be it tribal or dalit….those below them are the 2 are kept outside the door..

      • And people are converted to Christianity by giving out freebies and rice bags. And to Islam by brainwashing by the Mullahs. Conversion is the problem.

  24. I believe in god not those who work for one religion or caste.reservation one of the blackest disease of india

  25. Isn’t it castiest and racist to call ganesh festival brahminical?
    Where it is written ganesha is only for brahmins. There are thousands of tribal places having ganesha temple across India. Ganesha also called Ganapathi meaning leader of ganas, ganas where local tribal people.
    Nice devide strategy by the print, but let me tell you people are not fool

    • I think you did not care to read the Article. The author did not say that Ganesha is a Brahmin god, he clearly mentioned Ganesha festival organizing committees were filled with mostly Brahmins with very few chances for other castes to participate in the program.

  26. ThePrint your stand on india’s socio-political leaders is like an ECG graph. The problem with you is that you revere only those who fulfill your biased agendas. For your the rest of the world then are idiots. And if those idiots by chance fulfill your biased agenda or you manage to frame them as doing so, then you write a whole essay on them. Insecurity. Hypocrisy. Duplicity. Misinformation. Just few of the many negative adjectives that were written in the English dictionary specially for you.

  27. Oh shut up you casteist morons. Its all about monetary contributions. The moment Shiv Sena was able to take over the lucrative ganeshotsav mandals and the revenues they rake in, they stopped having a problem with their ‘toxic brahminism’ or whatever buzzwords these idiots are peddling today.

  28. The way the lower castes were treated was inhumane. There is a big progress made in this regard due to efforts of the social reformers. I hope hindu society will soon do away with the caste differences.

      • Devbandi, Barelvi, jamat, Suni, shia, Ahmadees and many more(countless castes)……do something better in yours first then teach others because Hinduism is far far better then yours…. we are not radicals & liers like you….

  29. How Sad… English media is still advocating Cast System , Publishing such articles and trying to spread poison….

  30. This rascal is now trying to divide Hindus by such third grade articles. Retrograde, antinational. Ambedkar said many things about other religion also. Can he dare to say that.

  31. Another malicious story by the print to divide the Hindus based on caste lines. It gives immense satisfaction to see Hindus united against you and your caste based politics. Its funny Everytime you quote Babashaeb ambedkar but never from his book Pakistan and the partition of india… Why because it dosent suit your jai bheem jai meem narrative?! Why don’t your editors tell people what Babashaeb thought of Gandhi? I agree with Dr. Ranganathan that Babashaeb should be the father of our nation

    • Just by refusing to acknowledge the existence of problem will never solve the problem. The caste division between Hindu’s are a fact and solution can emerge only if the accept the fact and try to work towards removal of caste decimation.

  32. Article is sensless, appears to be written with an intention to create hostile atmosphere among Hindus and perhaps funded by anti Hindu forces like print

  33. Another myopic view to discredit the inclusivity of all members of the society.

    This vijaydashmi onwards we should start celebrating from deekshabhoomi or ambedkar Sankul in kamptee.

    This outreach is necessary for consolidation and inclusivity across each one of us, which is also the essence of ram Rajya.

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