This Day in History (15-Oct-1888) – Gopal Ganesh Agarkar started daily newspaper ‘Sudharak’

Agarkar became associated with Lokmanya Tilak while studying in college. By then, they were both fired with the idea of serving their motherland. In 1881, Agarkar and Tilak together started the English newspaper Maratha and the Marathi newspaper Kesari, with Agarkar as the editor of Kesari. Later they also formed the Deccan Education Society and under its auspices started the Fergusson College in 1885. Agarkar started teaching in this college and later became the Principal of the College, holding the office until his death. He believed that social revolution should occur first, that all undesirable social practices like child marriages and untouchability should first be expelled before attaining political freedom. This led to differences between him and Lokmanya Tilak, who gave supreme priority to attaining freedom.

Unable to work together anymore under these differences, Agarkar resigned from the editorship of Kesari in October 1887 and started his own newspaper Sudharak (reformer) in 1888. He propagated individual freedom, rationalism and social justice through the medium of Sudharak. He also strongly voiced his opposition to unfair social practices like the Caste System (unequal treatment to people of lower castes), child marriage, making widows bald and Grantha-Dharma-Pramanya (blind following of religious scriptures and practices without present day context). Sudharak was published both in English as well as Marathi languages. Namdar Gopal Gokhale shouldered the responsibility of the English version of Sudharak for a brief period of time.

Agarkar was a staunch supporter of individualism. He also presented modern views about women’s dressing, before the society. He was a secular rationalist. He considered equality, consent and freedom to be important factors in the political and social context; that manmade social inequality should be kept to a bare minimum. He defined social progressiveness simply as having a system that provides reasonably equal comforts for all. He believed that intellectual debate is essential for social health.  Agarkar expired unexpectedly, at the young age of thirty-nine years.



This Day in History (14-Sep-1893) – Celebration of ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav’ (Festival of Lord Ganesha) started

Ganesh Chaturthi was being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji in the 17th century, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrators of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesha was their family deity (Kuladevata). With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesh Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a private family celebration again till its revival by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak.

As the unquestioned leader of the Hindus, Balwantrao Gangadhar Tilak had, by the last decade of the 19th century, accurately judged the need to give a more forceful interpretation to Indian nationalism. By reviving an old institution like the Ganapati festival and transforming it into a public celebration, Tilak sought to, and succeeded, in challenging the decade plus monopoly of the moderate-liberal leaders who had set the agenda for social and political reforms in the country. He recognised the need to form a national political movement circumventing the artificial barriers created by the moderate-liberal school of political thought.

He initiated the Ganesh festival with the intention to bring like-minded people together to share ideas and exchange thoughts on freeing India from the British regime. Tilak started celebrating the Ganesh festival from his own house at Kesari Wada. Others followed and started celebrating the Ganesh festival.

On this day, the offerings to the Lord, which till then was a private affair in every home, were brought out in the open and a common platform was created. Thus, came into being, the ‘Sarvajanik Ganpati’ in the year 1893. This brought the people together and people heard ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs) which resulted in mass education and helped bridge the gap between the different classes in society. It also created awareness among the people regarding the British regime. Solutions to common sufferings were also resolved at the gatherings. Tilak’s endeavor led to the formation of numerous clubs or mandals in India. This gave a new dimension to the Ganpati festival.