PUNE: The Ganeshotsav festival that we celebrate with so much fervour was an annual affair in Pune even during the Peshwa era. If the accounts of the festivities then are to be believed, the Peshwas celebrated Ganeshotsav with unparalleled splendour from 1750 till 1800, spending at least Rs 1 lakh annually on it.

History researcher Pandurang Balkawde, who found records of expenses incurred on the festival during the aforementioned period at the Peshwa Daftar in Pune Archives, said that the Peshwas would celebrate the festival in Shaniwarwada‘s darbar hall back then.

Balkawde said that the Peshwas had a Ganeshotsav of their own 250 years ago. “The accounts, which are written in the Modi script, give a detailed description of how the festival was celebrated then. It is believed that the elephant God was the family deity of the Peshwas, which is why the darbar hall in the wada was named as Ganesh Rang Mahal. Before laying the foundation stone of the wada, the Peshwas installed a Ganesh idol at its precincts, while the gate to the east was named Ganesh Darwaza,” he said.

The darbar hall had its very own Ganesh idol, which was crafted in pure gold. “Peshwas would regularly assemble there out of devotion and love for Ganapati. The festival was observed in the Hindu calender month of Bhaadrapada for a period of five days. A Ganesh idol made of mud would be placed before the gilded idol to herald the festival. As many as 50 artistes – both Hindus and Muslims – including goldsmiths, painters, carpenters and blacksmiths, would be employed to design and decorate the ‘makhar’ (decorative structure) surrounding the idol,” he said, adding that expensive metals such as gold and silver were used in the decoration.

The installation would be followed with elaborate prayer ceremonies by as many as 51 priests, from morning till night. “In addition, hundreds of singers and dancers belonging to varied castes, creeds, religions and coming from different corners of India would perform at the darbar hall during all the five days of the festival. The Peshwas would pay them in cash and kind. People from all over Maharashtra would visit the wada to witness the festivities and they would be served lavish meals twice during the day,” said Balkawde.

According to Balkawde, the Ganeshotsav celebration then speaks at length about India’s culture and its unity in diversity. “Even then, the festival had people belonging to different creeds, sects and faiths assemble together, which is an excellent example of India’s oneness,” he added.