ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 'Vinayaka Chaturthi' Festival and Hindutva in Tamil Nadu

The increasing popularity of the Vinayaka festival in Tamil Nadu under the auspices of the Hindu Munnani is another example of the Sangh parivar's successful appropriation of localised, traditional Hindu rituals to create a wider 'Hindu unity'. Though internal divisions of caste and class remain, as does factionalism among different Hindu organisations in the state, the primary goal for the parivar in the utilisation of such rituals is to persuade all Hindus to become conscious of belonging to a single, majority 'community', rather than to initiate a campaign of social engineering to overcome caste divisions.

The principal annual festival of ‘Vinayaka’ or ‘Ganesha’ falls on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of ‘Bhadrapada’ (AugustSeptember) In Tamil Nadu, ‘Vinayaka Chaturthi’ (as it is known) is very widely celebrated with special rituals in people’s homes, as well as at Vinayaka’s temples and shrines. Until the 1980s, though, there were no largescale public ceremonies and processions at the festival, as there have been at Ganesha Chaturthi in Maharashtra since the late 19th century.

In Chennai (Madras) on Chaturthi day in 1983, a little group of Hindu activists belonging to the Hindu Munnani (‘Hindu Front’), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) installed an image – or ‘idol’ – of Vinayaka in a public place near a temple in West Mambalam, a suburb in the southwest of the city. A few days later, they took their image in a procession for immersion in a temple tank. One year later, images were set up in several other localities, including Triplicane in the centre of the city, and from this tiny beginning, the scale of public Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations expanded fairly rapidly in Chennai. In 1990, for the first but not the last time, a procession of many tall images accompanied by thousands of Hindus led to a bloody riot with Muslims near the Ice House mosque in Triplicane [Geetha and Rajadurai 1990; Pandian 1992]. Vinayaka Chaturthi remains a major public festival in Chennai, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s its celebration spread across Tamil Nadu, to both urban and rural areas. Before the 1995 festival, the Hindu Munnani’s president plausibly claimed that immersion processions would take place in every panchayat district in Tamil Nadu (The Hindu, June 28, 1995).

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