The melodious rhythm of Maratha Mandir
18th September 1985, at midnight sharp…Ganpati Bappa was seated on his ‘aasan’ in a beautiful ‘makaar’ in the house of Late Shri Arjoon Bhiwajee. All bhaktas were sitting peacefully listening to Shri Sadanand Guruji’s discourse, where he announced the birth of a special one – The Maratha Mandir Artists Group (MMAG). Little did the gathering know that the newly-born would be indeed a prodigy.
Maratha Mandir Artists Group founders had, prior to 18th September 1985, a sincere wish to create an institution, a school, where young people would come together, share ideas, learn something and cultivate talents, and this is where the seed was sowed. The small group of youngsters from Henrietta and Glen Park villages hence formed part of the very first team of Maratha Mandir Artists Group.
The first words of the new-born were the holy name of his mother and ‘ishta devta’, Ganapati, by way of the bhajan ‘ Gam Gam Gananatha’ – a bhajan sung to this day at midnight on every Bhaadrapad Shudh Chaturthi. This bhajan was the very first cultural item performed by the Artists Group. The bhajan was sung with utter devotion by the artists with whatever little musical expertise they had on hand at the time.
With very little professional guidance, armed with an iron will, perseverance and seriousness of purpose, the MMAG members started to bring various facets of the rich Marathi folklore, through items such as Gondhal dance, Lawni, Waghya Murli, Waarkaris (pilgrimage of the Waarkari Saampradaya), Sant Darshan, Shivraj Darshan (a glimpse of the life of Shivaji Maharaj) amongst others to the Marathi community in Mauritius. In spite of the fact that the group had to rely on the little knowledge of its members in staging cultural items, its performance was widely acclaimed at various levels throughout the country. At a time when all other groups performed on playback songs at cultural shows, MMAG staged live performances, with instruments like table, dholki, dhol, harmonium, keyboard, dhimri, jhanjas and others.
The hall that houses all Maratha Mandir’s activities was a real challenge to erect. If that beautiful building has been completed, it was to a large extent due to the effort of MMAG members. The 1990s saw the artists giving live cultural shows almost every week at hotels and other venues, to generate funds to finance the construction of our Mandir. After accomplishing this noble task, the artists, mostly students, would return home after midnight most of the time.
The group had the privilege of taking part in the prestigious dance dramas most popularly known in Mauritius as ‘Dashavtar ‘. The first one was the ‘Rukmangad Katha’, staged at Chemin Grenier on the 12th October 1985. MMAG also gave a spectacular performance in the name of ‘Ganesh Janmachi Katha’ during the 2nd World Marathi Conference in Mauritius, in 1991. This performance was warmly applauded by an international audience, comprised of highly distinguished people in performing arts, literary and diplomatic fields in Mauritius, India and other countries. Further down the line, ‘Ganesh Janmachi Katha’ was staged again thrice in 2004. This time, more than ever, the combination of advanced light and sound effect, dazzling costumes, refined make-ups and of course expertise of all the artists involved left the audience spell-bound during the shows.
Brilliant performances were given by MMAG during Marathi Drama Festivals organised by the Ministry of Arts and Culture. Many would remember one act plays like ‘Chori Pahavi Karoun’, ‘Naradacha Phera’, ‘Natak Kaay Hot Nahi’, ‘Gaja Swargawasi Hoto’ and the most recent and groundbreaking ‘Ata Majhi Phatlich’. These plays bagged awards such as Best Play, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Setting and Most Promising Young Actor/Actress. Yet still, the best award for the MMAG always comes from the audience’s appreciation!
Rang Ekicha, conceived and directed by Maratha Mandir Artists Group, presented in May 2009,was a great example of how people from different organisations can be brought together and work in perfect harmony. This project was realised under the patronage of the Municipality of Vacoas-Phoneix, and, had ‘unity’ as its theme, hence the words ‘Rang Ekicha’ (The colour of unity). Undisputedly, Rang Ekicha has visibly set the mark!
January 2011 took MMAG to another level, and this time, internationally! MMAG made history in being the first ever Mauritian Marathi Cultural Troupe to land in Maharashtra. Our artists participated in a youth camp in Pune, where they excelled in different activities organised, and they even won the 1st Prize in a Dance Competition organised by the Lions Yuva Camp in India. MMAG also gave different cultural shows in Pune, Thane, Aurangabad, Akola and Mumbai.
The group does not boast about the academic achievements of its members. Instead, it feels humbly proud about their potentials in fields such as performing arts (music, dance, theatre), Marathi language, stage crafts (designing and manufacturing of stage props and equipments) light and sound enginnering, multimedia, internet and web technologies, fine arts (painting and sculpture), to name but a few. They can be seen doing so on various occasions in our Mandir.
Today, after more than a quarter of a century, Maratha Mandir Artists Group is no stranger to the Marathi Community in Mauritius. It has also carved a name for itself at the national and international level through its brilliant performances. Whatever it has achieved till date, has been done through hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, discipline and utter dedication to the divine cause. Some years following the birth of Mmag, after having performed the sacred ritual of ‘Lotangan’, in the emotionally charged atmosphere, Shri Sadanand Guruji, the initiator of the group, made a plea to Ganpati Bappa in the following words: ‘Maajhyaa kalaakaraanna shakdi de bappa, maajhyaa kalaakaaraanna shakti de…’It seems that Ganpati Bappa granted this sincere wish!