Enjoy a safe Ganesh Chaturthi without harming the environment.
Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of the waxing moon according to the Hindu month of Bhadrapada. Devout Hindus eagerly await the onset of this auspicious time for the popular elephant-headed god, Ganesh, to grace their homes. The festival is a great unifier, as it brings together not only Hindus, but also members of other religious communities. The celebrations reach a climax with the immersion of the idol in a body of water. The immersion and dissolution of the idol in water represents the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.
Before 1893, Ganesh Chaturthi used to be an important family festival during the Peshwa rule in Maharashtra, but that year, Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual festival into a large, well-organized public event.
Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesh as “the god for everybody”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order “to bridge the gap between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them”, and generate nationalistic fervor among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule.
Tilak encouraged installation of large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.
Under Tilak’s encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.
- Traditionally, clay was used to make Ganesh idols. Over the years however, plaster of Paris (POP), which is lighter and cheaper, has become the favoured material to mould these idols. POP contains chemicals such as gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus, and magnesium. The dyes used to colour these idols contain mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and carbon.
- With the immersion of these idols in the sea or inland water bodies such as lakes and streams, the chemicals in these idols dissolve in the water. POP dissolves slowly, gradually releasing its harmful components. The water experiences a rise in acidity as well as traces of heavy metal. The toxic waste kills plant and animal life in the water. In Mumbai, Baroda and few years back in Kankaria,Ahmedabad dead fish were found floating a day after the immersion of Lord Ganesh which was a common occurrence.
- Plastic and thermocol waste, including polythene bags containing offerings, is usually immersed with the idols. Because it is non-biodegradable—meaning that it does not decompose—this waste simply keeps adding up.
What are eco-friendly Idols?
Idols made of unbaked natural clay, natural fibre, or even recycled paper are eco-friendly. Also, natural dyes and colours are used in making these idols. However, lately people have begun using Plaster of Paris (POP) idols, which are harmful for the environment.
Harmful effects of POP idols
POP contains chemicals such as gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus, and magnesium. The dyes used to colour these idols contain mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and carbon. Plastic and thermocol accessories are used to decorate these idols. Such materials are not biodegradable, hence are toxic.
With Ganesh Chaturthi near, a group that spreads the green message, the AMC and state pollution control body have launched a campaign to discourage people from buying Lord Ganesha idols made from plaster of Paris. Every year during the Ganesh Utsav, hundreds of such idols, coloured with metal-based paints, are immersed in water bodies across the city. They pose a major environmental problem as they contaminate the water.
To highlight the impact of idols on water bodies, Society for Environment Protection (SEP), the civic body and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) set up a stall at Law Garden on Saturday. They urged visitors to celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly way by buying Ganesh idols made from natural materials. Over the next few days, more such stalls will be set up at other public places to raise awareness on the issue.
“We need to learn from other states. Goa, for instance, has banned the use of plaster of Paris for (making idols). Also, idol-makers in Goa can only use organic colours,” the managing coordinator of SEP, Deepan Shah, said. He said that idol immersion had become a popular religious practice. “This year, even idols of Lord Krishna were immersed on Janmashtami,” Shah said. “People should refrain from this practice because idols of gods are abandoned disrespectfully.”
A scientific officer of GPCB, D N Vasadia, said people should voluntarily switch to an eco-friendly way to celebrate the festival. “Laws exist, but we have tread carefully in matters of religion. We don’t want to hurt religious sentiments. People should understand the importance of environment protection and celebrate the festival accordingly” he said. Shah said that the civic authority was considering a proposal of creating artificial pits for idol immersions.