Be sure to find a Ganpati ‘mandal’ in every corner of the street this season. You won’t be able to miss it with the loud music and aimless burning of fire-crackers around. I sneak into one or two to get my share of ‘modak’. After sweetening my taste buds, it struck me- is the devotion of Ganpati stronger in comparison to that of Mother Nature? So, I found out.
Many devotees welcome home, worship and admire the size and beauty of the beautifully adorned idols, along with inviting guests who come from far off places to receive his blessings. Amidst of all the celebrations and socialization, there lies a threat to the environment on a large-scale. Only a few may acknowledge this problem, while other festival enthusiasts brush it aside.
Celebrating with eco-friendly Ganesh idols is a constant effort by many environment cautious people and has gained momentum over the past few years, which I’m glad about. Along the way however, there are some who feel that it dampens the spirit of the festival.
While talking to one of the residents in my locality, Madhur Avekar told me, “We have been welcoming the 20-feet Ganpanti to our locality for several decades now. Eco-friendly or not, it doesn’t matter as long it doesn’t come in the way of our rituals.”
When provoked further he said, “The weight of the idol is lighter and priced cheaper comparatively to clay. Not to mention, easily available. This is a custom of our family and we will follow it every year religiously, environmental damage can be taken care of later on.”
“Later on”, that is a few weeks into the immersion of hundreds of idols across several water bodies of the country; effects of water pollution will still be visible. Marine life, such as plants and fishes choke on plastic bags and other decorations while some get trapped under the weight of heavy and tough-biodegradable statues. Chemicals from the color and cement of idols mix with water which is consumed by the fishes, who ultimately succumb to the fatal solution. Further, certain toxic materials cover the surface of the water, which prevents oxygen flow that can cause eutrophication, a process which destroys marine life completely. Clearly, this fellow was not taught Environmental Studies in school.
Humans are not far behind, if fish and water consumed from such water bodies is consumed by us, it can cause food poisoning, breathing problem, skin and blood disease. Many do not understand the gravity of the situation and refuse to take caution because of the ‘holiness’ attached with the festival.
It is not only the marine life which gets polluted, air and sound pollution also sores during the 10 days of the festival. With thousands of people bursting music on loudspeakers and bands playing on drums and trumpets during the welcoming (Ganesh Chaturthi) and immersion (Ganesh Visarjan) of idols, it’s a field day for devotes who dance intoxicated and unhesitant to the tunes along with bursting fire crackers (gives them cheap thrills) which again causes sound and air pollution. This also disturbs sensitive living-beings such as infants, elderly and animals.
However, one cannot argue about the huge amount of employment that it caters to a section of seasonal workers. Artisans who mold Ganesha idols, carriers who provide for transportation such as trucks and vans, sweet-shops who specialize in making ‘modak’, tent-erecters, fire-cracker manufacturers, the bands and DJs, florists, ‘pundits’ who perform ceremonies, the list goes on..
Shreenivasan Reddy, an editor of a news channel is doing his bit to set a good example for others. His team has organized a ‘mandhap’ in Mahalaxmi, where an 18-feet Eco friendly Ganesha resides. The idol is made from 60% clay and 40% grass and bamboo. Reddy has left no stone unturned- they serve ‘prasad’ in hand and not plastic bags, minimum lighting is consumed as they mostly depend of fire lanterns and candles. Instead of a band/DJ, they have invited a ‘bhagan-singing’ crew who are going to sing throughout the procedure of immersion along with others who will carry hoardings and posters for the promotion of eco-friendly Ganesh idols.
Along with telecasting the entire celebration across the state they have also invited school children and enlightened them about the benefits of worshipping an eco-friendly idol. Which I feel, is the easiest solution to combat the issue and spread awareness. These kids will raise questions and demand for a clay molded idol next time from their parents.
Quiz him about the expenditure of the idol and he says that it cost them only Rs 1.5 lakhs which is fairly reasonable as compared to the ones made by toxic PoP materials. He feels that this price is worthy of paying in order to avoid getting our natural habitat into trouble. I couldn’t agree more. Hope that many may learn from this.