The month of August marks the onset of the impending festivities that will be celebrated with much enthusiasm and fervor across the country. The start of the festivities will be marked with the Independence Day celebrations on August 15, followed by Rakshabandhan on August 18. But, undoubtedly, the most eagerly awaited festivities will be of Ganesh Chaturthi that will commence September 5.
In India, festivities mean spending time with family and indulging in delicious food and sweets. But, how many of us do truly value the importance of also making our celebrations safe and pollution-free? One of the fall outs of the immense pace at which our cities are growing is the ever increasing pollution – air, water and noise that we are left grappling with. While the government and its various agencies make all necessary provisions and implement policies to minimise the negative side effects of pollution, it is equally the responsibility of every citizen to ensure that he or she contributes towards keeping the surrounding environment clean. And this certainly applies to the manner in which we celebrate out festivals.
Probably one of the most cheerful and vibrant of all festivities is Ganesh Chaturthi. The 10-day festivities are witness to myriad cultural events, musical performances, and plenty of song and dance. The devout worship the Lord with pious offerings, and at the end of the 10 days of fervent celebrations, the Ganesh idols are immersed in the city’s lakes, rivers, and the sea. While the sentiment behind this ritual is culturally very beautiful, there is little doubt about the colossal damage this inflicts on our environment, including the various water bodies and nature’s eco system.
Most of these Ganesh idols, especially the mammoth ones that are installed by various social organisations and mandals are made of Plaster of Paris (POP) and painted in colours that are highly toxic. Plaster of Paris does not dissolve in water and reduces the oxygen level in water, while the chemically toxic paint pollutes the very water bodies that are often a source of drinking water for the entire city. The garlands and plastic and thermocol decorations used to beautify the pandals and our homes are a great threat too. This toxic waste kills plant and animal life that exist in the water bodies. Isn’t it rather ironic that for a Lord so benevolent, and revered by all, and for one who was born out of the mud and sweat of his mother, we do not particularly care about the manner in which we immerse him in water and send him back to his abode? To prevent any further damage to our eco system, it is therefore very imperative to celebrate our festivals in an eco-friendly manner.
It is indeed heartening to see that the awareness towards our environment does exist among a lot of people these days. It is not uncommon anymore for families to choose an eco-friendly idol of their favourite deity, to grace their homes. Most of these idols are made from pure clay that dissolves in water very easily. Many families also choose to immerse these clay idols in their own gardens and backyards in a bucket of water, and then use this same water for plants. This also means that the number of people thronging to the sea or river banks reduces to a considerable extent, thereby also reducing the amount of trash being generated.
The government on its part has been making the necessary arrangements for the collection of trash generated during the immersion process. Some state governments have also banned the sale of Plaster of Paris idols, which automatically implies that people are compelled to buy the clay and eco-friendly ones. With over 1.5 lakh idols being immersed in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai each year, it is imperative that the various private organisations and Ganesh mandals too wake up to the grim reality of the extent of damage that is being inflicted upon our environment. Studies have shown that soon after the immersion festivities in Mumbai, the oxygen level in the sea drops by a shocking 50% - a statistic that is most unwarranted and undesirable.
The idea of Ganesha visarjan (immersion) is in itself an eco-friendly one because it implies moksha (the release from the cycle of rebirth as prescribed by the law of karma) and that everything eventually dissolves in or goes back to nature. There is still hope that if not for scientific and environmental reasons, people will switch to eco-friendly celebrations at least for the sake of their beloved deity and their faith.