The other day, as I was walking past a street in my neighbourhood, I spied this small, dirty toy. Or so it seemed at first glance. A child’s discard toy, I thought. On my next round, I saw more clearly – it was a mud statue of Lord Ganesha, that must have held the pride of the place in someone’s pooja room last week, was now quietly sitting on a dusty street corner.
Five to ten days after he was feted and made a huge deal of, Lord Ganesha is ceremoniously bid farewell and dumped ignobly in, forgotten till the festival rolls around the next year. But the impact this festival, that is becoming a larger fiesta year after year, has on the environment is heartrending.
Traditionally, the Ganesha statues and the pooja itself are supposed to be the embodiment of all that is simple and biodegradable. Idols made of clay and items of decor such as grass and flowers of weeds that you normally would not even look at; and at the end of it, the idol is thrown into the household well and becomes one with the earth again. With zero carbon imprint, Lord Ganesha’s birthday used to be a forward-thinking and an eco-friendly festival since anyone can remember.
That is, until the “bigger and better” fever started gripping the nation. Gone are the simple idols made of clay and mud. In its place are the fancy Plaster of Paris models, with their toxic paints. Instead of the small images of the Lord, like some insane muscle-flexing contest, people are vying with one another to create massive statues and erecting them in every street corners. All of this results in bigger fanfare compared to the humble domestic festival. These gigantic statues need massive processions and a ceremonial immersion in the sea or river or whatever is the nearest water body.
The result? The toxic paints wash away and mix with the water, polluting it and killing all the fishes and turtles and other creatures that call it home. That this goes completely against the ethos of the Ganesha Chathurthi seems to have slipped the revellers’ minds, even as they continue trashing the environment year after year.
This year too, is no different. Long before the festival, environmental groups and activists started urging the citizens to be mindful of the world around us and not destroy the water as it is home to plenty of creatures. But, as with every year, those pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears this time around too, as the photos published in various newspapers show.
“Yamuna cries on Ganpati visarjan“, declares TOI. Elsewhere, there were reports of cities immersing their idols in pits and requesting devotees to stay away from water sources. Goa authorities have ordered water tests to determine the water purity, after the immersion. It is obvious that everyone recognises the practice of the idol immersion is affecting the water bodies and the lives that depend on it. Is enough being done to stop the pollution, to make the practice the environment-friendly activity it once was, is now the question.
What did you do with your idol this year? Did you throw it away, because, let’s face it, our wells are all running dry now? Did you mix it in a bucket of water and use it on your plants? Or did you make one out of chocolate instead, like this lady, and mix it with milk, to feed it to the underprivileged children?
However you bid farewell to Lord Ganesha, we hope you did it without harming the environment!