Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

Ganesha, avert this environmental catastrophe!

Isn’tit ironic that a beloved deity symbolic of new beginnings and

removal of obstacles has clogged our lakes and tanks and

littered our coastlines? Traditionally, Ganesh or Ganpati
idols were made of earth, which dissolved easily in the water

in which they were immersed during visarjan. Over time, as the
magnitude of celebrations grew, mud and clay made way for

Plaster of Paris, a cheaper and lighter gypsum-based binding
material that degrades very slowly. Also, the vegetable dyes

that were traditionally used to color idols were replaced with
chemical-based coloring agents and lead-based paints, which

leach toxins into the water causing serious health hazards. On
the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi, we raise a familiar question

again: Should we celebrate at such great cost to the
environment? Or will you make a small but significant difference this year?

An artisan applies finishing touches to an idol of the Hindu

elephant god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity, in Jammu. Though

earthen clay was traditionally used to prepare the idols, it has now

given way to cheaper and lighter Plaster of Paris. The cost to the

environment, however, is much higher. Unlike clay, which

disintegrates naturally in water easily, Plaster of Paris degrades

very slowly and remains for days in the water.

The ten-day-long Ganesh Chaturthi festival, marking the birth of Lord

Ganesh, is celebrated in September. Crowds of devotees take idols

in procession to be immersed in water bodies, bringing entire

cities to a standstill. Traditionally, soil taken from near the

devotee’s home was used to fashion the idol and its immersion in

water symbolized the natural cycle of creation and dissolution.

Plaster of Paris has replaced earthen clay as the preferring

material for constructing Ganesh idols. Bulk orders are taken over a

year in advance and it takes months to complete fashioning the

idols. Some variations of plaster contain powdered silica or

asbestos, which may cause serious health hazards if inhaled.

Asbestos inhalation has been known to cause cancer, as well as

asbestosis, a chronic respiratory disease of the lungs. Inhaled

silica can cause silicosis, making affected people susceptible to tuberculosis.

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A finished idol awaits a buyer in Jammu, northern India. Paints

containing oxides of mercury, zinc and lead are applied on the idols

together with “thinner”, a petroleum product. Ganesh Chaturthi is

celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, who is widely worshiped

as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.

A schoolgirl admires a creative interpretation of the Ganesha idol

in Hyderabad. The idols will be immersed into oceans and rivers at

the end of the festival. In the city of Mumbai alone, an estimated

1.91 lakh idols were immersed in 2010.



A gigantic Ganesh idol is readied for the dais. The decorated idols

are placed in enormous marquees known as pandals over a ten-day

festive period marked by worship and cultural celebrations. At the

end of the festival the idols, some even larger than this one, are

immersed in large water bodies.

Nearly every Hindu family in Maharashtra keeps an idol of Ganesh

during the festival period that lasts ten days. Here, a family takes

its newly purchased idol home by local train. This year, municipal

authorities and non-governmental organizations have been campaigning

for the use of idols made of eco-friendly materials. This family

seems to have missed the bus. Maybe next year.

Devotees prepare to immerse an enormous Ganesh idol in the Arabian

Sea on the final day of Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai. They

are joined by millions of others across the state and the rest of

the country.  In an important step towards sustainable celebration,

some families and organizations have taken steps to symbolically

immerse a reusable metal idol in a pot of water at home. The same

idol will be reused the following year.

Devotees immerse a Ganesh idol in the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad.

Though the demand for idols made of clay and natural materials have been high this year, supply has not caught up as making idols from clay takes longer. Further, clay idols cost more.

A Ganesh idol joins thousands of others being immersed in the river.

A study conducted in the Ganga River in the aftermath of the similar

immersion of Durga idols during the Pujo festival estimated that the

total amount of paint submerged in the river was approximately 15

tons. They caused the levels of heavy metals such as mercury,

chromium and copper and zinc sulphites to increase by as much as 20

times the normal between October and January. Only during the

monsoon, when water levels rise in Indian rivers, does the level of pollutants diminish.

Click here to join Dil Se Desi Group or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dilsedesigroup/

A man searches for reusable items amid immersed idols of the

elephant-headed Hindu God Ganesh in the Sabarmati River. Action

groups in Mumbai insist that there is a silver lining amid all of

this: In 2009, 8,383 household idols were immersed in artificial

ponds. In 2010, they maintain, the number grew to 13,866.


Click here to join Dil Se Desi Group or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dilsedesigroup/

Schoolchildren paint idols of Ganesh made with earthen soil with natural colors

in Hyderabad. In Nagpur, eco-friendly Ganesh idols made of natural

materials and colored with natural dyes are available at

Kheteshwar Mandir, Gandhi Bagh and at Chitnavis Centre. The Goan

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, seen by many as a saffron right-wing

group, has gone green by banning the use of Plaster of Paris idols

and props in celebrations this year. Their contention finds basis

in the Hindu practice of using sattvic (pure) materials for

worship. In Ponda, also in Goa, eco-friendly idols have been made

using waste paper from used jap pustaka (prayer books). They are

painted with edible palm oil which dissolves easily in water. We

hope you are inspired. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!


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Posted on September 19, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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