Rivers of India have always played a major role in our history and civilization. They have been worshiped in our ancient scriptures, and have been named after gods, goddesses or saints. Ironically, those same rivers are severely polluted by us – either in the form of industrial contaminants, domestic sewage, or as a result of festivities – one example being Ganesh Chathurthi. This article discusses the environmental impact of this festival and offers some simple alternatives to celebrate it in a more sustainable manner.
What’s the impact?
Just before the festival begins, life-like clay idols of Lord Ganesh are made my special artisans in sizes that vary from an inch to over 25 feet. These idols are adorned with paint, decorated with flowers, and then worshiped for 10 days, either at a home or at mandappas (temporary structures constructed in a suburb). On the final day of the festival, thousands of devotees immerse their idols into water bodies.
There was a time when these clay models were all made using earthern or natural clay (shaadu maati). However, with commercialization, the clay models are now being made using tin-foil, silver, thermocol and/or Plaster of Paris – an inexpensive, easy-to-mould material made from sulphur, phosphorus, gypsum, and magnesium. These Plaster of Paris Ganesh’s when immersed in water, take a longer time to dissolve and release the above-mentioned toxic chemicals into the water body. Furthermore, the paints used to decorate the models are chemical-based, releasing heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury into the water. More often than not, thermocol, plastic and other non-biodegradable materials that are used to decorate these idols, also make their way into the water bodies. There are no surprises on the day after the immersion when you see pollution and direct impact on the surface of our ‘holy’ water bodies. Lakes, streams, rivers and the ocean are not the only silent sufferers. Litter of plastic, flowers and thermocol are also found scattered on the streets, waiting to be picked up by civic authorities.
Top 7 Eco-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi:
1. Buy natural clay idols
Help bring back the old tradition by buying or asking shop-owners for natural clay idols that are painted with natural colours (organic or vegetable dyes). We sell natural clay and paper mache idols made by a growing network of sculptors from various part of India and by mentally and physically challenged youth and adults. This project helps them all earn an income.
2. Other materials
Idols can also be made out of other biodegradable materials such as paper-mache.
For decorations, say no to thermocol, plastic and other non-biodegradable materials. If they don’t end up in the water bodies, they lie in landfills for hundreds of years. Instead, use wood, paper, cloth and other natural materials for decorations. You can buy eco-friendly decorations from us too.
Also, offerings of flowers could be collected and placed in a compost pit. They would be a natural fertilizer for your garden. If you must immerse them, use newspapers to wrap them instead of plastic bags.
4. Immerse your natural clay idol in a bucket of water at home or in a tank. Reuse the water for plants.
This alternative is being adopted more commonly now especially since several cities now ban immersing idols in natural water bodies.
5. A symbolic immersion
Some people use a stone or metal idol. A symbolic immersion is carried out – you could even carry it in procession to the sea, hold it in water and then bring it back home. Or you could immerse a ‘betel nut’ which symbolises the idol and reuse the same idol every year.
6. If you already have a plaster idol, simply sprinkle a few drops on it as a symbolic immersion. Then repaint and re-use it every year.
7. Volume Kam Kar
Song and dance are an integral part of the celebrations. However, ear-splitting decibels are not only disturbing but are also a major health hazard.
Moderation is the key to ensuring a safe, happy and healthy Ganesh Chaturthi. Happy Green Ganesh Chaturthi everyone!
Shweta Foulger, the author & Rashi Goel are co-founders of Green Ok Please