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Sunday, September 11, 2011
Today is September 11, the 10th anniversary of famous 9/11 which shook the whole world. Today is also declared as 'Grandparents' day, to highlight the role of grandparents in the society. Why should I not write about one of these topics? A lot has been already written about 9/11 and will be done in future. As for the 2nd topic, nothing much to write about my grandparents. But, today is also the major immersion day of Ganesh idols in many parts of India. Celebration of Ganesh festival and subsequent immersion of idols in lakes, rivers and seas which is repeated every year set me thinking whether we are killing all these waterways.
Lord Ganesha is worshipped as the first among the dieties in Hinduism as He is looked as the remover of all obstacles when one wants to start something new. This elephant-headed, pot-bellied God has always fascinated our minds and He is the most sought after diety compared to many others. He has captured the imagination of people so much that one can find a vast collection of Lord Ganesha in many houses in various forms and types, but not Lord Rama or Lord Krishna. No wonder, He is depicted as one of the favourite cartoon characters playing with small children.
Preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi start months in advance and the artisans and workers come from
many parts of India as well as from outside. The 10-day festival is celebrated in a mega scale more in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and to a lesser extent in other states. The making of big Ganesh idols in a large scale and the subsequent immersion was made more popular by Freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak to bring communities together against the British. Today, the practice still continues and it has become a big business and livelihood for so many families in India. The big idols are made mostly from Plaster of Paris material as they are light-weight and cheaper and can be transported easily. Thousands of POP idols(plaster of paris) are made and adorned and kept in pandals only to be taken for immersion ten days later. The immersion is mostly done in lakes and rivers and sometimes in sea-water.
The big idols are bought by various societies to be installed in the corners of lanes and streets along
with glaring music and various cultural activities. The idols are painted in myriad colours and dyes which pollute the lakes and harm the aquatic creatures and plants. POP contains harmful chemicals like gypsum,which does not dissolve easily in water. Though there have been efforts to spread awareness about the harmful effects of these big idols, the demand for those idols only keep growing every year. The eco-friendly Ganeshas which are mostly made of clay and painted with vegetable dyes are used for home-pujas and more people are buying these types of idols. This year also, the sale of clay idols in Andhra Pradesh was more than the last year. The clay idols can be immersed in a bucket of water and that can be thrown in our garden. Lord Ganesha will be more pleased with that, I believe. Though sales of these eco-friendly idols have gone up, they are still overshadowed by the purchase of large POP idols.
I have stayed in Hyderabad for few years and I have witnessed the grand-scale celebrations. The one major attraction during this season is the giant-sized 'Khairatabad Ganesh idol' which is about 50-feet tall and keeps getting taller every year. In addition to that, there will be thousands of POP Ganesh idols installed in every nook and corner only to be immersed in the major lakes like Hussain Sagar as it is a land-locked city. The major immersion day is accompanied by traffic chaos and revelry among the youth remniscent of the New Year's eve. One could imagine the plight of those lakes and rivers which will be highly polluted with harmful chemicals from the colours and has the potential to kill the aquaitic life. Human deaths and injuries also happen with these massive immersions. Since POP material is light weight they do not really immerse but float in water. The presence of harmful chemicals from the colours increase manifold after the immersion. The clean-up that follows is a huge process and money-consuming. Bull-dozers are used to crush the idols and it is anybody's guess as to how they are disposed. This is repeated every year. My heart really pains to see this whole affair. Are we really respecting and worshipping Lord Ganesha by spoiling these lakes and seas? Is it not time we bring some change in the way we celebrate this festival?
(1) The first step is to create strong awareness about the harmful effects of the materials used and
should be done about a month in advance. People should know that they are harming the environment rather than worshipping the diety.
(2) The second step should be to place limitation on the height and the number of these type of idols and anyone who is seen crossing these limits should be heavily fined.
(3) The third step is to refuse contributing funds to the organizations who ask for installation of POP idols. Reasoning should overtake the religious sentiments.
(4) The fourth step is to provide alternative livelihood to artisans and workers involved in this. Their creativity and skills can be used in a better way like making artistic items and exporting them.
We look forward for real, eco-friendly Ganesh festival which will not only please this favourite God, but also the precious environment.