Is your Ganesh festival truly eco-friendly?
Or did you only buy an eco-friendly idol?
In the last few years eco-friendly Ganesha idols are gaining popularity. This is a good sign which suggests that societal responsibility towards the environmental is growing. Even as many public Ganesh mandals continue with current practices; as households, we can act much more responsibly towards nature. Buying eco-friendly Ganesh idols is certainly a step in the direction, but there are many more ways to it.
In this article I suggest the options for a more eco-friendly Ganesh festival. Every stage of the festival can be made friendlier to the environment – the Ganesh idol itself, the decoration, the flowers and pooja material and finally the Visarjan (idol immersion).
Ganesh idol – What could be a real eco-friendly Ganesh idol? (i) Plaster of Paris (POP) idols Most idols sold on the market are made of Plaster of Paris (POP). POP is made by from gypsum, a naturally occurring material extracted from mines. Gypsum is processed industrially by heating it to 150 degrees C and converted into POP. A POP idol takes several months to dissolve in water. Studies on the impact of idol immersions conducted in Bhopal, Jabalpur and Bengaluru show significant impacts. Post immersion water samples show a rise in concentration of heavy metals, dissolved solids, acidity and a drop in dissolved oxygen. This is harmful to all aquatic life. POP idols are certainly not eco-friendly and must be avoided. (ii) Recycled paper idols These are made by pulping newspapers and used papers, binding it with a gum and casting or crafting it into Ganesh idols. Such idols contain newspaper ink and the binding gum. Imagine immersing a million such idols in water. We have no idea how the gum and printing ink will affect aquatic life – it could be as disastrous as the POP idols.However, the bigger problem with paper idols is that we keep away so much paper from being recycled! When immersed in water, the paper is lost forever. (iii) Clay idols Clay is a naturally occurring material and can be used without any industrial processing. The idols dissolve much faster and the clay is carried away by water. Most of today’s eco-friendly idols are made of clay. This is more eco-friendly than the POP and recycled paper idols. However, clay is a useful component of soil and its removal from fields depletes the soil and affects farm productivity. (iv) Paints used in making the idol Most conventional idol makers use either oil based or water based chemical paints. The paints have heavy metals like lead in them. The studies mentioned earlier show a 200 times increase in Copper and a 10 fold increase in iron. There are a few manufacturers of clay idols who use natural colours like turmeric and geroo. Use of such idols is advisable. (v) So what would be the most eco-friendly idol then? Certainly one which is reused year after year. This way we do not add anything to our water, nor do we extract gypsum or clay. For many families this is not acceptable, in which case the better choice would be to use a clay idol with natural colours and one which is locally made.Remember! All that we dump in our rivers, lakes and oceans comes back to us in our food chain – through vegetables, fish and meat.
Ganesh Decoration – this is a huge source of environmental pollution. Most of the decoration material – thermacol, paints, plastic ribbons, LED lamps, paper decorations – are industrial products which have undergone a polluting and energy intensive manufacturing process. An eco-friendly family will abstain from using such decorative material. Instead reusable handmade crafts are a better option. Used sarees make excellent material for decorative torans. Throw a challenge to children and they will come up with some wonderful ideas on reused and recycled decoration. During the festival, an eco-sensitive family will be careful not to overuse electricity.
Flowers, Nirmalya and Pooja material Generally the demand for flowers multiplies in the Ganesh festival. Floriculture is highly water intensive and consumes far more water than farming. An eco-friendly family will thus restrict the use of flowers. Moreover, they will compost the flowers and add this back to the soil. Flowers, garlands and other natural pooja material are rich in nutrients and all of this can be converted into fertile compost. Biocultures and vermicultures speed up the composting process and help is available. There are NGOs which offer help to societies or mohalla committees to make composting pits during the Ganesh festival. The compost so prepared can be distributed in your own society and is a great addition to garden pots.
Visarjan (the idol immersion) – This is by far the most polluting activity. The clay idols can be immersed in a bucket
While writing down these suggestions I am aware that the larger environmental impacts happen at the public Ganesh festivals; however, we can bring about a transformation only when we start with ourselves.
The Hindu religion considers nature nothing less than God himself. Respect for nature is a central tenet of the religion and its conservation the duty of every Hindu. The festivals are occasions for social worship and conviviality, but must not disturb nature and other life on the planet. It is time to remind ourselves of these simple rules and behave responsibly on earth – our one and only home and the giver of all that we have today.