It is time to enjoy yourself, but remember to protect the environment.

Ganapathi Bappa Moriya!

It’s the time when these chants fill the air, as Ganesha is paraded around the city and finally immersed in a water body.

Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is one of the more popular festivals celebrated across the country. The reason for its popularity is not just the universal appeal of the deity, but the celebrations that go with it too!

As is tradition, people bring home the idol of Ganesha, either a day before or on the day of Chaturthi. The idol is then decorated and worshipped for one, five, seven or 10 days depending on one’s practices and patience.

The festival takes on a different scale in Maharshtra where pandals are erected across the cities housing huge, decorated Ganesha statues and compete with one another to see who attracts the most visitors. The pandal culture is popular, especially in Mumbai, where celebrities turn up to participate. The idols at some pandals even get offerings in gold and large sums of money as donations.

Celebrating nature

Traditionally, Ganesha idols were made of clay. Over the years, clay has been replaced by plaster of Paris and artificial colours have been used to make the idol attractive. However, the artificial colour and the plaster of Paris, turn our water bodies toxic and when immersed aquatic life is affected.

This is quite contradictory to the purpose of Ganesh Chaturthi itself. Lolita Gupta, partner, eCoexist, an initiative that sells eco-sensitive products, explains the festival’s origins. “It began as a thanksgiving by farmers to the environment. They would take home the fertile clay from the river beds, worship it and then return it back to the river. In time, the lump of clay was given a form.”

Birth of Ganesha

The festival marks the birth, or rebirth, of the elephant-faced God. Legend has it that Goddess Parvathi created a boy out of sandalwood paste and entrusted him to guard the door while she bathed. Lord Shiva, Parvathi’s husband, tried to enter and the boy refused to let him, unaware of his identity.

A bitter battle ensued and Shiva severed the boy’s head. This angered Parvathi and she vowed to destroy the universe. To appease her, Shiva promised to bring her son back to life. A search was launched to look for a suitable head. They came across a mother elephant crying for her dead son. The baby elephant’s head was affixed to the body of the boy and brought back to life. He was named Ganesha.

In recent history

After the decline of Chatrapathi Shivaji’s empire in Maharasthra, the festival was a family affair. Interestingly, it was freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak who brought back the pomp and show of the celebration in the late 1800s. Tilak saw the celebrations as a way to unite the people against the British.

For the environment

Go for clay idols. Or even better make clay Ganesha.

Opt for idols with natural colours like turmeric’s yellow and red earth.

Go for smaller idols as they can be immersed at home. You can immerse the idol in a bucket of water and it to water the plants in your garden.

Do not use decorations that are made of non-biodegradable material like plastic, thermocol and synthetic cloth. Use natural material like flowers, or the shoal decorations used extensively in West Bengal.

The daily offerings like flowers can be put into a compost pit, rather than merely thrown into the garbage. If you do not have one, contribute to someone else’s compost pit or get your neighbours together to create a community compost pit.