September 11 is Ganesh Chathurti. Here's how to celebrate the festival without polluting the environment.

On September 11 we will be starting to celebrate the festival of Ganesh Chathurti — we bring home an idol, worship it and then immerse it in water. Often we may remember the legend associated with Ganesha's birth, but few of us know how the traditions of the festival began.

Of the five elements that make up everything in Nature, Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Ether — Ganesha is supposed to be the Lord of the Earth element — Prithvi tattva. In ancient times, agricultural communities were very conscious of their dependence on the fertility of the earth, because they knew that it is the source of all our food. During the monsoons, as the overflowing rivers deposited fresh fertile soil on their banks, farmers and their families would bring home a handful of this soil and worship it. They would offer gratitude to the earth in this way and when their ritual was over they would bring back this soil to the banks of the river and immerse it back in the flowing waters.

This ancient tradition has seen many transformations, the mound of earth took the form of Ganesha and it is now the festival of Ganesh Chathurti. Earlier, people made their idols from the earth they brought home. Slowly it got replaced by beautifully sculpted idols made by craftsmen. Earth was replaced by Plaster of Paris and then chemical paints were added to it..

Plaster of Paris is a man made substance that does not degrade easily. Chemical oil paints contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury and these are toxic to all life. Idols made out of these substances create havoc in the natural water bodies because they poison the water and the fishes living in it. A ritual that began in gratitude to the Earth is now causing environmental damage to it because of modern substances.

Celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi the natural way

Get some clay and make your own idol at home.

Paint it with natural pigments such as turmeric, multani mitti and red earth.

Decorate it with leaves, flowers and fruits.

If you want to make some decorations use paper, or even a plant called Shola which is used widely in Calcutta for Durga Puja decorations. Shola pith is biodegradable.

Immerse the idol in a bucket of clean water at home. Watch it dissolve and then pour the water into a plant or into your garden. This way, your prayers will reach back to the Lord of the Earth, without causing any damage to our environment.

With the flowers that you have used for worship, you can either make compost or you can dry them and learn to make natural colours from them.

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