In spite of the pleas to make smaller clay idols of Ganesh fit for immersion in tanks, the size is getting larger by the year. It has become more colourful and even responsible institutions are ordering huge idols made of non-biodegradable materials.
The tanks wear a dirty look with flowers, leaves, twigs, coconut shells, thorns from roses and other twigs all strewn on the surrounding footpaths. Huge cranes stand near some tanks that have been allocated for immersion.
Lokmanya Tilak popularised Ganesh Chathurthi so that unity prevails among Hindus. He is supposed to have started the trend of making large Ganesh idols on pavilions and submerging them in waterways. A “from-dust-to-dust” thought where people understood that life is transient and we return to where we came from. The festival created an opportunity for many people to get involved in cultural performances and also to unite them against the British.
In the olden days, boys bathed and brought clay from the riverbed and made idols. It was almost a ritual when a member of the family went down to the river or other waterways to bring mud and make the idol. This must have made many artists in the family. Obviously, one cannot make very huge idols and immersion was relatively easy.
Religious fervour aside, we have now become an irresponsible lot when it comes to praying to the deity. We are only worried as to what He will give us in return for the “puja” with all the fanfare, the blaring music, idols getting bigger and chemically colourful, pandals that block road traffic and create public nuisance, all in the name of festival. The festival also drags on for more than 10 days. Money is collected or even demanded to eat and make merry with alcohol and movies at night. The blaring music is no way melodious as the cinema songs blast your eardrums.
Should Ganesh shudder at the thought of being immersed in water? They take him with huge fanfare. Carry him down on cranes or lorries, beat him to a pulp, and immerse him in shallow waters where he is disfigured and left to fend for himself as he slowly pollutes the environment with chemicals. Mercury, cadmium, lead and other chemicals are getting mixed up with water and poison fish and other life forms.
We don’t need an angry Shiva to sever the head of the little boy guarding his own house as Parvathi bathed. We now have disfigured Ganeshas abandoned on the footpaths or places near the waterways, be it tanks, rivers or sea.
Some suggestions to tackle the problem
Perhaps, a single authority should sell Ganesh idols. Maybe, the government should ensure that only clay idols and that too very small ones are made, and the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan or other environmentally-conscious people should be entrusted with the task.
People could immerse the idol in a bucket of water and use the soil to plant a sapling.
Use the same idol every year by just wiping it clean with water.
Use brass, silver or other metal idols so that they can be kept for future use.
During any puja, prayer is offered to Ganesha first and he is made of a small mound of mud, turmeric or even cowdung in villages. This could be made a regular practice along with use of metal idols.
Navadhanyam, methi, sago, turmeric and coconut shell with husk could be used for making the idols.
Religious institutions or environmentalists could collect money and make small clay idols of Ganesh and distribute them free to the public. When it is free, people will make a beeline for them and this will avoid pollution of the environment.
It is indeed a pathetic sight to see Ganesh idols disfigured and placed everywhere on roadsides. I sincerely hope that people will become more responsible as they pray for bounties to the little lord, who comes home once a year to make us prosperous.
(The writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org)