Mumbai: At the end of the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festivities every year, the city’s beaches look like a war zone: dismembered limbs of idols scattered all over, poisoned fish floating ashore. Most of the idols, which are eventually immersed in the sea, are made of toxic materials like Plaster of Paris (PoP), lead, zinc and mercury.
Artists and environmentalists in the city have found a way to minimise the damage with eco-friendly Ganeshas, made of paper napkins, clay that dissolves quickly, and even cowdung. The client list varies from nature lovers, the traditionalists and those who are not averse to experimenting.
The Hindu tracks five makers/sellers of eco-friendly Ganeshas in the city.
Text: Emmanual Yogini
Photos: Emmanual Yogini, Rajneesh Londhe
In 2015, Dattadri Kothur, an art director by profession came up with the idea of the Tree Ganesha, an idol made of red soil, organic fertilisers and holy basil (tulsi) or okra seeds. The idols are immersed by pouring water over them, and take 7-8 days to dissolve. The seeds begin to sprout around day 5, and within a month, the plant is ready. Tulsi and okra seeds are chosen as they grow the fastest. Prices range from ₹2,000 for a nine-inch idol to ₹4,000 for a 18-inch one.
Mr. Kothur has been making eco-friendly Ganeshas at home for the past 10 years. He would be disturbed at the sight of Ganeshas lying on beaches and the post-immersion contamination of water. “The main idea behind the tree Ganesha was to give something back to nature,” he says.
In 2015, he made one idol from red soil and posted the video on social media. The video went viral and people soon started calling him for orders for the next year. In 2016, although he received many calls, he managed to make just 350 idols.
This year, he is making around 800 at his Worli workshop, aided by college students who are his friends. Besides the Mumbai market, the idols are sent to Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
The only challenge with the Tree Ganesha is that it takes longer to dry when it rains. Each idol is made in six to seven hours but takes at least a week to dry.
Contact: Dattadri Kothur, 9920321435
Two years ago, Anand Pendharkar, a wildlife biologist and CEO of Sprouts Environment Trust, came up with the fish-friendly Ganesha. Mr. Pendharkar’s chief concern was the widespread use of PoP in idols.
“Our celebrations need to change as per the changing times as our oceans, rivers and lakes are getting polluted and our soils, unproductive,” says Mr. Pendharkar.
The Ganeshas are made of clay and painted using organic colours such as turmeric, Multani Mitti [Fuller’s Earth] and kumkum [vermillion]. The idols are filled with vegetarian fish food, making them ocean-friendly and biodegradable. The clay dissolves in water soon after the idol is immersed.
Till last year, the idols were made in his home in Mumbai, but the workshop has now shifted to his hometown at Devrukh, 325 km from the megapolis. At least 10-15 village youths are hired for three to four months to make the idols. “Now, more friends are supporting the initiative by helping in distribution, sale and delivery of idols from than ever before.”
The idols get sold out quickly, he says. His main challenges are capital, space constraints and human resources — in terms of artisans and marketing personnel — and a distribution/delivery network. “Also, people are rigid about what they want in their idols and make unreasonable demands from us in terms of design,” says Mr. Pendharkar.
Prices range from Rs 1,200 to Rs. 1,500, and the idols are available at eight different locations including Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Goa.
Contact: Anand Pendharkar, 9820140254
Nerul-based auditor Nilesh Tupe, sells idols made of cowdung at his residence. The idols travel all the way from Rajkot village in Rajasthan, where they are made in a gaushala by Panchagavya Chikitsa Sangh, an organisation dedicated to using cowdung, urine, milk and curd to develop and sell eco-friendly goods and medicines. They are packed carefully in a box and transported to Mumbai in a tempo.
The idols can be immersed at home, with the dissolved material serving as manure. The demand for these idols is increasing every year, says Mr. Tupe. The price ranges from Rs. 101 to Rs 2,200, depending on the idol’s size. “I started selling these idols in 2009 and this year, have sold over 10,000 all over Maharashtra,” he says.
Contact: Nilesh Tupe , 9930088813
Artist Digamber Mayekar makes Ganesh idols from paper napkins at Vile Parle (East). The idols are lightweight, as compared to those made of clay and PoP. A single person can lift a 14-feet idol as it does not weigh more than 5 kg.
For a 10-feet idol, Mr. Mayekar uses 12,000 packs of tissue paper. He uses metal wires to strengthen the idols and pastes up to 20 layers of tissues on them using tree gum. The idols are dried using halogen lights. Mr. Mayekar has been making the idols along with his team for the past 10 years. Two months after visarjan, Mr. Mayekar begins preparations to make idols for the next year. They do not require harmful chemical paints, and once immersed, dissolve within minutes. While there is an environmental impact to using metal, the idols don’t release anything toxic into the sea.
Contact: Digamber Mayekar, 91676 46159
Shadu Clay Ganesha
For over five decades, Pradeep Maduskar, a sculptor from Girgaum, has never made a PoP idol in his workshop, started by his father 78 years ago.
The Maduskar family went strictly by the book — in this case, the Ganesh Kosh, a Ganapati encyclopaedia which details what materials should be used and how, the deity’s ideal pose, its ornaments and so on. The Maduskars are known for their vaibhav-sampanna Ganesha, made as per the Ganesh Kosh guidelines.
They make idols from shadu, a special clay found on river banks in Gujarat and the Konkan. Shadu clay idols dissolve faster than those made of regular clay, and do not harm marine life. Mr. Maduskar makes more than 2,000 idols every year ranging from 11 inches to 5 feet.
Sunil Varadkar, another sculptor from Girgaum, makes more than 100 idols of shadu clay every year. His family too has been in the business for more than 60 years. Mr. Varadkar himself has been making idols for the past 30 years. “As per tradition, Ganesha should be made of shadu clay as it does not harm the environment. Festivals need to be celebrated in keeping with spirit of sustainability,” he says.
Contact: Pradeep Maduskar, 9892215876, Sunil Varadkar, 99875 03756