These Ganeshas give environment a fighting chance

By Mauli Buch, IANS,

Mumbai : Ganesha idols made of clay and paper pulp or which use naturally extracted colours have found many takers in Mumbai this year, as environment conscious residents are making sure that the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations do not come at a cost to nature.

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A Mumbai-based organisation called Aniruddha Upasana Trust has this year made 6,000 Ganesh idols out of pulp as opposed to traditional ones made of Plaster of Paris.

“The idea was born in 2003, when the city woke up to the problem of disposing damaged plaster of Paris idols. Our volunteers did not mind cleaning up the beaches later, but what caused pain was to see a broken idol washed up on the shore,” said Sunil Mantri, the trust’s chief executive officer.

The Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which began Saturday, is celebrated with gusto, with idols of the elephant-headed god being installed in the nooks and crannies of Mumbai. It climaxes with the idols being immersed in water.

But according to activists, plaster of Paris idols take 15 days to a month to disintegrate and cause an increase in marine life mortality, while those made of clay or re-cycled paper take only a day or less to dissolve in water and cause lesser water pollution.

“Aniruddha Bapu, our guru, came up with the idea of making Ganesha idols out of the ‘jaap’ (written mantras) books that devotees submit throughout the year. The books are collected by members of the group before the festival and dispatched to a paper pulp factory, where wet pulp is drained of water and a special liquid poured into it.

“Chalk powder is mixed to absorb further moisture and dough is made. This mass of dough is then sculpted into Ganesha idols,” he said.

The size of these idols go up to four feet and they cost from Rs.350 to Rs.4,000.

“These idols are surprisingly lightweight, dissolve easily in water, and are less toxic as we use natural colours to paint these idols,” Mantri said.

NGOs in the Powai area that has a huge lake came together to organise training workshops and awareness programmes to make Ganesh idols eco-friendly.

Mumbai-based Navsrujan Ganesh Mahostav, an initiative of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni in association with another NGO Vidya, organised workshops on making Ganesh idols out of the soil found near the lake.

Volunteers of the NGOs carried sacks of soil with them while they conducted workshops outside of Mumbai.

“This year, we saw an overwhelming participation from 5,000 people, including children of various schools,” said Chaitali Gupta, vice chairman of Vidya.

“It is high time we woke up to increasing pollution in water bodies. We have to start somewhere and that is the reason we started with children,” said Gupta, who trains children in making clay and mud idols.

The National Association of Fishermen has also expressed concern over the immersion of plaster of Paris idols, saying these pollute the water and kill fish, thus affecting their livelihood.

“Also, plaster of Paris does not dissolve easily. This destroys the nets of fishermen. Every year we face the same problem,” said Gajendra Bhanji, chairman of the association.

“The municipality should undertake clean-up operations at the spots where the idols are immersed. The fishermen community is ready to lend their support in the clean-up operations,” he added.

Adding to the list of eco-lovers is Lakhichand Jain, a professor at the B.D. Somani Institute of Arts and Fashion Technology, who has come up with a solution to reduce the problem of toxic paints contaminating the water.

He stresses the use of colours extracted from ‘nirmalya’ – flowers offered to Lord Ganesh.

Explaining the technique to extract colours from these flowers, Jain said: “All one has to do is segregate flowers according to colours and grind them to pulp with a grinding stone or an electric mixer. The pulp should be taken on a clean cloth and the semi-liquid material that is squeezed out of them can be used as natural colours.”

(Mauli Buch can be contacted at [email protected])