Tharangini Bala

The festival of the Elephant God is back again. Since almost a week now, the city streets are awash with huge and colorful idols but unfortunately covered with toxic materials. However, sitting pretty close to the huge chemical laced idols are also small and noble sets of Ganesha idols – made purely out of clay. This is for those few who are more environmentally conscious and aware.

Source : Wikimedia Commons / abcdz2000

But beware! Some of these eco-friendly idols too have their share of toxic paint in the form of gold hues, albeit minimal, to showcase the crown and jewels of the lovable god.

This is despite the decade long campaign going on in the country on the harmful effects of  Ganesha idols made out of POP and painted with toxic chemicals containing lead along with chromium and barium. All these chemicals pose environmental hazards to various extents. 

Green Campaign

The cycle continues each year with both the campaigns and efforts for an eco-friendly festival and the sale of Ganesha idols made of POP, at times cement and colored with toxic paints, continue unabated. The water bodies and the lakes continue to bear the brunt during the immersions.

Source : Wikimedia Commons /http://vedsutra.com/media

The POP taking months to dissolve, the cement never dissolving and the toxic paints poisoning the water and proving fatal for the fish, aquatic organisms and even the water birds that are highly dependent on these water bodies.

The Extravaganza

Noted environmentalist Dr. A.N. Yellappa Reddy voiced his strong disapproval on the methods and extravagances of celebrating the festival. He said “Youths collect money from door to door and set up huge idols that are painted with toxic chemicals, spend the money on fireworks, sound systems etc. and when these are done with permission from the police and BBMP along with political and financial backing, it is a massive problem.” These influential people should instead advise the young minds in making the festival more eco-friendly, he feels.

Real embodiment of the Lord is suffering – An image from the banks of Bhadra backwaters. Photo Credit : Tharangini

He is also disturbed by the fact that elephants are dying or being killed in conflict situations. While worshiping Lord Ganesha, the suffering of elephants, real embodiment of the lord, is being ignored. The jumbos are losing their habitat, corridors are being snatched up for development and ESZ are being reduced. The money spent on the extravagances of the festival can rather be used to make the lives of the real ‘Ganeshas’ better, he says.

Minimal Regulation

Though BBMP has made an effort to ban POP idols this festival season, the impact of the same is very minimal in the face of the larger problems according to Yellappa Reddy. The detrimental aspects of the festivals are rather increasing than decreasing despite all efforts for an environment friendly festival, he says. “When idols covered in toxic paints are immersed along with all the non-bio-degradable paraphernalia, all the water bodies start stinking with poison. Why is public money spent to spoil public sanitation and public health?” he questions.

Dealing with this at the government level is the only solution, he opines. They should lay down ground rules and clearly spell out that permissions will be given only if  eco-friendly methods of celebration are followed, thus bringing back the original spirit of the festival.

People’s Efforts

Amidst all these, those who are striving for change are staying focused on their efforts. Pooja Sagar, a teacher at Ohana School in Kengeri talks about shaping young minds to have an environmentally oriented outlook.

 She says, “One positive move towards changing the mindset of people towards choosing eco-friendly alternatives is to send a message home to parents and elders through their children. At our school, every year we ensure children make clay Ganapati idols and carry them home to offer their prayers and worship. These handcrafted idols are not just endearing, they also create immense happiness in parents to see the lord’s idol take shape in the tender and loving hands of their kids.

Clay Ganeshas made by the Ohana School children

Catch them Young

Not just schools, a few residents in Bengaluru like the Poorna Prajna Sports and Cultural Association in Uttarhalli-Kengeri Road held a workshop for the second year successively on making of clay Ganesha idols for the benefit of its residents and bringing awareness amongst children.

More than 50 children participated along with their parents to carve out clay idols even as the residents encouraged the kids to make use of these eco-friendly idols for worship. Further, the residents advised the children not to paint the idols with any harmful colors so as to maintain the sanctity of the festival and protection of our water bodies.

Poorna Prajna Nagar residents with their children displaying the idols made during the workshop

Although the movement to inculcate the celebration of a green festival is catching up from area to area in Bengaluru but this is not enough as government regulations and its strict implementation is needed. There is an urgent need to stop the manufacture and sale of chemical laced idols to make it a clean and green festival and ultimately save our water bodies and our land from degradation.

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