By Ronak Pol

September 5th marked the beginning of Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival that celebrates the birth of the elephant God Ganesha. But this Ganesh Chaturthi, let us look back at what we set out to accomplish when we started this journey of “Sarvajanik Ganeshutsav” and what we have truly ended up achieving.

The History

It has been accepted that the freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak changed the way we celebrate this festival. His vision was to create a melting pot of ideas and encouraging unity in a society divided by castes and religious beliefs.

It was a platform  for people from all castes and communities to celebrate together.

Promoted by Tilak, Ganesh Chaturthi facilitated community participation in the forms of intellectual discourse, poetry recitals, plays, concerts, and folk dances. It was a platform  for people from all castes and communities to celebrate together. Although, during the British rule such social and political gatherings were discouraged.

What Is Going Wrong?

The religious scripts, mythological stories, and rituals have attempted to emphasize the importance of preserving nature by respecting it. For instance, the Bhagavadgita (9.26) states:

“Patram Pushpam phalam toyam, yo mey bhaktya prayachchati Tadaham bhakt yupahrutam asnaami prayataatmanaha”

The essence of this is that the spirit of any festival that we celebrate should inculcate a mutual respect for the environment and the society that we live in.

However, in the bid to make our festivals glamorous we have left behind the true spirit of it, which was to bring the creation closer to the creator. In this case, the idea of immersing the Ganesha idol on the last day was to depict the cycle of creation and dissolution.

The concept of the idols created with mud returning to being mud, encourages one to think beyond materialism and pause to evaluate the meaning of life after dissolution.

Idols and Water Pollution

Idols today are being made from mud, making them “eco-friendly”; a term that many ‘mandals’ are trying to associate their celebrations with. However, traditionally idols were always made from mud. In its true form, Ganesh Chaturthi was always eco-friendly until we tried to cut costs and make idols bigger to satisfy our inflated egos.

Ganesh Chaturthi

The police trying to manage the Visarjan crowd as the two sides moves in opposite directions. | Source: Pixabay

Along with the size of idols, the materials used have also changed over time. Instead of using mud from nearby water bodies and natural coloring agents derived from plants and turmeric, we have now turned to POP (Plaster of Paris) and toxic chemicals. Although POP is cheaper, lighter and easier to mould, it is non-biodegradable. This makes it near impossible to completely dissolve in water. Additionally, the paint used to decorate the plaster idols also contain heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium that pollute water bodies along with being fatal for the flora and fauna present in them.

Severity of Water Pollution

To thoroughly evaluate the effects of the immersion of idols made from POP on the environment, a study was published by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) in August 2013. The research used tap water in a clear container as a control, while having submerged the Ganesha Idol in a similar container and took readings at regular intervals.

article-1It revealed a steady increase of conductivity from 131 to 1751µS/cm. Along with a rise in the  total hardness from 56 to 1500mg/l, calcium hardness from 36 to 1430mg/l, magnesium hardness from 20 to 70mg/l, Sulphate from 4.0 to 818 mg/l and Total solids from 95 to 2422mg/l and COD from 12 to 24mg/l.

While dissolved oxygen showed to have depleted over the period i.e. from 7.4 to 5.7mg/l on 5th Day. Even after the 15th day of immersion, the POP idols did not disintegrate. Furthermore, the gradual disintegration of the chemical constituents of POP idols resulted in a steady increase in hardness and COD and reduction of dissolved oxygen in the water.

The large-scale immersion of POP idols is likely to lead to a gradual and persistent change of water quality in water bodies such as wells, ponds etc. Moreover, having a limited dilution factor would have marked an adverse impact on aquatic life as well as the natural quality of the receiving water body.

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh idols made of Plaster of Paris do cut down costs but at a higher cost to the environment. | Source: Pixabay

Other Issues

Air pollution and noise pollution also reach alarming levels during festivals. According to the guidelines published on the MPCB website, acceptable noise pollution levels are as follows: MPCB Standard Noise pollution guidelines also state that ambient noise above 85 dB(A) is considered harmful for human beings. The table below illustrates the violation of these safe levels during the festive season.



MPCB report – “Ambient Noise Monitoring during Ganesh Festival – 2012

The Way Ahead

The Indian government suggested  guidelines for idol immersion that were issued by the “Central Pollution Control Board” in the year 2010. Another set of guidelines were issued by the “Maharashtra Pollution control board” (MPCB) in 2014 to facilitate better water quality management after the festivities. Consequently, I encourage everyone to read the MPCB guidelines and proceed accordingly for, they give a series of simple 12 points that can  begin the cycle of change. However, the guidelines follow a casual approach which is not really an authoritative stance taken by the government on this issue.

In Maharashtra alone, approximately 68 lakhs Ganesh idols are manufactured, out of which 2.34 lakh idols are of a large size and worshipped in public Ganesh mandals and around 65.67 Lakh idols are used for private worship. Therefore, any absolute decision such as a complete ban on POP idols or similar mandatory restrictions could adversely affect the vote banks of the party in power.

Understanding why we celebrate a certain festival is the first step towards celebrating it in the right spirit. A lot of time, money and energy is spent on celebrating festivals without truly understanding their essence. We are gradually moving from a society that respects our surroundings and traditions to a society that ignores everything for its personal notion of happiness. Sadly, this way of living will inevitably end in chaos.

Ganesh Chaturthi

Every Ganesh Chaturthi, more than 2.38 lakh idols in Maharastra are huge in size. | Source: Flickr

Change is needed immediately. The choice remains in our hands whether this change should be sudden and drastic or  it could be gradual by taking progressive steps in the right direction.

Ronak Pol is a student of Economics and Finance at University of London International Programmes and currently works as an editor with the blog EconPolitics.

The article was originally published on the blog EconPolitics.

(A study by Swapnesh Rangnekar et al, published in the “International Journal of Plant, Animal and Environmental Sciences” will prove to be an informative read about the indicators.)

Featured Image Credits: Deviant Art

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Posted by The Indian Economist