Traditionally deities were brought home, worshipped with reverence and at the culmination of the festivities consigned to water. But with each passing year the idols have become grander and gaudier. Customarily the idols were taken for the final immersion amid celebration and bonhomie. Invitations to return the following year were extended with much singing and dancing on the streets. Now each year the processions just get louder and more boisterous. In such a scenario is it wrong for the state to intervene?
Once a fairly sedate and private ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ and ‘Durga Puja’ have become a public spectacle requiring efficient crowd management during the celebration and large scale clean up afterwards. Although it is celebrated all over India Durga puja is predominantly celebrated in West Bengal and Odisha and Ganpati Visarjan is a part of Maharashtra’s tradition. Recent studies conducted across these states have demonstrated rapid deterioration of water quality in lakes, streams and rivers as a result of this practice of idol immersion. Nowadays the idols are made of non biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster of paris and are painted with toxic dyes, paints and varnishes. This causes water pollution on many levels
1.) Water pollution due to chemical paints which consists of heavy metals like mercury and lead which are detrimental to living beings.
2.) Waste generated by non – biodegradable idols and accessories during worship decreases the penetration of light causing eutrophication.
3.) The pH and Oxygen level of contaminated water decreases harming marine life
Just as our constitution guards our right to practice religious traditions we also have the right to clean water. Faith must be respected but there is a growing need to regulate the practice of idol immersion to save the environment. Since this involves sentiments of worshippers the government has to introduce these guidelines with great sensitivity. Some idol immersion practices which have been introduced are commendable and are enlisted here.
The Central Pollution Control Board directed local bodies to provide dedicated immersion points with synthetic liners at the bottom of artificial bodies. Idols are immersed under supervision and removed from the water bodies within 48 hours.
Pune Municipal Corporation installed large kalash shaped bins to collect accessories like flowers, clothes etc used in worship.
Careful monitoring of water is done in threes stages, namely pre- puja , during puja and after immersion on the Tapi in Surat. This helps to assess damage so that remedial steps can be taken.
Some steps have been more radical like the Allahabad high court completely banned immersion of idols in Ganga & Yamuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh even dismissing the plea of state government that idols could be immersed and then taken out immediately. The order was given in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by an environmentalist. Before other states are forced to take such strict steps we as responsible citizens should do our bit. Awareness should be created among people so that the state’s burden can be reduced.
Our traditions dictate that the idol should be made of shadu mati, a kind of clay found on the river banks. They should be small and unbaked so that they quickly dissolve in water. Only natural colours and dyes should be used to paints these idols and they should be immersed in artificial water bodies. The believers should understand that idol immersion in its present form is not just harmful for the environment but also an insult to Lord Ganesh and Goddess Durga. Idols made from P.O.P and other such material do not completely dissolve in water and their remains are collected by local government bodies and demolished by bulldozers, not a pretty sight.
As amid religious fervour we sing Ganapati Bappa Moraya Agale Baras Tu Juldi Aa lets invite Him in a more environment friendly, traditional ‘shadu mati’ avatar next year.