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Evolving traditions

Evolving traditions

In a country like India where traditions are very deeply rooted, evolving them to suit the needs of present times is a proposition which may not be accepted by many readily; but, as awareness spreads and more people are increasingly informed of the hazardous impacts of some of the most fervently observed traditions, change on a small scale in pockets is a reality. The matter of idol immersion in rivers is a seasonal concern which figures in discussions with its myriad aspects. As much as it is a touchy matter of faith, which, like most other matters of faith, are best left untampered, the greater concern of this age is the pollution that a lot of festive events and practices cause and the result of such pollution that affects all, whether or not one may have contributed to the menace. Idol worship has been in practice since ancient times in India and adherents of the tradition, ironically, take pride in maintaining authenticity as well as grandeur of such events and the requisite ritualistic performances. The practice of immersion of idols in natural water bodies like rivers, lakes, ponds, estuaries, open coastal beaches, etc., remain a serious cause concerns in terms of water pollution, air pollution, and noise pollution. Propagating the idea to celebrate festivals while keeping in view the environment and its protection and prevention and control of pollution is, in fact, the need of the hour. That steps are taken in this direction is a heartening fact, the air quality in Delhi after Dussehra still being better than expected is testimony to this. With respect to idol immersion, however, predictably drew mixed response from the puja organisers in Delhi. It needs to be understood that festivities and events associated with it are not merely about faith and celebration but they also have a serious economic aspect to it in the silent background. The craftsmen who work up the idols of gods and goddesses every year are but poor and depend on the festive season for a boost in their means of livelihood. Thereafter, in the course of the event, several other very small scale vendors, most of whom from the unorganised sector, add to the economic activities of the season. Beyond that, with the conclusion of the festivals, the immersion of idols is the beginning of another story with respect to riparian pollution and contamination of natural water bodies. Most natural water bodies, if not severely contaminated, are the source of drinking water for the populace in the vicinity. A source of polluted water is thus a hazard to the health of many.

Disallowing immersion of idols in rivers implies both aspects equally: a welcome move towards sustainable development as well as a step to upset the cycle of festive rituals and even hurting religious sentiments. Delhi took the lead yet another time in checking the pollution in Yamuna river and made arrangements for performing the ritualistic immersion of idols for Dussehra in artificial ponds created exclusively for this purpose. Not only does this set a precedent for subsequent festivals in other places, it also increases awareness with the novelty of proposing solutions of the pin-pointed problems. Close to 90 artificial ponds were dug up for the immersion in Delhi this time. Criticisms also prevail that the ponds dug out by Delhi government authorities were "small and inadequate", but nonetheless, it's a fair start. A critique, however, made a relevant point that the immersion committee should have been consulted. Roping in the pertinent bodies and agencies will make the implementation of solution much more effective and agreeable to all concerned. Considering the duality between the two revered entities, a predicament stands that "it is a disrespect to Durga Ma to not immerse in the river but is it not a disrespect to Yamuna whom we also call a mother". The Central government recently issued a 15-point directive to states in order to make elaborate arrangements to check pollution in the Ganga river and its tributaries during the festive season; and this includes immersion of idols which could attract a fine of Rs 50,000. The Centre has also directed state governments to submit an action-take report within seven days after the end of festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Vishwakarma Puja, Dussehra, Deepawali, Chath Puja, and Saraswati Puja. The government and administrative procedures operate in their way to keep matters going smoothly with any repercussions of traditional festivals but it is also for the common people to be informed about the grave hazards of practices like idol immersion can have for the chemicals they release and which have all the possibility of making their way back to vulnerable humans and even animals and fishes. Constituents of inorganic pigments include chemicals like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, antimony oxide, white lead, lead sulphate, red lead, lead silicon chromate, lead chromates, etc., all of which have a detrimental effect on health. Crafting idols is a source of livelihood for many poor people and there is no reason to deprive them of a seasonal bonus. Innovative ways can always step in and give a fresh orientation to traditional matters. It was not too long ago when a young lady made heartening news of crafting a Ganesha idol out of chocolate and later immersed it in milk which then became a treat for the lesser privileged children. There are solutions galore to incorporate newer methods in traditional practices; only a start must be made and kept alive.

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