Millennium Post

Let the river live

Religious practices play a very important role in our lives. With festivals in line – Ganesha Chaturthi, Vishwakarma Puja, and upcoming Durga Puja – the issue of idol immersion in the water bodies has once again garnered the <g data-gr-id="84">spot light</g>.

To celebrate the festivals in an environmental-friendly manner, people need to become aware of how the simple  act of  immersion of the idols with its accompaniments leave the rivers dirty and foul-smelling. With festivals like Chhath Puja and Diwali too queued up, let us all keep one thing in mind: to celebrate the bounties given by the Almighty, we must preserve our nature.

Talking about one of the most awaited festivals in the country, Vinayak Chaturthi also known as Ganesha Chaturthi marks the birth of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity in Hindu mythology. The 10-day festival is celebrated in Maharashtra with gusto and enthusiasm.

It is popular in Mumbai where people throng the streets dancing and singing on the last day carrying out huge processions for idol immersion. It is also celebrated with the same vigour in cities such as Nagpur, where people use cotton to create an ambiance in which the Ganesha idol is placed. Along with the decorations, morning and evening prayers are offered to the deity asking for goodness of health, wealth, and prosperity for the family, and in the process also creating a  huge quantity of both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste.

For the family of Chandrakant Bharadwaj, who has been celebrating the festival for the past 30 years, the celebrations begin a week before the festival. Working in a private firm in Vadodara, he goes home to Nagpur to make sure he takes part in the festivities. He says, “We have been celebrating Ganesha Chaturthi for the last 30-40 years. We start working on the decorations early. 

Using cotton and LED lights, we created a mountain structure this year amidst which we placed the mud idol of the Lord Vinayak. It is a very special occasion for us as we got the idol made from a place which is 20 km away from Nagpur. On the last day, 27 September 27, we went to the Shukrawari Talao lake for the idol immersion.” Aside from all these celebrations in Maharashtra, Delhi too celebrates the festival with equal fervour. After placing the Ganesha idol in their homes or neighbourhood pandals for 10 days or less, the city lakes and rivers bear the brunt when thousands of idols made of Plaster of Paris (POP) are immersed, thereby polluting the water bodies. 

For people like Aishwarya Aggarwal, a <g data-gr-id="80">third year</g> student of Delhi University, Ganesha Chaturthi is a special festival. She says, “Ganesha Chaturthi is a community festival. We started celebrating it almost 12 years ago. At that time there were hardly any households doing that in Delhi. Initially we brought the Ganpati statue made of POP, though my father was against it because he did not want to pollute river Yamuna. But we had limited options back then. Gradually we discovered that in Raigarpura, Karol Bagh you can get biodegradable statues. Since then we only get the eco-friendly Ganesh ji from these sources. We love Ganesha and his fun-filled festival, and we celebrate it with a lot of gusto and vigour. This is one occasion that our friends, family and neighbourhood look forward to every year and celebrate it while being environment-friendly!”

For Rahul Sethi, who essentially belongs to Delhi but works in a private firm in Mumbai, Ganesha Chaturthi was celebrated at both the places with an equal zeal. He said, “My family lives in Delhi. For Ganpati celebrations in Delhi, we bought an idol made up of Plaster of Paris and after keeping the idol for one and a half day, we immersed it in the river Yamuna. However, for the Ganpati celebrations in Mumbai, we would buy a mud idol from the bazaar in Lokhandwala. Since it is easier to dissolve in the water, we opted for the mud idol. Also instead of going to the over-crowded Juhu beach, we did the idol immersion in a neighbourhood well.”

Apart from Vinayak Chaturthi, people indulge in the practice of idol immersion during the festival of Durga puja and Diwali as well.

On a visit to the riverside to check how idol immersions truly have an ecological impact on the water of the river Yamuna, POP idols of Ganpati were still found floating in the river 15 days after the festival. Talking to Omkara, who sits by the calm yet foul-smelling river, the man responsible for cleaning up after the festivals which have just begun, he said, “This year, hundreds of thousands of people came to immerse Lord Ganesha. Along with the murtis, the garlands and the flowers are also disposed on the river side. The idols made up of PoP take maximum time to dissolve in the water.”
Omkara added, “people have polluted the river with idols and by the time these murtis will dissolve, another festival will begin.”

Of immersions and pollution

Idols made up of PoP add to the menace:
  POP is a common component used to make Ganesha idols. It is not a naturally occurring substance. Therefore, it takes a lot of time to dissolve. Since it is made of gypsum, it takes several months or even years to disintegrate completely.

Chemical dyes and colours worsen the quality of water: 
  Chemical dyes used to paint the idols are extremely harmful as they lead to a sudden increase in water contamination. The chemical paints on the idols contain poisonous and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, etc. which enter the water and affect the quality of water in the rivers and lakes. After the idol immersion, water bodies end up highly contaminated. Along with the idols, several other items are immersed in the water such as banana leaves and coconuts which leave the water dirty. Items used for decoration are also dumped into the seas and other water bodies.

Reduced oxygen levels:
  The toxic and heavy paints from the idols form a layer on the water surface which increases the acidic content of the water and deprives fish and other aquatic life of oxygen. That is why, many fish are found dead and floating on the surface of the water on the day after idol immersions.
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