— Shashwat DC
Today happens to be the last day of the Ganapati festival. Especially in Maharashtra, and more so on Mumbai, the festival is celebrated with such pomp and fervour that it would amaze anyone. Speaking from a religious hat, Ganesha, the benign elephant god after visiting tera firma for some ten days, will now be returning to good heavenly abode, among energetic chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya, Puchta Varshi Lavkar Ya” (All hail Ganapati. Please come early next year). There such an energy that flows through the city, that it envelops you and affects you. Witnessing all the myriad Ganeshas being taken out for visarjan (ritualistic immersion), amid chants, drums and flowers, it’s hard not to feel happy and charged up at the same time.
But sadly this feeling doesn’t really for long. Over the next few days, one will be confronted with the scale of mindless degradation, of the water bodies, of grounds, it saddens you a quite a bit. Newspapers will publish photos of washed up idols of Ganesha strewn across the beaches of Mumbai. A few familiar voices that try to leverage every thing for a personal PR, will suddenly appear on the scene and start with their familiar spiel of how the city is unable to cope with the sheer scale of the festival, they will ramble about the destruction of mangroves, of beaches, of the Arabian sea, and once they have got their 15 mins, they will shut up and into in hibernation.
This whole environmental/ecological discussion has almost turned into a cycle, the narrative moves along familiar ways. It isn’t that the people at large have been oblivious or ignorant to the ecological impact of the visit by the celestial god. The immersion prices gas been largely streamlined, you can’t just immerse the idol anywhere that catches your fancy. There are designated points, there’s a process, and more importantly, there are people from the administrative side that oversee and conduct the whole process. Over the past couple of years, the judiciary too has done it’s bit in bringing some necessary checks and balances, the high court especially has been quite proactive in clamping down on noise pollution, or pulling up the government for shoddy work done.
On the common folks level, people have become sensitive and concerned about how the commonly available plaster-of-Paris (p-o-p) idols truly besmirch the lakes, rivers and the sea. Idols crafted with mud (Shadu mitti) are costlier but quite common. There are now idols that are available that dissipate into a potted plant, once the festival passes. Even the media, more so the FM radio channels drive home the point quite laboriously through many days before the festival.
Personally, I have grappled with such issues myself, thrice has the elephant god visited my place, making me aware of the kind of challenges that present themselves, even when you are willing and keen to go green. While my first idol was a p-o-p one, the next two were of shadu mitti. Ideally, that should be making me happy and glad, as I seem to have have done my bit by going the “eco” way. But I frankly am not.
It’s only when, we started bringing in Ganesha at home, did I realise the scale of issues that confronts you. Greening in the idol is just one aspect of the festival, there’s much that needs to be done on that front.
Especially this year, I started to make notes of the environmental impact or rather the CO2 footprint of the Ganapati fest. In fact, we even tried to go in for eco-products in our quest to go green. It was costlier, but felt good. Yet, it is really not enough.
To give you an idea, let me enumerate with a few thoughts.
Beginning with the idol, while many people are now going in for eco-ganeshas (made of mud/clay) we embellish the idol in not-so ecological paints. The idols are painted in vivid colors, and accessorized with glassy objects that are anything but eco. In fact, idolly — or ideally, the idol must be in the pristine condition that it is made, with a natural color that manifests itself. While there could artistic refinements, there should be minimal embellishment of the idol itself.
Next, comes the decorations. When, we bring in Ganapati, we not only do so to seek his blessings, but also to impress the people with the grandeur. Result, people will have fancy backdrops, gaudy lights, and so on. I don’t think there can be a bigger irony than resting a eco-ganapati in a thermocol backdrop. But beyond these obvious elements, one of the things that bothers me the most, is the indiscriminate use of flowers in the whole fest. Hibiscus, marigold, jasmine, roses, are carted from all the country in tonnes and tonnes for this festival. And while, they might be organic and what not, the real issue lies in their disposal. I have so often seen people dumping them irreverently in canals, seas, over the bridges and so on. The worst thing is they are dumped with the plastic bag itself. What could be more criminal than that?
That is one of the reason, we have tried assiduously to minimize the use of flowers in the celebratory fest. I know, it greatly reduces the visual presentation, but that is something am sure that Ganesha would concur with me on.
After, idol and decoration, comes the people. Ganapati festival is not a religious festival, but a social one. It is the only time in the year, when Mumbaikaars like me are cordial and congenial. I guess, Balgangadhar Tilak was prescient enough to know the kind of disconnected mass we would be, hence, encouraged the festival as a way and mean to personally connect. Thus, you invite scores of people and they do accept. And while, you have guests at home, there will be hospitality — after all, athithi devo bhava. Considering how pressed we are for time, knick-knacks, drinks and prasad will be served in disposable stuff. Who the hell has the time to keep washing glasses and plates. Result, there is often a pile of such disposed stuff. Also, the guests tend to bring in a box of sweets to offer to the god, by the time the festival ends, there’s a pile of sweet boxes that need to be disposed of.
We have tried to cut down the cutlery end, by going in for areca products, bowls and spoons made of palm leafs. While it is eco-friendly, the pile up much saddens me. As far as the sweets are concerned, we actively share them, giving them generously to one and all, in our quest to finish them off. But honestly, it is a big struggle.
Thus, if you add all these up, there’s a negative footprint of Ganapati fest that can’t be wished away with an eco idol. Our journey should begin with an eco-green idol, not end with it. The objective should not be an “eco-friendly” Ganapati but rather a Net-zero Ganesh Chaturthi (the whole festival — from beginning to end).
And just like how sustainability principles are applied in corporate space, their should be a detailed analysis of the impact, documentation, stakeholder management, mitigation and finally, offset. All these actions must be brought to play to curtail the CO2 footprint of the enchanting Ganesha.
To be fair, it cannot be a one-shot journey. It will need oodles of advance planning. There will be much deliberations, hunt for alternatives, so on. But, when Ganapati visits your home and leaves, without in anyway harming the environs, it will truly be a festival in the truest sense. And this is what we should be aiming for.
From our end, we have decided that when Ganapati comes to our home in 2018, we will consciously work towards a Net-Zero Ganapati. Whether we are able to do it or not is still a thing of conjecture, but we will surely give it our best shot for sure. Hopefully, I will have much notes to share next year. Till then, Ganapati Bappa Morya to all of you…
The Author is a journalist by vocation, associated with Network18, one of India’s largest media house. He is passionate of about sustainability, technology, history and mythology in varying measure. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his Twitter handle is @shashwatdc
Disclaimer: All the views expressed here are personal in nature, and have no bearing to any organisation affiliated to the author.