Ganesha Chaturthi is one of the most famous Hindu festivals celebrated in India. It lasts for a period of 10 days. It usually falls between 20 August – 15 September and ends on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day during the period of waxing moon).
People welcome the idol of Lord Ganesha in their household and worship it for 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. Modak and karanji are some of the finest dishes prepared during this festive season. Celebrations are a grand affair as local communities compete with each other to put up the biggest mandap & the best pandal. There are also a number of cultural activities like singing, theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc specific to each area. Ganesh Chaturthi does have its noble element.
On day 11 of the festival long procession is seen taking the idol on to the streets. This is the most important part of the festival known as the ‘visarjan.’ It is said that the journey is partaken to see off Lord Ganesha’s journey to his home in Kailash. Mythology says that the Lord leaves with all the misfortunes and suffering of the devotees and takes them away with Him. This ritual known as the Ganesh Visarjan is accompanied by a lot of singing, dancing and fanfare by the devotees. According to family tradition, this takes place on the 3rd, 5th or 7th day. All join in this ritual and shout slogans in Marathi like “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya” (O lord Ganesha, come again early next year). A final aarti with an offering of coconut and flowers is carried out and the Lord is immersed into the nearby sea or a river. This cycle represents the creation and dissolution in nature as the Ganesh idol, traditionally made of clay is dissolved back into it by immersing in a water body.
Traditional values withstanding, the visarjan has adverse environmental impacts. They are mainly due to the dissolution of the highly toxic Plaster of Paris in the water body. Moreover the chemicals to adorn these idols are high on poisonous metals like mercury and cadmium.
Using traditional clay icons, immersing the idols in a small man-made pond, using bio-degradabe materials to make the idols are some of the steps suggested by NGO’s to make the festival eco-friendly. Though this important festival should in no way lose its charm, but wont taking this extra step towards the environment please the Lord as well!
By – Avni Mehrotra