Lord Ganesh is probably the most adored of all the gods in Hinduism. In fact, Hindus pray to Lord Ganesh before starting anything new.Ganesh Chaturthi is the festival to celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday. The elephant headed god’s birthday is celebrated all over India and in Maharashtra it is a gala affair.
The preparations for the festival start well in advance. It commences with the installation of a clay idol at home. Since the demand for these idols goes up for Ganesh Chaturthi, the idol manufacturers begin works months in advance with idols as small as a few inches to some as high as a three storey building. People will bring these statues home and they will given a place of honour. The idol will be decorated with fresh flowers. In many places, especially in apartments, people contribute and get a big statue which is then placed at a central place like the park and that becomes the hub of all activities for the next few days. Apart from flowers, even Lord Ganesha’s favourite dishes are prepared and offered to him. The atmosphere at these places is electric as singing and dancing goes on late into the night. Live performances are a major attraction.
It is also celebrated by Indians and Hindus outside of India. In fact in Mauritius, it is a holiday and Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations there date back to 1896. There are many celebrations in US and UK which have become annual attractions and attract thousands of people.
Food fit for God
All of Lord Ganesha’s favourite foods are prepared. Modak is an all time favourite and any picture of depiction of Lord Ganesha is incomplete without it. Along with modaks, many other delicacies like laddoos, burfees and other regional specialities are prepared.
The real extravaganza of Ganesh Chaturthi can only be experienced in Mumbai. While celebrated across the country, the grandeur of Mumbai is unmatched. The celebrations in Mumbai blur the lines between festivals and fairs. Enormous pandals or temporary shelters for the gigantic statues are erected. The atmosphere is lively with drum beats, live music, dancing and a general air of gaiety.
But the festival in Mumbai is not about celebrations alone. A lot of good work is also done. Huge paintings, decorations and tableaux depict the various social issues need quick, effective and long lasting resolutions. Free healthcheck up camps are also organized regularly near the pandals.
It is remarkable how an ordinary urban spot is transformed into a different world for a few days and then gets back to normal just as quickly.
Bollywood, which is based in Mumbai is also not immune to this phenomenon. Every year the top stars of the industry pay their respects to the Elephant headed god by visiting one of the many pandals erected across the city. A lot of them even have huge Ganeshe statues installed in their houses and all their friends and family members gather there for the festivities.
The grand celebrations in Mumbai are marked by the presence of the traditional dhol and tasha.
At the end of the festival, all the statues of Ganesha are submerged in water bodies. In Mumbai, a great many of these statues enter the Arabian Sea. Many also go into lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and various inland water bodies.
The Environmental Concern
Every year thousands and thousands of statues are entering the water bodies all over the country. Some of the problems associated with water getting polluted are:
- Paints and other decorative materials are not soluble and may take a very long time to dissolve completely.
- Reduction in oxygen levels is directly impacting aquatic life.
- Paints with high levels of poisonous substances like led and mercury are killing aquatic life.
- Plastic idols don’t dissolve, thus causing permanent damage to the aquatic environment.
- Dumping of idols and accessories is blocking the natural flow of these water bodies.
- Blocking of naturals passages leads to water stagnation and mosquito breeding.
- The effect of polluted waters is skin disorders and other medical problems.
- The heavy acid content in the water due to the dumping is also causing severe stress on the already polluted water bodies.
Some of the remedial measures suggested are:
- Complete ban on immersion of idols in lakes, ponds, rivers, sea, etc.
- Doing symbolic immersion.
- Using bio degradable materials to manufacture idols for immersion.
- Encouraging people to immerse idols in small containers of water instead of the natural water bodies.
Many drastic steps are required to clean our water resources. By adding more strain on them, we are not doing anyone any favours. Instead, we are causing more depletion of an already scarce resource. Everybody must pool in and help in conserving nature. There is absolutely no reason that traditions and cultures cannot co-exist in harmony with the environment.