Rajanish Kakade/AP
An artisan works on a statue of Hindu elephant god Ganesh in preparation for a ten-day
Ganesh Festival

Statues of Hindu God Causing River Pollution

August 21, 2008 11:06 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
New, commercially made idols used in the Hindu festival Ganesh Caturthi are releasing toxic dyes into India’s waterways, spurring a campaign to return to traditional, natural materials.

Ganesh Statues Causing Trouble

The “Ganesh Chaturthi” festival celebrates the birthday of the elephant god Ganesh, and is held during the beginning of August or September every year according to the Hindu calendar. The festivities end with the immersion of thousands of large Ganesh statues into bodies of water.

The growing crowds honoring Ganesh have attracted commercial vendors offering brightly colored statues that may look appealing but are threatening India’s waterways, according to environmentalists.

Traditionally, the idols were made with natural ingredients such as mud, clay and vegetable-based dyes. But the commercialization of the holiday has spawned a proliferation of bigger and brighter idols made out of plaster of Paris and painted with toxic chemical dyes, according to the Kalpavriksh environment action group, which is campaigning to make the festival more environmentally sensitive.

“This festival brings together thousands of people, but in modern times is also contributing to serious environmental pollution,” the Kalpavriksh group says, thanks to new commercial Ganesh statues “painted using toxic chemical dyes to make them bright and attractive to buyers.”

The toxic materials are poisoning water bodies, harming plants and fish, and sickening those who drink the water downstream. “The immersion of idols made out of chemical materials causes significant water pollution,” the group says, also citing problems with the festival’s crowds and noise.

Ganesh Chaturthi: Happy birthday, Ganesh

The festival, which lasts about ten days, honors Ganesh, or the “Remover of Obstacles,” whose help is sought when starting a new enterprise or business. To celebrate the god’s birthday, people first create the plaster of Paris sculptures to display in their homes, also performing ritual invocations of Ganesh through a series of songs and spoken prayers. Later during the festival, there are songs and dances on the streets, and passers-by are sprayed with colored powder. The event ends with a parade of thousands of statues that are submerged into waterways, symbolically ensuring that the god will return the next year.
Writer Sudheer Birodhkar describes the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations: “During the immersion ceremony, huge crowds move in a procession carrying idols of Ganesha towards the place of immersion. These processions, which take place with great fanfare, begin in the afternoon and continue ’til the late hours of the night.”

Video: ‘Making Environmentally Friendly Ganesh Idols’

Reference: ‘Guide to Hinduism: Beliefs and Basics’


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