The ten days of Ganesh Chaturthi are celebrated with great joy throughout India, especially in Maharashtra. During this festival, the entire mood of the state changes—pink gulaal and orange flags paint the skies, and dhol processions energise citizens and devotees on the ground.
While the festival is celebrated with immense enthusiasm across communities, as the festivities come to an end and the idol is immersed in water during the visarjan, an unfortunate fate awaits both the god and the environment.
Although several people have shifted to using idols made of eco-friendly materials and paints, many still use the ones that are made of conventional PoP (Plaster of Plastic) materials and chemical paints, which may take anywhere between several months to years to fully dissolve.
Also, chemical paints contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which seep into the water as the idol dissolves, severely damaging marine life in the process.
Additionally, non-biodegradable idols can block the natural flow of water bodies, allowing stagnation.
This is why volunteers like Chinu Jeet Kwatra, the founder of Aarna Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO, are working to ensure that this year is different.
Chinu was especially troubled to see pieces of Ganesh idols lying on the beach. “The plaster of Paris idols [are] especially damaged. Their hands, legs, trunks are broken,” he told Mid-Day.
Unwilling to let it go, Chinu decided to enlist his fellow Mumbaikars to join him in picking the broken, tattered pieces of the idol, and clean up their beaches.
Speaking to The Better India, Chinu said, “We used social media aggressively to connect with students. Since I am a social activist and involved in a various project, I had a bunch of students who introduced me to a bunch of new students. Whatsapp, FB, Instagram was used to show the work and engage more people for the same.” He also mentioned that the AIESEC organisation helped them gather 1000+ volunteers in a short time!
Chinu and the volunteers started picking up the pieces and handed them over to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for proper disposal.
“I am a huge devotee of Ganesh and have been welcoming him at my place for the last 24 years. It hurts when you see your god lying in bits and pieces. We don’t have the right to mess with our environment for the sake of a festival,” he told TBI.
Yes, Chinu’s work is undoubtedly helping clean up the Mumbai beaches, but must the festival end up in volunteers cleaning up our natural resources?
From individual efforts to boycott PoP idols or immersing them in natural or artificial ponds by bringing about a change in the methods of celebrating the festival in public, we must adopt measures that are eco-friendly.
If we are to celebrate our gods during the festival, maybe we could extend our devotion by just one more day and think about where the idols are headed? It is volunteers like Chinu who are showing the way, and the least we can do is walk on them.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)