In pursuit of eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi

From cow dung to alum, eco-friendly experiments ruled the art of making idols of Ganesha this year

By Subhojit Goswami
Published: Tuesday 06 September 2016
In Maharashtra alone, there has been a 100 per cent uptick in the demand for clay idols this year. Credit: Aravind Samala/Flicker
In Maharashtra alone, there has been a 100 per cent uptick in the demand for clay idols this year. Credit: Aravind Samala/Flicker In Maharashtra alone, there has been a 100 per cent uptick in the demand for clay idols this year. Credit: Aravind Samala/Flicker

This year, devotees of Lord Ganesha have grown environmentally wise. Plaster of Paris has been dethroned by clay and synthetic dyes have made way for organic colours. The nine-day festival, which began on Monday, has given environment activists some real reasons to celebrate. Their tireless campaigns seem to have paid off as the country warmed up to the idea of celebrating eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi.

Followers of Bappa demonstrated their creativity, both in thought and execution, through idols made of clay, alum and even cow dung. In Maharashtra alone, there has been a 100 per cent uptick in the demand for clay (or shadu) idols this year.

Not just clay idols, the enthusiasm over greener Ganeshotsav became evident in other activities that took place in the days leading to the festival. While school children in Tirupati were seen enacting skits harping on the impact of plaster of Paris idols and synthetic paints on the environment, Bhopal organised 'Green Ganesh' workshop to train people to prepare eco-friendly idols.

However, some well-conceived ideas on making eco-friendly idols of Lord Ganesha caught the attention of the country.

Idols with plant seeds inside

A novel initiative to create eco-friendly Ganpati idols from red soil and fertilisers with plant seeds hidden inside them is attributed to Mumbai artist Dattadri Kothur. The idols are placed atop clay pots with a base of soil. These idols are not taken to pond for immersion. Instead, they are watered until they melt over a span of few days and eventually, the seeds begin to sprout.

‘I have been creating eco-friendly idols for 15 years now. It is a painstaking job to create these idols out of red soil and manure,” says Kothur to Down To Earth. What seeds does he fill inside the idols? “I keep lady finger and tulsi seeds that grow back as a plant.” According to him, it takes 5-6 hours to create even a small idol of Ganesha and each idol is sold for anywhere between Rs 1,800 and 3,200.

Taking a cue from fellow devotees, Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde also installed a similar idol made with red soil, organic fertilisers and clay filled with seeds of plants.

Gobar Ganesha

Some organisations have used cow dung to prepare idols of Ganesha this year. The process is not easy as the cow dung is dried in sunlight for almost three days and then it is ground and mixed with cow urine and turmeric. The final product becomes an efficient disinfectant. The idols can be later used as manure for plants.

Alum Ganpati has also caught fancy of the devotees, thanks to Pune-based artist Vivek Kamble.  Since alum dissolves in water quickly and it also purifies waste water, these idols prove helpful when they are immersed in water bodies. They are designed with food colours and weigh between 1 and 1.5 kg.

'Earth-sensitive' Ganesha idols

Bimba The Art Ashram in the outskirts of Bengaluru has been paying reverence to Lord Ganesha through ‘earth-sensitive’ art. Traditional potters hand-moulding clay derived from nearby river or pond silt: that's the approach of the organisation that has been making earth-friendly idols since 2001. When Down To Earth spoke to T D Deepak, one of the members of the of Bimba The Art Ashram, he emphasised on the need for retaining nature’s beauty through responsible celebration.

“Our idol-making initiative is a way of paying reverence to earth and maintaining the sanctity of nature. It is through our Ganesha idols that we convey a simple message: it is possible to innovate by following your tradition,” says Deepak. Explaining the belief that drives him and the founder, Deepika Dorai, he says, “It is not about what Ganesha should be made of. It is about how you want to worship your god. If we are genteel in our approach and our social consciousness is strong, we will be able to understand how to worship the Lord of Wisdom. Our clay idols celebrate and venerate nature and sensitise people to be compassionate about the world they live in."

But the road to be earth-sensitive is fraught with difficulties. “We are subject to constant scrutiny every time we manually pull out silt from ponds and rivers. Apart from the difficulty of procuring clay, the cost of using organic colours and employing traditional potters also makes us uncompetitive. We cannot match the cost-competitiveness of those making idols from plaster of Paris in Mumbai,” rues Deepak.

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