Introduction

Ganapati Festival, the Hindu festival also known as Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten day festival that honours the birth of Lord Ganesha, the God of new beginnings and remover of all evils and obstacles. This festival entails the zealous worship of an idol of Ganesha which is regrettably traditionally made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) along with other harmful non-degradable components. Devotees fervently offer flowers and prayers and each day ends with singing Aarti in praise of Lord Ganesha. On the last day of festivities the idol is immersed in the nearest water body.

Water Pollution

Regardless of government warnings, these idols regrettably continue to be made up of Plaster of Paris, a substance containing calcium sulfate dihydrate, that has very poor solubility resulting in leisurely degradation over several months, even after which it is not 100% completely degraded. Ignorance is bliss for idol makers as they further adorn the idols with decorative paints containing heavy metals such as lead and mercury. When immersed into the water these lethal heavy metals are then leached into the water causing bioaccumulation and eventually the demise of many aquatic organisms, adding to the ongoing process of destroying the flora and fauna of the water body, which is what our nation excels in. The heavy metal content sampling showed a ten fold increase in metals such as iron, while copper content in the sediments increased by 200 to 300%. Since our nation does not believe in leaving anything out, anything and everything accessorising the idol is submerged which includes flowers, fruits, coconuts, incents, camphor, cloth, plastic, thermocols and plastics. This ultimately leads to an increase in acid content and total dissolved solid content (TDS), causing blockage of water bodies allowing stagnation, an open invitation for numerous water borne diseases.

Air pollution

Before you see the festival, you hear it! Like numerous other Indian festivals it is greatly celebrated with an abundance of breathtaking fireworks as devotees express their merriment. This leads to a blanket of harmful gases and toxic substances like Barium, Cadmium, Sodium, Mercury, Nitrate and Nitrite engulfing the atmosphere. In addition respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels increase during this season owing to small particles being released into the environment by these firecrackers.

Noise pollution

These celebrations are loud and clear, much like spoilt children these days! Music is a must, be it day 1 or day 10 of the celebrations, through any means possible. The last day, the day of the immersion of the Ganapati idol is looked forward to by all. Nobody wants to be left out, which is why heavy traffic and impatient honking seems o be the highlight of the day! However all this sums up to is noise pollution way beyond the permissible level of 55 bB (day) and 45 dB (night) stated by the pollution control board. Senior citizens and children are directly affected by these as in certain cases the noise level can even reach 110 dB.

Green Initiative

The ‘Green initiative’ has no doubt leapt into action, for the past decade, many Indians having pledged towards a greener future and have followed through by the adoption of solar, wind and hydro energies and utilization of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. However it is not without discrepancies. Problems appear in the plan of action, or should I say lack of it! It does not define roles, responsibilities and accountabilities nor does it provide a timeline for delivery and is void of any discussion on financing. Hopefully these will be implemented soon. Also apart from looking deep into the future of what we would like to happen, we should also consider cleaning up the mess we have already created  by implementation of carbon capture and sequestration, cellulosic biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells, and providing the distribution of overall cleaner  or ‘greener’ fuels.

Solutions

  • Immerse the idol into tanks which are created by government instead of immersing it into natural bodies. These tanks were made for  a reason, use them!
  • Use a natural clay idol i.e. eco-friendly Ganapati idol and immerse it into a bucket of water at home as it takes several hours to totally dissolve in water.
  • Immerse ‘Betel Nut’ into water as it symbolises Ganapati and may be used to complete the tradition.
  • Permanent idols made up of metals such as copper or brass may be used every year.
  • Avoid contamination of any water body through the introduction of non-biodegradable material such as incense, camphor, cloth, plastic and thermocol into water.
  • Decorating the idols with garlands or synthetic paints derived from plant pigments and turmeric.

Look towards the future!

Conclusively this festival can be considered as directly abetting global warming slowly but surely. It includes all forms of pollution, water, air and noise, on levels that are beyond tolerable to nature. It is ironic that whilst being caught up in the rapture of worshipping the Lord of new beginnings we are gradually putting an end to our world. Every year government spends crores of rupees to clean and dig out tons of garbage from natural water sources. Prevention is better than cure and better late than never, so let’s work together for a better tomorrow instead of compromising our tomorrow!

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