These days, ‘sustainability’ is the buzzword, and now, there’s sustainable fashion, housing, etc. Interestingly, if we look at our traditional lifestyle, we realise that we were always sustainable. The best way to find out about this is through our festivals.
With Goa's most important Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi, just around the corner, let’s discover how this whole festival is actually a celebration of ecology and sustainability.
BRING HOME AN ECO-FRIENDLY IDOL
The Ganesh idol, which is brought home on the day of Chaturthi, is traditionally made from clay, or chikat mati, as it is locally known. This mud is sourced from the river bed, and thus, when the idol is immersed, it goes back to the source.
But, sadly, with these changing times, the way we celebrate our festivals is also changing. Nowadays, Ganesh Chaturthi is marred with decorations which are plastic in nature, and in many places, the idol is made of Plaster of Paris (POP).
In Goa, it is illegal to immerse Ganesh idols made of POP. But despite the ban, POP idols continue to be made as they are light weight, have a quick setting time (so more can be made in a shorter time frame) and have a better finish than traditional clay ones.
Unlike clay idols that dissolve in water instantly, POP (which contains gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium) floats, disintegrates slowly and in the process, poisons the waters of lakes, ponds, rivers and seas.
However, along with having a clay idol, it is also necessary to use to eco-friendly colours. The chemical paints used to decorate the Ganesh idol sometimes contain harmful chemicals, and this may increases the acidity and heavy metal content in water.
The easiest alternative, therefore, is to make or buy clay idols finished with natural colours.
In Goa, it is a tradition to get Ganesh idols from local artisans, who are found across different villages of the state. We need to continue this tradition because then, we will be aware of how this idol is made.
Besides that, it is the most sustainable option, and in turn, we are also helping the local artisans and the art. One can customise the clay idols made with natural, or eco-friendly colours, and sans the use of oil or spray paints.
Manoj Prabhugaonkar, a Ganesh idol artist from the village of Mashem in Canacona, has gone a step further as he makes idols from papier-mâché and water colours.
These idols can be an ideal alternative to POP idols as they are much lighter and are also an eco-friendly option.
Actually in Goa, there are a few families who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, not with clay idols, but by drawing an image of the lord on paper. So, for such families, such idols are an ideal alternative.
Nowadays, these idols are also requested by other families in the village. He also makes idols which are made mainly of clay, and with minimum colours.
The Ganesh Chaturthi celebration in Goa and the Konkan is incomplete without the matoli. This is a wooden canopy suspended above the Ganesh idol, and it is decorated with various fruits, flowers, leaves, shoots, roots, etc. Most of these items are medicinal, and thus, this practice of collecting wild items was a way of teaching the next generation about their use.
The matoli is actually a celebration of backyard biodiversity. Thus, if possible, these should be sourced from our own backyards as most of the time, the festival is held in the native village of a family.
This practice of collecting matoli items will also help you understand your ecology.
SAY NO TO NON-BIODEGRADABLE ACCESSORIES
Several accessories used during the Ganesh Puja – like plastic flowers, cloth, incense boxes, camphor and numerous other materials – are thrown into the river at the time of immersion.
Opt for bio-degradable items that can be safely composted, instead. One can also use decorative items made from paper, cardboard, cotton, bamboo, coconut or wood.
Now many cities and municipalities of Goa install nirmalya pots near the immersion sites. This helps devotees dispose articles, especially any non-biodegradable items related to the festival.
It is a practice which was started more than a decade ago in Panjim by the CCP.
The other issue is the use of fireworks during the festival. It is a festival of aartis and pujas, and not of noise. Adopt less noisy and non-polluting practices. Be considerate to infants, the aged and pets.
One must remember Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival which brings people together from different communities to celebrate our biodiversity in a most creative way. We need to make sure that we continue this tradition and do not get carried away by trends which may, in the long run, harm our ecology, which this festival symbolises.
On that note, here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous Ganesh Chaturthi!
Arti Das is a freelance journalist based in Goa. She loves writing about art, culture and the ecology of Goa.