Every year Temple Town Madurai sees hundreds of Ganesha idols worshipped across numerous pandals and immersed in selected water bodies in the district. According to the District Collector, L. Subramanian, last year there were over 400 idols. “This year, we are still getting requests for permission and the number will easily cross 500,” he says.
The district administration has released a list of water bodies, where the idols are permitted to be immersed, apart from the Vaigai river. Many idols are also taken to the Rameswaram for visarjan in the sea. Imagine the amount of pollution caused due to the idols either made with Plaster of Paris or clay and then turned colourful and brighter with layers of chemical paints.
There is a way to reduce this contamination of our water bodies as some environmentally sensitive individuals and groups across the country have shown. In news particularly this year is a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation that is creating idols that even the fish can eat!
The Sprouts Environment Trust is racing against time to meet orders that have increased by ten-folds ever since the news went viral on social media and hit 3.5 million shares and tweets. Says Anand Pendharkar, the founder of the Trust, in a city of 20 million people, if we have been able to create an awareness among so many people then our message will surely penetrate further if not this year then by next year’s celebrations.
With limited reach and resources however, the Sprouts initially hired 50 women artisans to make the eco-friendly fish-food ganeshas. “Our idea was not only to save our ocean but also generate employment for women and create awareness among public and we are fairly successful on all three,” says Anand.
For last six years, Sprouts has been making clay idols that took days and weeks to dissolve in water after immersion.
This year in association with Ogilvy& Mather, the ad company that designed the campaign, the idea of fish-food ganeshas came up.
The idols are nine inches in size and made with river clay and only eco-friendly materials like haldi (turmeric), kumkum, multani mitti and geru (red earth) have been used to paint the idols.
The fish food made with corn, spinach and vegetable powder, wheat and refined flour is shaped either like a laddoo or bunch of noodles and placed inside Ganesha’s tummy. Each idol costs Rs.900 and this year only Mumbai and Nagpur orders are being catered to. These idols, says Anand, will dissolve in four to five hours and the ingredients can be consumed by the fish in the sea or river.
“We are also trying to promote smaller idols,” he adds, “so that impact is less on water bodies.” “We are reminding people that during Tilak’s time the idols were smaller and over the years due to commercial and political interests, the idols got bigger and damaging to the environment,” he says. “We connected with members of Resident’s Welfare Association, Rotary Clubs, Indian Medical Association to convince people how the fishes consume all the metallic paints and when children consume that fish, it is a major health hazard.”
With more orders for fish-food ganeshas and few hands, Sprouts has engaged students, interns, artisans and its own staff who are all working round-the-clock to meet the requirement, informs Anand.
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Likewise, Pune-based ‘Eco-Exist’, is a group young eco-warriors who have been designing and sourcing clay-made Ganesha idols for the past nine years. “We source idols from all over the villages of Maharashtra and Karnataka and thereby support the artisans,” says Lolita Gupta. The group sold nearly 2000 idols measuring seven to 23 inches last year. This year they have made 1,000 extra and enquiries are still pouring in even as celebrations begin from today.
It’s a positive trend to see even middle-class and lower-income families opting for the eco-friendly idols, adds Lolita. Owing to the demand, the group also launched in Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore markets this year. Their dols are priced higher than the Plaster-of-Paris ones, as they are handmade.” Under the campaign ‘Safe Festival’, the group uses only water-soluble natural dyes and colours. Multani mitti, turmeric, vermillion and Gheru are used to colour the idols that are priced from Rs.450 to Rs.6000. Eco-Exist sells its idols through the website www.ecoganeshidol.com and ships across the country. For more details, 09960834066.