Ganesh Chaturthi

Vinayaka ChavithiGanesh Festival is an occasion or a day on which Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. It is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. It is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). This typically comes sometime between August 20 and September 15. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi. Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is widely worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
During the Ganesha festival, a household worships a statue of Shri Ganesha. The worship lasts an odd number of days (from 1 to 11 days, sometimes 13).

For the year 2007 in the Western Calendar, Ganesha Chaturthi has commenced on Saturday, September 15th and its attributed festival of ganesha’s mother, gowri (a form of parvathi), gowripuja comes on 13th (the day before)

Environmental impact

The most serious impact of the Ganesh festival on the natural environment is due to the immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the Ganesh idol was sculpted out of earth taken from nearby one’s home. After worshipping the divinity in this earth idol, it was returned back to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body. This cycle represented the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.

However, as the production of Ganesh idols on a commercial basis grew, the earth or natural clay (shaadu maati in Marathi) was replaced by Plaster of Paris. Plaster is a man made material, easier to mould, lighter and less expensive than clay. However, plaster takes much longer to dissolve and in the process of dissolution releases toxic elements into the water body. The chemical paints used to adorn these plaster idols, themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium.

On the final day of the Ganesh festival thousands of plaster idols are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. The day after the immersion, shoals of dead fish can be seen to be floating on the surface of the water body as a result of this sudden increase.

Several non governmental and governmental bodies have been addressing this issue. Amongst the solutions proposed by various groups some are as follows:

Return to the traditional use of natural clay idols and immerse the idol in a bucket of water at home.
Use of a permanent idol made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
Recycling of plaster idols to repaint them and use them again the following year.
Ban on the immersion of plaster idols into lakes, rivers and the sea.
Creative use of other biodegradable materials such as paper mache to create Ganesh idols.
Encouraging people to immerse the idols in tanks of water rather than in natural water bodies.

To handle religious sentiments sensitively, some temples and spiritual groups have also taken up the cause.

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