The festive season has kicked in, and with it, so has all the fun, frolic and fervour - be it the recently concluded Ganesh Chaturthi across Maharashtra, or Durga Puja in Kolkata which is just around the corner. Dussehra and Diwali are coming up too. As people across the planet slowly move towards sustainable ways of living, it is time to rethink how we celebrate our festivals.
Pandals Take To Eco-Friendly Measures
"We are going eco-friendly for the eighth consecutive year,'' says Sreemoyee Mazumder, Cultural Secretary of the IP Extension, Patparganj Durga Puja pandal. "We used the same idol from 2019 to 2020 and 2021, when the Covid-induced pandemic struck the world and celebrations were low-key," she explains. "This year, idols are made of mud and will only be 7ft high - as ordered by the Delhi government. We are also making sure the pandal and its neighbourhood is plastic-free." There's more - the paint they are using does not contain lead, the saree they are dressing up the Durga idol with is made of pure cotton (it is biodegradable) instead of synthetic or nylon fibre. "As a Durga Puja organising committee, we have taken these small but significant measures over the years to ensure we do our bit for our immediate ecosystem," Mazumder adds. "Needless to say, food will be served in bamboo plates instead of plastic." As far as immersions are concerned, the committee will not immerse the idol in the Yamuna. Instead we will use jet sprays to wash down the idol made of mud."
How can one speak of Durga Puja and not mention Delhi's Chittaranjan Park? Sometimes also known as mini Kolkata, the Co-operative Ground Durga Puja Samiti here has taken pride in being the pioneers in adopting eco-friendly methods and sustainability awareness over the past years.
"For many years, we have been using areca plates to distribute bhog (prasad) to thousands of people during Durga Puja. Areca plates are eco-friendly as well as disposable. The committee has also adopted the concept of 'Save Yamuna' by creating an immersion site within the puja ground. The idols are made of biodegradable material like mud, and painted in natural colours," says Saurav Chakravorty, the Organiser Secretary of the puja.
The most popular Ganesh pandals in Mumbai, Lalbagcha Raja attracts devotees from the city and across the state of Maharashtra. Sudhir Salvi, President, Lalbaugch Raja says, "This year, it was too last minute for us to plan an eco-friendly celebration, but we are already working and making efforts towards one for next year."
In a Hyderabad pandal, creativity was at its peak, where a Ganesh idol was made using 17,000 coconuts that took eight days to complete. This pandal attracted massive crowds and pictures that went viral on social media, raised the question: Is it time festivals turned eco-friendly?
Idol Artists Are Ditching Traditional Ways
With changing times, comes changing ways, especially in a pandemic world. Idol makers are now ditching traditional idol-making materials (like gypsum plaster) and replacing it with mud, fruit peels, leaves, husk, rice etc.
Prodip Ganguly, General Secretary of the Bengal Association in Delhi, says, "With the world gradually recovering from the pandemic, in a way, businesses are working out well for idol artists. The price of raw materials has become cheaper, owing to the conscious decision of eco-friendly measures, while the cost of making and other logistics has gone up because of inflation and rise in petrol costs."
Until now, idol artists across India used synthetic paint to achieve glaze and glitter on the idol, be it Ganesha or a Durga idol. But now, they are encouraged to use plant-based colours to ensure less impact on the environment. "The idol artist community is, in fact, happy to be part of this movement as they feel this is their way of giving back to the planet. They feel more inclusive with society. Even Maa's wig will be made of jute and not nylon," adds Ganguly.
Festivals represent culture and given that sustainability is the need of the hour and also part of popular and culture, "It’s high time sustainability is integrated into the core design of our festivals too. Religion plays an important role in engaging masses and festivals are important milestones to drive home the message and action of sustainability." says Vimlendhu Jha, leading Environmentalists of India, expert on issue sustainability.