Ganpati festival is one which doesn’t need any calendar check. You know Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner when you see big pandals being built up and your society’s WhatsApp group abuzz with the call for performers. It is also the time when social media is flooded with Ganpati visarjan photos from last year and eco-warriors more active than ever. Bappa came this year too in our Powai with all the fanfare that his devotees could bestow depending on their pockets or in case of mandal and societies with ‘voluntary’ donations. Just like the big fat Indian wedding, the celebrations for Ganpati are only becoming grander. Powai was decked up like a bride, the ‘pooja-pandals’ only bigger than last year and the dhol beats and firecrackers louder than ever. The size and grandeur of the Ganpati idol being synonymous with the size of the pocket. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-festive. Nor am I amongst those pseudo-liberals who are selective in their objection to celebrations. I adore festive seasons, Deepawali being my favourite. I also believe we should not only respect traditions but also treasure and enjoy them as it's these traditions only that make individuals, a community. But the problem starts when forgetting the very essence of these festivals we start adulterating them with new and modern ways without realising the adverse impact it is causing to our community and our environment.
With a 20% per cent official increase in pandal across only Mumbai, not to account for small-scale, unreported pandals, the situation only worsens. This year, not just Powai but other parts of Mumbai reported noisier celebrations than ever, despite a ban on DJs. Now, I personally don’t mind the sound of dhol beats. Call it my north Indian genes but it only increases the spirit of the festival. However, I wouldn’t want to have dhols blaring right through my ears for 3 hrs as I try to sleep at 11 pm. I am not writing this to mention my own plight but these have been the experiences of several people within our small community of Powai. Not to mention the firecrackers! Not only it pollutes air but creates noise pollution too. Couldn’t we be considerate to the old ones, the sick ones and the pets who are most frightened during these times? I could only imagine the horror of those who stay near the visarjan sites. Isn’t there a way we could integrate celebration and sensitivity at the same time? Maybe designate a time and open space for collective celebrations if at all fireworks need to be included? Can it be a good starting point?
In pre-independence era, A visiting Italian Sanskrit professor shared his account of Ganpati celebrations in Mumbai of 1885:
‘I followed with the greatest curiosity crowds who carried in procession an infinite number of idols of the god Ganesh. Each little quarter of the town, each family with its adherents, each little street corner I may almost say, organizes a procession of its own, and the poorest may be seen carrying on a simple plank their little idol or of paper mâché... A crowd, more or less numerous, accompanies the idol, clapping hands and raises cries of joy, while a little orchestra generally precedes the idol.’
– Angelo de Gubernatis, Bombay Gazette (1886) (Source: Wikipedia)
Could you feel the simplicity of celebrations back then? Yes, you can argue that we are more prosperous now. There is greater disposable income in every household. Then why not celebrations be grand? True! We should all be celebrating Bappa as we wish to. But today, after every celebration, It’s heartbreaking to see sites and images of damaged Plaster of Paris made statues of our beloved Ganpati. How could we do this to someone we love and worship? When the seas wash these statues back to shore, are they telling us something?
The great freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak, who revived this festival to fight the British Raj, surely wouldn’t have imagined that our society will get so insensitive in the name of celebrations. Earlier when we made Ganpati using soil or paper-mache, it was understandable that as he came from nature, he was immersed in nature to be back again next year. It would have also been a medium to connect communities at least once every year and to worship God and nature together. After all, since time immemorial we have worshipped elements of nature as forms of God himself. But today pomp and show are increasingly replacing a well-thought tradition. Just imagine how much damage we are doing to the already fragile ecosystem of Powai Lake. Oh, are you thinking but the immersion happens in the artificial pond. Well as per media reports, the toxic and non-biodegradable residue is dumped back into the water bodies? Not sure if this year is going to be any different.
But the picture is not all dark and grey. We are increasingly coming across aware citizens who are opting for eco-friendly options. Even in our society, we organised a workshop of an eco-friendly Ganesha idol making for kids in a bid to create environmental awareness. Later, some parents opted to worship the naturally made Bappa rather than buying a POP-made idol. Some NGOs have also been creating awareness, conducting workshops and selling eco-friendly idols. But is this enough? Considering the damage we have already done to our water bodies and in our case, to Powai lake, isn’t it time we took collective actions? Can we all pledge to bring a nature made Ganpati next year? Maybe request and influence mandals across Powai and our residential societies to go for environment-friendly celebrations? Can we while planning the celebrations, be considerate of all forms of life? Yes maybe the idol would be a bit smaller and the sound of celebration a little lesser next time but the message would be much greater. Isn’t it only then, will we truly imbibe the spirit of ‘सर्वेभवन्तुसुखिनः’?
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(Sugandh is a petroleum engineer turned full-time writer. She also manages her blog www.curiousinkpot.com. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org)