Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

Impact of idol Immersion

Steep rise in concentration of heavy metals, dissolved solids, acid content, and a drastic fall in dissolved oxygen has been recorded in water after immersion

Story: Dr | Manoj | 06th September 2019, 02:23 Hrs

Dr Manoj Sumati R Borkar

One among the most popular festivals of Sanatan religion  is presently being celebrated across the country with great passion and pomp, with Ganesh the mythological elephant god at the centre-stage of this fiesta. Chavath as it is called in Amchem Goem, this festival is a great unifier of scattered families, estranged neighbours, and communities at loggerheads; and presents a perfect illustration of a syncretic faith practiced by Goemkars, while somewhere else in the country religious factions are busy fighting long drawn legal battles over assumedly sacrosanct lands and still worse lynching the defenseless in the name of the holy cow.   The Chavath celebration commonly concludes on the second day in Goan homes, though public installation may continue for longer period varying between 5 to 21 days. All along; the deity brings in joy, relaxation, feasting, friendship and reaffirmation of social communion. No wonder than that Tilak who earned the epithet of being ‘Father of Indian Unrest’ from the British, tactfully used these celebrations in Maharshtra to unite people and foster nationalist spirit. Interestingly, earliest instances of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in the neighbouring states of Maharshtra and Karnatak, can be traced back to the times when Satavahan, Rashtrakut and Chalukya dynasties ruled there. These dynasties have also had their influence on the Konkan belt including Goa. Historians propose that the valiant and inspirational Maratha king Shivaji Raje Bhosle supported this festival to promote culture and patriotism.

Mythologically, Ganesh is the progeny of Shiva and Parvati. This elephant headed, pot-bellied, rat-mounted deity with one tusk broken is associated with intellect, and is believed to have exceptional powers of removing obstacles (Vighnaharta). The epic Mahabharat is said to have been written by Ganesh as dictated to him by Sage Vyas. He finds favour also among the traders,  who inscribe his name on their ledger books for prosperity in trade. His zoomorphic form and his penchant for Modaks evoke fondness from children, who eagerly await his arrival every year and bid him goodbye with teary eyes during immersion with a passionate appeal and invitation to return early the next year!  

It is Intriguing to note that Ganesha’s mother Parvati was the daughter of King Parvat (Mountain King) and Ganesh was moulded by Parvati out of the sandalwood paste scrapings from her body mixed with the clay from the river. The connect is clearly with the earth and water. Paradoxically these are the very natural resources that festival impacts in the way it is celebrated today, compromising on the spiritual tenets of its genesis.

Contrary to the modestly sized clay idols decorated with natural colours extracted from soils and vegetation; today the festival is a noisy, ostentatious display of gigantic idols made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) coated with oil paints laden with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The idols compete for size and glitter in the dazzling lights, while the Ganpati Mandals clamor for glamour. The earsplitting film songs relayed on powerful bass speakers shatter the peace in the vicinity with little concern for the neonates as well as the old and the ailing. Fumes of toxic brew enter the air from burning of fire crackers and eventually assault our lungs to trigger acute respiratory distress and of course long term cumulative damage to other systems including malignancy and hormonal imbalance. The idol is a mute spectator to this cacophony and sardonic display in the name of one of the most adorable and nature friendly of the Hindu deities.

Little do we realize that on conclusion of the festivities with immersion of Ganesh idols begins the real assault on the water. Mumbai IIT has conducted studies to confirm that PoP idols are recalcitrant and resist dissolution. Also, significant impacts like steep rise in concentration of heavy metals, dissolved solids, acid content, and a drastic fall in dissolved oxygen has been recorded in water after immersion. This can hamper the aquatic biota and turn the water into a biological desert. Even the sediments accumulate the metal elements like copper that dissolve into the waters from the idols. Central Pollution Control Board has also conducted independent studies that have corroborated these results.  

Way back in 2001, I and my student Michelle Cardozo have demonstrated disturbing short term changes in the water quality of the Vaddem lake in Vasco following idol immersion. Over the years this lake has been dredged, beautified, immersions monitored and religious wastes from the lake cleared by civic authorities. The quantum of organic wastes that enter the environment in these days of festivity is also significant. These dumps if not cleared can generate stench and leachate besides  attracting scavengers, vectors, and raptors. Once in water, the decomposition begins lowering oxygen, besides changing its microbial quality.  

Realizing their environmental impacts on water bodies, a few Indian states have banned the use of Plaster of Paris. Despite a general statutory advisory and strict border checks on the eve of the festival, the Ganesh idols in Goa have not become totally eco-friendly in their makeup. But the awareness is rising among the urban youth. Several initiatives have been launched to encourage biodegradable and recyclable idols. 

Novel concepts like clay idols with ‘seed-core’ that can be planted in pots and watered instead of immersion, Idols of recycled paper pulp, miniaturized idols that can immersed are some options. But as a civil society we must realise that law is only a deterrent, and what should come forth is a ‘collective voluntary moratorium’ on all that assaults our environment and dilutes our responsibility as stewards of this earth. 

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