Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi the Wise Way

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GANESH CHATURTHI GOA 2007 (Photo by mama tv available on Flickr)

There is a growing movement in India to start making Hindu holidays more green. From the colorful Holi festival in the spring, to the week-long Diwali “Festival of the Lights” in the fall, a new, eco-consciousness is enriching celebrations. The same is true for Ganesh Chaturthi, which is celebrated this year on September 17th.

What Is Ganesh Chaturthi?

Ganesha is the Hindu deity with the elephant head and human body. He is often pictured riding a mouse (although, he should trade in that mouse for a motorcycle), and is revered as the lord of success and destroyer of evil and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom, and wealth. Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is his birthday celebration.

The holiday was first celebrated in the 17th century when the Maratha rulers — a dynasty famous for establishing a Hindu-based nationalism in India — made the day a public event to promote Hindu tradition. In the late 19th century, the holiday was revitalized as a symbol of freedom; a festival for everyone irrespective of caste or class.

On the day of the festival, images of Ganesha are placed on raised platforms in homes or in elaborately decorated outdoor tents. For ten days it is worshipped with chanting, flowers, and offerings. On the 11th day, the images are taken through the streets to be immersed in a river, lake, or sea, symbolizing a bon voyage to Ganesha as he travels to his home in Jailash and takes away our misfortunes.

Ganesh Chaturthi’s Environmental Misfortune

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Abandoned clay statue of Lord Vinayaka/Ganesha in the beaches of Chennai … after the traditional Vinayaka Chathurthi festival where clay statues of the God are thrown into the sea to mark the celebrations (Photo by Nandakumar Subramaniam available on Flickr)

Unfortunately, placing images of Ganesha into bodies of water causes a sort of environmental misfortune no amount of chanting or flowers can diminish. The images, made out of Plaster of Paris, take several months to years to fully dissolve in the water. And the chemical paints, used to decorate the images, contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which seep into the water as the idol dissolves.

A study by the Central Pollution Control Board in Bangalore found that acid levels in waters increased, as well as Total Dissolved Solids and heavy metals when images of Ganesh were immersed in the region’s lakes. Another report, published by The Indian Express, linked the festival to negative impacts on river ecology, especially near the city of Mumbai.

Honor Ganesha and the Environment

Fortunately, there are ways to honor Ganesha and the environment. Businesses and nonprofits have created a series of products and events that promise to reduce the holiday’s impact on rivers, lakes, and seas.

Sprouts Environment Trust, a Mumbai-based NGO, launched the #GodSaveTheOcean campaign and makes 9-inch Ganesha idols that are ocean friendly. The idols are made with vegetarian food that can be harmlessly consumed by fish. The organization will also organize a clean-up drive on September 28, the day after the immersion rituals. Other organizations and businesses sell eco-friendly Ganeshas, provide education resources, and serve as information sources for people wishing to change their habitats.

It is vital to celebrate the god of wisdom with wise acts. Deciding to purchase an idol made from an eco-friendly source is not only wise, it’s also simple.

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(Photo by Wee Viraporn available on Flickr)

About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .