Our Ganapa goes green - The New Indian Express

Our Ganapa goes green

Published: 09th September 2013 10:39 AM

Last Updated: 09th September 2013 10:49 AM

A couple hunting for Gowri-Ganesha idols reaches Nagalakshmamma’s idol shop in Gandhi Bazar. It’s a brisk Saturday evening. They pick up a Ganapati, dressed in a green dhoti and ask the owner if she has one with yellow kacche. “No, not at the moment,” she replies, but instead of losing a customer over the colour of the paint, she recommends an unpainted eco-friendly Ganesha.

“No, it’s family tradition to worship Ganesha clad in yellow,” the customer responds.

Pat comes Nagalaks-hmamma’s response, “Amma, no one has seen God. It’s we who dress him up with our visualisation. So just adorn him in yellow pitambara in your mind.” And the couple is convinced. “But not every customer is as easy to persuade,” she tells City Express.

Over the years, Nagalakshmamma has steered her customers towards more environmentally conscious decisions by gradually increasing her stock of unpainted clay idols.

A half-a-foot high unpainted idol sells for Rs 265 at her stall. “I read that fish were dying in lakes because of the paint from the Ganeshas immersed in them. From my children, I got to know how harmful the paint is. They learnt about it at school,” she says.

If the government is looking for results to their awareness campaign aimed at turning Ganesh Chaturthi into a green festival, they have it in idol sellers like Nagalakshmamma. Where plaster of Paris (PoP) idols, painted with bright chemical colours have long held sway, a change is indeed creeping in.

For Prakash V, an idol seller at Yediyur, the news has been a pointer. “Four to five years ago, I happened to catch several TV programmes encouraging the public to avoid visarjan of PoP idols. That’s when I switched to clay,” says the vendor who stocks clay idols up to four feet in height.

This year, he noticed that the civic authorities were emphasising on the ill-effects of paint and so 40 per cent of his stock is made up of unpainted idols.

“People demand these now, so following the news has literally paid off for me,” he chuckles. Prakash is sure, over the next few years, he will have to order a larger number of unpainted idols as environment consciousness is ‘fast catching on’.

Of course, there is much ground to cover and not all idol-sellers and makers are convinced about eco-friendly Ganeshas. Some cite religious sentiment as the reason to stick to convention, some quote a scarcity of clay, and yet others go as far as rubbishing claims of PoP not dissolving in water adding that ‘it takes longer than clay, and scientists in Australia have proved that they don’t harm the lake ecosystems’.

“We started using PoP only three years ago, when clay became harder to find, thanks to the dying lakes,” says Shanthamma, who owns two idol stalls on R V Road. “We use water colours, so there are no chemicals,” she says, echoing the beliefs of sellers. “When it splashes on our hands as we paint, it doesn’t cause harm, so how can it be harmful,” many ask.

Many sellers and makers pinned the responsibility of providing clay for the idols on Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). “Wouldn’t we use it if it was available,” retorts Srinivas, who owns a shop also on R V Road, admitting that existing sellers were forced to introduce ‘Bombay (PoP) Ganeshas’ to compete with dealers from Maharashtra who entered the Bangalore market a few years ago.

“The BBMP has not approached us and told us to stop making PoP idols. All they do is publish it in the papers or air it on TV, so why should we listen,” he adds.

Several household buyers concurred that BBMP needs to reach out to idol makers more actively.

“They should ban PoP and paint for idols,” says Padma Nagraj, a resident of Basavanagudi. “The effect these have is equal to us receiving poisoned tap water. Would we drink that or cut off the connection?” she demands.

Busting the myth that larger idols made of clay collapse easily, Sathish, an idol-maker from Calcutta who frequents the city during the festival season ­­— Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja — says that he makes idols up to 9 feet tall, all  using clay.

“I plaster the clay on hay and give it shape, and support the structure from the back with bamboo sticks,” he says, adding that all the material is bio-degradable.

Among his clientele is Bengaluru Water and Sewage Supply Board (BWSSB). Shashidhar, assistant executive engineer BWSSB, says, “Our prayer to Lord Ganesha is that he remove all obstacles in the smooth supply of water to the city. When we heard that big-sized clay idols are available, we immediately decided to get one.” He adds that the next year’s idol will have natural paints.

From the man on the road to civic authorities, Bangaloreans are standing up for environmental consciousness this festive season. There are no excuses to not following their lead.

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