Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gods as products

Why are some of our rituals so insensitive?

Drunk on market-driven philosophy, the economics of our festivities are also changing. Every community puja has become an event and every Organising Committee, a corporation. So, like any competitive market, the Organising Committee’s focus is on getting the maximum footfalls, among many other players. As a result, our sensitivities towards the actual rituals have been marginalised and attention has drifted towards larger-than-life idols, palatial pandals, mega-star performances and more-than-mega arrangements. And this drift has created havoc elsewhere.

For just like any corporation where budget is always a constraint and costs are tuned (read axed) on anything and everything that does not effect the corporation directly, similar has been the case with our pujas. To cut costs, our contemporary Gods are made in Plaster of Paris (containing gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium) instead of clay, and disguised under a thick cosmetic fa├žade of chemical paints, in place of eco-friendly colours, containing death pills in the form of lead, mercury, cadmium and carbon. The result: starting from Ganesh Chaturthi till about Durga Puja, our already full of filth Ganges, almost-extinct Yamuna, non-existing Saraswati, crying for existence Narmada, dengue-harbouring ponds and lakes and all other forms of water bodies, scream aloud as tonnes of chemicals in the form of millions of idols across the country are immersed. In Orissa for example, more than 100,000 idols of Ganesha were immersed this year. Similarly, Mumbai witnessed a frightening 1 50,000 immersions. It is scary as amidst our frenzy and pent up emotions (mostly arising out of the inebriated state during the immersion procession), we forget that the idols we are bidding adieu to contain a mix, which once immersed, is blatantly poisoning water bodies, murdering aquatic life, damaging plants and creating irrevocable effects. And the bigger the idol, bigger the damage. Mercury and lead are so lethal that they reduce a healthy human being to a vegetable by damaging the nervous system, kidneys, vision and red blood cells. Cadmium too causes kidney disease. Arsenic poisoning, which has shown traces of becoming an endemic in West Bengal, is not only cancerous but can also damage the skin, eyes, the gastro-intestinal tract and the liver. In Kolkata, a study revealed that every year, along with 15,000 idols, some 17 tonnes of varnish and oil and 32 tonnes of colours are dumped in the Hooghly.

Amidst this madness, it is heartening to know that somewhere, our sensitivities are still alive. This year, in an attempt to safeguard the environment, Mysorians have innovatively bid adieu to Ganesha by immersing the idols in private wells, buckets and water tankers. Similar alternatives like smaller idols, having community pujas instead of individual ones, usage of eco-friendly materials in idol making (like clay, paper pulp, vegetable dyes and non-toxic dyes) can help safeguard our environment. Economics is all justified, but for God’s sake, not at the cost of the environment!

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