Ganesh Chatturthi (GC) is finally over!


With all due to respect to my Hindu friends and relatives, GC is finally over. Yes, the festival dedicated to Lord Ganesha, one of India’s most favored and adorable god, has come to a close. It officially started on the 19th of September and the final day, which consisted of processions and immersions, culminated on September 29th.

I’d like to share the origins of GC, commemorating its original purpose in India. The birth of Lord Ganesha was always celebrated in the Hindu calendar. However, it became a public and communal event when, Lokmanya Tilak (one of the Freedom Fighters of India) started encouraging the celebration of the Hindu festival within the larger community. In 1893, Tilak saw to it that the Hindu festival became a public event, as he realized the universal appeal of the deity Ganesha and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order. It is believed he did this in order to lessen the widening gap between the several castes and to increase a patriotic attitude among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule.Tilak was the first to install large idols of Ganesh in public, and also established the practice of submerging these idols in rivers, seas, or other pools of water on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.

This idea of communal celebration and nationalism has continued to-date; unfortunately, it has been transformed, at least in my opinion, to a mockery of sorts, having the original spirit of the festival dissolve with time. I use the word “mockery” because of the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that are now associated with GC. The incredibly loud music (which highly contributes to sound pollution), the inappropriate music (such as that from Bollywood films and other pop music), the incessant burning and bursting of fire crackers (which highly contributes to air pollution), the inconveniences that are caused as a result of these processions (eg: major traffic jams, late night festivities when the next day is a working day, etc) and the (sometimes) bad behaviors exhibited by men, are all factors that have stripped the original meaning and spirit of GC.

I love Lord Ganesha – he is a sweet, pot bellied, charming little elephant that makes me smile every time I meet his eyes. As previously mentioned, during the 10 day festival, idols of all shapes and sizes are erected all over the city. Here is a picture of one near my house:

Those 10 days are relatively calm and it’s spiritually uplifting to see an idol at practically every corner of the street in Mumbai. It is on the last day that all chaos breaks loose and my appreciation for GC melts as fast at the ice caps of the North Pole!

On the final day, hoards of people carry the idol in huge trucks and/or bullock carts, making their way to the sea, where they will immerse the deity in its final resting place. The Times of India reported that, this year alone, over 2 Lakh (2,00,000) idols were immersed in the sea in Mumbai. Traditionally, most of these idols have been made of plaster-of-Paris, a material that is non-biodegradable and insoluble in water, and very toxic for the environment. More recently, a lot more efforts have been made to create “eco-friendly” Ganeshas. Even then, I am not completely convinced that immersing these so called eco-friendly Ganeshas are any better than the ones made of POP.

In some parts of Mumbai, people have created artificial pools in which they temporarily immerse the idol, and then take it back to their homes and recycle it for the next year. Please take note of the evidence of the pollution I am talking about:

Tons of GC paraphanellia and other junk washed up on the shore

Tons of GC paraphernalia and other junk washed up on the shore

Hope more people follow this message next year:


Every year, Mumbai hits a new record with the noise pollution levels during GC, and this year has been the highest. I really hope that more of us return to the original spirit of GC and that Lord Ganehs does bless us with the much needed wisdom and inspiration to keep this festival as green as possible!

 

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