With the festive occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi just around the corner, the artisans work round the clock to ensure that this festival is as perfect as it can get. However, with environmental concerns on the rise, there are a few exceptional artists who have gone out of their way to ensure Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated without any harm to the environment. We interviewed Shruti Marne, the founder of My Eco Ganesh, an organisation that provides eco-friendly Ganesha idols and decorations located at Andheri, Mumbai.
Tell us about your memories that you have of the festival. How does it differ from the celebrations of today?
I have fond memories and tales that I could recount of the festival back in the day. I remember the fun, enjoyment and laughter that used to ring in the house when Ganesh Chaturthi would be approaching. Everyone would come together and celebrate, thus creating an atmosphere of togetherness. We’d have “dher saari masti” and the special feeling would linger right from the time of getting the idol home to the immersion at Shivaji Park. However, today people have commercialized the festival. It is more of a hype and competition of whose idol is the best. The noise coupled with this approach has changed the entire aura of this auspicious time.
Were you a PoP idol seller previously? If yes, what caused you to make the shift?
Yes, my family and I have been selling eco-friendly Ganesha idols for the past three years now. We’re from Pune where almost everyone brings Ganesha home during Chaturti. Lokmanya Tilak started the celebration as an act of devotion, but now it has become commercial. It’s very evident. It used to be a spiritual act, but now it has become highly competitive and commercial.
Since when did the trend of eco-friendly idols begin?
I began to get introduced to this concept of PoP idols only after marriage. And it was after a few years, that we started this venture of eco-friendly idols. Through social media awareness, we were educated about the harm that the immersions have on the environment. Thus, a lot of people decided to do their part towards reducing this impact. Once one was set on the right track, artisans who sculpted such eco idols started picking up.
Which process in your opinion is more time consuming?
The process of creating and designing these eco idols takes comparatively more time compared to PoP idols. This is because PoP idols have set moulds which one fills in order to get the desired shape. On the other hand, these eco idols follow a series of stages which finally leads to the finished product. Another aspect is that these are allowed to soak naturally. Considering all this, it is only fitting to say that the making of eco-friendly idols is a time consuming and tedious process.
Tell us about the cost of the raw materials used and how it affects the business.
The base raw material used in this process is shadu mitti. This is the clay that one sees along the river banks. The most naturally available material, the cost is negligible. Along with this, there are also paints and ornaments that are then used to beautify the idols. However, compared to PoP idols, these eco idols are way more economical.
What is the impact of immersions, on the environment?
Firstly, idols made of Plaster of Paris don’t dissolve completely in water. The chemicals and toxins make the water unfit for consumption and also affects marine life. Moreover, people bring home Ganesha with so much faith and love, but during the immersion (which is an important part of the Pooja), the idol comes out of the water. Sometimes, people even break off the arms and legs of Ganesha to ensure a decent immersion. This is very disgraceful and brings shame to the devotees as well as the God himself. That’s why we provide them with an alternative if eco-friendly idols that would protect the environment as well as people’s faith in the right manner.
According to you, what is the future of eco-friendly idols?
The future seems bright! With the current state of the environment, the Government is soon to take action. This may lead to banning of these PoP idols as a precautionary measure. One will then shift their gaze onto the eco idols and these will then be in demand.
Are people genuinely concerned about buying eco-friendly idols, or is it just a trend?
No no, it’s not a trend and people are really becoming conscious about the environment. The sales are steadily progressing. There aren’t many sellers who make eco-friendly idols, because customers prefer the beauty and intricate details of a PoP Ganesha. Now, since people are getting more aware of the harm that PoP causes, they are gradually inclining towards eco-friendly Ganesha idols.
What are the other steps you take to ensure minimal harm to the environment?
During the year, we grow and sell Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri. The process is completely organic and we ensure never using any kind of chemical fertilizers to protect the environment. It is possible to preserve nature even while being commercial, and that’s what we aim to do.
Written by Journalism students Krystelle Dsouza and Shruti Vanjare
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