Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated since it marks the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. According to the Hindu calendar it is celebrated in the month of Bhaadrapada on shukla chaturthi, the fourth day of waxing of moon. Starting on the fourth day, the festival lasts for ten days, that is , it starts on the fourth day and ends on the fourteenth day of the month – Anant Chaturthi. The festival usually falls between August 15th and September 20th. This year, the festival is from 1st September to 10th September.
The festival is celebrated in India, Nepal and Fiji in Asia and also by the Indians residing in USA. As a part of the celebration, idols of Ganesha are made by skilled artisans and sold. The people buy these idols and bring them home. The size of the idol may vary from a few inches to about 25 feet or so. Small temporary mandapas(pandals) are erected in the nook and corner of every road and every lane. The mandapas are decorated very beautifully with flowers. The idols are also very grandly made based on religious themes or current events.The priests then do pooja(rites and rituals). They invoke life in the idols. This is called Pranaprathishta. This rite is then followed by the Shodashopachara. The word means offerings to the Lord in sixteen ways like 21 modakas, coconut, jaggery, 21 durvas(a type of grass). Throughout the ceremony the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Veda, the Ganesha Ashtothara and the Narada Purana are chanted. For ten days the idol is worshipped and then on the eleventh day, the idol is carried through the streets accompanied by singing and dancing, to immerse it in a nearby water body. This ceremony is known as Ganapati Visarjan. The Ganapati Visarjan is also done on the 3rd, 7th, or 9th day by those keeping idols in their homes(depending upon their tradition.
Outside India in countries like USA, Nepal and Fiji also the festival is celebrated. It is celebrated in some of the European countries like Paris, Liverpool, etc. . In USA the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is a community that holds organizes programmes to mark Hindu festivals. In Canada also Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated by the Indians residing there. The celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi in Mauritius dates back to almost 1896. A family of the name Bhiwajee was the first one to start celebrating the festival in Mauritius and the tradition is still being continued. The festival has gained so much popularity that the day of Ganesha Chaturthi has been declared a public holiday for the people of Mauritius.
In olden days the Ganesha idols used to be made with clay. Traditionally , the idols were made out of soil taken from the backyard of one’s own home. After the divinity in the Earth icon was worshipped, it was returned to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body, thus completing the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature. But that is not the case today. Today, they are being made with Plaster of Paris. This is the most important aspect of Ganesha Chaturthi on the environment. When idols made of Plaster of Paris are immersed into the lakes or oceans or seas, the acidity of the water increases and so does the quantity of heavy metals in the water. On the day following the one on which the plaster icons are immersed, shoals of dead fish can be seen on the shores.
Some of the solutions suggested by the non-governmental organizations are as follows :
- Re – introducing the methods of making idols out of clay and soil.
- Using an idol made of stone and brass and using every year, instead of immersing.
- Recycling the idols made of plaster and painting them again so that they can be used the next year.
- Introducing a ban on dumping idols made of plaster into the natural water bodies(Instead, they can be dumped into tanks).
- Using biodegradable materials like paper mache to make idols.