CHENNAI: The sparkling hues of vermillion and turmeric, garlands of shredded grass and ribbons of sliced coconuts adorn this eco-friendly idol of Lord Vinayaka in T Nagar. For the last 12 years, the organisers of Ganesha Chaturthi festival at Panagal Park have used natural raw materials like fruit, vegetables and herbs for making idols of the elephant god.

Much before the state government banned plaster of Paris and informed devotees about the pollution caused by synthetic colours, the committee members at Panagal Park were among the first in the city to create ‘Green Ganesha’ idols.

“Instead of polluting the marine ecosystem, our idols are a source of food for fish and other sea organisms. In 1999, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi asked us to build eco-friendly idols. We have never looked backed since and each year we try to use a different natural material for the idol,” said Kutti Ganesan, general secretary of the committee.

It began in 2000 with more than 7000 green coconuts being used to create an idol. Over the next 12 years the organisers have experimented with an assortment of fruits, vegetables and grains, grass, paddy, wood apple, dates, jaggery and laddoos.

“A minimum of 500kg of food material is required to create such an idol,” says V Santhanam, another committee member. Pointing to half-a-dozen workers who are busy providing the finishing touches to the idols, he says: “It is a big effort. This year, more than 20 skilled craftsmen worked for a month to create a Vinayaka idol made of dried coconuts,” said V Sanathanam, president of the committee.

Apart from the 30,000-odd coconuts used to make the one-tonne idol, 25kg each of jaggery, turmeric and flour were used as glue. Embellishing Vinayaka’s eyes, outlining his frame and painting his perched mouse required 15kg of powdered coal. But, the spiraling prices of grains and vegetables have made it much tougher. “The first green Ganesha cost us 30,000; this timewe spent around 3 lakh. Inflation spares no one, not even the gods,” says Sanathanam.