In all, 40 members of the family leave their children and womenfolk at home and pitch tents in different areas of the city for the purpose.
Binoy Pal and his friend Poltu Pal have set up a makeshift studio at Bhupesh Nagar near Gokul Theatre, and are working two shifts a day to mould clay into 200 Ganesh and 150 Durga idols.
“We have been coming to Visakhapatnam since 2002 and our orders have registered a 10-fold increase. We bring our cook and, if required, work three shifts to complete the orders,” says Binoy.
They believe in creating eco-friendly idols.
The main ingredients are clay, bamboo, jute, and dried-up hay. The idol-makers also import about 4 MT of clay from the Ganges from Kolkata to give a finer finish to the idols.
“We work for five months from May to October and leave the city once Durga Puja is over. Earlier, people of the city used to demand idols made of plaster of Paris. But we convinced them about clay idols and its eco-friendliness. We even try avoiding chemical colours,” says Poltu Pal.
This year’s theme
This year, the best selling theme is Bahubali . Remember the protagonist of the blockbuster carrying a Shivalingam on his shoulders?
The idol-makers have created Lord Ganesha carrying a Shivalingam on his shoulder, depicting the scene from the movie.
“Every year, we come out with a common and popular theme, which strikes a chord with the local populace. And this year it is Bahubali ,” says Binoy Pal.
Apart from setting up a makeshift studio at Bhupesh Nagar, Binoy’s cousins have started their units in Gajuwaka and Marripalem.
“I employ about 14 people at my place. In all, 40 persons have come from my village,” adds Binoy.
But all is not well for the artisans from West Bengal. The main problem they face is language. This apart, they face harassment from local ‘dadas’.
“We are artisans and we feel that our art should be respected. But a few local goons treat us as outsiders. They not only behave badly with us but also try to extort money from us. We earn a small margin of profit, and any cut in it hurts us,” rues Binoy.
We have been coming to Visakhapatnam since 2002 and our orders have registered a 10-fold increase
Sandeep Gajakosh has already dispatched a 6-ft Ganesha idol, along with 20 smaller ones, to the US. And that’s not all. He has received an order for 50 more such Ganesha idols from the Hindu Community of North Texas.
The order came after members of the Hindu community in North Texas discovered this Kurla resident’s papier mache Ganesha. These eco-friendly idols came as huge relief for the Hindu Community over there as people used to abandon their idols at the temple.
Last year, the community presented Sandeep a trophy as a token of respect. They have ordered 50 more bare idols this year to be painted by children as part of a culture lesson, along with the 6 ft idol for the temple.
Sandeep’s eco-conscious mind started researching means to make this festival least intrusive to nature about three years ago. He started off with 50 paper mache idols in the first year. This year he has more than 500 paper idols booked and the number is likely to go up as the festival draws closer.
“These idols are very light, a 1 foot idol would weigh just 2 kgs as compared to a 20 kgs POP idol, making them easy to transport. We have also received some orders from Holland,” said Sandeep, adding that his idols are made up of recycled papier mache and painted with non-toxic water colours.
Sandeep, who works in the BMC, is also empowering the women of his locality by training them in idol making.
“Even the shaadu matti idols are made from packaged clay and painted with synthetic colours, these still pollute our water bodies. These idols are eco-friendly in the truest sense,” says Deputy Director of the Maharashtra Nature Park. The idols will be on display at the Maharashtra Nature Park in Mahim from next week so that nature lovers can check them out and place orders.
The Ganesh Idol has been installed inside a single huge coconut embedded with 1111 coconuts supported by bamboos, coir and jute without using any artificial plastic or thermocol decoration. This adds a natural beauty to the Ganesh Idol which makes it very special and eco-friendly. In addition to inculcating this theme into the minds of young and upcoming children at Konkan Rail Vihar.
It has also organized various events and competitions such as bhajans, devotional songs, speech competitions, dance and open religious antakshari, making of Ganpati idol competition, open quiz on devotional theme, skit & religious fancy dress competition so that the children of Konkan Railway can grow into better citizens of tomorrow thereby taking forward the hierarchy of our rich and religious Indian Culture. This Eco-friendly decoration as well as various religious competitions will be a great feast to the eyes of the Navi Mumbaikars.
Amdavadis Meena and Sandeep Damre have created an eco-friendly Ganesha out of palm leaves with the help of their children Sravishta and Renesh. The couple has been making eco-friendly idols since 2000. “Ganpati festival is a good time for children to learn about climate change and global warming and the need to stop abusing the environment,” says Meena.
The couple has been making eco-friendly Ganesh using natural material like clay, leaves, flour, puffed rice, fruits and vegetables. Ganesha idols that are immersed in rivers and lakes are made mostly of Plaster of Paris (PoP) which does not dissolve in water, while the dyes and paints used on the idols release harmful substances like lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium.
“According to our ancient traditions, only plain clay was used to make Ganesha idols. However, the facts that PoP costs less and is lighter had started a different trend,” Sandeep adds.
Lord’s message: Keep politics clean
The bright Ganesha with orange-red hues at Bhimjipura Crossroads in Nava Wadaj is an eye-catcher. This idol is made of buckets, tumblers, brushes and myriad other tools which are used to clean. In fact, this Ganpati also has a washing machine!
“This year the theme is cleanliness in general and in politics in particular,” said Tushar Tapodhan, a former make-up artist and one of the brains behind the idol. Interestingly, while this Ganesha made of plastic buckets and tumblers is not exactly eco-friendly, what helps it stake a claim is the fact that the organizers will not take this idol for immersion. “We never immerse our Ganesh idols but donate it to charity. Since these are pieces of art, they are lapped up by organizations and used as exhibits in institutes. Last year we had made Ganpati on the theme of Swarnim Gujarat which was donated to the Gujarat Cancer Hospital,” said Tapodhan.
At a time when Ganesh mandals across the city are caught in the race to roll out the biggest Ganesh idol, albeit using plaster of Paris and thick coats of chemical paint, students at Villa Theresa School at Peddar Road are learning the trick of churning out small palm-sized eco-friendly idols.
As part of the ‘Green Ganesha’ drive across city schools by Children’s Movement of Civic Awareness (CMCA), the students recently built an idol using eggplants and potatoes, wherein they used eggplant for the head while the stem formed the idol’s trunk and potatoes were used to form its body. Stating that it’s been six years that the students have been making green idols, Vinodini Lulla, founding CMCA co-ordinator said this was the first time they have used vegetables to create ‘veggie idols’.
“Vegetables are not only easily available, their use does not harm the environment, said Lulla, adding, “Only if bigger Ganesh mandals picked up such an idea can the true green spirit of the festival be celebrated.’’ Under the guidance of 50-year-old fashion designer Ferozie Wadia, students have also learnt to create idols using wheat flour. ‘‘Unlike clay and other harmful products, flour is edible to the fishes. We mix edible colour in the flour and avoid using any chemicals,’’ said Wadia, who is now teaching students to use various dals, including tur and moong among others, for decorating the idols, instead of flowers. “I discourage them from using flower garlands and coconuts, which also pollute the water. Hence, dal, which is edible to the fish,’’ she added.
Ruing the damage caused to the environment by plaster of Paris idols, Manish Solanki, a class 7 student at St Elias School in Khar, said, ‘’It was fun making the eco-Ganeshas. We were able to make the idols in less than a day. A day after the immersions, we encounter shocking scenes at beaches, with artificial materials refusing to dissolve in water harming the fauna.’’
Nupur Sirur, a class 7 student who innovated the veggie Ganesh idol, said, ‘’Vegetables are eco-friendly and after the immersion they will not cause any damage to the environment. It is better to use such materials instead of using artificial ones.’’
According to the statistics shared by Ganpati idol dealers in the city, the demand for idols, especially eco-friendly ones, from abroad has risen this year. Until last year, Grahak Peth, one of the dealers of Ganpati idols, sold around 13 to 14 shadu maati idols to customers overseas. This year, they have already sold around 30 such idols so far.
“Foreign countries are far stricter than India about environmental issues. This could be the reason why more people are demanding eco-friendly idols,” said Suryakant Pathak, managing director of Grahak Peth.
The increase in the demand is despite the fact that eco-friendly idols are costlier than those made of Plaster of Paris (PoP). The reason being, says Pathak, is that shadu maati and the colour come from Gujarat and the labour charges for making such idols are higher. “Shadu maati idols cost 10 per cent more than the PoP ones. Besides, they are delicate and need to be handled carefully,” he added.
“There is a 50 per cent increase in the orders for idols from abroad. Most of the orders were from Australia, The Netherlands, USA and Canada,” said Ashish Palande, director of Palande Couriers. To avoid damage to the idols, the courier firm was using press-rubber packaging, which is considered better than thermocol or bubble packing, he added.
On an average, a medium-sized idol costs anything from Rs 300 to Rs 350. However, the courier charges may vary from Rs 5,000 to Rs 6000, depending upon the country one is sending it to. “Some countries to which my customers have sent the idols are The Netherland, USA, Dubai and Australia,” said Pathak.
Mandar Desai, director of Desai Bandhu, another prominent Ganpati idol dealer in the city, said compared to last year, the demand for eco-friendly idols shot up by almost 15 per cent this year and most of the orders were from USA and Singapore. “People prefer small idols for sending abroad. We have an offer of Rs 5,800 under which a small Ganpati idol can be sent to any place. The cost includes price of the idol, packing as well as courier charges,” said Desai.
For the last two years, city-based businessman Vikram Jadhav had been sending a PoP Ganpati idol to the Maharashtra Mandal of Toronto. This year, however, he sent an eco-friendly idol. “As the trend of eco-friendly idols has recently picked up, I sent one this year,” said Jadhav.
It amalgamates tradition with one of the greatest needs of modern times — celebrating a festival woven into the city’s fabric and ensuring it does not degrade the environment.
The effort of residents of IIT Bombay campus and nearby areas in Powai is aimed at this. The suburb’s residents go back to tradition sculpting Ganesha idols from earth taken from near their homes and return it to earth immersing it in a nearby water body.
In doing so, IIT Bombay, aided by students, faculty, residents of Powai and even some corporates, is ensuring that water of Powai lake which was one of the sources of drinking water for the city and is now declared unfit to be consumed, is not degraded further.
“Instead of buying plaster of paris idols that have toxic colours that pollute water bodies and endanger aquatic flora and fauna, participants make their own eco-friendly Ganeshas and take them home. The workshop is an ongoing effort to save Powai Lake by IIT campus residents and residents of neighbouring areas. The idea is to take from nature and return to nature, so that there is no imbalance,” said Chaitali Gupta, the coordinator of the project, from IIT Bombay campus.
They will gather on the campus on September 17-18 to create eco-friendly idols and celebrate Ganesh Mahotsav. Organised by the ‘Save Powai Lake Team’, the project called ‘Navsrujan’ (new beginning) was initiated in 2003. “Since then, the numbers have grown. Last year, we had over 700 participants and expect huge numbers this year too,” said Gupta.
The materials used for the idols include soil from the lake and natural colours. The soil is manually collected from the Powai lake, cleaned of pebbles and kneaded into fine dough. The dough is used to make the idols. “The first few steps are to build the torso, head, legs and hands. We colour it red and yellow. This is followed by addition of cone decorations, and accompaniments (the mouse and modak). Thereafter, the final touches are given,” she said.
The city’s water bodies may get a significantly lesser dose of toxic paint and Plaster of Paris this Ganesh Chaturthi as the number of people opting for eco-friendly idols has gone up going by the brisk sales of such idols. In the last three years, the increase in demand for these idols has resulted in more craftsmen from West Bengal, who are known for their sand and clay work, coming down to the city every year during this season. With the festival fast approaching, these idol makers are busy applying the final touches to their creations.
“In the past few years, business has improved here as people are now more aware about the environment. Three years ago, selling our stock was a herculean task, but this time the demand is much more than the total number of idols being made,” said Lakshmi Narayan, a seller at Chaderghat who has been in the business for around 10 years.
Three years ago, there were just a handful of sellers of mud idols. Now, around 30 temporary sheds called karkhanas are found in areas like Chaderghat, Balanagar, Afzalgunj, Uppal, Alwal, Miyapur, Shivarampally and others where the idol makers stay and work on the idols. Chandra Pal, a mud idol seller for the past 20 years said, “The newer ones are at Miyapur, Uppal, Rakshapuram near Barkas and Shivarampally. With so many competitors entering the business, it is getting increasingly difficult to find land for setting up karkhanas too.” He added that this year, after several representations, GHMC agreed to give permission to put up a temporary shed which will be taken down once Navratri begins, only after a meeting with the sellers which was held last month.
Despite the initial hurdles, these idol sellers are not complaining as business has picked up immensely this year. With profit margins ranging from Rs 75 000 to Rs 1 lakh on a total investment of around Rs 1 lakh, sellers are optimistic about making the most of the festival. “The price of medium-sized idols of around 10 feet in height ranges from Rs 10 000 to Rs 35 000. Until 2009, getting around 20 to 30 customers was considered a good season and even they would bargain heavily. But this year, nearly 100 customers have already approached us and our investment is likely to double,” said Nagarani Nagesh, another seller in the city.
The idol makers from West Bengal spend about two to eight months here, living in temporary sheds and meticulously working on the elaborate designs which are sometimes requested by customers.
Ranjit Pal, one such craftsman at Alwal said, “I have been coming here with my father for the last 25 years. We come in January and leave only after Diwali as we also make Durga and Kaliidols for Dasara and Kali puja. We get to spend just a couple of months with our family in Kolkata. But the demand here is growing and there is a lot of scope, so we keep coming every year.”
Ganesh Chaturthi is a popular festival celebrated in India. The 10-day long celebration includes decorating Ganesha idols at home, making and enjoying mouth-watering delicacies and of course, music, lights and immersion of the idol on the last day. However, as we celebrate Ganpati, we often forget how small things we do during the festival can cause harm to the environment. This year, we believe it’s time for some eco-consciousness. So here are some simple ways to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in an eco-friendly way.
Use eco-friendly idols: Ditch Ganesha idols made of chemicals, plaster of Paris, plastic and thermocol and opt for natural biodegradable materials like clay and papier mache instead. Biodegradable materials do not pollute the water or the surroundings after immersion. Homemaker Jaya Shanti says, “I make a Ganpati using haldi (turmeric) at home. This is 100% natural and doesn’t cause any harm to the environment.” You can also use other natural products such as coconut to make your idol and natural colours to paint it.
Small and sweet: Big idols occupy a lot of space and take a lot of time to dissolve in water. So, don’t keep an idol more than 5 feet tall in your society. Huge idols also consume more POP for its making; this material is harmful to the environment. Bigger idols also cause traffic congestion. Remember it’s the ritual and your emotions that should be big.
Conserve energy: We all love the fairy lights and bright incandescent bulbs. But they are a waste of energy and are expensive too. Replace these with compact fluorescent lights (CFL) as they save electricity and your money. You could wrap coloured transparent papers on the bulbs to give a dramatic look.
Use natural colours for rangoli: Use biodegradable colours such as turmeric, henna, rice powder, coloured dal and gulaal to make rangoli. These colours are eco-friendly and safe. Also, say no to decorations made of plastic and non-degradable material. Gargi Bansod, journalist says, “We use natural materials such as cloth, wood and paper for decorations. We also reuse materials from previous years in different ways.”
Say no to noise pollution: Avoid playing loud music which can cause disturbance in your society. Try playing instruments that are soft and soothing. Loudspeakers create noise pollution and can annoy hospitals, schools and your neighbours. Make sure to turn off the music by 10pm and abide by rules. Say no to crackers as well!
Ban plastic: There is a lot of delicious food served at home during Ganpati as well as fruits and sweets offered at pandals. Skip plastic and serve food in natural plates such as banana leaves instead. You can use cloth bags to carry prasad and other offerings as they can be reused later.
Limit the number of public pandals: Festivals are supposed to bring people together. So, instead of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi separately at different pandals, make one big pandal in your area for the entire neighborhood. Remember, more pandals means more noise, garbage and waste of electricity.
Artificial immersion tank: Using rivers, ponds, lakes or seas to immerse Ganesha idols can cause health hazards and is bad for the environment. Use an artificial immersion tank to immerse the idol. You can request your community members to do the same.
Pramod Palav, an artist from Kankavli, Sindhudurg, has proved that the height of an idol cannot be an excuse not to use environmentally friendly material. He has designed a 21-foot-tall Ganpati idol from shaadu maati (clay) and sap of ficus for a mandal in Andheri which he claims will dissolve in 15 minutes.
Apart from this, Palav has made two small eco-friendly Ganpati idols and a 6-foot-tall Ganesha using the same material.
Impressed with his work, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) authorities requested the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to find out if the material used by Palav was totally eco-friendly. “He has done a great job in making such an eco-friendly idol. It is the need of the hour to prevent pollution. We informally asked NEERI to check the material,” said Sanjay Bhuskute, spokesperson, MPCB.
Palav has accepted four other orders from mandals in the city to make eco-friendly Ganpati idols. “It is a question of hard work. Most idol makers don’t want to work hard, but want more money. That is the reason they say it is not possible to make a tall idol without using Plaster of Paris (PoP),” Palav said. He plans to organise a workshop in Mumbai next year to spread awareness about eco-friendly idols.
“I have proved for the second time that making such tall idols with eco-friendly material is not a problem. I also made 800 small idols because there is a lot of demand. Safety is not an issue if the idol is made properly. But there are very few artists left. Most of those making idols today are mere workers who use PoP,” he said.
The civic body and the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti introduced the idea of using eco-friendly natural dyes for Ganpati idols.
They also appealed to the mandals to restrict the height of idols to 10-12 feet. But most mandals refused to follow the directives.
“Last week, I went to 2-3 workshops in the city to inquire about the material they used. They showed me idols made from PoP and said they were eco-friendly models. On pointing out that the idols were not eco-friendly, they began arguing. They are fooling people by selling those idols as eco-friendly ones,” Palav told DNA.
There are others, however, who insist on having an eco-friendly idol. “We are the first mandal in the city to have a 21-foot-tall eco-friendly Ganpati idol. We immersed the idol in an artificial pond last year. It took just 15 minutes for the idol to dissolve in water,” said Nilesh Thange, president, Kranti Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, Koldongri in Andheri.
According to the BMC, 9,904 Ganpati idols from sarvajanik mandals and more than 1,70,000 idols from people’s homes are immersed in Mumbai every year. Of these, most sarvajanik idols are 10-15-foot tall, while some are as high as 20-25 feet. Most of them are made of PoP.
It is easy to distinguish a PoP idol from an eco-friendly one. There is a ringing buzz when you tap a PoP idol; that is not the case with an eco-friendly idol. Also, an eco-friendly idol is light in weight.