Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Tuesday, Feb. 20
The Indiana Daily Student

arts travel

Column: Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

entKate

Signs promoting sustainability fill the medians of major roads in Hyderabad.

Translated into Telugu, Hindi and English, they include endearing messages like, “Love trees ... so beautiful ... so useful.”

But sometimes, sustainability takes a backseat to religious tradition.

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of the Hindu god Ganesha. After 10 days of prayer and celebration, idols of the god are immersed into bodies of water on the 11th day.

Last week, an estimated 50,000 Ganesha idols were submerged into Hussain Sagar and other lakes in Hyderabad.

Our program visited the largest idol in Khairtabad before it was immersed.

Standing 59 feet tall, the Ganesha held a 4,200 kilogram laddu in his left hand.

That’s more than 9,000 pounds of flour, sugar and clarified butter. No wonder Ganesha’s belly is so round.

Luckily, the Indian sweet wasn’t immersed with the idol. My program director said the laddu will be auctioned off for charity.

During the festival, daily pujas presented offerings to Ganeshas around the city.

Every night, a friend of my host mom would bring up prasad, or blessed sweets, from the idol sponsored by people in our apartment complex.

Drums and firecrackers filled our neighborhood with noise after sunset. Young men marched and played behind a truck carrying the Ganesha off to be immersed.

Idols are historically made with clay and painted with vegetable dyes, allowing them to dissolve in the water within hours.

Yet, like religious celebrations worldwide, Ganesh Chaturthi is becoming increasingly
commercialized.

Idols made from cheap plaster of Paris are becoming more common. Some paints used to decorate the idols may contain mercury and lead.

Plaster can take months to years to fully disintegrate, and toxins from the paint endanger wildlife in the bodies of water.

Some organizations encourage symbolic immersion of the idols, sprinkling water on Ganesha’s head and then saving it to use the next year. Others advocate a ban on non-biodegradable idols, as some local governments have already done.

Tradition is tradition, and religious symbolism could be lost if the idol isn’t fully immersed.

It’s too bad Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, can’t remove the environmental damage caused during his birthday celebration.

— kmthacke@indiana.edu

Follow travel columnist Kate Thacker on Twitter
@katelynthacker.

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe