By Taraana Madhok
Since Ganesha is the god of beginnings, we thought that eco-friendly Ganpati-making workshops would be a fitting initiative,” says Mrunalini Shinde, an artist who is part of Art Planet, a Pune-based foundation. A seven-member team of artists has been conducting eco-friendly Ganpati idol-making workshops for two years in the city.
The team makes use of shaadu maati and watercolours so that the idols can disintegrate in pots and the khaad obtained can be used to grow plants. It is the artists’ way to “prevent the environmental imbalance” that accompanies many festivals in India. An increasing number of people are coming around to their way of thinking. “The number of entries has increased. Last year, we had 30 participants and, this year, there were 50,” says Shinde, referring to a workshop held recently.
Some of the artists teach at schools in the city and spread awareness about environment-friendly celebrations among students. Jyoti Gurav, another team member, works at an IT company and will conduct a workshop for the employees there. The team will begin taking orders for idols next year. “Eco-friendly Ganpati idols cost more than Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols. They are handmade and require more effort,” says Shinde.
At a marketplace in Bhosale Nagar, Pune, bustling with people buying idols, Mayuresh Belgaonkar, owner of Morya Ganesh Murti Stall, points out the economics of PoP idols versus the eco-friendly avatars. “If PoP idols cost Rs 600, eco-friendly idols cost Rs 900, as shaadu maati is more expensive,” he says. The efforts of environmentalists seems to be paying off and demand for shaadu maati idols has been rising over the past two years. “This year, 90 percent of the idols in my stall are eco-friendly. Haldi and kumkum are used to colour these idols,” he says, adding that he was also inspired by the “Green Pune Clean Pune” signs around the city. Though there are still people who buy PoP idols due to their lustrous finish, which is lacking in eco-friendly idols.
Artists and artisans with a green conscience are rising to the challenge by innovating with material and styles. Smita Pandya, a member of the organisation We The Artists, has been conducting annual workshops for seven years. “Our shaadu maati idols take half a day to disintegrate,” she says. At one of her workshops, she included clay pots and vegetable seeds so that the participants could grow vegetables after visarjan. Among the difficulties, she admits, are that there is more variety in terms of moulds of PoP idols and the “saal mein ek hi baar aata hai” mentality that leads to the sale of environmentally-detrimental idols. “However, earlier people would make eco-friendly idols at our workshops but buy PoP idols separately for their homes. Now, they proudly use their handmade idols at home,” she adds. “Our workshops have now become a family affair, as parents and children come to learn. We also have a number of exchange students from Japan and Korea who excitedly take a handmade piece of our culture back home with them,” she says.
A number of artists are, however, not sure about shaadu maati as an alternative. Niranjan Upasani of Sustainable Lifestyle Store in Karve Nagar, conducts workshops but believes that making the participants aware of their ancestral traditions will increase awareness. “Earlier, the silt that flows down with the rivers was used to make idols. During visarjan, the silt would be restored to the river and, thus, maintain the environmental balance,” he explains. “The shaadu maati that is used in Maharashtra is brought from Gujarat and, hence, is an unnatural substance being added to our rivers. It is fine soil and creates an impervious layer in our rivers,” he says, talking about why shaadu might not be the best material. According to him, clay can be made using garden soil and red soil and “that is a truly eco-friendly material”. “We use multaani mitti to colour the body of the idol, kajal for the eyes and red clay for the mukut and dress,” he says. Orders for his idols must be given two to three weeks in advance.
Lolita Gupta of Ecoexist points out that shaadu is a non-renewable resource and, therefore, they will, gradually, have to find other materials. Ecoexist, a Pune-based social enterprise, founded in 2006, was arguably the pioneer of eco-friendly idols. As part of their “Safe Festivals” campaign, they make papier mache as well as cow dung and shaadu idols. “One needs to think about the paint as well. Poisonous paints cause more pollution,” she says and advises haldi, geru and spinach juice as colour pigments.
Ecoexist also provides eco-friendly accessories for the idols as well as garlands and torans made of cloth and paper. They train women from self-help groups to make the accessories. “Eco-friendly idols are double or triple the price of PoP idols, given the higher human hours per idol, and the labour and material cost,” she adds. Ecoexist has sold about 2,500 idols this year and has also designed an online catalogue where orders can be placed (www.e-coexist.com).“We are happy that there are so many organisations manufacturing eco-friendly idols now,” she says.