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It won't be wrong to say that India is a land of festivals. Festivals hold an aesthetic value in our lives but amid all the fun we forget our responsibility towards nature. While on one side, we celebrate our tradition and culture, on the other side we are polluting anything and everything in the name of festivals and completely out of sheer ignorance.
In a mission to counter the pollution of the water bodies by immersed idols, a 35-year-old Roshan Ray, founder of a startup 'Seed Paper India' came out with an amazing idea of 'Mud Ganesha' this Ganesh Chaturthi. In a candid conversation with Boldsky, he shared how we all can celebrate festivals in a much more responsible manner and bring out the true essence of it.
In the earlier days, immersing idols of Gods and Goddesses in water bodies was considered auspicious and no harm was caused to the environment because they were made of clay and mud. As time passed by, the tradition of immersing idols remained the same, but, now most of the idols are made from Plaster of Paris (PoP), which is harmful to the environment, not to mention the harmful colours that go into making it. Therefore, during Visarjan (traditional immersion) of these idols, the water bodies get polluted and aquatic life gets affected the most.
What is Mud Ganesha?
Mud Ganesha is a hand-moulded and biodegradable idol of Lord Ganesha made by filtered mud. When it is immersed in the water bodies, it melts down without polluting the water. Roshan tells us that this Ganesh Chaturthi, there will be 4 types of mud Ganesha idols based on the type of seeds embedded into it. The seeds will be of marigold, sunflower, tulsi and tomato.
"In 4-6 weeks, seeds will start germinating, within 3 months, it will start flowering and in 6 months, you will be able to see a full-fledged plant. Only, one has to pour water in it every day or keep it moist," he said.
The clay that is used in making these idols are taken from river bedside or lakeside and the colours used are basically food colours (only black and white) to design the eyes.
This mud Ganesha is also budget-friendly. The price of mud Ganesha is quite reasonable. A 7-inches mud Ganesha costs around 300-350 rupees. Mud Ganesha will also come in an assorted packet consisting of 4 other items; jute bag, 2 seed bombs, cocopeat (fertilizer) made of coconut husk, and an instruction card. This assorted packet will cost around 400-450 rupees.
"My main intention is that people start shifting from traditional to this eco-friendly method. It doesn't make sense if we will charge high and common people can't buy it, then what's the point of selling it? he said.
Why Mud Ganesha Is Important
As we know, nature plays an important role in our lives along with our tradition so, we have to find ways to balance both of them. Mud Ganesha is an eco-friendly approach to make people aware of the significance and benefit of it to the environment.
On asking what prompted him to start this green initiative, Roshan told Boldsky, "During my childhood days, my father, who is from Kolkata, used to take me to rivers during Durga Puja to see the Visarjan of Maa Durga. I remember those idols are made of mud and clay. But from the past 12 years, I have observed how people have shifted from clay to Pop Ganesha. Also, they no more want the simple idols but a grand and colourful one, adorned with plastic jewellery, decorated with harmful paints, without realizing how much harmful it will be for nature."
Plaster of Paris (PoP) is a kind of plaster made after heating gypsum mineral and converting it into a powder. They are cheap and dry out easily in comparison to clay which takes approximately 5 days to dry out. Additionally, the Plaster of Paris requires less skill work.
"About 2 years back, when I visited the Hoogli River in West Bengal, it was really sad and heartbreaking to see the garbage and pollution that were created from the immersion of the idols in this river. Being an environmentalist, I thought of doing something about it. So, in 2017, I came out with a small project and started making small moulds of clay and embedding non-GMO seeds to it sourced directly from 800 farmers."
He added, "When I moulded seeds in the clay, they started growing fastly because riverbed clay is fertile and can hold moisture for a long time."
It is true, at least in this case that behind a successful man is a supportive family. Roshan mentioned how his family has always encouraged new ideas and that is how he started this initiative.
He later said that it's children who helped him with the initiative.
"When children saw plants coming out from the Ganesha mud idols, they requested their parents to buy it and that was really encouraging for us," he said with a smile and immense pride.
Presently, Roshan has around 15 women employees who help him to mould Ganesha idols. They prepare around 70-90 Ganesha idols per day. Also, Seed Paper India has already delivered 2000 mud Ganesha idols this year and is expecting to sell 4000 pieces more, till the end of the festival.
Roshan mentioned that the main challenge faced by them is the religious mindset of people as most of them still want to buy a huge, colourful, shimmery, and decorated idols of Lord Ganesha from their old vendors without thinking of the negative impact it will have on nature.
"Festivals are not to show how big your ego is by buying big Ganesha idols, but about giving a symbolic value to the celebration. Even my old friends didn't buy from me and went to their old vendors," said Roshan.
The second challenge faced by him and his team is the weather of Bengaluru, but they have countered it by drying the idols under the fan at night. Also, breakage of idols during transportation was a risk factor, but it was resolved by replacing the idols for free with the customers in case the idols are broken, he added.
"We won't use to dry the idols in the fire as it destroys seeds embedded in it. We wanted the idols to be as eco-friendly as possible," said Roshan.
How Mud Ganesha Helps Counter Pollution
Roshan also expressed his concern about the pollution of lakes and rivers of Karnataka and also in other parts of India caused by immersing idols. He said, "Last year, small research was conducted in Karnataka, in which I went to the Ulsoor lake. There were around 1.5 lakhs of waste idols immersed in the lake with heavy metals like chromium and copper. Species are dying and 2 tonnes of varnish (oil) used to build Ganesha idols was also found. That shook me to the core."
"The mud Ganesha will help to reduce the pollution of the lake and other water bodies as it is just made of natural clay. We are only shaping clay in a Ganesha form and drying it in the sunlight. After the puja when it will immerse in the water, it will melt down without causing any harm to the water species."
What Future Initiatives Include?
Currently, Seed Paper India is trying to promote their hand moulded mud Ganesha with the help of several campaigns but, seems like this startup has some interesting ideas for Diwali as well.
"We are thinking of seed embedded diyas and pataakhas (firecrackers) for Diwali. The firecracker will be made up of seed paper so that after bursting, people can collect it, take it to their home, and plant it. If the campaign becomes successful in Bangalore, we will take it ahead to Kolkata during the Durga Puja festival with the seed embedded Durga idols," said Roshan.
"For the next year's Ganesh Chaturthi, we are planning to make Ganesha with the pulp of Water Hycanics, which is a plant found above the water and spread all over the lake," he added.