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It is a common sentiment that Lord Ganesha is most accessible among the pantheon of Gods in Sanatana Dharma. You can find him not just in big temples, but in street corners (known as veedi Pillaiyar in Tamil) and even beneath a tree.
What is perhaps not emphasised enough these days, is that simple forms of worship are enough to please the mighty elephant-headed Lord. All that is required is bhakti or devotion. No elaborate worship is required to appease Lord Ganesha. Any form can be attributed to Him by a devotee. In the past or days of yore, Lord Ganesha was worshiped on Ganesh Chaturthi made with simple substances like cow dung, turmeric and clay which are considered to be very auspicious.
It is a pity that somewhere in time, our festivals have taken a different route – that which is totally ecologically unsustainable. The Plaster of Paris (PoP) Ganesh idols that are widely used, are destroying our water bodies when they are submerged in them. Plaster of Paris, as you may be aware, is made when gypsum is heated to 150 degrees centigrade. It is insoluble in water and you will notice that the idols do not dissolve readily. In addition, the paint used to colour the idols has heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury along with other metals such as calcium, silicon and magnesium which go to pollute the water when the idols are immersed.
This is killing the marine and fresh water flora and fauna and in turn affecting our health adversely. In addition, the decorations also pollute water. The organic waste such as flowers increases the biological oxygen demand (BOD) and less said the better about the inorganic decoration waste such as thermocol and plastic. As you may have read in ‘The Waste Issue‘, it takes a million years or an eternity for them to degrade. At a time when water is becoming a scarce commodity, can we afford to lose whatever we have? Why are we doing something that is destroying us, in the name of tradition? Indeed, this was not the practice at all.
As far as customs go, as a child I remember the use of turmeric to represent Lord Ganesha. This form is the Haridra Ganapati which literally means “turmeric Ganesha” and is one of the most popular thirty-two forms of Ganesha. This form is believed to increase positive energies around. Lord Ganesha can be moulded in a simple form or can be simply represented in a small conical form by blending water and turmeric to a thick consistency. I add a few blades of grass. Indeed, He is happy even with simple offerings. Even when an elaborate pooja is planned, it usually commences with the worship of Lord Ganesha in this form. The form is later dissolved in a water body or in a jug of water and given to the plants. Haridra Ganapati is worshipped for wealth and well-being and He is known to protect his devotees against all odds.
Turmeric, clay, and cow-dung symbolises the presence of Lord in all forms of nature. At the culmination of worship, they are returned to their original forms or rather to formlessness (by dissolving in a water body (turmeric) or returning to the soil (Clay), mixing with soil to enhance nutrients for growing plants (cow dung). Indeed the Lord takes form and then assumes his true nature of formlessness.
So, this Ganesh Chaturti, I would invite you to join me in bringing home the ‘Turmeric Ganesha’. Turmeric, as you may know, is both a fungicide and a bactericide. A paste of turmeric is used when a plant is wounded to accelerate the healing process. In addition, there are proven health benefits for human beings.
So let’s bring back our eco-sensitive traditions and pass it down to the next generation. If you do so (I hope you do), please do post a picture on your social media feed and use the following hashtags; #TurmericGanesha #HaridraGanapati #Makefestivalsgreen #TheWasteIssue.
Wishing everyone a happy festive season and may your journey of life be obstacle-free.
A version of this was first published here.
Sangeeta Venkatesh is the co-author of 'The Waste Issue' - an interactive workbook for school
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