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A Case Study of Idol Immersion in the Context of Urban Lake Management

Religious Activities and Management of Water Bodies: A Case Study of Idol Immersion in the Context of Urban Lake Management

Mukerjee Aniruddhe
Jabalpur Municipal Corporation, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India

ABSTRACT

The immersion of idols by Hindus and taking possession of tazias by Muslims are old traditions in India. When festivals end, people immerse idols and tazias in water bodies which are nearby or accessible. Earlier, this used to be done in lotic water resources but now, people have started using lampic water bodies as well. Urban settlements have limited water resources which are accessible to the people. However, they are not concerned that these water resources, whether used for drinking or other purposes, become polluted. The idols of Lord Ganesha and the goddess Durga, worshipped by Hindus, are immersed in September and October annually while during the Moorum festival in May, tazias are immersed by Muslims. Both idols and tazias are made of clay (only for idols), hay, cloth, paper, wood, thermocol, jute, adhesive materials and synthetic paints. Thermocol is not-biodegradable while paints contain heavy metals such as chronium, lead, nickel, cadmium and zinc. The Upper Lake of Bhopal is an example where even sources of potable water are being used for idol immersion while the well-known Buda Talaab of Raipur and Haumnan Taal of Jabalpur are examples of water bodies likewise used for this activity and other rituals. The famous Pichola Lake of Udaipur, Rajasthan, is similarly used. Currently, people are also using lakes, ponds and tanks as well. Immersion of idols after the rainy season allows the biodegradable and non-degradable matters to settle down in the water bodies. This leads to their euthrophication. After decomposition, the biodegradable matters recycle into the system which the others form sediments. The recycled biodegradable components directly enter the food chain of the aquatic ecosystem and accumulate in the different parts of plants and animals. The bio-accumulation of heavy metals in the biological system transfers the toxic elements from the producer to consumer level which can be a future health hazard. This paper addresses this highly sensitive issue and attempts that are being made to deal with it.

INTRODUCTION

This paper deals with the practice of immersion of holy deities in urban water bodies all over India every year. The well-known Buda Talaab of Raipur, Hanumantal of Jabalpur, the Pichola Lake of Udaipur and the upper and lower lakes of Bhopal are examples of water bodies which are being used for idol immersion. Amongst these, the upper lake of Bhopal happens to be a source of potable water for the people.

The two main occasions are the festivals related to the god Ganesh and the goddess Durga. In fact, the Ganesh festival is almost immediately followed by the Durga festival. Ceremonial worship or Pooja takes place in the months of September/October every year for people to offer prayers and seek the blessings of Lord Ganesha, who is considered the god of wisdom, and goddess Durga, who is protector from all evils. People believe that worshipping would ensure fulfilment of their desires without hurdles. Earlier, the number of locations where this festival was celebrated remained limited to a very few installations at residential colonies. As time passed, these locations have increased. More and more colony youth groups have become active and started installing idols at various centres during the celebration.

The Ganesh festival is celebrated in Maharashtra with great devotion. Madhya Pradesh, the neighbouring state, has also inculcated the culture of celebrating this festival at public places. In earlier times, the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration was limited to the installation of the statue of the Lord itself which indicated the religious sentiments behind the installation but now thematic Jhankis have started. A Jhanki is a temporary public place where the statue is installed with new concepts, new themes and new formations in combination with a short mythological story or social message; each Jhanki desires to display its own creativity and superiority over other Jhankis.

The goddess Durga is considered to be the deity of power and destruction of evil. This festival is of great importance in the northern, eastern and central parts of India. The Jhankies of Durga have grown in numbers, size and combinations. Many creative and thematic Jhankies are created during the celebration, increasing the material refuse load which ultimately finds its way into the water bodies.

The immersion of idols in water bodies is an important religious custom at the culmination of the Durga or Ganesh festival celebrations. The religious significance attached to this customary traditional practice is that gods and goddesses or the residue of idols need to be cooled in water bodies as a mark of respect to the deities and their power. It is also believed that idols of gods and goddesses cannot be left unattended on the land because these idols may be subject to misuse, hence inviting the displeasure of the gods who may cause mass destruction to people and the society. One other reason attached to the practice of idol immersion is the belief that water can wash off all ills and provide purity and sanctity to the numerous activities. Continuing the traditional practices and religious customs, all committees participate in the procession at the end of the festivals, which ultimately culminates at a water body where the idols are immersed after performing a pooja or worship. This is considered the last ritual before the send-off of the idols personified as gods. These immersion places are chosen mainly on account of their accessibility to the public.

The reasons for the immersion of idols in the water bodies can be summarised as follows:

•     Water is the only medium that has the capacity to gradually disintegrate the idol without destruction or subjection to flames.

•     Water is the pure medium to cool the powers of idols.

•     Keeping idols open in dry places does not allow disintegration easily and hence they can be subject to misuse. At the time of installation, the sacramentation of idols (introduction of life in idols) is done by performing vedic mantras or hymns from the ancient holy Vedas. Similarly at the end of the festival, the power believed to be vested in the idols due to their sacramentation, needs to be released and the only acceptable way to gods is immersion in water.

On account of the immersion, materials like clay, bamboo, grass, wood, metals, jute, colors, painted cloth, flowers, incense sticks, dhoop, amphor, ash etc. are released into the water bodies. Added clay results in siltation of the lakes while immersed biodegradable materials contaminate the quality of the lake water.

The magnitude of this intervention in the lakes can be deduced from the following figures of idol immersion in Bhopal in 1998, 1999 and 2000:

Immersion of Ganesha idols
Immersion Site

1998

1999

2000

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

Upper lake

10,076

129.7

7,704

167.9

15,531

390.0
Lower lake

2,528

15.6

2,587

54.9

3,980

92.2
Immersion of Durga idols
Immersion Site

1998

1999

2000

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

Upper lake

859

129.3

1,508

125.3

1,301

99.2
Lower lake

543

44.3

45

2.4

95

6.1

(weight in tonnes)

A perusal of the comparative table illustrates the mushrooming of Ganesh idols until they are worshipped almost at a household level. The environmental impact of the water quality as per the 1999 data is shown in Tables 1-6. Looking at the seriousness of the issue, the Lake Bhopal Conservation and Management Project launched an extensive awareness campaign in 1999 through the media to convince the people about the need to save the lake from pollution through idol immersion. It was a bold step to tackle an issue which no administration was willing to deal with.

Table 1. Impact of Ganesh idol immersion on water quality at upper lake, 1999.

Parameter

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

pH 8.1-8.3 8.5-8.7 ­ 8.7-8.9 ­
Turbidity 19-29 18-21 38-45 ­
D.O. 8-14.2 9.6-17.6 ­ 2.8-13.6 ¯
Alkalinity 96-114 86-114 102-130 ­
Chloride 15.7-16.9 9.4-10.2 ¯ 18.5-16.1
Total solids 144-167 156-172 ­ 137-144
BOD 13.2-28.8 20.4-34.4 ­ 13.2-36.4 ­
COD 10-80 20-80 120-180 ­

*All units except pH and turbidity are in mg/I.

Table 2. Impact of Ganesh idol immersion on water quality at lower lake, 1999.

Parameter

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

pH 7.8-8.5 8-9.5 ­ 8.3-8.5
Turbidity 23-26 28-68 ­ 38-69 ­
D.O. 4-14.4 4-13.2 ­6.8-14.0
Alkalinity 124-142 124-142 134-164 ­
Chloride 25.2-26.6 18.3-20 ¯ 24.7-25.2
Total solids 236-262 234-270 203-230
BOD 12.8-20.4 21.6-27.2 ­ 16.4-29.6 ­
COD 90-160 60-100 ­ 70-250 ­

*All units except pH and turbidity are in mg/I.

Table 3.  Heavy metal concentration (mg/l) at Sheetal Das ki Bagiya, upper lake during Ganesh Chaturthi, 1999.

Heavy Metal

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

Surface

Bottom

Surface

Bottom

Surface

Bottom

Ni

BDL

BDL

BDL

4

BDL

4

Cr

4

6

5

8

8

18

Mn

102

240

112

326

116

340

Pb

246

526

340

704

460

648

* BDL= Below detectable limit.

Table 4. Impact of Durga idol immersion on water quality at upper lake, 1999.

Parameter

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

pH  7.7-9.0 7.8-8.9 8.2-9.0
Turbidity
38-45 39-44 30-42
D.O. 2.8-13.6 1.8-14.2 4-8 ¯
Alkalinity 102-130 ­118-124 100-130
Chloride 15.5-16.1 12.5-14.1 ¯ 15.8-18.8 ­
BOD 13.2-20 10-13.8 7.6-20.4
COD 130-260 160-290 ­ 180-300 ­

*All units except pH and turbidity are in mg/I.

Table 5. Impact of Durga idol immersion on water quality at lower lake, 1999.

Parameter

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

pH 7.7-8.9 ­8.5-9 7.5-8.9
Turbidity 38-49 35-52 ­ 33-47 ¯
D.O. 3-5.6 5.6-13.8 5.6-13.5
Alkalinity 164-180 142-172 ¯ 114-156 ¯
Chloride 23.8-25.5 12.2-16.8 ¯ 21.5-22.2 ¯
BOD 16.4-22.6 8-16 ¯ 8.2-16.8 ¯
COD 230-250 260-280 ­ 260-300 ­

*All units except pH and turbidity are in mg/I.

Table 6.  Heavy metal concentration (mg/l) at Sheetal Das ki Bagiya, upper lake, during Dushehra, 1999.

Heavy Metal

Pre-immersion

During immersion

Post-immersion

Surface

Bottom

Surface

Bottom

Surface

Bottom

Ni

BDL

4

BDL

6

BDL

8

Cr

4

7

4

8

6

8

Mn

106

240

126

246

136

262

Pb

240

320

252

328

286

328

* BDL= Below detectable limit.

One of the ways to lower the quantity of immersion is to have smaller and environmentally friendly idols. Competitions for making environmental friendly idols constitute a way to promote awareness on this aspect. In 1999, such a competition was organised in Bhopal by the Lake Bhopal Conservation and Management Project to promote the manufacturing of idols in line with environmental friendly products. A large number of entries for this competition was received, illustrating the awareness of the people towards these activities.

In the case of Bhopal, since the upper lake was a source of potable water as well, it was essential to try to shift the immersion activity away from it. This would entail the suggestion of alternative immersion sites nearby that the public had to agree to use. However, accepting alternate sites called for a change in attitude. It was a matter of understanding on the part of religious heads who held sentimental values and their willingness to break traditional practices which were of great relevance. The reasons for not accepting alternative sites largely depended on the mental rigidities of their committees. These rigidities would sometimes result in vague expressions of unreasonable explanations for their non-acceptance.

In 1999, the Lake Bhopal Conservation and Management Project was able to identify and select such a site, Prempura, on the spill channel of the upper lake which was conveniently located near the city and was well connected with roads. Sufficient open space was also available for infrastructure development. Since the flow of the spill channel was towards the outfall, the pollutants would not have the tendency to flow back into the main water body. The accumulated silt due to idol immersion would be flushed out when the gates of the lake opened during the raining season to remove excess water from the lake. A 200-metre long Prempura immersion bay was constructed where sufficient water was available round the year for idol immersion purposes. The site was provided with proper electricity facilities, access to roads and vehicle parks. Besides these, platforms for big idols and cranes were provided for the convenience of people. The bay was completed just before the Durga idol immersion in 1999. This site was inspected by the local MLAs, the corporators of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation as well as the leaders of religious communities. The site was also shown to NGOs working with the project to create awareness among the community.

Awareness activity and the efforts of the project resulted in diversion of a significant number of idols to the new Prempura site which otherwise would have been immersed in the traditional sites.

A magnitude of this intervention can be deduced from the following figures:

Year

2000

1999

2000

Location

Ganesh

Durga

Durga

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

No.

Weight

Prempura

4,247

81.96

576

50.74

489

37.17
Lower lake

15,571

369.0

1,508

125.30

1,301

99.17
(Total) Percentage

27.36

22.20

37.9

40.50

37.6

37.48

CONCLUSION

•     The immersion of idols is a religious activity and people are sentimentally attached to it. Despite environmental problems, these activities cannot be terminated entirely.

•     The solution for this problem lies in changing the attitudes of the people.

•     People from all walks of life have to be motivated to the following:

–     To use idols made from environmental friendly items.

–     As far as possible, avoid using as immersion sites places which provide drinking water.

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