A spiritual leader from Fatehpur modifies an ancient tradition of idol-immersion to beat pollution.
“Only if we are alive can we celebrate religion,” says Ajeet, our Community Correspondent from Allahabad. Today, he introduces us to an innovative and visionary spiritual leader, who recognizes the importance of religious traditions, but not at the cost of environmental degradation.
The festival of Durga is one of the largest celebrated events in the Hindu calendar, and lasts for six days in September/October. During this time, temporary ‘pandals’ or elaborate temple structures are set up, in which sits the idol of Durga, the “Mother Divine” goddess who symbolises self-sufficiency and compassion. These idols are clay-based, but coloured and ornamented with harmful chemicals and hazardous materials like plastic, plaster and toxic paints. Hence, on the last day of the festival, when the idols are immersed in water to symbolize the return of the goddess to her husband Shiva, these dangerous materials find their way into various water bodies and cause deaths of aquatic life and health problems.
Swami Vigyanand Saraswati is trying to enlighten the believers around him, and has substituted the immersion of idols in water with immersion in holes in the ground. His sustained efforts over the last five years has had great results – this year, about two-thirds of the idols were buried in the ground rather than in the water. More conservative priests and pundits oppose him, saying that one shouldn’t interfere with what has been done for centuries. He has however, got support and recognition from various media organizations and NGOs who support him in his endeavours.
Ajeet, who himself observes Durga Puja, tries to communicate the negative consequences of the water-immersion tradition to his family and friends. Often, his mother will tell him to go and throw ash, plastic flowers and other items from religious offerings into the water, and this leads to many arguments in their home because he refuses to do it. He says, change begins one day at a time, one mind at a time and he is happy to see that it has started.