|Clay and some products|
When Chennai reeled under the unprecedented rains last year, one of the causes was that the riverbeds in the city had not been cleaned in eons; all the muck that we had generously donated to the river built up into a mini dam at the point where the ocean and the river met; and the river started flowing back into the city, flooding its many streets and low-lying areas; many of which were built on beds of water bodies such as ponds and lakes.
It brought on discussions about how once upon a time, communities around the water bodies took it on themselves to clean them periodically and prepare it for the oncoming rains. The beds were desilted, removing extra clay and clearing the spring/fountainhead so that the ground could soak in the water and hold it for the communities to flourish around it.
The clay then - what happened to it? Why, it went to the potters and apart from the regular products made of clay, and during religious occasions idols of various sizes would consume a large part of the clay. Natural colours would embellish it and flowers and cotton garments would be draped around it. It gave a temporary boost to businesses and also gave people cause for celebration and hope before the harvesting season later.
When the time was ripe, these clay idols would go back to their source, the river, where they would dissolve easily without polluting the water.
Last year, a magazine ran a story on how Ganesha idols immersed indifferently in shallow waters are a potential environmental hazard. They are made of artificial materials, draped in polyesters. It is tragic to see a wonderful tradition, which was also introduced to synchronise with the natural cycle, slowly becoming a threat to the ecology.
Last week, I was heartened to see a video of clay Ganesha models with seeds inside them. Keep it in the garden after the puja and watch plants sprout. Yes, with care and thought, we can keep the tradition alive and enjoy the season without harming the environment. There are many rituals that are pointless. And many that have great depth and understanding of the natural cycle. If we can separate the grain from the chafe, and strengthen meaningful ones while discarding the rest, we can once again revive our national pride even while doing our bit for our culture, tradition, environment and the small scale industry.