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  Blow for Yamuna
  Time to rethink Puja  
AN anonymous letter writer has complimented The Herald of India for the Durga Puja pictures it published recently. Readers who would like to see them again can visit the Archive and click on the photo section. While we are grateful to the reader for his/her appreciation, what prompted this editorial comment is a report about the immersion of idols in Delhi. According to this report, there were 1,300 Durga Pujas in the Capital. A typical Durga Puja consists of a set of five idols -- a large one of Goddess Durga and four of her children. Multiply 1,300 into five to get an idea of the number of idols that were immersed in the Yamuna on the Vijay Dashmi Day.

There is a very popular Malayalam song created by the famous Vayalar-Devarajan team for the film 'Anaarkali' in which the Yamuna is described as the most beautiful river among all the rivers and Anaarkali the most beautiful girl among all girls. If the musicians concerned had seen the state of the river that flows through Delhi, they would have been horrified. This month we published pictures of the flooded Yamuna crossing the danger mark. Even before the pictures moved into the Archive (this happens after 15 days) the water level has come down drastically.

It was into this shallow river that over 30 tonnes of toxic elements were dumped in the form of idols. The idols are usually made of mud and hay structures, which are given a Plaster of Paris surface coating. "It reduces the level of dissolved oxygen in water and chokes breathing space for aquatic life. It takes a couple of hours to turn into sludge and chokes the riverbed by adding to solid particles. Without adequate flow, as in the Yamuna, they may remain in the waterbed for years".

The oil-based enamel paint used in the making of idols contains toxic heavy metals like mercury, chromium, lead and zinc oxide that kill aquatic life and can expose cancer-causing elements to the rivers. The metals and bamboo frames never get dissolved in the water. So do flowers, polythene and plastics! All this gives an idea of the havoc caused to one river in one city alone. Small wonder that today one cannot approach the Yamuna in Delhi without closing one's nostrils. It was in recognition of the dangers of the yearly assault on our water bodies that we published a very well written article by T.N. Sushama a few days before the Puja season.

It is not our contention that the people should not hold Puja. It is a part of India's composite culture and it must, therefore, continue. But can't we think of some solutions to the problem of pollution that we mentioned? First and foremost, the mad race among the puja committees to erect the biggest idols must end. A beautiful idol need not be a big idol! Before the advent of chemical paints, artisans depended on biodegradable natural paints made of green leaves and vegetable dyes. Why can't we go back to that system in everybody's interest save the paint manufacturers'? Since Puja is an yearly exercise and the Puja committees, too, remain the same, why can't some of the items like bamboo poles be retrieved and used again the next year? Alternatively, there can be artificial ponds where the immersion can take place.

Let's admit, these are some off-the-cuff suggestions. Well-meaning people like T.N. Sushama can suggest better ones, provided the State and the "religious-minded" wake up to the harm caused to our water bodies in the name of Puja. We are sure Durga is on our side in this campaign.
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