You’ve seen it done (or have seen pictures of it being done) – but as kids would ask: why?

Turns out, there is both an ancient and a modern explanation for the practice. Idol immersion can be traced back to the Ganesh Purana and the Svayambhuvagama (an ancient Shastra said to be enunciated by Lord Shiva himself) and also has roots in the turning of the seasons. As Ganesh Charturthi falls at the end of the monsoon season, villagers would gather bits of clay that had washed up around their rivers. They would worship this clay in their homes (as a celebration of the fertility of the Earth), and then return the clay to the river. As the practice evolved, the clay was molded into shapes of idols – and, of course, Lord Ganesha.

The modern explanation, however, has more political roots and can be traced to Bal Gangadhar “Lokmanya” Tilak – one of the early leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. Tilak, a staunch Hindu nationalist, popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a public holiday – associating the “removal of obstacles” with the removal of the British Raj.

Sadly, the original (small) natural clay idols have been eclipsed with fancy plaster of paris and plastic idols – which are ecologically toxic on several levels.  So far, 4 states (Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa) have banned immersion of plaster of paris idols in waters.

Religiously speaking, the immersion (Visarjan) is a send off of Ganesha to Kailash.  On a philosophical level, it can be said that we give a shape to “God” – that which is infinite and formless – through the Earth’s clay and mud, invite and worship this form in our home, and then release this image back into the water to become formless once again.

This Ganesh Chaturthi, we encourage you to be environmentally responsible:  as our ancient ancestors recognized – if it didn’t come from the waters, it probably doesn’t belong in there.

image via Google images


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