Going green with the Goddess

Kolkata's biggest festival extravaganza is taking a sustainable turn this year. The annual Durga Puja is a huge deal in the state of West Bengal much  like the Ganesh Puja celebrated earlier this year all over India. The environmental problems with both festivals are very similar i.e., PoP idols laden with toxic paint being immersed into water bodies.

The government of West Bengal is now using the cherished goddess as a vehicle of sustainability and is keen on promoting a cleaner, greener festival this year. The nerve-centre of idol makers is in Kumartuli in Kolkata and this year they are using eco-friendly techniques that has been promoted by the government. The government has distributed VOC and heavy metal-free paint to these idol-makers. The chief law officer of the state's environmental department stated that West Bengal was "possibly the first state in the country to have been successful in controlling the usage of lead paints in idols during festivals. Almost two-thirds of all idols made in the state this season are from eco-friendly paints." Efforts have also been made to convince the puja organisers not to dump the non- biodegradable waste in the river.

Many idol makers have also been experimenting with eco-friendly methods to craft their idols and using materials like fig-tree juice, paper and natural glue.  When immersed, the idols made with these materials dissolve in 15 minutes. However the idols bigger than 5ft need a thicker coat of clay.

Puja organizers have also been encouraged to use solar power and LED lights for illumination instead of incandescent light bulbs. Use of lead-free colours and renewable energy by Durga Puja organisers has also been made a criterion for the Shera Sharad Nirman Puja Puraskar, an annual award given by the department of environment and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB).

Another awareness campaign run by the West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation Ltd (WBGEDCL) to promote solar lighting has also tasted fair amount of success. Many manufacturers have agreed to provide solar power equipment free of cost in return for free publicity at the venue.

The goddess Durga is the manifestation of divine strength or Shakthi. She is venerated as the mother goddess - the destroyer of obstacles, giver of strength and the harbinger of good fortune. It seems apt to pave the way for environmental awareness with this festival of change. Bengal's biggest street party begins on October 14th and continues for four days - it promises to be a high-energy mix of festive fun and devotion and this year also sustainability.