Posted by: miilee | September 22, 2010

Visarjan is NOT Religion


For a country that has been battling ‘religion’ based atrocities and crimes like dowry, sati, child sacrifice etc we’re extraordinarily naïve and easily misguided. Anyone can push anything under the red carpet of ‘religion’ and rest assured that it will not be touched and if touched, he just has to deliver a loaded speech and trust the ‘public opinion’ to take care of the rest. I don’t need to cite examples here; I’m sure those of you who follow current events know of a few examples for this.

But unfortunately, amongst all the victims of this outrageous trend, the biggest victim is Religion itself. More than 90% of the time, the things that are pushed under the carpet of religion are things that religion doesn’t even mention, or is even actively/ passively opposed to. I have several examples for this too but the one I want to talk about is the one currently playing across the news channels today; Ganesh Visarjan.

For years, I’ve watched people parade the idols to the shore with great fanfare and noise and not once understood why they would dump their God in the same water as they dump their sewage. “Religion!” they say.

WHAT??

When has religion asked you to dump huge masses of waste into the sea and kill a million life forms??

So I asked around a little bit and this is what I found:

Ganesh pooja is an age old practice followed by Hindu families. There is an ‘installation’ pooja or ‘Sthapaana’ where the idol is placed in a specially decorated sanctum. There are special ritualistic poojas that are conducted through the period of the Lord’s ‘stay’ in the house. The ‘stay’ may vary from 36 Hrs to 21 days, depending on what the family has decided to do. At the end of this period, there is an ‘uttar pooja’. The idol is then put back into Its regular place in the house –The pooja room.

So what’s with the Visarjans?

Well, in the independence era Lokmanya Tilak got the Ganesh Utsav out of individual homes and into the whole community where everyone collectively installed one idol and celebrated together. These were called ‘Sarvajanik’ or Community Ganpatis. Tilak had introduced these community celebrations so that they would foster the community spirit and encourage cultural integration when people from the entire community come together for creative activities throughout the festive period. It is also said that Tilak used these community gatherings as a place to propagate nationalist ideals etc under the guise of a community celebration.

Anyway, when the Ganpatis were celebrated in individual homes, the families used their family idols for the purpose and at the end of the festivities, restored the idols back into the regular sanctums. However, with community celebrations, the communities started buying huge idols for this period of celebrations. But once the festivities were done, they had no place to keep the idols. Therefore these idols were sent off into the high seas. Once the community Ganpatis started going that way, people started getting new idols even for their individual homes and then submerging them as well into the sea at the end of it.

Reason?

Well, Hinduism believes that the Sea is the all accepting spirit which takes in everything and restores it into its place in the natural order of things. So wastes from sacred rites, like flowers etc are generally left into the sea. Now this theory held water for as long as the things being discarded did come from a natural origin to be restored into nature. But with plaster-of-paris, plastic and the likes entering stage, the sea has been at a loss to find a place for them. The resulting pollution is something that ALL of us know about (If you don’t, stay tuned to the News TV. They’re gonna start singing a whole different tune once the volunteers and activists go to the beaches to clean up whatever they can after the visarjans are done.)

The morning after...

Now allow me to dissect the situation a little further.

  1. The purpose behind the community idols was to integrate the communities; today, instead of three chawls coming together for one ganpati, there are five ganpatis in the same chawl!
  2. Which Ganpati would like to be remembered with “Munni Badnaam hui” blaring into his ears and smoke from crackers filling his poor trunk? No scripture ever said that we’re to play loud stupid music and burn up hell on the streets or the Lord will be displeased. In fact, I believe whatever we’re doing in the name of that Lord is probably enraging him.
  3. Like I mentioned in the beginning, doesn’t anyone feel a bit of shame before immersing those idols into the sea? If you are calling it a God, are you not dunking the idol in the same water that contains the entire city’s poop? On mentioning this, someone told me that after the ‘uttar pooja’ the idol is void of the Lord’s spirit and is nothing but a statue. Well, then shame on you for throwing that statue so carelessly into the sea and killing millions of the Lord’s children who live in it.
  4. How many Gods would take no offence at people charging a fee for a darshan? Pay 1000 and get a VIP Darshan. Pay 500 for a quick line to the front. And for those who can’t pay, stand in the long line spiralling into the streets and wait for hours to get a quarter-second’s glimpse of the idol before being shoved aside. Is that what a God would tolerate? Isn’t God supposed to be the all loving, impartial father of all? Since when has he demanded that money?

You know what the reality is? The reality is that whatever God once existed in all our idols and rites, has long left us. He’s not there in those idols; neither before the pooja, nor after it. He used to sit in people’s hearts and eyes but now money and plaster idols have taken up the place and he’s had to leave….

So what’s the solution? Well, it’s staring you in the face! Stop being perfect assholes and start doing things that actually go alongside the core value of the festival. Have one clay idol installed for a whole community area and use the time to be productive and spread joy. Hold blood donation drives or go to an orphanage or an old home. Or hold a food/ cloth collection drive and donate to someone like the Goonj foundation. Try bringing a longer lasting smile on faces that weren’t expecting one for the whole of their lives. Take time to make this world a better place; and then probably in some lone child’s grateful tears will we find the priceless darshan of the real Lord… with no queues and absolutely free….

 

 

Addition: One of the older Aajis (grandmothers) of the household recently told me another version of the origin of the ritual. In ancient times, in the wait for sufficient rain, farmers went to the mucky river beds and retrieved some clay, fashioned a clay idol of Lord Ganesha out of it and set the idol at a level where they wished the river to rise to. Then in the forthcoming days, they would pray to that idol, asking  him to beckon the water to his feet and promised to let him return to the river bed when the water came to that level. Thus, the Sthapana and the Visarjan… Now look outside your windows… any connection??

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Responses

  1. You’ve probably put into writing what many of us have in our minds but have not been able to say… Good work once again…

    • That’s the role of a blogger…. write what needs to be written.. 😉

  2. Well written post about the ill effects of the religion in general and visarjan in particular as followed by people who ignore the effects they have on the environment and surroundings.

    But we are going in the opposite direction with the government increasing the deadlines for the loudspeakers.

    The positive points are that this time there were some of the households who went for the environment friendly clay version. Also many public committees refused to endorse cigarette brands.

    • I hope that in my lifetime atleast i can influence people enough to not do this mess…

  3. Brilliant!!!!

    BRAVO!!!

    • Thanks…. glad you liked the post….

  4. Some years back when i had gone for a clean up at the beach, people were standing upon the Ganesh idols and kinda jumping on it so that its immersed properly into the water. I wonder if there can be an alternative way to all the pollution caused by it or atleast respect the fucking IDOL!!!!!

    • I know… I’ve been to a lot of these clean ups…..

  5. I like your views my thoughts are some what similar. Will make a point to go through your blogs more often.

    • Glad you liked it…. Feel free to read and comment on any of the posts…

  6. Wow

    Apart from everything else,
    this piece of writing was darn educative!

    Never knew this ‘truth’ behind Visarjans.. and I thought it was part and parcel of our religion!

    Great piece!

    • I’m glad I could do my bit of undoing the blindfolds… Now the question is if people are willing to open their eyes…. 🙂
      Glad you liked the post….

  7. It is a sad fact that rituals have conveniently been twisted to pander to vested interests, be it the priests or the politicians. But even today there are millions of devout people who are following the rituals in the true spirit they had been started, yes, even the idols, which were necessarily to be made by hand in clay and them left in the garden or lowered into the well. Earth to earth…

    • Yes, I must mention, there are several Ganpatis that are amazingly conducted. A lot of them get featured in the news papers in the eco-friendly ganpatis features…
      I really salute their efforts and devotion…..

  8. You rock Milee… I am forwarding this on my emails to my friends…

    I am glad your rage comes out in the blog… Keep up the good work.

    • I’m glad you liked the post Tanvi. I’m doing my part in undoing the blindfolds… it is now upto the people to open their eyes and see what’s blatantly staring them in the face….

  9. i so totally agree wit u…

    worse is people geting drunk in the name of visarjan and doing obscene pelvic thrusts

    • True… it’s a sad scene…

  10. good work mam!!! keep posting such articles the world needs them…

    • Glad you liked it…. feel free to share it…. also, I’m glad to add my penny to the piggy bank of a better tomorrow…

  11. Nice work..really thought provoking..is forcing the reader to pause for a second and think, to look back upon our contribution to the society, nation, world and in the end the universe. Thanks a lot for the good work..hope to see many more ..

    • I’m just being what a Blogger should be when the media is becoming a mere dislocated appendage……:)
      Glad you liked it…..

  12. Very well put. The poojas themselves are big farces apart from the problems they cause. Traffic jams, noise pollution etc. What do we achieve in any case? The spirit and the purpose for which Ganesh Pooja was promoted by Tilak is long forgotten. Viserjan is even worse. I feel like starting something like electric crmatorium where idoles would be disposed without hurting anyone’s sentiments. At least the fish will be grateful.

    • I’d be overjoyed if you do something like that….. Do let me know if you do…..

  13. Hey thats quite an information Miilee. I am new to Mumbai and was too excited to see the festivities around Ganesh Chaturthi. And though I liked the festivities, the excitement, the feeling of just getting involved in it. But, what I really hated (not disliked, simply hated) was the way some people were celebrating the Visarjan. I could see people dancing obscenely to some bollywood numbers while taking out the procession for visarjan.

    They all were drunk and had no senses. They could hardly stand and move on the streets. And let me also tell you that this was no small group or something, this group was about 15-20 people strong (plus some guys who were controlling the group).

    I was really happy to see all the fanfare about this event, but lost all interest when I saw this event.

    • That’s another side of it I didn’t mention in the page; the drinking…. It’s abhorrent….

  14. Well written and well said. its just become a spectacle and a major source of pollution. the piety of the occasion is lost among all the noise and aggression and garishness!

    • I hope that that we can bring the dignity back into the festival….

  15. A very good and thoughtful post 🙂

    • thanks..:)

  16. Did you know that all this started off as a small ceremony that involved a clump of clay from the river brought down to the plains after the rains?
    People celebrated the bountiful rains by bring a clump of clay to their house to be worshiped for a period and then returned to the river. Later they started forming an idol out of this. Now this simple ceremony has attained a monstrous avatar.

    Wonderful post…hard hitting and guilt inducing.

  17. What can one say to such an excellent article??!! Wow. I so agree with what you’ve said, about the objective of ‘integrating’ communities has long been forgotten. I remember the time I was doing PG, there was this famous Chaturshringhi Festival, and the song that was played every damn night was one cheap item number.

    • Glad you liked the piece. It is my humble attempt at throwing some light on things that I think are in need of correction…… Feel free to share it.

  18. Hey Miilee! Great Blog! I am Sonali, community admin at http://Travelwell.in. We have got an exciting contest for Nature lovers and travelers. If you have had an unusual journey, with interesting, practical ways of how you travelled eco-friendly, we invite you to share your experiences in not more than 1200 words. Perhaps your story could add to efforts in conserving this irreplaceable mountain system. To participate log onto http://ecotrail.in You could win Hiking Gear from WWF-India and get featured in Lonely Planet Magazine India. Thanks!

    • Thanks for this Sonali. I’ll definitely like to contribute to this, irrespective of the gratifications. Anything to make better travelers out of crass tourists.. 🙂

  19. Very well written 🙂

  20. This festival, just like any other Hindu festival has been corrupted by materialism. When people used to see firecrackers being burst by the Maharajas in their respective states/cities it was the highlight of the season not just the festival, therefore it became a status symbol. When firecrackers became affordable in 1950, people rushed to buy them and the abuse began. The recent years have not been free of firecrackers but things are changing. We as a society must revisit the reasons why we celebrate our customs and traditions, which surprisingly are very scientific in nature.

    however miilee you’d be wrong when you say Lokmanya Tilak started this practice, because it existed before in many parts of the country and might have been borrowed. And the reasons you have put out as to why immersions are done are wrong because you might have missed the metaphorism of the practice of immersion. It signifies Ganapti teaching us cycle of life and death (every year clay becomes clay). It also signifies Moksha and Brahmn to some people depending on their perspective.

    And the God hasn’t left us in our idols and practices, we just need to wake up to see the larger picture..

    • I completely agree about roots of religion being corrupted by materialism. We’ve taken to mindlessly doing things without truly understanding the significance, which is sad since lot of what our religions teach us is beautiful even in thought.
      And about Lokmanya Tilak;. I didnt say he started the Ganpati festival.. I said he started the tradition of Sarvajanik (community) Ganpatis. I know that the celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi has existed since the time of the Rashtrakutas; it was just a family affair then… It became a public affair after 1893 where the festival was used as a tool of national integration.
      About the origin of the practice, like I said, when I heard was one version of it. There could be others. Even by the cycle of life idea, we are pretty much contradicting it by using POP idols instead of clay, aren’t we?
      And what I meant by God leaving our idols; I cannot bring myself to believe that a heap of POP that is about to kill a million sea lives is the image of my God… I’d much rather find my God in the happiness of others than in a mere noise and smoke facade.

      Anyway, I’m glad you took the time to read my post and cared enough to comment. 🙂

  21. hey Miilee, could u please cite ur sources of info regarding visarjan so i can take it 2 my neighbourhood mandals along with a print out this blog to try to convince them to implement any of the “solutions” which u offered. thanx 4 opening my eyes regarding this. efforts done by ppl like u in digging out the info will only take our society forward. i really appreciate ur efforts.

    • Akash,
      My sources are majorly the seven grandmothers in my household and my family Punditji. They told me of the original way in which Ganpati sthapna and uttar puja used to be done. Most versions of the significance of this festival has come to me through them. Also, they told me the reason behind why everything from any religious rites is put into a water body; to be returned to the natural order. My History professor had told us in a lecture of the existence of Ganesh Chaturthi celebration during the Rashtrakuta era and through the Maratha period upto the Peshwa rule. Then there is Wikipedia and my history textbooks that tell us about Lokmanya Tilak’s Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandal at Vinchurkarwadi being the first Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandal.
      For the effects of the ganesh utsav, hundreds of articles in papers for the last three years and several beach clean ups I’ve attended.
      Most of everything else is my personal opinion.
      Also, Check Rutvik’s Comment on the post (the one right before yours) He too has something interesting to say.

      Do let me know if you mange to influence even one mandal into having an ecofriendly Ganpati. I would be overjoyed to know that somewhere, it helped…

      Thanks for stopping by and reading.. 🙂

  22. Great piece. Well hindu’s think that the sea puts all the natural things back to place. I guess feces are natural. And 90%. the stats how? Even i think that nuisance is created. But thats a way of celebration. Some people like it and others dont. Its like ur marraige ceremony, birthday party or even cricket games. Traffic jams can be created for anything and everything. I would only opt to say that the use of eco friendly murti’s is a good way to celebrate the festival. Rest the method of celebration of any festival creates noise, traffic and a bunch of irritated audience.

    • Unfortunately, most things religious are politicized these days…. But we can keep hope as long as we find ways to a better tomorrow.

  23. Wonderful Blog – I was too eager to post your blog link on my FB page..so posted it without your permission ..hope its fine with you

    Cheers
    Yogesh

    • Glad you liked it enough to want to share 🙂
      No issues as long as you don’t repost content without mentioning the source… 🙂

      Hope you like the rest of the blog too 🙂

  24. Your thought and your reasonings are truly commendable.I agree to a certain extent.
    But answer my one question.After a humans death,when he is cremated,Is there no pollution.
    I feel on an account more than the idol visarjans in a day,pretty more human bodies are cremated.
    Can anyone stop it.
    Your points are correct as your concerns,Proper way,right beliefs,faithful traditional values have to be set right.I agree on this.

    • I agree with you about the cremation too… I personally would like to be cremated in an electric furnace (after all the parts of me that can be donated have been donated) and the ashes from the cremation must be put into an urn with the seeds of some sturdy jungle plant… Once the seeds germinate and are strong enough to be transplanted, I want the urn to be buried in a forest so that I may live on as a tree…


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