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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Bidding Goodbye to Ganesha at Home..........

.....A Small experiment and some thoughts it threw up.....

We bid goodbye to the Lord at our home today. For those who are new to this blog, here is some background information....

We had placed 3 Ganesha idols in our Puja this year. The first and main one was made by me, and I tried to make it a little colourful by painting some Geru or Chemman, which is basically red brick powder.The second and third were made by Samhith.

Today, when it for time for the Lord to leave, we were faced with a dilemma - which ones should we immerse, and which should we keep? Finally, after much discussion, we came to an agreement. For more than 40 years, our Ganesha idol has been sent for immersion with the big Ganesha of the neighboring colony, (remember the Facebook Ganesha?) and I wasn't in the mood to change the tradition just because I had made the idol. Hence our main idol continued the tradition, joining his friends on his journey home. 

The smallest Ganesha, the one Samhith made last, would not get immersed, but would stay on, as a reminder for next year. And yes, Samhith would take it to school to show off in his class!

The last and final Ganesha would be immersed in a jug of water at home, so that we could convince ourselves that the clay did dissolve in water!

And here is Samhith, peering at the jug, making sure that his idol dissolves. We wanted to get an idea of how long it takes for the idol to dissolve, and he kept a close watch for about half an hour, losing patience after that, peeping now and then to make sure that it was indeed dissolving!

As I write this, it has been over 4 hours since we immersed the idol, and it has still not dissolved completely. The ears and the crown were the first to go, then the trunk and finally the arms and legs. The torso fell off next, and it is the one which is dissolving the slowest! By the time we wake up tomorrow, it will be completely gone, and we plan to use the water in our garden!

However, this small experiment has brought up some thoughts..... Our idol was small - just about 2 inches tall and about the same circumference, and made completely of clay. Yet, it took about 4 hours to dissolve.Now, just think of the average size of the Ganpati idols - the largest in Bombay are about 18 feet tall and even the smallest would be at least a foot or two high! Even if every one of these idols is made of clay, (which they aren't!), can you imagine the kind of time it would take for all those idols to dissolve? And can you imagine the amount of clay that would be immersed by the end of the festival?

Now, considering that 99% of these idols are made of Plaster of Paris and painted with all sorts of unnatural colours, can you imagine what the state of our lakes and sea would be? No wonder that every year, pieces of the immersed idols appear on the beaches with the tide...its a ghastly sight! We perform our duty by praying to the Lord, or so we think, but how many of us even think of the effects? Certainly the revelers who gather at Mumbai's beaches don't think of this. They leave behind much more than just the insoluble idols they immerse - they leave behind a load of junk in the form of plastic covers, plastic plates, cups, and in general, all sorts of trash! 

One of the initiatives I admire in this regard is the SPROUTS Annual Beach Clean-up activity. They have been congregating at Juhu Beach on the morning after the immersion  just to clean up the mess left behind. Seeing the pics of the clean up is heart rending. This is their eight such activity, and I would love to go. Unfortunately, my location as well other issues come in the way. If any of you reading this are able to join them, please go ahead and do so! And, it will also make me feel better, if I manage to get a few more people interested through this blog! In any case, I think every single person should look through some of their photographs of the beach clean-up. It is enough to convert anyone to the idea of using clay idols!

Beach clean up pics, 2010
(Image from SPROUTS Facebook Page)

What is sorely needed is a change in mindset - a mindset which believes that our duty lies in bringing the Lord home, making our celebration as grand as possible, and then sending him off in style, and then forgetting about everything for a year! The Sarvajanik (public) celebration was begun as a means of bringing people together, and making them aware of the issues facing society at the time. It has nothing to do with the grandeur or the money coming in, or even the celebrities who draw the media there! It is time we remember that one of the foremost issues we face is that of the environment. We see the effect of neglecting our environment all around us. Isnt it time we did something about it? 

I have just begun my small contribution by making my own small idol with clay, and immersing it at home. We even used less flowers and leaves for the puja, and plan to use them for composting and mulching so that we don't add to the mass of garbage produced in just ten days! What about you?? Did you do anything this year to make your festival eco-friendly? I would love to hear from you if you did! And even if you didnt, will you join me next year?

P.S. Just realised after posting this, that its my 108th Post for this year (2011)! 108 is considered a special number when it comes to prayers..... and it somehow seems to be an apt number for this post!


  1. Very thoughtful post, with lot of worries and possible solutions.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Anu, never realized that such small idols would also take so much time to dissolve.

  3. Yes, Indrani... lots of thoughts which come up every time i go on my round of ganesha spotting!

  4. Thanks Mridula! i didnt either...but as my uncle pointed out, clay doesnt really dissolve completely. it crumbles and settles.... and when in flowing water, gets carried away.... and there was an article in todays paper about how even that is dangerous!!

  5. Very thoughtful & thought provoking post, Anu. I am glad that you are inculcating these in Samhith. His pictures show how he's learning & concerned.. 


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