However, with the immersion of thousands of statues every year into India’s rivers and lakes during festivals such as the ones for Durga and for the elephant-headed god Ganesh, Indian environmentalists have raised concerns about the toxic content of the statues as the celebrations become increasingly commercialized. "The commercialization of holy festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi ("festival") and Durga Puja ("worship") has meant people want bigger and brighter idols and are no longer happy with the ones made from eco-friendly materials," says Ramapati Kumar, a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace India.
"Traditionally, the idols were made from mud and clay and vegetable-based dyes were used to paint them but now it's more like a competition between households and between corporates who sponsor the idols to gain publicity."
Materials such as plastic, plaster of Paris are used and do not dissolve readily in water, consequently lowering oxygen to levels that are harmful to fish. Carcinogenic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and chromium are present in the paints used to decorate the sculptures and also end up in the water.
Environmentalists are calling for regulation over the making of the figures to prevent ecological contamination.
In other cities such as Pune however, awareness campaigns for "eco-friendly immersions" have been effective in changing practices to using tanks and tubs instead of natural water bodies.
"No one is saying that the immersion of idols should not happen - religious practices should be respected," says Suresh Babu from the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based environmental think-tank.
"But the government should impose guidelines to craftsmen who make the idols to use eco-friendly materials and organic paints so that we give the environment as much respect as we give god."
::Environmental News Network
See also ::An eco-friendly Ganesh Utsav