Immersion of idols of the gods and goddesses is a part of religious ceremony of the Hindu religion. In Hindu philosophy, the idols are temporary structures where the souls of the gods and goddesses are brought in through the religious rites. After the ceremony is over, the idols are again simple clay structures which are required to do away with by immersing in waterbodies. Idol immersion is therefore not just waste disposal but a philosophical exercise in realizing the temporariness of the material world.
The immersion ceremonies themselves have become big festivals. In Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and other big cities immersion processions have become a big attraction. Besides in all the towns or villages immersion of a number of idols are done in some specific waterbodies. The places of immersions turn into a fair ground. The immersion ceremony has become a part of cultural expression of the local people. Immersion ceremonies have now also become tourist attractions.
Immersion of the idols has posed such an environmental problem. The idols along with other worshipping auxiliaries are immersed in the waterbodies. It is obvious that any disposal of some amount of earth, straw, paints, decorative items, fruits etc. have the potential to have short and long term impact on water quality.
Jheel Jalashay Unnayan Committee (Waterbodies Development Committee) a local community organisation at Jheel Road, South Kolkata, with Vasundhara Foundation have taken steps to carry out the immersion in the local waterbody in an eco-friendly manner for last four years which has become a model in the state.
Before the idol is immersed, all its decorations are stripped off. All flowers and other worshipping items, which are generally immersed in case of other waterbodies, are not allowed to be immersed here. All these are separately collected and put into a net partly immersed into water. These are thrown into the net for symbolic immersion and then taken out. Thus all biodegradable items as well as other wastes are separated. After the immersion is over which takes place up to midnight, the idol structures are taken out from the water next morning by crane. Though this does not prevent paints from being washed away, but reduces the amount of earth deposition to some extent. However both West Bengal Pollution Control Board and Vasundhara Foundation have done extensive research to find that the water quality is not affected by the paints. So this practice of immersion is keeping the waterbody clean.
A number of waterbodies are following this practice now. Jheel Jalashay Unnayan Committee charges a fee for each immersion. This provides them enough fund for cleaning the waterbody and more for further development. This is a good example that how an environmental problem can be changed to advantage.