Delhi`s Durga marquees remain true to green pledge

New Delhi: Green is still the colour of spirituality this year in almost all the 761 Durga-Utsav marquees across Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).

The capital promised its residents eco-friendly festivities five years ago when green lobbies expressed concern over the increasing pollution of the Yamuna river into which the idols are immersed.

The awareness has spread since then.

The priests, conducting the rites at the four-day Durga-Utsav, insist that the devotees put odd heaps of marigolds, wood apple leaves and the "dharba" grass (trident grass) they offer to the deity in the ritual `pushpanjali` (ceremonial offering of flowers) in a platter so that they can be used for recycling. The platter loads of flowers are deposited on a pile almost every hour.

At the Matri Mandir Durga-Utsav in Green Park, the nearly five tonnes of flowers collected over four days are dumped in compost pits dug outside the marquee, a member of the festival organising committee Parimal Bhattacharya said.

"We have been processing the flowers and offal (fruits peels and vegetables) as organic manure in compost pits for the last five years. We maintain an MCD park in the neighbourhood and the natural compost is used for the trees in the park," Bhattacharya told reporters.

"We use natural and non-toxic dyes to colour the idols so that it does not pollute the Yamuna river when they are immersed at the end of the four-day ritual," he said.

The festival committee has also clamped down on the decibel limit for microphones and sound-amplifiers used in the cultural soirees to prevent noise pollution.

At the Durga-Utsav in South Extension-1, the head priest presiding over the ceremonies has taken it on himself to collect the flowers and pack them in cardboard boxes for recycling.

"Do not throw any flower inside the marquee or at the deity. We cannot litter the place," he commanded a throng of faithfuls, who had flocked Tuesday morning to the marquee to offer flowers to the deity during the `pushpanjali` ceremony.

The Durga-Utsav at Greater Kailash-II is recycling flowers as well. "We have tied up with an NGO to recycle the ceremonial flowers to make natural colours," a spokesperson said.

An environment regeneration project, ‘Trash to Cash’ that makes natural colours from flower extracts is collecting flowers from nearly 700 marquees in the capital and NCR through a network of volunteers and from the four idol immersion points along the river -- Kalindi Kunj, Geeta Ghat, Kudsia Ghat and Jagatpur river front, says founder Madhumita Puri.

The organisation has set up two collection centres each at four of the immersion points on the bank of the river.

"Earlier, we were supported by the Ministry of Environment but now the green campaign has gained momentum. We are partnering with the South Delhi Visarjan Samiti -- an association of the Durga-Utsav committees from C.R. Park and its adjacent neighbourhoods -- to collect flowers," Puri told reporters.

An army of more than 100 children recycles the flowers. The NGO also helps local rag-pickers collect the clothes, wooden frames and accessories from the idols - some of which is recycled.

"It is a swap. We get access to the flowers and, in turn, we allow them to collect the rags from the idols," Puri said.

The project began almost a decade ago when the capital`s oldest Durga-Utsav at Kashmere Gate decided to turn green.

"The fact that nearly all the Durga idols in the capital are made of clay checks the level of river pollution during immersion," Himanshu Verma, the founder of Red Earth, an arts and culture awareness platform, told reporters.

At a recent ‘Ravan Makers walk’ - a heritage tour - in the capital on the eve of Dusshera and Ramlila season early this month, Verma and his team found that the artisans used eco-friendly and bio-degradable material like bamboo, mud and papier mache to craft the idols.

The Ramlila -- a 10-day enactment of the Ramayana -- ends with the burning of effigies and idols of the demon king Ravana on Dusshera, symbolising the victory of good over evil.

"The awareness about eco-friendly religious rites involving communities is growing every year," Verma said.

And the capital remains true to its green commitment.