Manisha and Michael G, Chandamama, Sept 2007
Guni was only ten inches tall and for a Ganesh idol that was not really that much. Yet it took quite a few days to make him. First the natural clay powder from Gujarat was mixed into a wet dough and carefully filled into a mould.. This mould only formed the basic body ; the elephant head, round belly and short legs. To this were then added his hands. He had four of them, each palm in a different gesture of blessing. Once the body was fully formed, the old sculptor from Pen, who was true to tradition, put on his glasses to add on the details. Guni recieved his eyes – graceful and loving. He could actually see now and watched his body get adorned with soft natural colours – turmeric, geroo and clay from Multan. At the end of the week, the old sculptor sat back, looked at him and said, « There you go little one, you will be called Guni because you carry within you many virtues and the day you discover these, you will find the great Ganesha »
« Hey ! Shorty ! Stop daydreaming – it will not change who you are ! » shouted out a curt voice that rudely awakened Guni and brought him back to the present moment. Here he was, sitting in a shop in the big city of Pune, surrounded by other Ganesh idols most of which were very different from him. They were in all shapes and sizes, in fancy postures and bright colours, and they made him feel small and insignificant. What was worse is that they kept reminding him of it ! « Look at yourself », they would say. “ You are a disgrace to the great Ganesha. You’re small, you’re heavy and your colours are so dull. Noone will ever want to buy you. You belong to an older time. The Ganesh of today is modern – like us. We are made out of Plaster of Paris – do you even know where Paris is ? Look at our bright colours made out of modern chemicals – have you ever seen a gold like this ?, » they said, showing off their fancy postures and bodies.
As more and more of these plaster idols arrived in the shop, Guni found himself being pushed to the back row of a shelf where he could hardly be seen. One night, desperate and lonely, Guni thought back to the words of the old sculptor. What virtues within him was the sculptor speaking of ? Was he of any good at all ?
Meanwhile days passed by and there were only a few days left for the Ganesh festival to begin. Most of the other Ganesh idols had been sold. People always chose Plaster of Paris idols because they were cheaper, lighter and less expensive. Even those who could afford it, preferred to have fancy postures and bright colours. Until, on the very last day, a young boy walked into the shop and asked for an idol made completely out of natural materials. The shopkeeper tried to show him other idols that were more expensive but the young boy was adamant. Finally, the shopkeeper thought of Guni. He pulled him out of the corner, dusted him clean and placed him in front of the boy. Guni, who had lost all his confidence by then, cringed in anticipation, half expecting to be rejected by the boy. But, to his surprise, the boy was beaming !
« Thank you ! », he said to the shopkeeper. « This is exactly what I was looking for. This Ganesh Chaturthi, my idol will not harm any living being. » Guni did not quite understand what the boy meant but he was so happy to leave the shop with him.
In the ten days that followed, Guni was treated like a king. Daily he was adorned with fresh flowers and offered delicious foods. But his favourite moments were when the boy and his family would chant to him. « You are the embodiment of the great Ganesha, » they sang. « Take our prayers and carry them to him. May this world be filled with your compassion and kindness. We pray for the good of all living beings. »
Then came the final day of the festival – the day of the visarjan– when Guni would be immersed into water like all the other Ganesh idols and when he would meet the great Ganesha.
Guni was happy- he felt he had served the young boy and his family well and had made them happy too. He had listened carefully to all their prayers and was guarding them preciously within himself. There was only one slight problem – he still did not know what his own virtues were. And if he did not know these – would he be able to find his way to the great Ganesha ?
That evening, the family took Guni out on a procession to the river, cradling him lovingly in their arms. Riding through the streets of Pune, Guni recognised several of the plaster idols who had been in the shop with him. How regal they all looked. « Was there really any difference between me and them ? » he thought. « Aren’t we all the same ? »
Finally it was time for the immersion. Guni took leave of the family and the young boy who had chosen him. As he was lowered into the river, he was surprised to see thousands of plaster idols at the bottom of the river. Some of them seemed to have been there a long long time, perhaps from the previous years festivals. They looked very unhappy indeed.
Little by little, as water surrounded his limbs, Guni could feel his body dissolve and the prayers that he was carrying flow out of him into the river, which he discovered, was the great Ganesha.
« Help, Guni, please help us » cried out the plaster idols. « We are stuck because the plaster will not dissolve and the prayers we carry are also stuck with us. » There was hardly anytime left for Guni, whose natural clay body was dissolving fast. « How can I help them ? » he wondered. He prayed to the river to show him a way and explain the dilemma of the plaster idols to him.
Suddenly he heard the voice of the river reply to him. « The Ganesh festival is a celebration of the cycle of life. All things are born from the earth and must return to the earth. If this process is disturbed, imbalance is created in the world. Plaster of Paris is not a natural material and takes many many years to dissolve. These idols with their chemical colours are poisoning the river and harming the fishes and plants that live here.”
Guni finally understood that his virtues lay at the core of his own being. His natural body of clay was not permanent; and this was its strength. It dissolved easily and fully into the waters of the river. The colours on his body may not have been bright but being natural, they did not harm any living being. And in merging back into the elements of Nature he finally met the great Ganesha, becoming one with the river, carrying with him all the prayers of all the idols.
Did you know:
Plaster of Paris contains gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium.
Chemical paints contain mercury, cadmium, lead and carbon.
When these are immersed into the lakes, rivers or the sea they increase the levels of acidity and content of heavy metals.
Such water pollution can damage the ecosystem by killing the fishes and plants.
Drinking polluted water can cause breathing problems, damage digestion and create blood and skin diseases.
What you can do:
Use permanent idols made of metal and stone and do only a symbolic immersion.
Avoid using Plaster of Paris idols.
Use a small idol made of unbaked natural clay if you would like to do a full immersion.
Immerse your natural idol in a bucket of water and scatter this water in your garden, being natural it will not cause any pollution.