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When will we prioritize environmental protection in our festivals?

Column by Viral Desai, Environmentalist & Ecopreneur

The festive season has begun again and from now till March, till Holi the important festivals of India will be celebrated with great fervour. India is a land of festivals and every celebration in the ancient religion of festivals has been linked in some way with nature or the environment. Festivals have been decided in Sanatan Dharma so that we understand the importance of biodiversity and protecting biodiversity, but our irony is that we have modernized the festivals and removed the original purpose of the festival from it.

Now that the whole world is suffering from climate change and everyone is looking for innovative ways to fight against climate change, India should present its festivals along with modern technology to the world along with its original intention and prove to the world that India has been talking about environmental protection since time immemorial. However, before showing this eternal model of ours to the world, we also have to familiarize ourselves with the nature conservation talks presented by our Rishi, Sages and Puranas and also implement them.

Vedas and Puranas are full of the idea of nature conservation, but today only, if we talk about festivals, only elements of nature are needed to worship God in festivals. Through these elements, the sages have taught us that if we want to please God or take His blessings, we have to protect the nature that he likes so much. Talking about Ganesha alone, Ganesha likes and is offered green Durva, fresh green doob grass, as a symbol of regeneration, renewal and fertility. He is also offered the Kewda flower as it is his favourite, known as kewra, and has a lot of medicinal benefits in Ayurveda. He likes the Jasood flower, the hibiscus flower; for centuries, people have used hibiscus seeds, flowers and stems in food and traditional medicine. He also likes Mushak, a small mouse that plays a very important role in the ecosystem. Just look at what an important message God conveys to us in celebrations! If we have to worship Lord Ganesha wholeheartedly, then we cannot worship him with any artificial flowers or artificial durva. For that, we have to protect flowers or Durva. Those rats also have to be saved in our biodiversity. Only then will God be pleased.Besides, God has nothing to do with our expensive artificial Pandals or extremely loud loudspeakers and DJs. Maybe even God would get bored with the sound of DJ. So again, Ganesh Ji gives us a message that if we don’t do noise pollution, it will work, but we have to take care of biodiversity and trees.

However, here I also want to draw attention to one more thing. At our festivals, there is a talk of nature conservation, so the importance of festivals becomes very important, but the special thing is that the festivals of India are also the biggest strength of India. Because people participate in these festivals with full enthusiasm and in huge numbers. So our festivals can be celebrated not only as part of religious celebrations but also as a part of the ecosystem restoration movement.

After all, be it Ganesh Mahotsav or Durga Puja, Navratri or Dussehra or Uttarayan and Holi celebrations. A very large number of people, youngsters and students participate in all these festivals. What if environment conservation awareness themes are added to the festivals at such a time? Just think that hundreds and thousands of people can be made truly aware and influenced by doing door-to-door campaigns and also their belief system linked to the festivals and religion. By means of this, we can also go in the direction of solving the problems of climate change.

To give my own example, through my NGO Hearts at Work Foundation, I have been celebrating the Ganesha festival named ‘Tree Ganesha’ in Surat for the last four years. In this festival, I have associated the main idea of nature conservation with Ganesha Puja and by installing Ganesha in the tree itself, I have encouraged people that we can worship God in this way too. However, the main motive behind this celebration is awareness drives. In the drives, we reached more than ten thousand students and people during just one Tree Ganesha.

In all these campaigns, I keep the theme of the Tree Ganesha pandal with reference to climate change and environmental conservation, share factual information and awareness in the whole pandal about what is our current problem and how to get rid of those problems every year we prepare an informative skit and at the same time give every person who comes to seek blessings of Tree Ganesha at least one plant as a gift. Along with plants, if someone wants to do kitchen gardening, I also gift them saplings of chilli, eggplant or cherry tomatoes so that they love and nurture nature and grow their own organic homegrown vegetables. Through this, they become committed to nature conservation. We also undertake massive tree plantation drives in which we engage with the youngters, wherein we do tree plantation and also awareness programs.

The benefit of the ‘Tree Ganesha’ celebrations in the last four years is that now many schools and colleges in Surat start making inquiries before the Ganesh festival and make efforts to bring their students on study tours. Yes, many schools in Gujarat now consider our ‘Tree Ganesha’ as an educational tour, where students learn about climate action along with celebrating the Ganesh festival. That is why we have been able to reach fifty thousand people in the last four years who have got true awareness and understanding of nature conservation.

Similarly, we can prioritize the theme of environment conservation in our other festivals so that we can create an impression on many people at once and the environmental importance of our festivals along with the religious significance. Finally, the time has come and we have realized that individual organizations, governments or systems alone cannot function for environmental protection. The environment has deteriorated to such an extent that now everyone has to think in that direction and change their lifestyle or attitude, for which giant environmental awareness campaigns are very important. Then why can’t we associate such campaigns with our festivals? Think about it.