Going Green During Durga Puja in India

By Neela Majumdar

In a continued effort to create awareness about India’s environmental issues, Earth Day Network has partnered with The Telegraph, a leading English-language newspaper in India, on The Telegraph in Schools (TTIS) Chhoto Chokhey Baro Pujo campaign for the first Alchemist Earth Award to the greenest Durga Puja Pandal.

Durga Puja is the biggest religious, cultural and social festival in Bengal. Everybody, from all religious backgrounds, takes part in the celebration. The Goddess Durga symbolises Shakti, the divine female power, the vanquisher of all evil, which in today’s world would also allegorically represent such ills as pollution and global warming. The tableau of Ma Durga with her four children - Kartik the Protector, Ganesh the Initiator of auspicious deeds, Saraswati the Goddess of Arts and Knowledge, and Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth - is worshipped in traditional households and in temporarily erected temples called Pandals that sprout up in parks and open spaces in every neighbourhood. Just as the GoddessDurga with her family comes down to Earth during these 5 days of the autumnal festival, Bengalis all over the world reconnect with friends and family during this festive season. All schools, colleges, offices and even government organizations are closed, and everyone is in a festive mood. Millions of people throng the streets to see the cultural extravaganza of the Pandals, which recreates different monuments, architecture, mythological or metaphorical themes. The creativity in designing the Pandals mirrors the latest political and cultural issues, with use of the most outlandish materials to create and reinvent the Puja Pandal.

This year, 50 student judges, or “Green Environment Monitors” (GEMs), and EDN volunteers will be mobilized to judge 40 Puja Pandals across Kolkata. And EDN will give awards to the Durga Puja Pandals that have clean and green campaigns for the community.

The new criteria for judging Pujas goes well beyond their beauty or creativity to focus on stringent environmental and safety standards. Our GEMs will be taught to check if the Puja committees are implementing environment-friendly measures. While judging for the Green Puja award, the GEMs will take into consideration several factors, which include: an environmental message, whether sound limiters are attached with amplifiers, whether there are sufficient numbers of waste bins placed in and around the Pandal for effective waste management, what initiatives the Puja committees have taken against plastic waste, and whether non-toxic colours have been used to paint the figures. They will also award points for not using synthetic materials and for effective use of recycled materials for making the figures and decorating the Pandals. The Puja committee rated highest on these parameters will be awarded the Green Puja Alchemist Earth Award, a cash prize, and a certificate from EDN.

The students that are chosen as judges by EDN will be given an hour-long workshop on these and other green issues at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, EDN’s partner in the Green Environment Monitors Project. EDN certificates will be given to each of our young judges.