ganesha-11 (Photo: Procession with Ganesha statue in Mumbai, 15 Aug, 2009/Punit Paranjpe)

Few events can rival the ancient rituals and riotous color of India’s religious festivals. This year, the months-long celebration season is also becoming eco-friendly.  Alarmed by the high levels of pollution caused by firecrackers, toxic paints and idols made of non-recyclable material, schools, environmentalists and some states are encouraging “greener” celebrations.

In Mumbai, where the 10-day festival for the elephant-headed Ganesha (the Hindu deity of prosperity) is underway with giant, colored idols and noisy street parties, radio and TV stations are airing environmental messages and school children are learning to make eco-friendly idols.

The statues, made of brightly painted plaster of Paris, are usually immersed in the sea or a lake after a lively procession that can sometimes take half a day to navigate the choked streets, and which ultimately leaves dismembered idols strewn along the shore.

But a growing number of Indians are opting for smaller clay idols which they immerse in water at home.

“An idol that doesn’t dissolve in the sea is just a tragic end for something you have worshipped for so many days,” said Abhijit Karandikar, a creative director at an advertising agency. “More people are realizing they can be more eco-friendly in our festivals. It’s something that’s in our control.”