How to make ganesh idol from Clay and celebrate eco-friendly Ganesh festival August 13, 2020 – Posted in: Blogs

It all started last year (2009) on the eve of Ganpati Visarjan – Like every year the Ganesh idol we had brought home 10 days ago was a Shadu (Type of Clay) Idol. And we planned to immerse the idol in the Artificial Tanks built by the Municipal Corporation, so as to do “our bit” for the environment.
The ghat were crowded with the devotee’s , police, volunteers from different organizations and of course kids/boatmen who find this as a business opportunity to earn a few bucks against a few stones from the river.

  • A few volunteers made us aware of the harm we do to the ecosystem by immersing the idols in the river (we already knew that bit but acknowledged their efforts).
  • Another group of volunteers approached us explaining to us how the industries are throwing tons of toxins in the rivers and our ganesh idols are not even a fraction of the industrial pollution. They also tried to convince us that by doing it in stagnant water we were not doing It the “right” way. (Democracy !! everyone has a right to express their million dollar opinion) In my Humble Opinion – It does not give me the right to pollute just coz someone else is polluting.
  • The kids were already trying to convince me for the river immersion as I was a prospect customer for the pebbles from the river (A ritual where you take back a few pebbles from the river and place it where the lord resided in your home) They also tried to convince me putting forth the point that the whole tanks full of ganesh idols is emptied in the river the following day.

Many views to choose from but I had already decided on how to do the immersion before reaching there just like most of us have decided before reaching the ghat on how they prefer to go ahead with the rituals.
We found a vacant spot and hurried to make some space for the Lord who had been ruling an entire living room back home. Ganpati bappa tried to keep his smile as he adjusted in the corner, some half burnt wicks dripping ghee were lying nearby, along with the coconut water and shred which had created some mess (a bit more than “some”). The idol covered the ashes of the incense sticks, thus hiding some of the clutter.
We did the final Aarti on the ghat (river bank) and chanted the “Ganpati Bappa Morya-Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar ya” (Asking the lord to come the next year) expressing how much we will miss him. The walk to the tank was slow partly due to the crowd and partly due to the thought the festival has come to an end and the special guest we had for 10 days is now going back to his home.
We reached the tank and the sight was saddening. The tank was overflowing with idols, some not properly submerged due to lack of space in it. A few heads peeking out trying to see who the culprits were who left them in this state. A few hands of idols were stretched out of the waters in hopes of being pulled out of the tank, A few meters away some idols were dripping wet – probably the volunteers had pulled them out to create some space in the tanks. The water in the tank was dirty and stinking, the vicinity was filthy with wet coconut shells/shreds, fallen Prasad, half burnt incense sticks, carry bags of nirmalya etc.
Immersion in the river was already decided to be a NO-NO because of all the known facts, so I moved ahead and tried to push the idol in the available space in tank. Pushing some of the other idols aside and creating some space for MY ganpati.
The drive back home was quite as I was deep in thoughts.
Let me clear my views on the whole spiritual things. I am not a person who believes in idol worship nor do I actually feel god can be pleased by the fancy aartis and fasts and being veggie or not eating non veg on certain days. You can take me to be an agnostic by belief. But I look at the whole festival as a symbolic thing- showing my respect of someone with authority, with wisdom coming to my home and staying for a few days. We showing him respect and also doing our best to be a good host- providing the best of food, a comfortable place, acknowledging his superiority in form of aarti’s etc. Ganesha is a VIP guest every year.
Did the special + VIP Guest deserve such a farewell? As I drove back, I knew the volunteers’ might have to take my idol out from the tank to create space for someone else’s idol. Was the river a better option for idol immersion? Does mankind have the right to push toxic, non toxic beliefs into the natural habitats of other living creatures and disturbing the whole ecosystem? I took a few weeks to compose my thoughts and summarize that all I need to do is get a permanent idol for my home. This could then be used for the 10 day festival and symbolically submerged in water at home and then put back to its regular place.
The search began for a beautiful idol which can be a part of the living room. Searched for some metal idols, stone idols, also tried to see some silver idols. The target was to find a beautiful idol before the ganesh festival in 2010. Also contacted a few artists whom I met in exhibitions and tried to find a good sculpture, went to some classy stores in Mumbai yet could not find the RIGHT idol as the year ended. The ganesh festival was around the corner and I knew the right idol might take some time. I did not want to go through the Anant Chaturdashi experience again this year and wanted to bring out a change in the way we celebrated the festival. What I did not want to do this year was
• Buy a shaadu idol from the market thinking its eco friendly just because it is made of clay. (We never know the kind of colors being used on the clay idols, The colors might be toxic thus affecting the ecosystem)
• Immerse the Idol in river or lake or a well knowing well that I do not have the right to encroach the dwellings of other living beings with my beliefs and rituals.
• Bid farewell to the lord in a way which contradicts the kind of stay he has experienced at my home.

Started the hunt for ecofriendly Ganpati and found a few organizations specialized in this business (I hold high regard for them for at least making a buck from something sensible). Found some articles online on how to create an idol at home, but they were not too detailed. Also found organizations having workshops on how to make a clay ecofriendly idol. But the bookings were already full and could not join them. Seems like a lot of people have started thinking like me. Finally found an article in the newspaper which gave a procedure on how to make clay idols at home. I reached a decision that this is what I have to do. Had realized that the whole process needs to be given in detail so that others can refer to it online. Below is the detailed procedure with pictures on how to make a ganesh idol at home. Also includes my learning’s in the whole process as I made it for the first time.

For those who are too busy to read the story behind the initiative and want a quick walk through of the entire process I followed while creating the idol.

Objective – Creating an ecofriendly ganesh idol from mud/shaadu

Equipment-

  • Shadu (available in shops, I found one in mangalwar peth near kamala nehru hospital, pune after a 10 minute search. “Rahurikar store” or something they are exclusively in ganesh idols raw material. They have 1 Kg packs of shaadu)
  • Alternatively some fine soil can also be used but I did not use it so will not be able to explain the special care that the soil might require before using it for an idol. But I guess you will have to clean it and remove the stones, leaves etc from it and then filter it through a fine Sieve.
  • Vessels – to create clay from dry mud/shaadu
  • Brush – for coloring or to smoothen the idol on completion. I did not like the pony hair brushes as they did not hold themselves firm, opted for taklon brushes (artificial fibre)
  • Colors – natural or water based colors (for natural colors turmeric, multani mitti, geru (brick like color used to paint the plant pots should be available with any potter just a chip of matchbox size is more than enough))
  • Fevicol/ glue- to make the natural color thick and stick to the idol. Khal can also be used if you can make it available
  • An empty cardboard box – to serve as a mould for the base platform.
  • News papers, plastic sheets – To spread on the floor before you start working. This will ensure you don’t soil the floors of your apartment/house.

Duration for creation the idol – max 7/8 days (4/5 hours to create an idol then idle time for 5/6 days till the idol dries naturally another 4/5 hours to color the idol.) Total efforts around 10 hours.

Cost – Approx Rs 100 -300

Process 

Buy the shaadu – I got a reference of a shop in pune as mentioned in the equipment details. Got 3 Kg shaadu out of which only around 2 Kg was used. Cost was Rs 10 per Kg.
A one kg pack

Buy tools – I found pottery tools in Venus stores Pune (got the cheapest set for Rs 150). I did not find them useful at all. This maybe because I am not trained to use them. But then I almost made the idol without the tools. I could have used some flat ice-cream sticks instead wherever I used the tools. So strongly recommend not to buy them if you are on a budget as they are not at all essential.

The tools within

Select a right sized box which can act as a mold for the base. This will ensure your base is even and the idol hold firm ground. Uneven base will make the idol wobble.

Get the dry mud powder in a vessel and start mixing water. Tried mixing it with the tools I had bought, but in vain.

You have to pull up your sleeves and dig your hands to make a nice dough. Keep in mind the mixture can get very thick making your fingers ache as you try to take off the clay sticking on them. People who are good at making dough for roti’s can do this easily. My mom helped me make this dough better.

Start filling the cardboard box properly to create the base not leaving any empty pockets.

Smoothen the top layer with hands or some other flat object once the box is filled to a thickness you prefer for the base. Also ensure the box stays in shape and doesn’t curve due to overstuffing. Overstuffing will give curves to the base and make it uneven. Once filled firmly hold the walls of the box with your palms so as to bring the box back to shape if it has got some bulging bellies. Leave the box to settle while you start working on the idol.

Start off with creating a base structure of the idol. I made it of the legs and the back. This would depend on the kind of idol you have in mind. Started off with 3 pieces of clay.

Joined them to create the legs and the back. I made – One leg folded the other curved.

Check out the way the left leg has a hollow below it.

Now the torso- Create a “T” like mass from a large clay ball and added it on the base. Use your hands to mould it into belly, chest and shoulders. Dip your hands in water to shape up the idol.

Create a head with a trunk and attach this to the torso. Also add hands using smaller pieces of clay.

My wife made the ears which were the last to go to give the ganesh the final structure. The whole structure was put on the base settling in the cardboard box. This will help the ganesh idol stick to the base as it dries naturally.

It was almost 4 hours since I had started the process by cutting the box for the base reaching the first logical break in the process. Left the idol to dry naturally (No fan, direct sunlight, driers etc). If you dry the idol under fan or in sunlight the top layers starts drying while the underlying layers are still wet. This creates a change in consistency and might make the idol get cracks on the upper layers.

Pictures of the idol the next morning

I started working on the detailing Day 2 evening. Used small rolls of clay and wet hands to create the folds of the dhoti/pitambar, weapon in hand, the mouse, modak etc. Important do not make any very delicate accessories. There is a high risk that it may come off at some later point of time and thus complicating things. Keep the structure as basic as possible. Tear off the borders off the box carefully so the whole structure can dry together.

Also filled in the gaps under the thigh etc to make it look sitting on something. See how the gaps appear filled in the picture which were not filled in the earlier version (earlier eve).

Picture of idol the morning after detailing.

Leave the idol to dry naturally for 5-6 days

For coloring – natural colors like turmeric, multani mitti, geru etc or water based colors (poster colors). Poster colors are water soluble and contain comparatively insignificant percentages of lead/toxins which are harmful for living beings.

My initial plan was to do the entire idol with turmeric , multani mitti, geru and use poster colors only for highlighting the details like eyes, trunk, palms etc.

Preparing yellow color- boil some water and take a small quantity in a container. Start mixing turmeric and glue in it. Mix properly and make a paste. Remove the granular lumps if any by mixing it properly. You can see 2 brushes in the picture the bigger one (on right) is made of pony hair which I found a bit lousy to use as it did not hold firm and also formed lumpy. Liked the smaller (left) which was made of taklon.

Similarly made color from multani mitti. Geru can directly be used like a color cake. Just run the wet brush on the geru and apply the brick color. See geru near the extreme right steel bowl. A brick like stone.

Paint the dhoti/pitamber with the yellow color you created.

Paint the body with a color shade created by multani mitti.

Paint the geru where you want the brick like color- I used it for the base.

The entire idol painted with natural colors- You will see multani mitti has developed cracks, plus the yellow color though looks good in pictures was not as lovely as I had expected.
I was hoping for a brighter/lighter shade. Anyway I asked dad to do the detailing as he is the one with an artistic hand at home.

I decided to take a nap and when I woke up the whole coloring was revamped and the below idol was ready.

The natural colors were coated with water based colors. The idol looked better but still felt would have been better if we could had used artificial colors as minimal as possible. A learning was we should have found out ways of creating natural colors at home which we did not focus much on. So this is pending until next time.

The ganesh idol was finally installed on the auspicious day of ganesh chaturthi with some ornaments.

The special guest enjoyed his stay at our home until anant chaturdashi (the day to bid ganesha farewell for a year).

The immersion of the idol was decided to be done in a bucket at home and use the water and mud for plants once the idol dissolves. The story behind this thought is already posted above – for those who have not read it I would say its just greener and the feel good factor about bidding the guest farewell the grandeur to match his stay.

The idol being immersed in a bucket

Resting in Clean Waters.

The idols started dissolving in almost an hour – see pic

The clay settled in the bucket of water in a day or two. The clay and water will be used for plants at home.

Other Significant things –

  • Creating idol at home is a great family activity apart from going the green way
  • While creating the base structure keep in mind smaller things which you require on a daily basis like cavity to keep the grass, shoulders created in a way so as to hold the garland, the head provisioned to hold the throne if not being made of clay.
  • Do not make delicate or fine accessories to the idol as there is a risk they will come off or break during – creation or the daily rituals.
  • Do not create eyes, teeth etc a part of the idol with clay, if you are not confident. Make them with paint as they can be corrected and redone multiple times.
  • The base platform should be correctly made so that the idol stands firm grounds and does not wobble whenever you put the garland or do the daily rituals.
  • Do not dry in sunlight or fan. Give the structure 4 days to dry naturally
  • The shape of the idol can be enhance once the pieces in place so do not worry if the ear you made cannot be fixed without ruining the shape. Attach them and again reshape them using wet hands.

Hope this helps people wanting to change the way they celebrate ganesh festival every year. “Ganpati Bappa Morya”

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