Call it bad or perfect timing, on the eve of the Bishwakarma Puja, the department of forest and park services issued a notification to ensure that statues and other materials are not cast into the rivers or waters bodies.
The notification came even as construction sites, thousands of them, workshops and factories were celebrating the divine architect, lord Vishwakarma. The festival is observed for a better future, safe working condition and the success in the respective fields. The festival ends with mass immersion ceremony of idols into the river.
This part of the ceremony will be strictly monitored to prevent polluting water bodies and aquatic life. As of last night, most people, especially construction workers and contractors, the thikhadars, were not aware of the notification.
There is another notification from the National Environment Commission. It prohibits disposing of waste, including waste from rituals into water bodies.
We have strong environmental regulations, but stronger beliefs why we should protect the environment. Our religion reveres the environment to the extent that each tree, stream or river and hill is believed to be the abode of our protective deities. We respect them and do not disturb their abode. Most believe disturbing them would result natural calamities.
This is fast changing with development and urbanisation. It is now coming into conflict with our environment. The notification, in that sense, is a timely intervention.
We have celebrated Bisahwakarma for years. But it never came into conflict with the environment. This was because the statues were made from clay that easily dissolved in water. The casting was done with natural materials like cane and the paints were natural vegetable dye.
The statues are becoming bigger, but not better. It is not a symbol of worship, but of wealth. Thikadhars convince their owners why theirs should be bigger than their neighbours. Today’s statues use wires to hold the giant limbs of the statue, chemical toxic paints are used in decorating the idols and when cast into the river, and it affects aquatic life.
There are about 2,500 constructions sites in the capital alone. This translates into 2,500 statues in the Thimpchhu excluding those from the automobile workshops, carpentry and industries. It is too much a curse for Thimpchhu.
Waste from religion is already a problem. It is not restricted to Vishwakarma. Most Buddhist rituals end with discarding effigies, food and in today’s sense junk food, clothes and even old crockeries in the open or the river. There is already enough trash in our environment.
Given our commitment to preserving the environment, a lot of initiatives are taken. The initiatives are not new or in conflict with our religion. The Dratshang banned offering of packaged tshogs. Bhutanese never offered junk at lhakhangs and dzongs in the past. It is a new trend. We are going back to the good old traditions.
Vishwakarma is an age-old tradition where statues were made from clay and decorated with vegetable dye. By reverting back to our old tradition, we would more successful in appeasing our gods.
On the safety of workers, strict implementation of safety regulations could save workers more than dancing to loud music and casting idols in the river.