Cow dung has been considered sacred since time immemorial.
Nested in a tranquil neighbourhood in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, Nilesh Tupe’s house-cum-panchagavya chikitsalaya, or cow products clinic, is well worth the short walk through narrow rain-soaked lanes that lead to it. What makes this km-long journey from Nerul railway station special is the prospect of beholding marvellous artworks crafted from the very thing that you would otherwise avoid on the roadside.
Available in three sizes — 3 inch, 6 inch and one foot — Mr Tupe’s Ganpati idols made of cow dung are eco-friendly, super light and sturdy. According to Mr Tupe, cow dung radiates positive energy, which is why people smear cow dung on the floor of their houses. From an aesthetic standpoint alone, the idols are gorgeous enough to be worth their Rs 101-Rs 2,201 price tag.
The process of making idols from cow dung is time-consuming and labour-intensive as it is carried out by hand. “It took a hundred craftsmen to hit the target of one lakh idols this year. Around 10,000 were sold in Maharashtra alone,” Mr Tupe says. He aims to make one crore idols in 2018. Explaining the work that goes into these idols, he says, “We make the idols in Rajkot (in Gujarat) as the climate conditions are favourable there. The dung is first dried and then shredded to a powder form. Then, we mix it with natural gum to form a mixture that is moulded into an idol. It is important that the climate is not too hot as the dung can melt. We only use dung acquired from indigenous cows as it offers the best benefits.”
Last year, two Bengaluru-based NGOs made, exhibited and sold cow dung idols, providing a solution to the issue of pollution in city lakes. A Mumbai-based NGO brought cow dung idols made by the artisans of Rajasthan to sell in the city in 2016. A city college festival also promoted the initiative. Made with 500 kg of cow dung, an idol in a temple on the outskirts of Sangareddy in Telangana state drew a huge number of devotees in 2016.
Unlike plaster of Paris (PoP) idols, cow dung idols dissolve instantly after being immersed in water. The residue can then be used as manure for plants.
A self-proclaimed naturalist, Mr Tupe uses eco-friendly watercolours to paint the idols. He began experimenting with cow dung idols in 2009, and after almost eight years of trial and error, he has finally taken baby steps towards making the idols commercially available.
Thanks to WhatsApp and Facebook, Mr Tupe’s cow dung Ganesh idols have received an overwhelming response, even from the US.
Narmada Uduta, a Bhiwandi resident, who has been welcoming Ganpati in her home annually for the last 25 years, is quite tickled with the idea of a cow dung idol. “These idols are good for the environment as they get converted into manure easily. Also, traditionally, we consider cow dung sacred,” she says, but admits that she is concerned about the smell that might emanate from the idols.
Bhavani Saradhi, a resident of Chembur in Mumbai, is sceptical about the cow dung idol-making process. “I feel they use either mud or clay. I would love to buy an eco-friendly idol, but I don’t think I would go for this kind,” she says.