Climate Change Drowns Festive Celebrations

By Rushati Das

The rains in India usually end in August. However, in 2017 they continued and lasted till early October. The change in monsoons has dampened the festive mood and shaken the cultural aspects, costs of celebrations and adoption of unsustainable practices.

In India, festival season starts from October after the monsoon has retreated. It includes festivals such as: Dassera, Durga Puja, Diwali, Chhat Puja and more.

Durga Puja comes in the month of ‘Ashwin’ (Autumn) and is mythologically considered as the period, when Goddess Durga returns to her family home. Devotees celebrate her arrival for nine days. In earlier days, this is the period when temperatures used to range between 25-27°C. However, for the last few years, the monsoons have been delayed, thus encroaching upon festival days. In 2014 during Durga Puja it rained for five of the nine days, while in 2015-2016 there were no reports of rain and in 2017 the total rainfall reported was 30% more than the average rainfall. The massive downpour India has been experiencing since mid September 2015 (15-20mm/day rainfall) dampened all festive celebrations in East and North East India.

Abnormal rains extended beyond its normal season and resulted in heavy flooding in North Bengal, Bihar and North East India, which took many lives and affected livelihood of people and food security (as the main crop to be harvested was washed away by a flash flood).

Listed below are a few impacts of climate change that occurred during the recent Durga Puja festival:

  • There is a practice of playing ‘Dhaak’ (a Bengali drum) during Puja. This year I most Dhakis (who play Dhaak) did not come to Kolkata and had to forego their annual income as their villages were reeling under floods, with their homes, roads and all means of communication washed away.
  • Thus the cost of celebrations was found to be increasing or playing such tunes from YouTube or other similar online music sources. Such technology based alternatives compromise the earnings of poor communities that made them more vulnerable with their shrinking income base.
  • As per conventional practice, Durga Idols are made of mud, dried in sun, coloured and sent to ‘Pandals’. After making of ‘Idols’ this year it was hard to dry these idols with the limited time available, due to high humidity (approx. 86-90%) and thus the artists had to look for alternatives like gas-lamps to dry them. This gas-lamps were an extra expenditure for ‘Kumors’ (idol-makers) and the fumes from the gas-lamp were harmful for their health.
  • The transport of these idols to pandals is an important aspect, but from ‘Kumortuli’ to ‘Pandals’ this time idols were taken fully covered by plastics, these plastics are either dumped as garbage or burnt, thus making it equally damaging to the environment.
  • Puja period is shopping time that adds a financial boost to the local economy. This is the time when markets have highest footfalls and transactions increase. However rain hampers the spirit of festival shopping. In the five days of Puja, villagers who would usually visit nearest towns and cities like Kolkata for pandal-hopping couldn’t do so due to rains and damaged roads.

The changes in the duration of rains also encroaching in ‘Ashwin’ (autumn), usually had clear blue sky indicates that #ClimateChange is close enough impacting our old generation based beliefs and practices of festivals. Observing these changes or alternatives practices being brought in raises lot of questions on consumption patterns being followed or lifestyle changes that would require more energy to be used from fossil fuels, ultimately taking our society towards higher carbon footprint. At this juncture of developing action oriented climate agenda, it is pertinent to sensitise masses on perceived as well as observed changes in weather phenomenon, so that long term low carbon alternatives can be introduced preserving the sanctity of religious faiths and belief.

Rushati Das is a Programme Officer at Climate Action Network South Asia.