News / USA

New York Bay Cleanup Focuses on Hindu Ritual Items

Hindu-Americans pick up litter at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

The cleanup volunteers accumulate a pile of prayer flags, saris and other trash left over from sacred Hindu ceremonies.
The cleanup volunteers accumulate a pile of prayer flags, saris and other trash left over from sacred Hindu ceremonies.

Multimedia

Audio

The sound of gentle waves and the call of wild shorebirds are normally all you can hear on the shores of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, an oasis of nature just a few kilometers from  the bustling urban heart of Queens, New York. But today, there is work to do.

More than 100 Hindu-Americans of various ages, along with U.S. Park Service rangers and other volunteers comb the shoreline picking up tattered prayer flags, bits of votive candles, statues and other Hindu ritual items that have been accumulating here over the past year.

"We were very, very disgusted and upset and embarrassed because some of the litter is from members of our religious community," says community leader Naidoo Veerapen, who has helped organize these annual cleanups for the past five years. "We thought this was no way to treat one of the beaches of the community in which we live."

Coconut shells might be tasty to the Hindu gods but they can also poison the fish in Jamaica Bay.
Coconut shells might be tasty to the Hindu gods but they can also poison the fish in Jamaica Bay.

River water is an important element in the Hindu religion, which views India’s Ganges River as divine. "And we see the seas and rivers as a representation of Mother Ganga, which nourishes the earth, makes the soil fertile and brings us food. And so our offerings of food, et cetera, are released into the water. In India it’s done that way and we try to copy that ritual here."

Religious leader Phoj Dinidayal says that, because many Hindus believe the Ganges River is holy and pure, they think that whatever is placed in it also becomes pure and will not pollute. But he says he knows now that there is a natural as well as a spiritual reason that Jamaica Bay can be polluted by religious sacrifices.

"The Ganges is flowing one way only. Water does not return. So whatever you throw into the Ganges, it flows into the ocean.  Whereas in a bay like this, water comes and goes with ebb tide and high tide and whatever you pour into the water comes back to the shore. So there is a significant difference."  

There are other reasons leaving items on the shore or in these waters can harm nature. Fish, shorebirds and other marine animals can become entangled by cloth and other inorganic materials and can be poisoned when ritual items decompose in the water.  

Organic offerings such as coconuts and bananas, flowers and candy also pose a danger to wildlife.

The group prepares to end the cleanup with a Hindu prayer.
The group prepares to end the cleanup with a Hindu prayer.

"If animals do eat these items, it’s going to interrupt their natural cycles, their natural migrations," says Kathy Krause, the U.S. National Park Service official who has been responsible for reaching out to the Hindu community on this issue. "It’s going to get them used to people - which they should not be because they are wildlife. So all of these things can really be harmful to the balance of nature."

Krause adds that organic materials also harm the bay’s ecosystem by releasing excess nutrients as they break down.  

"You’d think that maybe throwing a banana peel or a banana into a body of water that’s 85 square kilometers large might not be a problem. But the issue becomes one of scale. Algae overgrow. It also uses up precious oxygen in the system. So we all need to do whatever we can not only to not leave things but really to educate people about what makes these systems tick."

Krause says the cleanup efforts are proof that the community puts great value on wild places like the Jamaica Bay refuge. "It really shows a shared stewardship for the Earth and for the waters. That’s one thing we have in common. We all have a great reverence for the ocean and for nature."   

Indeed, there is reverence and satisfaction on the volunteers’ faces as they survey the mound of garbage bags they have filled today. They end their park cleanup with a group mantra or prayer, which translates as:     

"You are like my mother, my father and my friend. Besides that, you bestow to us knowledge and wisdom. So lead me, help me, to perform action that will eventually lead  to salvation."

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid