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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs