The Conflict between Worshipping and Protecting Mother Nature at Rockaway Beach
Take a trip to Rockaway beach on the South Shore of Long Island in Queens, NY on a Saturday morning in the summer. You will see a diverse group of people surfing, sunbathing, strolling the boardwalk, watching the piping plover birds or playing handball at one of the handball courts. If you are fortunate enough, you might also see a group of Indo-Caribbean Hindus paying homage to Mother Ganga (Goddess of the Sacred Rivers) by making offerings to the Divine Mother. More formally, the ceremony is called Ganga Puja, and is performed annually by most Hindu families with the objective of gratifying Mother for all she has provided during the year. Puja has sixteen steps in which various items are offered to a Murti (representation of the Divine) or picture of the Goddess with the idea of giving back what they have received. Some of these offerings include items such as cloths, foods and spices, flowers, fruits, milk, water, leaves and money. This beautiful ceremony highlights the Vedic concept of seeing divinity in all.
A Guyanese Family performing Ganga Puja at Rockaway Beach in Queens, NY
If you find the service worthwhile and/or intriguing and decide to stay a bit longer, you will hear the Pandit (priest conducting the ceremony) chant the Shanti Path, which in English translates to the following:
"There is peace in heavenly region; there is peace in the environment; the water is cooling; herbs are healing; the plants are peace-giving; there is harmony in the celestial objects and perfection in knowledge; everything in the universe is peaceful; peace pervades everywhere. May that peace come to me!"
This prayer depicts the serenity of nature. It certainly sounds spiritually blissful and inspiring. Hindus may chant it, but some of their very own actions may lead to chaos and environmental destruction, rather than peace. Hindus often place ritual items in the water after these ceremonies are performed. Many of these items are not biodegradable and are detrimental to aquatic species, vegetation and the natural chemistry of the water. By blindly following traditions and practices ingrained in our mindsets, we are not only poisoning the water, but also defiling the same Mother we revere. I finally said "our mindsets" because here I wish to tell you that I happen to be an Indo-Caribbean Hindu who grew up attending and still attend yearly beach pujas.
Very often, we find ourselves stuck in our own ways. It is difficult to change our habits, especially if we believe that we are acting in accord with the mandates of our religions and cultures. My plan is to work with Pandits, community activists, city officials and most importantly, my Hindu brothers and sisters, to collectively save Mother Ganga from further degradation. The tenants of Hinduism do not encourage these environmentally degrading practices and thus, with the cooperation of authorities of Hindu scripture, we must provide practical alternatives to river disposal.
As Pandit Chunelall Narine, prominent priest from Queens, NY, commented, "Hinduism has always advocated the protection of the environment and the accord between man and Mother Nature especially when it comes to living a spiritual life which, we believe, should not be at the expense of Her endangerment but rather in conformity with Her laws." Regardless of how much Hindu scriptures and belief systems promote the preservation of the natural environment; Hinduism will be viewed as a religion that permits deleterious ecological practices as long as these methods of "consecration" continue.
Look forward to my upcoming posts, where I will provide you with information regarding the enormous amount of work being done by notable individuals in Queens, NY to stimulate cleanup as well as the potential influence of our efforts on our global community.