Jamaica Bay Hindus Transform Religious Ceremonies for the Climate

As people of faith, our rites and rituals are sacred aspects of connecting to the divine. From Russian Orthodox bells carrying prayers to the heavens to Buddhist burning incense, these forms of praxis act as a conduit between us and the 'unseen order of the universe.' For Hindus in New York, the sacred practice of releasing materials into the water, some of which date back to Vedic holdings, have been an important aspect of their tradition. But some Hindus are concerned about the traditions impact on the environment.

In Queens, New York, Hindus commonly use Jamaica Bay for their acts of devotion, but the impact it has on the environment has forced them to rethink what they release into the water. Climate leaders within the community have initiated a movement to transform these rituals into environmentally friendly practices while still maintaining the acts of worship. Many have started to clean the beach of leftover debris from recent ceremonies, in what I would call an act of devotion in itself. 

For all people of faith, we are called to care for our earth, and regaining that connection through clean-up initiatives and slightly altering the practices that comprise our respective faiths, we are better able to act on this call. 

To learn more about the climate efforts of Hindu groups in New York, check out Sadhana, a coalition taking action for our ecosystem and the welfare of their fellow humans. 

Promoting Environmental Awareness Among Practicing Hindus

Kirk Simple | The New York Times

On an overcast morning this month, a dozen or so people, most of them Hindus, gathered in a circle on the shore of Jamaica Bay and bowed their heads as a priest invoked the deities.

The location they had chosen, next to Cross Bay Boulevard in southern Queens, has for years been a popular site for New York’s Hindus to conduct rituals that involve the casting of religious offerings into the water, including food, statuary and fabric. Many of the items later wash ashore as flotsam.

But on this particular morning, the group was seeking divine inspiration for a countervailing reason: to clean up the debris left by their fellow Hindus. “This beach, this water, is our mother,” said the priest, Arjunen Armogan, who leads a temple in Jamaica, Queens. “We’re supposed to keep it clean, just as we look after our mother.”

The effort was part of a campaign by Sadhana, a four-year-old Hindu group based in New York, to spread environmental awareness and best practices among fellow believers.

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