CIVICS, CULTURE & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
On August 19, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus opened its Project Prithvi exhibit at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The exhibit will be up for about two months.
Sadhana, a non-profit organization, has been organizing cleanups near the Joseph Addabbo Memorial Bridge (formerly the North Channel Bridge) every month from April through November since 2013. The organization has engaged a number of temples and faith leaders to be advocates for change. Most volunteers at the monthly cleanups, which are held every first Saturday of the month from 10am-1pm, are young people compelled to be environmental stewards.
Sadhana has called on worshippers to be mindful of how their non-biodegradable offerings impact the very Earth and waters that Hindus worship as Prithvi Man and Ganga Maa. The organization has provided alternatives to such practices, such as the ones listed here, consulted with pandits, and forged relationships with Gateway National Recreation Area to raise awareness about Hindu practices.
With the recurrence of cleanups, the landscape of Jamaica Bay is changing for the better, but more must be done. Cleanups should not be held ad infinitum, rather a culture shift must occur. If it does not, a very sad reality will perpetuate: murthis of the gods and goddesses which should be revered will continue to wash up ashore broken and limbless, sarees will keep getting trapped in the rocks taking immense human strength to remove, cracked diyas by the thousands will choke the very animals the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) teaches Hindus to love and protect.
Devotees who worship at the Bay may have the best of intentions, but actions such as leaving murthis, sarees, diyas, jhandi flags, aluminum pans, styrofoam, and even prasad (both mohanbhog or fruit) have long-term unintended consequences. They a pose a danger to Jamaica Bay, which is considered a “wildlife sanctuary.” They invite vermin, and present materials not native to the ecosystem of the Bay. They also present a philosophical problem: Where can the items be disposed? Should they be thrown away given their sacred or prayerful nature?
Facing a conundrum after collecting a large number of broken murthis, Sadhana hosted workshops over the past several months to restore those that had been washed ashore. Oven baked clay was used to sculpt limbs where hands and legs were missing, paint was used to brighten murthis whose paints had been faded due to the elements. Some of these murthis, along with enlarged photos of cleanup efforts and heartbreaking broken deities are also featured at the exhibit.
Through the exhibit, Sadhana hopes to move devotees to worship in eco-friendly ways and to raise awareness in the wider public that the offerings were made by devotees, and not people who have a total disregard for nature. All items on display are being used solely for artistic purposes and not worship purposes.
To visit the Project Prithvi exhibit, type in “Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center” located on Cross Bay Blvd, into your GPS. There is parking available in a lot outside. The center is open from Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.