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April 25th, 2011
03:39 PM ET

Hindus volunteer to clean up religious offerings from Jamaica Bay area

By Rachel Garrett and Nina Golgowski, CNN

New York (CNN) - Volunteers toiled for hours recently cleaning mostly man-made debris from a New York coastline, the scattered religious offerings from a growing Hindu population in Queens.

The group has drawn concern among local conservationists after leaving offerings - clothing, statues, plastic flowers and other items - along the Gateway National Recreation Area near Jamaica Bay.

"I was appalled to see the condition of the place," said New Yorker Nagassar Ramgarib, a practicing Hindu. "It was really disgustingly filthy."

Many defend the practice, considered a sacred Hindu tradition. Millions of worshippers leave offerings to the gods at India's Ganges river each year.

"There are times when we feel that we need to come to the sea, to offer flowers and of course ... material things because we feel that flowers, they just go," said Esther J. Ramdeen, a spokeswoman for the East Elmhurst temple, Shiva Mandir, who helped organize Friday's clean-up. "We see God in the sea."

What remains is a standoff between those who insist on practicing their beliefs unfettered and environmentalists who are trying to preserve the area for local marine life.

Affected by the buildup and inspired by a park ranger who helped remove debris with him several years earlier, Ramgarib returned to his temple to encourage executives and its members to visit the park and see the destruction.

"It is the sea. It is something that we as Hindus worship," he told them, "It is the medium that we use from this life to the after-life."

Ramgarib warned that if the area was continually polluted, his people could be banned.

Kathy Krause, a supervisory park ranger of the Gateway National Recreation Area who attended the clean-up, agrees the religious practices have put definite pressure on the bay.

"It's a rich biodiverse ecosystem but it's definitively suffering some major environmental issues," Krause said.

These extra items left on the bay are one of its biggest threats for Jamaica Bay, a national park that's home to more than 325 species of birds, invertebrates and sea life, Krause said.

"They release nutrients into the bay that don't belong there, and it exacerbates the water pollution problem we have," she said.

Volunteers picking under rocks and through grass Friday filled garbage bags of bottles, coconut shells, figurines and yards of cloth, all of which the group says they will try to recycle.

Ramdeen said the fabric, pulled and sometimes ripped from beneath the shoreline, is just another part of the material possessions offered to the gods.

"You see that the colors we're picking up are very pretty colors," she said "and we as Hindus think that we should give God the best."

The material collected by Ramdeen's organization is washed before being sent back to India as clothing.

"So it was kind of a recycling process," she said of their efforts.

"It's amazing," Krause said of the group's efforts. "This just shows such wonderful turnout from the local community."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Environment • Hinduism • New York • United States

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. nnmsvjt

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    November 27, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  2. Gary

    Like any religion we should be respectful but when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness sorry to say HInduism falls way below on that list. Hindu's should realize and use some common sense that what they are doing is harming the eco-system with their garage polluting materials. I really hate to see Jamaica Bay turn into another Ganges. What a shame!

    May 4, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  3. Estevan

    "Many defend the practice, considered a sacred Hindu tradition. Millions of worshippers leave offerings to the gods at India's Ganges river each year."

    Having been to India I can say that the country is a VERY dirty place. There is litter and garbage strewn all over the place and the Ganges is a cesspool. We have enough waste being released into our water without religious twits throwing away more stuff in an act of primitive veneration.

    The Park Rangers and Fish and Wildlife Officers should do their jobs and issue tickets to all those throwing crap into the National recreation Area.

    April 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  4. jimtanker

    "I was appalled to see the condition of the place," said New Yorker Nagassar Ramgarib, a practicing Hindu. "It was really disgustingly filthy."

    Kind of like your own country too huh?

    April 27, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • remy

      There is a big difference in doing something neatly or not!
      PLs dont degrade a religion becos a section that practices thus!
      There is no need to leave indestructible things to destroy ecosystem.As with all religions the oldest religion definitely supports love for nature,inface we worship nature.No where has it been said that you have to be messy while you do your prayers,offerings etc! What does not mingle with nature safely was not even used when the religion was practised before.We never used plastic,no dyes etc!!BTW washing with water as part of ablution is a cleaner way!!surely!How many such paper cleaned areas have you seen,i have..believe me there is debris!!its uncomfortable in medical field when you encounter such areas!!so when none of us is completely fault proof,lets stop condemning a practice or a country.we have different people in each country!Amen!

      May 4, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  5. Jeanine

    I think they are re-using the stuff they get from the beach. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Recycled holy garbage! What a money-saver!

    April 27, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  6. Gemini

    Please learn to differentiate between actions vs. the beliefs. The faith does not ask people to pollute the water. The faith does not ask people to trash the beach. It is a choice of people to be neat or not. I know people from all faiths who are very clean and some who are so unclean and messy. Cleanliness and neatness is a personal choice and it is up to the individual to step and keep his surroundings clean.

    April 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  7. ColinO

    There's also a reason no person should set foot in the filthy waters of the Ganges, one of the top 5 most polluted rivers in the world. No way they should be allowed to do this, and they should be fined for the mess left behind.

    April 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  8. Been There

    It is amazing There were over 1000 posts regarding the 60 Minutues story about the the Christian Orthodox Holy Mountain "Mt. Athos" and this story gets three. Hummmm...... However, these people need to be sanctioned for this mess they have made and their future "religijous" practices monitored to assure they comply with common sense and law in cleaning up after their pagan oddball rituals. However, what can we expect,...... do Hindu's use toilet paper? Maybe that explains it!

    April 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  9. PeterWaldo

    ...but don't Demoncrats need their votes?

    April 26, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  10. Abalamahalamatandra

    What a mess. They say they are giving it to the sea but it covers the beach instead...and then it is taken away by clean-up crews. Where's the logic in that? I am thinking they have very poor thinking skills.

    April 25, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Tom

    Hinduism is messy, but the people doing the cleanup are good-hearted. I'd rather have good-hearted messy people than neat, mean people. My recent visit to India, including the Ganges, convinced me that good-hearted is much better.

    April 25, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.