Hindu temples: Environmental and ecological concerns
#1
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Hi friends,smile
I consider Hindu temples to be elaborate shops that sell an invisible product with no money-back guarantee of any sort. The Pandits etc. behave in a very businesslike manner,treating each devotee as a customer or a head of sheep to be fleeced. In their cupidity, these holy servants willingly neglect the state of environment in the vicinities of their establishments. The situation is noteworthy especially in an area like Uttarakhand,which is called 'Devbhoomi' on account of its numerous temples.
The temples in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand are mostly located in what used to be pristine valleys and hillsides. Yogis,gurus and sages meditated here and left behind their respective holy legacies and delusions that subsequently materialized in the form of temples and shrines. Some pilgrimage centers of note are- Badrinath(situated in a high-altitude meadow),Kedarnath(situated in a glacial valley),Gangotri(the putative source of the Ganges,situated in a heavily-wooded valley of the river Bhagirathi),Yamunotri(the putative source of the river Yamuna,situated in an alpine valley),Haridwar and Rishikesh(both situated in the foothills of the Himalayas,towards the plains of Uttar Pradesh). I visited Haridwar last year and found the situation appalling.While it stakes huge claims to being a 'center of Hinduism' and 'city of the gods', the civic decay is apparent even at the most cursory an examination. The ghats along the Ganges stink abominably. The babas and sadhus resemble ruffians and drug-abusers more than anything else. Miserable cows roam about. Heaps of trash are generated by temples and ashrams. The charitable Ganga washes all their filth and carries it away as it flows from one ghat to the other. Untreated sewage is of course dumped into the river the waters of which are peddled as 'miraculous' and 'anti-bacterial' to ignorant Hindu sheeple.
Haridwar is perhaps the best example of a glaring contrast between an urban mess and an idyllic surrounding. There are two highways from Dehradun/Rishikesh to Haridwar. The one less-traveled is a a veritable drive through the mythical 'Saket'-the sanctuary of deer so lovingly mentioned in Buddhist Scriptures. The highway takes you through a heavily wooded section of the foothills. Streams and rivulets are a common sight. The lush-green vegetation is most soothing to the eyes. What is amazing about the place is the abundance of deer. Herds of deer may be clearly observed grazing in the forests and some curious creatures venture near the highway too. I spotted 3 kinds of deer.during my visit. Besides the deer, there is the 'nilgai'(a kind of antelope),wild boar and plenty of peacocks. It is a beautiful experience. One may see these happy creatures graze and frolic in the woods without any apparent fear or disturbance. All this along a highway! smileBut,the pleasant experience abruptly ends near a bridge upon the river ganges whence starts the urban nightmare of Haridwar. The first feature one notices is a mass of slum-dwellings thrown up on the banks of 'mother' Ganga. Filthy beyond words, it blights the pleasing effect created just a few kilometers back. Huge billboards jostle for the attention of potential devotee-customers. Smiling faces of Baba ramdev & co. on huge billboards become a common feature. Baba ramdev & co. seem to be very concerned about the maladies that afflict the nation. Be that as it may, one would wonder why their bastion-the city of Haridwar- seems to typify civic disarray and decay. The holy industries of ayurveda,yoga,kumbh mela,daily aarti and darshan seem to have had little positive effect on the health of the city as a whole. I believe the devotee-customers are too stunned by the religious experience to notice finer points like hygiene and order. Like the babas and sadhus that seem to have deluged the place, Haridwar is representative of the prevalent mentality of 'the dirtier,the holier'.Sad

The situation is very precarious in up in the mountains. Places like badrinath and kedarnath attract thousands of pilgrims each year. These pilgrims, again stunned and numbed by the sheer religious experience, leave mountains of trash in their wake. It seems like a slow-moving glacier of trash and filth. They spit and litter and use plastic liberally.I am amazed at the callousness of these brutes towards the delicate alpine environment they so mercilessly destroy. Many of them pluck herbs and plants by the hundreds. Packets of used 'dhoop',plastic bags and plates are the banes of fragile,montane/alpine environments. They choke the rivers and streams. Delicate plant life dies an unnatural death due to these monstrous piles of litter. The temples are usually surrounded by little mounds of garbage -altars to filth that attest the lack of hygiene in the collective culture of the Indian subcontinent. This seems to be uniting attribute of almost all Himalayan shrines in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. As the people adore the lifeless idols, they ruin the precious montane flora and fauna that took years to develop. The backsides of most temples resemble a landslide of garbage. Pandits and their customers could not possibly care less. The claims of 'Vedic Science' and 'Glory of Hinduism' seem ludicrous as one beholds this sordid scene. Upon considerable reflection,these empty terms look a lot like mere gimmicks to lure westerners and other people gullible enough to believe that a culture which treats the environment with no respect could discover sophisticated scientific and moral principles. Hinduism seems to promote a very selfish world-view. People are content to side-step the filth and piles of excrement on their way to their daily poojas or dips in the river. 'MY moksha, MY salvation, MY union with god, MY soul, MY boat that must cross the world-ocean' appear to be the the ubiquitous words uttered by most Hindus. No
An abysmal lack of responsibility towards the environment and general hygiene seems to consort with the religious experience. Very worrisome!No
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#2
Tarun, do you have pictures of what you describe? And would you be willing to develop your post into an article for nirmukta.com or indianatheists.com?
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#3
(20-Feb-2011, 08:03 PM)Lije Wrote: Tarun, do you have pictures of what you describe? And would you be willing to develop your post into an article for nirmukta.com or indianatheists.com?

I don't have pictures from my last visit to Haridwar etc. but I guess I could get them from the internet,especially free sources like wikimedia and flickr. And yes, I am willing to develop it into an article. I would need to collect pertinent facts and figures for bolstering my argument too.
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#4
(20-Feb-2011, 11:41 PM)tarun Wrote:
(20-Feb-2011, 08:03 PM)Lije Wrote: Tarun, do you have pictures of what you describe? And would you be willing to develop your post into an article for nirmukta.com or indianatheists.com?

I don't have pictures from my last visit to Haridwar etc. but I guess I could get them from the internet,especially free sources like wikimedia and flickr. And yes, I am willing to develop it into an article. I would need to collect pertinent facts and figures for bolstering my argument too.

I look forward to such an article. What causes double dismay is the fact that these descriptions of dirt and decadence in temples could well have been from the late 19th century and the century which saw Independence and the universalizing of educational access has made no difference to the sorry state in these shrines. For comparison, we can read what M K Gandhi writes about Kalighat and Benares.

Here's an excerpt:

Quote:The authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about the temple a pure sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral. Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the latest fashion. When I reached the temple. I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of aesthetic taste who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.
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#5
Here is a recent disturbing news item about the environmental and ecological impact of shrines. Religions despite themselves had some naturalistic impulses in them which are now being denuded by zealots, and this is what the community of the faithful (and indeed the rest of humankind) loses when shrine-obsessed religion elbows out Dark Green Religion:
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?272186
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#6
"मंदिर आसान है, बना लें । पहाड़ मुश्किल है, उसे छोड़ दें !" (A temple is easy; you can make one. A hill is hard; leave it alone!), pleads NDTV India anchor Ravish Kumar in this panel discussion on the ongoing ecological and recent humanitarian disaster in Uttarakhand.
पहाड़ों से हमारी गुस्ताखियाँ (Our infractions of the hills)

Outlook has a special issue devoted to the tragedy : Hell in the Himalayas

It is rankling to say the least to hear talk of divine retribution during media coverage in this day and age, almost as if it is a throwback to the time Tagore had to debunk similar notions propagated by Gandhi. Prof. Sugata Bose relates that exchange here:




It rankles even more to witness the unseemly hurry to promise rebuilding of shrines with scant regard to making provision for the homeless thousands. It seems a time to reiterate in anguish a question raised earlier in the context of an earlier human-made disaster : Don't we have more shrines than we need?
Why this rebuilding should draw upon public funds is another inescapable questions when religious bodies seem all too obviously generously endowed. Perhaps they have uses for their hoarded gold that ordinary mortals cannot hope to understand.
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