Govardhan Eco Village, Maharashtra, India

Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) was established 12 years ago by His Holiness Radhanath Swami as a rural farm community offering spiritual education, rural development, Ayurvedic healing, environmental-sustainability R&D, and a sattvik (peaceful and spiritual) guest experience. Govardhan Eco Village is rooted in the Krishna Bhakti tradition and is a sister community to the prominent ISKCON temple in Chowpatty, Mumbai.

Over the past dozen years, GEV has developed on its 29-acre property eight acres of organic farms, a large goshala, a school for village children and orphans, a world-class Ayurveda center, a yoga center attracting students from all over the world, a brahmacari ashram serving over 100 monks, and a lush meditation forest with more than seven temples. Dotted amongst all these centers are small research and development facilities for sustainability sciences. Groundwater recharge ponds. Plastic pyrolysis plant. A plant- and soil-based sewage treatment plant. Rain-fed irrigation ponds. Biogas tanks. Giant ‘bathtubs’ for vermicompost. Heirloom crop research. Natural building methods. A center developing crop care methodologies based on ancient Ayurvedic texts.

recycling.jpg
Nutrients and energy are recycled throughout the system

The village’s 300 full-time residents are all engaged in a mix of services, from studying and teaching Sanskrit texts, to caring for cows, to turning giant piles of vermicompost, to cooking for hundreds of people, to hosting the thousands of local and international guests who visit every year. The village also has trained medical, educational, and agriculture extension staff who visit the twelve nearby villages that have been ‘adopted’ by GEV. Schools and wells have been built in these villages, and teachers and farmers trained by GEV staff. GEV is highly motivated to produce zero waste and to design everything such that it can be re-used, re-purposed, or recycled.

The spiritual practices, ecological efforts, and community service of GEV are rooted in the Krishna Bhakti tradition and the community’s thoughtful efforts over the years to practice their beliefs in context of the modern world. “The ecological crisis is fundamentally a crisis of the human heart,” writes founder Radhanath Swami. While the Bhakti teachings provide a pathway to flourishing of the heart, practices like permaculture, community service, and selfless service provide a pathway to flourishing of the whole person when inspired by Bhakti. Residents of GEV attend daily arati and kirtan, study sacred texts like Srimad Bhagavatam, and participate in festivals throughout the year that celebrate the best of nature’s gifts and God’s gifts.

Learn more at http://www.ecovillage.org.in

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Gayatri Chetna Center, New Jersey, USA

Environmental Restoration

Bhumi Puja, Bhumi Seva

Gayatri Chetna Center is a mandir in the Gayatri Pariwar association. Known for its community orientation and balavihar program, Gayatri Chetna Center holds frequent lectures, classes, musical performances, and yagyas. The philosophy of Gayatri Pariwar holds yagya in great importance for purification and transformation of the individual and the environment. Yagya includes the traditional havan as well as arati, mantra (especially gayatri mantra) and seva. Gayatri Pariwar holds as their vision the transformation of the entire world from the present age of chaos into a new satya-yuga.

Globally, Gayatri Pariwar has committed to several major initiatives, including environmental protection – most notably Nirmal Ganga Jan Abhiyaan and tree planting initiatives covering hundreds of acres. Community members from around the world contribute to these efforts with their time, labor, and donations. These initiatives will be described more in a later post.

Locally, Gayatri Chetna center not only supports efforts for environmental protection in India, but hosts their own small community efforts locally. Each year, the Balavihar teachers and students come up with a seva focus for the year. In 2013, the students and families planted trees in a local county park that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The students dedicated themselves to returning to care for and raise the trees. In 2016, they raised a vegetable garden on temple grounds.

The teachings and practices of this transformational path bring about a spirit of humility, reverence, and seva that extends to one’s community, all people, and to nature. Balavihar leaders help pass on these values to the next generation through both words and deeds.

Project Prithvi, Queens, NY

> Environmental Restoration

Project Prithvi was initiated in 2013 by Queens Hindus concerned about the growing impact of puja items left in Jamaica Bay. The beaches lining Jamaica Bay are a popular place for pujas that would otherwise be done in the sacred Ganga. The Parks Service was on the verge of banning these pujas based on the amount of trash left behind. Although the majority of trash found on the beach was swept up by the tides or left by other beach-goers, the brightly colored puja items, like fabric, plastic murtis, and other non-biodegradable items stood out.

A few young adults in the community began cleaning up the detritus every month. They separated the trash and the puja items and store the puja items in a warehouse. Some have been on display in the Brooklyn Museum. They are motivated by a desire to preserve this fragile ecosystem and to keep the peace between Queens Hindus and local government. They also visit local mandirs to educate the community on not leaving waste behind: there is no spiritual need for leaving these items in the water. They encourage families to take used items home with them, to donate reusable materials such as saris, and to transition to using biodegradable items such as clay murtis and real, not plastic, flowers as per Hindu tradition.

Golden Temple of Sripuram, Tamil Nadu, India

Image: volunteers transplanting saplings for Sripuram’s agricultural project, ‘Green Sakthi.’

The newly-built Golden Temple of Sripuram, inaugurated in August 2007 and situated on 100 acres of land within the city of Vellore in Tamil Nadu, involved green awareness from the very beginning. Constructed by Sri Narayani Peedam, and headed by spiritual leader Sri Sakthi Amma, the temple is a model environmental site despite the two tonnes of waste generated every day by its 5,000 daily visitors. The Golden Temple combines tranquillity, greenery and peace
with its terracotta-tiled ceiling providing ample natural light and ventilation. The temple has a zero waste management policy that includes
a biogas plant and Waste Processing Facility. Compost is used as fertiliser on temple grounds or sold with recyclables for Rs. 1 lakh per month (about US$16,000).

The temple has installed rainwater harvesting and residents have
created a small organic farming area as well as herbal gardens, organic paddy fields and tree plantations. They have covered hill and campus with forest and trees and harnessed solar energy. A ghoshala (cow-shed) maintained by the temple management generates three tonnes of cow dung, the raw material for its biogas plant, which produces 50 kgs of biogas daily, and is used for cooking. Biogas, generated from a mixture of cow dung and waste food is used at the temple’s accommodations, hospital and community kitchens. Solar heaters generate hot water for the kitchens, reducing the need for conventional fuel by 80 per cent.

Canals and ponds have been specially created within the temple complex to help recharge groundwater. The temple generates water for its own needs and also supplies some for public use when rainfall is insufficient.

Adapted from ‘The Green Temple Initiative,’ developed by Jayashree Balachander on behalf of the Green Pilgrimage Network. (c) Association of Religions and Conservation 2015.

The Bhakti Center (New York, NY, USA)

The Bhakti Center is a self-described nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to self-transformation through the path of Bhakti-Yoga. Based on the teachings of AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Bhakti Center has transformed over its ten years of existence from a Radha-Krishna temple and Gaudiya Vaisnava ashram to a bhakti-yoga center serving a diverse and rapidly growing audience.

Values

The teachings of bhakti-yoga teach that service to the Earth is service to Krishna. Many lilas occurred in the forest. Protection of cows – Govinda.

Practices

Reducing Waste – The Bhakti Center serves hundreds of meals each week through its ayurvedic cafe and prasadam. It transitioned to 100% biodegradable plates and utensils five years ago, and even encourages visitors to use their own re-fillable water bottles rather than plastic cups.

Ahimsa Sourcing – The Bhakti Center committed in 2015 to using only ahimsa milk for bhoga offered to the murtis of Sri Sri Radha-Muralidhara. In 2014, they piloted purchasing organic vegetables from Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania and offering a vegetable and milk CSA to temple members. The Bhakti Center continues to be a distribution site for organic ahimsa milk from Gita Nagari. The Bhakti Center also grows some of their own flowers and herbs on a “green roof.”

Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Andhra Pradesh, India

The Tirumala temple, in the south Indian city
 of Tirupathi, is one of Hinduism’s holiest and richest shrines. Around 50,000 pilgrims visit
this city of seven hills daily. The heavy visitor traffic puts huge pressure on local resources such as water and electricity. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams is an independent trust that manages the temple and, over the past 15 years, its dedicated forestry department has planted more than 44 lakh (4.4 million) trees
to restore vegetation on the Tirumala hills. The trust launched the 1.5 crore (about $250,000) Haritha project to conserve soil and rainwater, improve the groundwater and plant new forest in a 29,500 acre area in the hills around the city. The temple has established a productive nursery that grows seeds from a variety of indigenous trees and plants and every year the trust plants about 50,000 saplings with the help of pilgrims, and distributes plants as sacred gifts to devotees in religious rituals.

The temple’s community kitchen feeds
over 25,000 visitors daily. In 2001 Tirumala adopted solar cooking technology, allowing it
to dramatically cut down on fuel. Solar dishes on the temple roof rotate automatically to capture the sun’s energy. This is then used
to convert water into high pressure steam, making cooking faster and cheaper saving Rs
20 lakh (more than $3,000) a year, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 tonnes per
day. Half the project cost of Rs.1.1 crore (about $175,000) was borne by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams trust, and the rest by a subsidy from the Ministry of Renewable Energy Sources. In addition wind turbines – donated by believers and sited on the hills surrounding the temple – are generating about 7.5 megawatts of power every day (offsetting 19,500 tonnes of CO2).

The temple sells the emission reduction credits to a Swiss green technology enterprise, Good Energies Inc. It all makes sound economic sense: with the government subsidizing up to 50% of the costs of installing green technology, temples like Tirumala can make steady returns selling the resulting carbon credits. The temple is developing green cover and restoring the reserve forests around the temple to become carbon sinks – a carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon that it releases.

Tirumala temple has also banned plastic bottles inside the temple, as a step toward making Tirupati Hills a plastic-free zone. It has set up
a recycling plant near the temple complex to crush 150kg of plastic bottles daily, making them into pipes that are sold to farmers at subsidized pricing for micro irrigation. It has also set up small dams to help recharge the aquifer in the hills.

Adapted from ‘The Green Temple Initiative,’ developed by Jayashree Balachander on behalf of the Green Pilgrimage Network. (c) Association of Religions and Conservation 2015.