Green Gurdwaras and Beyond
Pavan Guru Paanee Pitaa Maataa Dharat Mahat
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2012 | 10:12 pm
Reporting from Rockville, Maryland - Gurdwaras in United States and India are adopting solar energy, using recyclable materials and considering organic foods for langar as a result of a push from EcoSikh, an environmental advocacy group initially funded by the Norwegian government.
EcoSikh emerged from a call in 2009 by the United Nations Development Program and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation to form an environmental conservation movement by the world’s major religions.
Launched in July by the Maryland-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education, EcoSikh began work on its five-year environmental-activism plan in New Delhi. Sikh dignitaries presented the plan to representatives from the UN and the alliance.
Other participating religions also developed their own environmental plans, which were set in motion in London in December of that year.
The goal of the Sikh plan is to spread awareness and education by encouraging Sikh gurdwaras and cities to become more environmentally friendly, and educating students on environmental conservation, EcoSikh members said. The plan also includes goals to preserve natural resources – forests, water, soil and air - by lobbying for policy that encourages environmental-friendly behavior.
“In Sikhi, when we think of gurdwaras we do not think of a place to go to worship,” said Bandana Kaur, a staff member, at EcoSikh’s first fundraiser on March 18. “It is where we are trained to live a certain way, how to live our lives in the Gurus’ way.”
EcoSikh’s Green Gurdwaras program urges gurdwaras to clean up their own environments. This includes chemical-free landscaping, cooking local, natural and organic foods for langar, using eco-stoves, purchasing reusable plates and cups, composting, harvesting rainwater, reducing water use, managing waste, and recycling.
As a result of this program, Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, in Connecticut, switched to solar energy this year. Costs for the solar installation in the main Gurdwara building were fully reimbursed by the state, and the sangat chose to pay for the installation in other of its buildings, according to a February EcoSikh news release. Gurdwara Bridgewater, New Jersey, stopped using disposable materials for langar and has taken steps to power the gurdwara with solar energy.
The Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in San Jose, California, is expected to convert to solar energy, EcoSikh members announced. And Gurdwara Ontario Khalsa Darbar, also known as the Dixie Road gurdwara, in Toronto, also has plans to install solar energy panels.
Notably, Gurdwara Sahib in Fremont, California, already composts its langar.
In India, a vacant piece of land will be transformed into an orchid garden at Gurdwara Patshahi Chevi, in Bani Badurpur, Haryana. About 25 gurdwaras, schools, and panchayat ghars in Jalandhar District will be retrofitted with rainwater harvesting technology, according to a November news release. And Darbar Sahib now has a solar-powered water heater over the main langar hall for cooking, according to EcoSikh members.
“The SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) recognizes that whatever change we make we make with them, said Gurpreet Singh, EcoSikh secretary and board member. “We were not looking to them for financial support. We were looking to inspire them and have them take action,” he told SikhNN.
Both the SGPC and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee this month announced plans to convert to solar energy.
“We are planning to make our gurdwaras solar powered and our nagar kirtans plastic-free and clean,” said Paramjit Singh Sarna, DSGMC president, in a March news release. “And it will soon be our policy to ban disposables in all our gurdwaras in New Delhi.”
“EcoSikh is small and lean,” Gurpreet Singh added. “But it manages through influence and activism, (and) is vocal in lobbying for change. Our contribution is not physical work, but to involve people to achieve our goals.”
The group also has goals that venture outside gudwaras and into Sikh communities. In its Green Amritsar program, Amritsar officially became a ‘Green Pilgrimage City,’ joining a network of international cities that are planning with concern for the environment, Bandana Kaur said.
The Green Pilgrimage Network, and local governments, will support Amritsar’s efforts in environmentally friendly design.
The city had started on this path a few years earlier by introducing eco-rickshaws to lower air pollution, according to an October 2011 news release. And it has planted 3.5 million trees since 2007. According to the 2011 Punjab Forest Survey Report, forest cover in Amritsar has increased by 16 square kilometers.
“The objective (is) to protect the serenity of the Divine City of Guru Ram Das ji, and to the protect Darbar Sahib from pollution,” said Kahan Singh Pannu, Amritsar’s deputy commissioner, in a February news release. “One million (of the) trees have been planted in honor of Guru Har Rai, beginning from his Gurgaddi Diwas, on Sikh Vatavaran Diwas (Sikh Environment Day), March 14th, 2011.”
But Amritsar is still totally messed up, Gurpreet Singh told SikhNN. Rains overflow drains and breed disease. There is no recycling program, no one to empty out the garbage, which lies in heaps on city streets. Cows and pigs eat the garbage and get sick. They die and lay on streets. No one picks them up.
“It’s actually embarrassing,” he said. “Outside Darbar Sahib, it’s embarrassing.
“We need to build infrastructure and (an environmental) policy,” he added. “The government of Punjab has to step up. We’re calling them on that and demanding change.”
At a Punjab Environment Summit in Ludhiana last year, EcoSikh members talked to factory owners about how they could clean up some of the Punjab’s rivers, Bandana Kaur said. The group also helped establish a strict implementation of the plastic-bag ban in the state, which was passed in 2005.