Wildlife and Forests: India
||The Hindu God Ayyappan rides a tiger. POSTER: Hinduism Today
ARC has been mobilising Indian religious leaders for biodiversity conservation through our existing partnership work with religious organisations of many faiths in India and, especially, the Green Pilgrimage Network programme . Not only must this work tackle the illegal poaching of iconic species like the tiger but also recognise the impact of huge numbers of pilgrims.
Every year millions of pilgrims move through India’s tiger reserves, in order to reach temples and other pilgrimage sites. In July and August every year, for example, a million pilgrims take sacred Ganges River water through Rajaji National Park to a revered temple on a hillside. In their wake, they leave a trail of trash and human waste while disturbing animal movements and habitat with noise, lights and traffic. They forget that they are making a sacred journey where every step, every tree and every creature on the path is sacred, not just the destination.
ARC is working with the Parmath Nikentan Ashram and the Bhumi Project in 5 reserves: Ranthambore and Sariska in Rajasthan; Periyar in Kerala; Nagarjunasagar Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh; and Rajaji in Uttarakhand,. The aim is to protect tigers from the negative environmental impacts of religious pilgrimage inside these protected areas. This initiative follows on from a meeting on greening pilgrimage with Hindu leaders in Rishikesh in November 2012 where religious leaders, temple authorities, conservationists and city and town officials all worked together to develop a preliminary action plan of how to make pilgrimage inside tiger reserves more environmentally friendly.
Green Pilgrimage in Tiger Reserves - the Rishikesh meeting
Some of India’s holiest sites are found in wild natural areas and the waste and disruption caused by millions of pilgrims and thousands of cars - including the extraction of fuelwood for cooking - is profoundly negative for wildlife and habitats. Greening pilgrimage inside tiger reserves is thus an important and distinct element in India’s GPN programme and five tiger reserve areas from 4 Indian states were represented at the Rishikesh meeting to discuss how some of the more negative impacts of pilgrimage that they experience could be mitigated. Forest department officials and conservation NGOs are already concerned about the impacts of pilgrimage on the reserves, but so far little has been done.
||Delegates at the Rishikesh meeting show their green palms after symbolically 'signing' a specially designed banner with their handprints
The meeting explored creative ways to achieve green pilgrimage in the parks, including asking those temples inside reserves to conduct environmental audits of their current practices, and develop action plans with the help of conservationists.
These could include:
- the development of environmentally friendly waste management systems
- installing community kitchens that use solar and gas rather than fuelwood
- prohibiting private vehicles inside the park
- developing a bussing system for pilgrims to reach the temples and holy sites i
- installing bio-toilets, especially during pilgrimage events attracting additional tens of thousands of people
We hope to follow the Rishikesh meeting with smaller meetings with tiger sites in the coming year, to include spiritual leaders, city officials, temple authorities and Forest Department representatives. Influential religious leaders could open these meetings, calling on participants to create a plan to green their pilgrimage sites. The meetings would also focus on launching one or two concrete projects to reduce waste, noise or traffic by the next major pilgrimage event.
Wildlife Trust of India, one of the most respected NGOs in India, is very keen to pursue this issue in Rajaji park in Uttarakhand state and in Periyar tiger reserve in Kerala state. The same is true in Rajasthan, which has two tiger reserves. Conservationists were very keen to bring together all stakeholders in a meeting as soon as possible, so that a plan can be made before the next pilgrimage event in Ranthambore tiger reserve.
Parmath Nikentan Ashram
Green Pilgrimage Network - India Chapter
Wildlife Trust of India