Kamakhya Temple, the holiest Shakti-Peetha in the country, is located in Nilachal Hill at Guwahati in Assam. The place has a great mythological importance in country. Its significance as a heritage site shouldn’t be missed out either. As per a recent survey by the India Today group, this temple is among the top 10 tourist destinations in country.
Nilachal Hill is an ecological habitat for trees, animals and birds. It’s known for its biodiversity – and it offers a wide range of ‘ecological services’ to the poor and marginalized people in terms of their livelihood. I believe this abundantly-rich habitat is actually Maa Kamakhya’s blessings to all of us. At present, the temple wants to say something – it’s our duty and responsibility to protect Maa Kamakhya’s ecological habitat at Nilachal.
People often say – instead of throwing paper and plastic articles away, we should recycle each and every day. However, at present, the temples is facing the worst situation, as waste generation (especially human-produced, non-biodegradable plastic materials) in the area seems to have peaked.
Voice of Environment (VoE) is already working to meet the targets of the Mission Clean Green Assam initiative. In this regard, a mission was lunched – the Swachh Temple vision which started from Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati.
It promises to make the temple an eco-friendly, plastic free region. Furthermore, it plans to raise awareness of the temple’s iconic reputation as a heritage site and a rich biodiversity spot.
To that end, VoE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the respected Doloi, Kamakhya Devalaya, Guwahati, Assam. The MoU was signed between the Kamakhya Devalaya Temple Authority, VoE and SCERS NGOs on December 22, 2016.
Plastic is a non-degradable substance that remains ‘alive’ for a long time. It causes extreme damage to ecology of the Nilachal Hill area and also adversely affects the health of its permanent residents (priests, animals, birds and trees).
In keeping with the mission, the very first programme was launched on January 1, 2017. It was attended by lakhs of devotees. Mrigen Sarania (the mayor of Guwahati), the respected Doloi, the priests and local vendors all were present in the event. The mayor appreciated the programme and encouraged the team to continue its association with Maa Kamakhya Devalaya to transform the temple premise into a plastic and polythene-bag-free zone. He emphasised on the development of plans to make the temple a clean, green and sustainable religious and cultural tourist destination.
Around 2,500 ‘pledge leaflets’ were distributed among the devotees, vendors and priests. During this programme, environmentalists Moharana Choudhury and Anjulina Choudhury from the “Sahayata Co-education And Rehabilitation Society” were also present.
After completion of this event, the organisation conducted awareness campaigns from time to time. It also regularly met with the visitors, temple authorities and vendors in the area regarding alternatives to waste disposal and exploring others possibilities for making their cause successful.
This year, on Earth Day (April 22, 2018) a programme was organised again in the temple premises to create awareness among devotees/visitors to make the temple an eco-friendly and plastic-free zone. The Earth Day Network, India also supported the event.
The event was in keeping with the theme of this year’s Earth Day – to end plastic pollution. Moreover, being a heritage site, Kamakhya Temple was one of the best places where we could have organised such an event to raise awareness on the issue, and also to further our own goal.
For this, VoE again took initiative to organise the event at the temple. Since many people enter the temple daily, it was very difficult to hold such an event. Nevertheless, this was the first time we were able to hold such a programme after getting permission from the temple authorities.
The occasion was marked by various programmes – interactions and interviews with the visitors and devotees, which were also recorded. A majority of the visitors appreciated and supported this cause. A felicitation ceremony was also organised by the team members to honour the temple authorities – Mohit Sharma, Bor Doloi (President of the temple authorities) Kabindra Sharma, Saru Doloi (Vice-President of the temple authorities), environmentalist Moharana Choudhury, other officials among the temple authorities and VoE members Minakshi Dutta, Deboprasad Choudhury, Bhaskar Hazarika, and Debopam Purkesthya. These were also the people who led the event and made it successful.
The speakers highlighted the problems of plastic waste and the necessity of a waste management process along with the maintenance cleanliness. The temple authorities assured us of their support for this initiative to turning this iconic place into an eco-friendly and plastic-free zone. VoE is also thankful to the Doloi, Kamakhya Temple and Kumar Deepak, UNDP, for their continuous cooperation, suggestions and support for this initiative.
Plastics have indeed transformed our everyday life. It is evident that plastics have some benefits and also offer avenues for future technological and medical advances. However, concerns about their usage and disposal are diverse. These issues include the accumulation of waste in landfills and in natural habitats, physical risks for wildlife resulting from the ingestion of plastic items, the leaching of chemicals from plastic products and the potential for plastics to transfer harmful chemicals to the wildlife and the humans around.
The team interacted with the devotees during the program and recorded several interviews cum to understand the views of the people from different parts of country regarding this initiative. A majority of them supported the cause of banning plastic carry-bags in such heritage places. They believe that such an approach will help Assam set an example to the other states, when it comes to banning the usage of plastics. They also told us that this initiative will be very useful to create awareness about the hazardous effect of plastic waste generation. The people also feel that there is a need to build a ‘citizen consciousness’ that will help them build sustainable practices to counter the habit of using plastic items regularly.
Appeal to the devotees
Plastic is a non-degradable substance, and it causes extreme damage to the health and ecology of those living in the proximity of Nilachal Hill.
Keeping this in view, we appeal all devotees to stop carrying plastic and polythene bags while visiting the Kamakhya Temple premises. Please carry a paper, cotton or eco-friendly bags in place instead. Giving up on your habit of using plastic items would count as a blessing from Maa Kamakhya.
Appeal to shopkeepers/vendors/salesmen:
We need your kind, constructive and fruitful cooperation in discharging our responsibility to make the Kamakhya Temple premises a plastic-free site. All shopkeepers/vendors/salesmen have a big responsibility here and it’s their duty to stop selling plastics and polythene bags to the visiting devotees. Please distribute paper bags or other available options like cloth bags, cotton bags etc. in place of plastic and polythene bags. We shall help you make such low-cost eco-friendly alternates.
The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2015, prohibits the manufacture and sale of plastic items below the thickness of 50 microns. The Assam government has also banned plastic and polythene bags in Guwahati. However, leaving aside such legislation, don’t you think we can personally and consciously keep the Kamakhya Temple premises plastic-free? Yes we can!
Appeal to the priests
Respected priests, we would please request you to understand how plastic and polythene bags are hazardous, and are causing a severe degree of pollution – not only within the temple premised but in the entirety of the Nilachal Hill region. We need your precious cooperation in generating awareness among the visiting devotees. We all know that these devotees have a deep respect for the priests – and we hope that they shall listen to you when you instruct them to stop carrying such bags while coming to worship within the sacred temple premises.
Last but not the least, as human beings, we should ensure that we are behaving such that we are not harming the environment. It’s our responsibility to keep it clean and sustain it. Our future depends on our actions in the present. Our policies towards the environment should therefore apply strictly, regardless.
Together, we can make a difference!