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View from India: Reverence takes on a green hue

Image credit: Kavitha Srinivasa

Twenty-five A-grade temples in Karnataka are slated to join the Zero Waste category in the coming months.

The Government of Karnataka (GoK) has allocated 25 crore (250 million) rupees towards waste management initiatives in the temples, which are places of worship for Hindus. It’s a circular economy approach.

Karnataka, as recent media reports indicate, will be the first state to roll out the concept on a mega scale. In Karnataka, 34,000 temples come under Muzrai (Endowment) department. They have been categorised as grade A, B and C, based on their revenue generation. The A-grade temples have an annual income exceeding 25 lakh (INR2.5 million). The B category is represented by temples earning between 5 lakh and 25 lakh (0.5-2.5m), while C category has temples with an annual income of less than 5 lakh (0.5m).

The initiative comes under the Swachh Mandira Abhiyana gamut. Waste-processing plants will be set up inside temple premises to convert 'nairmalya' - the waste generated by the temples - into compost, rather than letting it pile up in landfills. The daily waste generation in each of these temples amounts to around three tonnes. These include flowers, banana leaves used for serving food, food waste, coconut shells, areca nut plates, lemons, bamboo baskets and clothes that are left behind due to beliefs.

The Sri Shakti Kalyana Maha Ganapathi temple in Bangalore - which has around 500 visitors every day - had already set an example with its solid waste-management system. In 2016 waste began to be segregated into dry and wet categories. Dry waste is picked up by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the administrative body responsible for civic amenities in Bangalore. The wet waste, comprising flowers and leaves, is composted in the waste-composting plants. A waste-management system ensures that the waste generated can be reused.

The 25 temples of Karnataka will be latest additions to the ongoing floral waste management at temples in various parts of the country. That’s understandable, because the deities are offered flowers, garlands, coconut and milk. The package is complete with vermilion packets, plastic incense packets and synthetic bangles. Mountains of this waste pile up in some corner of the temple or outside the premises until they find their way into water bodies. All this is detrimental to the environment and marine life.

View From India, Temple Flowers, Inline

Image credit: Kavitha Srinivasa

Private enterprises and corporate houses are collaborating with temples to recycle and repurpose temple waste. A case in point is the collaboration between Bangalore’s Darshan International and the hill shrine of Tirumala, accredited as being the most-visited temple in India and the world. Located on the picturesque Seshachalam Hill Ranges, this temple occupies a unique place in the land of holy shrines. Naturally, the flower collection has given a new dimension, as the temple has partnered with incense sticks manufacturer Darshan International. Flowers are recycled to manufacture 350,000 incense sticks every day. A Waste to Wealth concept, the incense sticks have been sold since 2021. Earlier in the year, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) - the independent trust which manages the temple - also floated a tender for garbage collection with smart bin technology.

ITC Ltd, a diversified conglomerate, has joined hands with 182 temples in Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Perambalur and Karur districts of Tamil Nadu. The effort is to convert the floral waste generation into organic manure and use it in the respective temple gardens under the ITC Mission ‘Sunehra Kal’ Green Temple Initiative.

The Annapoorna Kitchen serves devotees at the Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala Manjunatha Swamy Temple in Dharmasthala. A bottom-up design architecture of the kitchen complex facilitates ingredient procurement and waste disposal most efficiently. The waste disposal system is noteworthy. Kitchen waste is transported to the Dharmasthala waste-management plant and dumped into the composts to generate manure. This manure is used in the cultivation of vegetables for the kitchen. That makes the kitchen self-sufficient, as well as lowering wastage to zero.

Mumbai’s citizens have initiated Swachh Parle Abhiyan to achieve zero garbage in the Vile Parle suburb. Temples such as Parleshwar Mandir, Mahalakhmi Mandir, Ram Mandir and Datta Mandir in the vicinity echo the sentiment. They have put up compost bins to convert flowers, coconuts, sweets and ghee into manure.

Coal India has teamed up with the solid waste-management project of the Art of Living Foundation. Art of Living is a non-profit, educational and humanitarian organisation. The collaboration aims to convert complex waste particles into organic manure. The project is operational in Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, Kamakhya Temple in Assam, Krishna Muth Temple in Udupi and Dakshineswar Kali Temple in West Bengal.

Temple floral waste has found an unusual calling. Textile designer Rupa Trivedi, for example, has repurposed it in the form of natural dyes. Doses of imagination and R&D has urged her to create sustainable fashion. As founder of Adiv Pure Nature, she approached Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple, one of India’s most-visited temples. The temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, draws millions and crores of worshippers into its fold every year. The quantum of floral waste generated is huge, some of which is now being converted into green fashion. 

There could be many more such examples of green places of worship across the country. Flower waste can be recycled and take the form of biodegradable packaging material or even used to make bath soaps and aromatic oils. Floral oils can be distilled for medicinal purposes. Floral waste could be a raw material for handmade paper. It’s no surprise that the fragrance of flowers has already wafted through the startup horizon. They have begun to derive opportunities in floral waste. Hopefully, we have many more startups and social enterprises pursuing the scented floral trail. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, indeed.  

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