It is around 10 in the morning, the Sri Rathnagiriswarar Temple in Besant Nagar is seeing a steady stream of devotees. Being Pradosham (the day auspicious for Lord Shiva), there are more devotees than usual and there is a good demand for the flowers being sold right outside. Occasionally, the devotees, mostly first-timer visitors are reminded about the ban on plastic inside the temple. The flower sellers—three of them--- tell them they won’t give them plastic bags, occasionally. Ranjani, who supervises the footwear section outside, also cautions some to not carry plastic covers inside.
Inside the temple that has been in existence for more than forty years, there are posters about the green initiative--- ‘Namme Green Kovil’, ‘Plastic Bags are Prohibited’ and ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’---- and at one corner there is a huge sack containing the plastic—that come with the packaging for rice or other items donated to the temple---that will be sent for recycling. Outside there are four bins—300 litres each—that are being used to compost the floral offerings and the dhonnais (containers made from leaves) separately. Composting agents are used to enhance the process. The prasadhams are distributed in banana leaves, therefore, adopting eco-friendly methods in every aspect of worship.
P Natarajan, founder and CEO, Namma Ooru Foundation, who is behind the green initiatives at the temple, said, “The reason temples play a pivotal role because the community is quick to pick up what is practised inside it. Our initiative is based on the function religious places of worship played in the olden days being the centre for human activities.”
Composting units began to function almost two months ago and they are awaiting the first harvest from the bins. “On a day to day basis we get around three to four kilos of flowers and segregate five kilos of plastic every month,” he said, adding that the staff who have cooperated with the volunteers have ensured the success of the programme. PS Ramakrishnan, assistant secretary of the Rathnagiriswarar Temple said that such initiatives should be prioritised by religious places of worship. “There is an awakening about the duty we have towards our planet. It has to begin somewhere and soon many will follow suit,” he said. The foundation launched its next project at the Shri Sakkarai Amma Aalayam in Thiruvanmiyur on Saturday.
In Parrys, the ancient Kalikambal Temple has been harvesting around 50 kilograms of manure every second or third month, for the last two years. The manure produced from the flowers and lime using aerobic composting in aagas (organic composters), guided by Navneeth Raghavan, an environment enthusiast, who has been promoting composting across sections—individuals to organisations and apartments. “I was happy to know that the devotees love the manure and use it in their homes,” she said.
After a small break in their composting routine during the recent rains, in Velachery’s Pallava period Dandeeswarar Temple, the composting initiative has been benefitting the staff like sweepers and the cook who have taken responsibility of its functioning. S Kumara Raja, a patron and donor of the temple, said that from the vilvams to flowers, vegetable wastes and leaves, everything is composted in the four drums. “It takes around a month for the process to complete and given that around 100 people benefit every day from the annadhanams, there is a lot of kitchen waste. We ended up producing 100 kg of manure and the ladies who are responsible for it make some income from it,” he said, adding that the other initiatives have been aimed at the vendors—flower and milk sellers—to refrain from using plastic. “We are also planning to get bamboo containers that can be returned by the devotees after the worship, at the shops outside,” he said. Kumara Raja is also planning to start a similar initiative at the Shri Gnana Siddhi Vinayagar Temple nearby.
At the famous Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Temple, cow dung from the gaushala is fed into the biogas plant and an output of 12m3, is generated every day, and an organic composter, an automated electrically operated setup, can handle 250 kg of flower, leaves and other organic waste per day.
Mangalam Balasubramanian, managing trustee of Exnora Green Pammal that offered the technical help for the units functioning for more than year now, has also set up a unit at the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Adyar, late last year.
“Around 20-25 kg of tulasi is offered at the temple every day. With four 350-kilo capacity aagas, the manure is kept in the procuring bin for curing. Curing is an important step so that it can help microbes multiply and help the soil when used as manure. Since it is tulasi, the fragrance is very appealing for the devotees who buy it for use at home,” she said. The organisation is planning to start composting in other temples in and around Adyar and Mylapore in November this year.
However, the initiatives have had their own sets of challenges. A source from the Kapaleswarar Temple. “The bamboo plates we had bought to be used and returned by devotees went missing after a point. Still plastic is a ubiquitous item and we are looking at ways to remove it completely. Textile shops and jewellery outlets have offered cloth bags for use by devotees. These will help us cut down the dependence on plastic and make the plastic ban a success,” said the source.
One man’s efforts to turn temples green
50-year-old AK Kannan, a resident of Choolaimedu and employee of Doordarshan, collects around 5000 kg of flowers, leaves and other offering from temples the city, every month.
Transporting them on a two wheeler that he uses to cover all every week, he visits small and big temples in T Nagar, Kodambakkam and Saidapet everday, covering 25 temples every week. He said, “I wrote to the Chief Minister’s Cell in 2014 telling them with around 38,000 temples under government control, flowers offered in all these places can be composted with concerted efforts.
I got a reply that it can be done on a trial basis.” As part of the Thanga Pushapagam Initiative, the gathered nirmalyam – the previous day’s flower offering from temples--- is dropped of at the composting pits in the office of R Nataraj, Mylapore MLA located on CP Ramaswamy Road, MRC Nagar Compost Yard and MRTS Mandaveli. He added,
“There are smaller temples like the Amman Kovil in Kodambakkam near the flyover, where there are 300 kilos of tulasi available. “ Kannan separates the flowers and other offerings and hands them over at the composting yards.
The other offerings like arugampul, Pongal and fruit are distributed to be fed to cows , along with kondaikadalai offered in garlands. The plastic generated in the form of milk packets, honey containers, etc are sent for recycling. “There are agal vilakus available in huge quantities at these temples that are discarded after use, but big ones like Karaneeswarar Temple in Saidapet reuse them,” he said.