By V. Shuman

Thaipusam is a time when thousands of Hindus give offerings and pay penance to Lord Muruga at temples worldwide.

However, devotees are often treated by the sight of mountains of rubbish, thrown indiscreetly, after the religious festival's celebrations at the majority of temples.

Is it possible to drastically cut down wastage and be eco-friendly, while still paying dues to Lord Muruga?

It is entirely possible, and all it takes is a little will and some social awareness, says Dr V Lelamekala.

The mother of two, who holds a doctorate in Molecular Biology from Universiti Sains Malaysia, hopes her suggestions on going green on February 8 (Thaipusam day) will catch up.

Judging by how her note had recently gone viral on social media, it seems her ideas have met with a certain amount of success.

Astro Ulagam caught up with Lelamekala, who runs an environmental conservation organisation Ohana EcoSteps Malaysia, which sells eco-friendly items, such as seedballs and resuable cotton pouch bags, in Seri Kembangan.

Stay off single use plastic

Her immediate hope for this coming Thaipusam, she said, is reducing single use plastic.

To this end, she suggests devotees bring their own cups - preferably silver tumblers, during temple visits on Thaipusam day.

"Enjoy your favourite moru or plain water using your own cup. Rinse with water once you are done and wipe with your handkerchiefs.

"Thadaaa done! Just count how many plastic cups you have saved in a day," she wrote in her Facebook note.

One can also cut down milk bottles and packets wastage by choosing to buy milk using own container from dairy farms, she says.

"The Veterinary Department can also provide you milk without packs. You don't need litres of milk, a small vessel should be good.

"If you can't find milk without packs, opt for panneer kavadi, sandana kavadi, panchamirtham kavadi, or sugar cane kavadi. Try to use items that you have, and go completely zero waste," she told Astro Ulagam.

Go green with kavadis too

Lelamekala pointed out that kavadis are also a big contributor of waste, due to the amount of plastic used in its making.

"Do not leave any waste behind after performing prayers by the river side before taking your kavadi. Your flower garlands, clothes and prayer items might contain plastics, which is going to ultimately end up in the sea.

"Be a responsible devotee," she said, adding that the yellow cloth used to cover milk pots (paal kudam), which are often found strewn around the temple compound after the prayers can also be brought back home, washed and reused for the following year's Thaipusam.

Devotees can also opt for eco-friendly kavadis which use palm leaves (like the ones commonly used in Mauritius), and peacock feathers for decoration, instead of one using polystyrene, she noted.

"Buy loose flowers and if you want a garland, look for one that uses banana fibre string instead of raffia string."

She has seen, first hand, the "damage" done by ceremonies done by married couples by the sea side, on 'Aadi Peruku' day.

"My family and I must have cleaned 'tonnes' of Hindu ritual items which were washed up on the Morib beach," she recalled.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Other eco-friendly measures Lelamekala suggests are bringing your own water bottle to temples to reduce plastic bottle waste, and using public transport to reduce carbon footprint and save money at the same time.

"If you are planning to give annathanam (offering food/drinks), look for banana leaf or disposable food packaging/cups/plates.

"When taking the food served, especially those in prepacked containers, take only what you need, and don't throw away what you can't consume. Donate the excessive food to the underprivileged," she said.

If for some reason waste cannot be avoided, they should be disposed of responsibly, she added.

"Bring back the waste, segregate them accordingly and send them for recycling."

If there's one thing that worries Lelamekala, it is the lack of awareness about the importance of being eco-friendly, in the society, despite seeing first hand, the "climate emergency" the world is dealing with now, she said.

"I have received criticisms from various quarters for some of my suggestions. However, I notice the younger generation are more eco-friendly, or are at least more receptive to the importance of going green.

"This maybe due to the fact they realise that it is up to them to fix what had been ruined by the generations before them.

"As much as the situation seems hopeless, there is still hope," she smiles.

Photo source: Dr V Lelamekala