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New York’s Jamaica Bay has become a sacred pilgrimage spot for Guyanese Hindus in Queens. LittleIndia.com reports that they descend on the beaches of North Channel Bridge, to pray and cast offerings into the bay, which many liken to the sacred Indian river Ganges. Devotees throw incense, flowers, coconut, sweets, milk and even yards and yards of fabric into the bay as religious offerings.
Pandit Sukhedo Maharaaj conducted an elaborate Ganapati Puja for a Guyanese family, chanting hymns around a haavan.
Maharaaj, who migrated from Guyana 30 years ago, said he had been conducting religious services for families on the banks of Jamaica Bay for nearly 15 years. “People come for blessings here for Ganapati Puja, Ganga Puja, weddings, other religious events,” he explained.
He has performed similar water pujas for Hindu devotees all over New York and New Jersey, sometimes beside the ocean, rivers, ponds or family poolside or bathtubs.
In recent years, the flotsam of coconuts, bamboo sticks, clay divyas, waterlogged saris, flags, statues, flowers, sweets, fruits and all manner of other ritual debris that washes ashore and litters the coastline from these Hindu ceremonies has raised environmental hackles and drawn the ire of the park service.
Maria Cole, supervisory park ranger at the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jamaica Bay, says while rangers are sensitive to the First Amendment religious rights of devotees “who have an absolute right to worship in the bay,” the ritual debris trapped in the enclosed waters is hazardous for the bay’s fragile habitat.
The sweets and flowers are unhealthy and have even choked birds that descend upon the offerings, and sea vegetation can be strangled by entangled saris and cloth.