The Karumakiriyai rituals should be done in a manner that safeguards the environment

By Ravindran Raman Kutty 

 Humans have always depended on the environment for survival, obtaining resources such as fruits, grains, water, fire, minerals and wood from nature. In Hinduism, is believed that the five elements of nature (water, fire, earth, air and space) are of utmost importance and must be used in the most effective ways. The human body is also often compared to these elements.

Hinduism employs these five elements of nature in various rituals such as prayers, marriages, births and deaths. However, some practices like discarding ash and ritual waste in open waters can be harmful. It is crucial to reconsider these actions and adopt environmentally friendly practices. The Hindu population in Malaysia should take cognizance and responsibility and make changes to protect the environment.

Historically, waste such as flowers and garlands were thrown into bodies of water because they were seen as sacred and could benefit aquatic life. However, modern society has introduced non-biodegradable items such as glass, ceramic and plastic, such as plastic strings used in garlands, which take longer to decompose, and if consumed, are dangerous for aquatic inhabitants.

As we develop new inventions and products to make our lives more comfortable and safer, it’s important to consider their impact on the environment. For example, during a housewarming ceremony in London, the use of traditional incense was limited due to smoke detectors, and the disposal of fruits and garlands posed a challenge as they needed to be discarded in a river. However, in Malaysia, funeral rituals are still being carried out in ways that can be harmful to people and the environment, such as walking barefoot on paths scattered with broken earthenware.

The experience of walking into the sea during a Hindu ritual can be dangerous due to the presence of broken earthen pots with sharp edges. A visit to Morib (70 km from Kuala Lumpur) revealed that many avoid the ritual site due to the distance from the shoreline, and the litter from previous rituals that was left behind. I suggest that there should be large recycle bins at all ritual sites serviced regularly to manage waste in a sustainable way.

The traditional practice of throwing the pot into the water during karumakiriyai rituals done on the 16th day after cremation needs revision, and new clay pots should be developed that dissolve in water after three days. Proper sign­age should be put up at ritual sites explaining the appropriate use of perishable and non-perishable items, with garlands made using banana leaf string instead of plastics. All non-perishable items like plastics, bottles and clothes must be disposed of properly. 

This issue of proper waste disposal during Hindu rituals needs to be addressed urgently, and an education and awareness program should be established to tackle the problem. The Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Hindu Youth Organization and Indian NGOs working on environmental issues can work together with waste management companies and local authorities to address the matter. Crematoriums can also play a role in ensuring proper waste disposal. Accepting and embracing positive changes for the well-being of the community and country is essential, and education and awareness programs can help achieve this goal.

For over 5,000 years, our religion has stood the test of time, demonstrating our ability to adapt and evolve in order to uphold our ancient religious customs. It is imperative that we implement comprehensive and sustainable measures to ensure that our practices align with modern times while being mindful of the environment. We must strive for excellence by adopting eco-friendly practices to preserve our traditions, beliefs and identity.

Ravindran Raman Kutty is a columnist with the New Straits Times and social worker.