amaica Bay Documentary Explores Tension Between Worship and Conservation

amaica Bay Documentary Explores Tension Between Worship and Conservation

A new documentary, "Divine Waters of Jamaica Bay," will be shown this Sunday, June 22, at 1:30 p.m. in Ozone Park. Photo courtesy Dan Hendrick

A new documentary, “Divine Waters of Jamaica Bay,” will be shown this Sunday, June 22, at 1:30 p.m. in Ozone Park.
Photo courtesy Dan Hendrick

Jamaica Bay is one of those New York places that’s a lot of things to a lot of people. Ask someone in the know and they’ll tell you it’s a wildlife refuge, a national park, or a center for outdoor recreation. Depending on whom you ask, you might also discover that for the Indo-Caribbean community of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park, Jamaica Bay is a spiritual extension of India’s Ganges River and the embodiment of the Hindu goddess known as Mother Ganga.

Hindus living in Queens make pilgrimages to the bay throughout the year to honor and give back to nature by performing rituals known as pujas, which involve leaving offerings to the goddess. The items left in the water and on the beach consist of coconuts, sugar, nutmeg, honey, and rice, but also frequently include aluminum foil, flags, saris, religious icons, and other non-biodegradable materials that negatively impact the environment and are often mistaken for garbage.

The ceremonies initially drew the ire of the National Park Service, which doled out more and more fines as the number of Indo-Caribbean immigrants in Queens continued to grow. According to Hindu environmental activist Kamini Doobay, the response left some members of the community feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

“A lot of people, without taking the time to appreciate and understand why we do what we do, would criticize the practice,” she said.

In recent years, Hindu leaders have spearheaded efforts to promote environmental awareness and stewardship by altering their practices and organizing beach cleanups. Although many remain resistant to changing their traditions, the movement is starting to gain traction, especially among the younger generation.

That tension between worship and conservation, as well as the subsequent push for cooperation between the nature loving communities of Queens, is the subject of a new short film by documentarian Dan Hendrick, who stumbled across the controversy while working on a larger project about the estuary.

His short documentary, “Divine Waters of Jamaica Bay,” follows the young activist and her family as they perform a puja ceremony on a beach in the Rockaways.

“The whole point behind the practice is really to promote environmental protection and environmental oneness,” Doobay said.

Hendrick’s film will be screened this weekend and will be followed by a panel discussion between the filmmaker, Doobay, Indo-Caribbean community leaders, a National Parks Service representative, and people from borough president and mayor’s offices.

“The idea is to spark some conversation and really build bridges,” said Hendrick.

The screening of film and the panel discussion will take place at the Shri Trimurti Bhavan temple at 101-18 97th Ave. in Ozone Park on Sunday, June 22 at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all.


By Hannah Sheehan


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>