Filmmaker explores Jamaica Bay ritual

By Alex Robinson

For Queens’ Hindus, Jamaica Bay has become their Ganges River, a purifying source where they hold religious rituals to cast items called Puja into the water.

But Puja have caused a rift between some in the borough’s Indo-Caribbean community and environmentalists as non-biodegradable materials are often left in the water after rituals.

Dan Hendrick, a Queens film producer, said he is trying to start a conversation between the borough’s Hindu community, government agencies and environmentalists to figure out an eco-friendly way of holding Puja rituals in the waters of Jamaica Bay.

Hendrick premiered his short film, “The Divine Waters of Jamaica Bay,” about the ritual at a panel discussion at the Shri Trimurti Bhaven temple in Ozone Park Sunday.

“Our goal with this film was ultimately to start a dialogue,” he said at the discussion. “Today is really the start of a journey for the film.”

Puja are often biodegradable offerings such as coconuts, milk, flowers and fruit, but can also sometimes be accompanied by aluminum foil and cloths.

The film chronicles the efforts of Kamini Doobay, a young Hindu medical student who is working toward building better channels of communication between the borough’s Indo-Caribbean community and the National Parks Service about the issue.

“For the past two to three decades now, a lot of non-biodegradable things have accompanied certain offerings, and that’s negligent on our part,” she said at the panel discussion, which was attended by a number of leaders in the Indo-Caribbean community, environmentalists and a representative of the National Parks Service, which oversees the bay.

“I am not at all commending our community,” she added.

Doobay joined a recently formed group called Sadhana, which has started holding beach cleanups on Jamaica Bay on the first Sunday of every month.

Environmentalists have acknowledged that in addition to beach cleanups, the root of the problem also needs to be addressed through education. Indo-Caribbean leaders and priests need to educate new Hindu immigrants about the harm some Puja offerings can cause and which materials one can legally leave in the water.

“The real issue for many of us is what do we do with this stuff?” said Charles Markis, a park ranger with the National Parks Service, who attended the discussion.

“We don’t want you to stop coming to the water. We don’t want you to stop doing Puja,” he said. “But we want to know how we can accommodate you so everybody can be happy and we can make Jamaica Bay a better place.”

Hendrick’s short film is also a part of a broader documentary Hendrick produced about the bay, called “Jamaica Bay Lives.”

The documentary is being edited at the moment and, once complete, Hendrick hopes to soon find a distributor for the film.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to sway hearts and minds in the community on the issue,” Hendrick said.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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