India's Temples Go Green

July 7, 2008

Author: Madhur Singh

Source: Time Magazine,8599,1820844,00.html

The Tirumala temple, in the south Indian city of Tirupathi, is one of Hinduism's holiest shrines. Over 5,000 pilgrims a day visit this city of seven hills, filling Tirumala's coffers with donations and making it India's richest temple. But since 2002, Tirumala has also been generating revenue from a less likely source: carbon credits. For decades, the temple's community kitchen has fed nearly 15,000 people, cooking 30,000 meals a day. Five years ago, Tirumala adopted solar cooking technology, allowing it to dramatically cut down on the amount of diesel fuel it uses. The temple now sells the emission reduction credits it earns to a Swiss green-technology investor, Good Energies Inc.

Like Tirumala, dozens of holy places across India are moving quietly towards green energy. Muni Seva Ashram, in Gujarat, which combines spiritual practice with social activism, is working to make its premises entirely green by using solar, wind and biogas energy. A residential school for 400 students is already running exclusively on green energy. Starting this year, the ashram will also sell three million carbon credits. A similar movement is afoot at the revered Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi, Maharashtra. "Our aim is to avoid pollution in every way," says Raghunath Aher, the temple's chief engineer. "A holy place should be pure and completely in harmony with nature."

It's not surprising that religious groups are in the vanguard of India's green movement: India is the birthplace of four of the world's largest religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, all of which revere nature and preach conservation.