There are, at least, 29 green holidays observed around the world each year. June and March are the most popular months for these observances. Before June is over, we will witness World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, Global Wind Day and, of course, the Summer Solstice. But another, and perhaps the most ancient, green festival also takes place in June.

For Hindus, the Ganga Dussehra or Ganga Dasaharaa festival celebrates Gangavataran, or the origin of the sacred River Ganga (known by many as the Ganges) by its descent to the scorched earth. While this religious festival has been observed for several millennia by Hindus in India, this year will mark the 17th anniversary of the formalized festival at a specific venue in Trinidad and Tobago.

The annual festival is held at a river set deep in the northern range of mountains on the island. Surrounded by all forms of natural life, the participants engage in a wide range of activities that include lectures, drama, story-telling, ceremonies, rituals, solitude and meditation. The common theme of the festival is the interdependence of man, nature and God with messages of environmental protection, preservation and restoration.

Local religious leader, Raviji, who initiated the festival in 1994, recalled that when the festival first started, the river banks were littered, and its waters were full of pollutants and refuse from picnickers. He said, “The exploration of ecological issues through the festival has had an impact on those who attend the festival. The litter left back by participants went down considerably making it easy for post-festival clean up exercises.”

Raviji, speaking on the potential of religion to bring about attitudinal changes toward the environment, noted, “We are exposed to a world view that has been historically put down severely, that the divine spirit indwells all creation. This world view, powered by cultural norms that arise from it, can realign the relationship between the immediate and the Ultimate, and facilitate a healthier ecological future for the world of man and nature. Ganga Dhaaraa is instructive, therefore, as it promotes a unified vision of Man, Nature and God.”

Today, visitors to the river acknowledge it as a sacred place of Hindu pilgrimage, the litter and pollution has decreased considerably, and the site is now recognized by citizens and the media by its adopted name, “Ganga Dhaaraa,” rather than by its original name, “Marion River.”

Ganga Dhaaraa and its ecology continue to flourish, and the river has been identified as one of the cleanest in the nation.

Certainly, ecology and religion are inextricably linked. As man continues to be a dynamic component in his own environment, his perceived right to master the earth has proven to be the principal source of its chaos and destruction. Just today, the BBC reported that a three-hour elephant rampage in Mysore, India left one man dead. The report stated, “One official blamed the rampage on human encroachment into areas traditionally inhabited by elephants.” It continued, “Unregulated expansion of farm lands, and increasing movement of people and vehicles through the elephant corridor are making the wild jumbos enter into villages and towns in search of food and shelter.”

Whether it is through intensive farming, overfishing, overdrafting, pollution, plasticulture, deforestation, energy harvesting and consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, unexploded ordnance or scorched earth strategy (to name a few), the ecological crisis is largely the result of the anthropogenic impact on the environment that sets aside the intrinsic value of the earth and its creatures. From this standpoint, the ecological crisis is indubitably a humanitarian one!

Steven Rockefeller noted, “The social and moral traditions that have been dominant in the West… have not involved the idea that animals, trees or the land in their own right, as distinct from their owners or their Creator, have a moral standing. Only a few saints and reformers have taught that people have direct moral responsibilities to non-human creatures.”

Through religious festivals, as ancient as Ganga Dussehra, we are reminded that, “Spiritual teachings (and practices can celebrate and consecrate) our ties to the non-human world, reminding us of our delicate and inescapable partnership with air, land, water and fellow living beings.”

The significant role of the ancient wisdom of world religions in the contemporary environmental crisis is, thus, lucid. As the earth continues to be ravaged by the advancing cancerous archetypes of militarism, consumerism, scientism, economic growth, and the like, contemporary theology must recognize the escalating significance of, and fulfill, its role in the ongoing dialogue and actions toward sustainable development and environmental well-being, through a humanitarian approach. Whether through the reinterpretation, expansion, synthesis, or creation of new ideas and spiritual practices, the world religions are charged with the immense, but sacred, task of continually challenging itself to find avenues to connect spirituality to secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.