An astrologer and activist for water conservation in Rajasthan, a state located in the northwest of India, has turned the spiritual practice of offering water and milk in temples into a unique way of water conservation.
Forty-one year old Pandit Purushotam Gaur, known as Guruji, has made many heads turn here by developing water harvesting infrastructure in more than 300 temples in the city over the past 13 years.
In 2000, Guruji started his campaign based on the premise that millions of gallons of sacred water used in temples go down the drain and get absorbed by the sewage system, which is wasteful and environmentally degrading as well as religiously unacceptable.
He put forward a proposal to channel the holy water to designated tanks and bore wells that would eventually recharge the underground water table of the city. His efforts have been widely applauded and received professional and public cooperation.
“I collect water from the temples (especially Lord Shiva, a Hindu deity temple, and channel the water through several filter chambers before it drains into the ground and recharges the ground water,” said Guruji.
“Geo-scientists and groundwater experts have now joined forces with me, calculating that the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, with more than 3,000 temples, uses at least 45 million liters of water poured on the deity of Lord Shiva as well as other deities, per day, especially during the month of Shravan, or rainy season,” he added.
Guruji explained that Lord Shiva may not be happy with the notion that thousands of liters of water are discharged into the drains into a water-starved state like Rajasthan, even though the rituals are carried out to appease the lord.
“If a family of five performs the ritual, it alone accounts for the use of 10,000 liters. With over 700 such temples in the city being cleansed by thousands of devotees daily, the wastage of water is staggering,” he said.
Rajasthan is one of the driest states of India. The total surface water resources in the state are only about 1 percent of the total surface water resources of the country. In large areas of the state, groundwater is being over exploited and the water table is going down as much as three meters per year, according to government statistics.
Alarmed by this statistic, Guruji conceived the idea of harvesting the water. In 2001, the astrologer from Jaipur instigated the digging of 30-foot pits, strategically placed where the water from the idols was routed. He also instigated the digging of a separate 5-foot-deep pit for the milk offerings. Formerly water and milk used to flow out unchecked into open areas near temples, creating unhygienic and stagnant puddles. The areas around temples became the breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies.
Guruji emphasized that families ended up wasting their entire month’s requirement of water in just one ritual.
“It costs only Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 ($45 to $55) for this type of work to be taken up. In spite of this, my efforts to bring about change have not been easy and were initially suspected by some priests as a means of gaining popularity," he said.
“Creating awareness about my program was not an easy task and demanded personal interaction and persuasion. But now people have started to accept it."
“Initially we opposed it as we thought he was trying to gain some kind of popularity for himself, but now we know the importance,” said Ram Sharma, a priest in a local temple here.
Guruji hopes his water conservation efforts spread to different regions where they can have similar impact. "This needs to be done all over the country, not just in Jaipur," he added.
“After covering almost all big temples in the city with this water harvesting campaign, I am now going to extend this project to other parts of the country."