Govardhana Eco Village,ISKCON Mumbai,receives International Award for sustainability
By Gauranga Das
Predictions are that ecological crisis is going to be one of the greatest challenges facing humankind. Be it global warming, energy crisis, food security, water crisis or even loss of biodiversity, they all pose one awkward question – how sustainable are our current ways of living? In spite of their best efforts modern scientists are yet to crack this impending problem. The Vedas are the source of all knowledge and offer solutions to humankind’s problems at various levels. As practitioners of Vedic science can we provide a solution to this modern day crisis?
Srila Prabhupada mentions in Sixth purpose of ISKCON the sublime philosophy of “simple living, high thinking” as the Vedic solution to this problem. But often times it becomes quite challenging to present a working model that substantiates this philosophy to the masses. The basis of the Vedic sustainability model are two natural systems – Land and Cow. These two most important creations of God form a perfect sustainable system. The land gives ample food for the cows and the cows in return give sufficient manure that makes the land fertile. Thus these two systems can coexist unimpeded for the rest of eternity. But most importantly the other useful products we get from these two, namely – milk, ghee, food grains, vegetables, fruits, medicines, clothing etc., meet all of our basic necessities. This combination of Land and Cow is what we call as the “basic sustainability cycle”.
Srila Prabhupada enunciated this concept by emphasizing how a little piece of land and few cows were enough for one to survive. Such a model would be the epitome of sustainable living. But making a sudden shift to such a lifestyle may be a cause of worry for most people, as much as it is a worry to ask a new bhakta to start chanting 64 rounds daily and follow the high standard of a very advanced devotee! For any change to sustain, the transition has to be made in a progressive way. Like wise in our attempts to adopt a lifestyle centred around simple living and high thinking, we may have to go through a progressive model of living. But at the same time care has to be taken to ensure that the fundamental principles of Vedic sustainability are not compromised.
Inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s Vision and guided by H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaj the congregation of ISKCON Chowpatty started the Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) farm community, as a model project showcasing the aspect of Vedic sustainability. We started in 2003 focusing mainly on organic farming and cow protection. Having established this “basic sustainability cycle”, we started adding features that would facilitate an acceptable level of comfort even for some one willing to transit from an urban setting. With food and other basic necessities taken care of, what’s the next most important need for humans? A place of dwelling! The challenge was to make buildings that were not only aesthetic and comfortable, but would also create minimal impact on the environment. So after a thorough research, we started making green buildings using an improvised mud brick technology called compressed stabilized mud blocks. Unlike the commonly used baked bricks these unfired bricks retain mud’s natural property of maintaining optimum temperature. Thus buildings made with these bricks would remaining cool in hot weathers and warm in cool weathers, thus saving a lot of energy in heating and cooling systems. An entire structure made from these bricks have less than 1% the embodied energy as compared to their fired brick counterparts.
So with food and shelter in place our focus was then to ensure a sustainable water source for the village. So we undertook a thorough survey of the ground water flow patterns, called as a hydro-geological survey, and identified ideal locations for extracting water. We also made a facility to recharge the ground water and created various rain water harvesting structures that would serve all the water requirements of our growing community. In order to minimize our dependence on oil based energy sources we started harnessing energy from biogas and solar power.
When food, dwelling, water and energy ensured in a sustainable way, it is but natural for any community to grow. But what detrimental effect can a growing human settlement have? They produce a whole lot of waste! Waste management is a major issue facing humankind and is slowly gaining prominence in wake of the rapid urbanization. Being in a rural location we did not have the luxury (or misfortune!) of being connected to a centralized municipal works. So we had to deal with all our wastes responsibly. So how did we do that? We first implemented a biogas plant that takes care of all the dung and wet organic wastes like food wastes etc. The biogas thus produced now fuels our kitchen, saving a lot of expense on gas bills.
The dry organic wastes like foliage, paper, nirmalya etc end up in composting pits. And all the human sewage is taken care of by using a revolutionary green technique called Soil BioTechnology(SBT). Without the use of any chemicals, simply by using plants and soil we are effectively processing the sewage produced in the entire village and recovering up to 95% of the waste water. This recycled water is utilized in our organic nursery and farming. By a combination of the biogas plant, compost pits and SBT today we take care of the entire organic waste generated.
Thus by integrating various traditional and modern green concepts with the “basic sustainability cycle” of Land and Cow, Govardhan Eco Village is making a humble attempt to showcase an example of the Vedic sustainability, which can accommodate the needs of a wider level of populace. GEV is actively sharing this concept to various sections of the society including rural communities, urban guests, academic institutions and corporates. In 2012 more than 12000 students of 65 schools visited GEV under their course ‘Socially Useful and Productive work’ and learned different aspects of natural living like farming, cow milking, cow dung plastering, plantation etc. Many executive heads of multinational companies arrived for conclaves and retreat organised here and experienced the effect of Srila Prabhupada’s Vision. Feeling the impact of ‘close to nature’ environment and facilities provided, few companies organised their corporate meetings at GEV and experienced a joyful colour of life by being with cows, observing different flowers and greenery of nursery, staying in eco cottages, participating in adventure sports, swimming pool and having their meeting in seminar rooms in amenities.
The International Advertising Association (an international body of Media & Advertisers all over the globe) has instituted the IAA Olive Crown Awards which identify and acknowledge creative excellence in communicating sustainability.The India Chapter of the IAA conducted the prestigious Olive Crown Awards for the year 2013 in Mumbai on the 1st of April. Praful Patel, Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, was the Chief Guest for the Awards ceremony. A Special Jury Mention Award was conferred upon the Govardhan Eco village in this ceremony in recognition of its continued efforts towards environmental sustainability. In this award a certificate of appreciation was presented to GEV for setting a fine example of environmental leadership.
We invite you all to experience a place presenting practical demonstration of simple living and high thinking in form of implementation of nine case studies viz Alternative energy, Cow protection, Green
Building technology, Organic farming, Rural Empowerment, Soil Biotechnology, Water Harvesting, Global Outreach, and Waste Management. These case studies effectively shows that the vedic principles are eternally benefitting to the society, it only requires intelligent application based on time, place and circumstances.
Different facilities have been provided at Govardhan EcoVillage to assist diverse kind of people to experience wisdom behind concept of simple living and high thinking like cottages, amenities, aurvedic well centre, yogshala, adventure sports, nursery and swimming pool. For details regarding facilities please visit http://govardhanashram.com/facilities-2/.
For Pictures of all initiatives at Govardhan Eco Village, please visit http://govardhanashram.com/downloads/gallery-2/