From incinerator to inventive change

Sikhs all over New Zealand and around the world are finding creative and cross-cultural ways to re-use cloth previously discarded after religious ceremonies thanks to an idea germinated in South Auckland. Around 200 women with the Cook Island Development Agency New Zealand (CIDANZ), Te Awa Ora Trust, the Māngere East Community Centre and the Auckland Regional Migrant Services under the Wise Collective use their skills and creativity to give the fabric a second life, showcasing the work based on their own cultural backgrounds.



In Sikhism, Rumala Sahib are wrappings, draperies and coverlets used as altar cloths to protect prayer books and scriptures, or scarves worn during worship, traditionally burnt or thrown away after use.


However in Takanini the Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand now donates the fabric to local organisations to be upcycled into beautiful products, reused by the wider community.


Word of the initiative quickly spread and now temples around New Zealand send their Rumala Sahib to Takanini for re-purposing and temples in a number of countries around the world including Canada, India, British Colombia and Australia are following the Takanini Gurudwara example.


“We have managed to find a unique solution on what to do with the holy cloth without hurting anyone’s sentiment and in a way that sees different communities acknowledging and respecting others’ faiths,” says Supreme Sikh Society New Zealand spokesperson Daljit Singh.


“The new works being distributed to the wider community are also generating a source of income to the families of those involved – an amazing opportunity to create positive outcomes for hundreds of families from different ethnic groups across Auckland.”


The cloth came up in conversation between the temple and a team of social intrapreneurs from TSI and HFMMP who then facilitated the upcycling plan through local contacts.


An added and very significant bonus in the sacred cloth being reused is the reduction of CO2 emissions. The Takanini Temple was burning on average one tonne of fabric a year, releasing around 3.6 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the CO2 emissions from a standard passenger vehicle driven for around 18,000 km or 1650 litres of petrol.


“This is an extremely good example of how a small, bright idea at community level can make waves all over the world by increasing greater understanding and acceptance between different cultures,” says TSI’s Director of Community and Social Innovation, Gael Surgenor.


“It means a bond between the Pasifika and other cultures with Sikh communities, a bond of respect and friendship which will continue to grow and flourish. We see this relationship as a win-win for all those involved, for South Auckland and also for the environment.”