Hindu viewpoint on Environment and Ecology

Hindu viewpoint on Environment and Ecology

Attachment to the Hindu Declaration

Detailed exposition attached to the Hindu Declaration which explains and supports the Hindu viewpoint on environment and ecology

Exposition on Environment in Ancient Hindu TextsnamelyRig Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda, Puranas including Mahabharata, Smritis, Samhitas

According to Aitreya Upanishad, an ancient Indian text dating back to B C , the universe consists of five basic elements they are 1. Earth or land, 2. Water, 3. Light or fire, 4. Air, and 5. Ether. (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3)

The importance of Environmental sustainability has been propounded as the amalgamation or the proper equilibrium of five basic elements [Pancha Booths] The texts say that all that exists consists of these elements. Hence, we in India consider them to be reflections of Divinity. All these elements have been worshiped and revered since ancient times.

The concept of Earth [‘Prithvi] in ancient Hindu texts

Rig Veda

Rig Veda is the oldest text of the world. The concept of the form of the earth in the Rig-veda is most fascinating. It is mostly addressed along with the heaven into a dual conception (Rodasi, Dyavaprithivi). There is one small hymn addressed to Prithivi, while there are six hymns addressed to Dyavaprithivi. Prithivi is considered the mother and Dyau is considered the father in the Vedas. They form a pair together. One of the most beautiful verse of the Rig-veda says, ‘Heaven is my father, brother, the atmosphere is my navel, and the great earth is my mother.’ [Rigveda 1.164.33]Heaven and earth are parents: Matara, Pitara, Janitara (Rigveda 1.159, 160) in union while separately called as father and mother. They sustain all creatures. They are parents of all gods.

They are great (Mahi) and widespread. Earth is described as a goddess in Rig-veda.

Atharva Veda

In the Atharvaveda, the earth is described in one hymn of 63 verses, called as Bhumisukta or Prithivisukta [meaning hymns on earth].

The Vedic seers appear to have advanced understanding of the earth through this hymn. She [earth] is called Vasudha for containing all wealth, Hiranyavaksha for having gold bosom and Jagato Niveshani for being abode of all creatures. She is not for the different races of men alone but for other creatures a l s o .(Atharvaveda 12.1.15; 12. 1.45)

This is how earth is described and celebrated in Bhoomi Sukta in Atharva Veda

‘She is one enveloped by the sky or space and causing the force of gravitation.

She is described as holding Agni, the geothermal field.

She is also described as holding Indra, the geomagnetic field.

The earth is described then as being present in the middle of the oceans (sedimentary rocks) and as one having magical movements.’

The hymn talks about different energies which are generated from the form of the earth.

‘O Prithivi [Earth]! thy centre, thy navel, all forces that have issued from thy body. Set us amid those forces; breathe upon us.’ (Atharvaveda 12. 1.12)

‘The earth is my mother and I am Her son.’- Atharvaveda, 12.1.12 

In study titled “Re-Discovering Christian Eco-theological Ethics”,

Rev Father Shaji George Kochuthara, exhaustively deals with how the ancient Hindu literature AtharvaVeda revered mother earth. Father Kochuthara writes:

Particularly of interest is the Hindu concept of the earth:

The earth is the foundation, the basis out of which emerges all that exists and on which everything rests. The earth is the basis of life and, when considered as divine being, she always occupies a special place among the Gods.

Vedic Man would find any attempt at dominating or subjugating the earth incomprehensible.

The earth is an object of worship and not of exploitation, an object of awe and not of curiosity (or research, as would be said in academic circles).

Investigation of the earth is of the same nature as personal introspection.

To harm the earth is a masochist vice.

The worshiping of the earth is not adoration of a creature as an absolute, that is, it is not idolatry.

In fact, it is the veneration of the highest value in the hierarchy of existence, for “undoubtedly this earth is the firstborn of being.

The relationship between the human and the earth is one of partnership:

Prayer ot the Earth ni Ätharva Veda,

depicts the earth, hte universal mother, dispenser of every sort of good.

After describing the origins of earth, there follows a geographical description.

Then there is an account of her

fragrance from plants, water, lotus, animals, human beings.

The Earth is the dwelling place of people.

It is upon her that they sing and dance and find their happiness.

She is the dwelling place of all living creatures.

She is a cosmic giant, a cosmic power, the receiver of prayers and the bestower ofblessings, the protector and the inscrutable judge.

The earth is considered the mother: “The Earth

is my mother, I am her son.” 

This reverence for the earth and dependence on her is expressed in a touching way: Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth, May you of that have quick replenishment! O purifying One, may my thrust never Reach right unto your vital points, your heart!

In the Hindu tradition there is an underlying unity of all life, the world and all that exists.

The interconnectedness of all life a n d all creatures is affirmed by the scriptures.

The Divine permeates everything and radically connects all life, whether human or not.

That is, God and nature, the individual and others are all one, are all ultimately unified.

Following the same pattern, Bhagavad Gita affirms that atman is ultimately identical with Brahman. Hinduism is a religion in which the human is conceived as part and parcel of nature.

The natural phenomena are from a divine source. Behind the wide spectrum of gods and the rituals and sacrifices, there is this insight into the sacredness and divine origin of nature.

Thus, every natural force and phenomenon (for example, sky, sun, moon, rain, wind, thunder, rivers, mountains, forest, etc.) is considered to be a god and there are hymns praising and venerating them.

“Human being is not on the earth to conquer, dominate, and exploit, but to be an integral part of the organic whole. The gods, men, and nature formed one organic whole.”

Kochuthara continues…

In the Atharva Veda there is prayer which draws attention to the ecological balance of these elements and how the earth is the upholder of the moral order.

We beseech the earth to protect us and to purify us.

We pray to her to give us the mountains as well as the flowing rivers.

We ask her to bear herbs of manifold potency, on whom food and crops grow and animals roam.

We seek the blessings of the Ether to bless us by fertilising the earth byproper rainfall at times.

We also pray that let the earth be kind to us and we to it.

This philosophy of coexistence given by the Indians tells us about the high level of importance

given by our ancestors for sustainability.

We have lot of reverence to our plants.

The Rig-Veda tells about the importance of plants & herbs with respect to their medicinal value and personifies the jungle as the mocking genius of the woods.

The Vedas devote many hymns to the water. We consider him to be the great superintendent of the cosmic moral order. It is he who looks after the heaven, earth and well beyond that boundary. Air is similarly corsidered to be the basic life giver and any kind of disrespect to it is abhorred.

The Indian philosophical thought is in tune with nature. The present generation has to fall back upon the previous wisdom and learn by their mistakes.

It is by integrating the five elements of Mother Nature in a balanced

proportion that it is possible for us to achieve sustainability of envi


“Bless that Mother Nature be kind to us; the heavens give us peace. The earth be gentle; Gentle be the waters that flow; Gentle be the plants andherbs that grow. May the past be kind; the future benign. (Atharva-veda19.9.1)

This in a nutshell gives us the much required

knowledge for preserving our environment for future generations to come.

  1. Concept of Light or Fire [‘Agni’]

There are several references to Agni [Fire or light] in Vedas eg. o’ pious fire, your flames are expanding all sides flickering by air bright, your flames bring destroying darkness and devours forest.. – Rig Veda. The earth is fully responsible for our food and prosperity. She is praised for her strength. She is served day and night by rivers and protected by sky. The immortal heart of earth is in the highest firmament (Vyoma). Her heart is sun.

3.Concept of Water and Pollution [‘Apah’]

Rig Veda says: ‘All living beings are dependent on water. The water which comes is the, form of rain goes to wells, pond and rivers. The food grains are grown by this water.’ Rig-veda.


Water is essential to all forms of life. According to Rig-veda the water as a part of human environment occurs in five-forms: 1.

Rain water (Divyah) 2. Natural spring (Sravanti) 3. Wells and canals (Khanitrimah)

  1. Lakes (Svayamjah)
  2. Rivers


Water pollution

“Water is considered polluted when it is excessively smelly, unnatural in color, taste and touch, slimy, not frequented by aquatic birds, aquatic life is reduced, and the appearance is unpleasing”. (Caraka Samhita, Vimanastanam III 6:2)

Instructions forreducing water pollution:

“One should not cause urine, stool, cough in water. Anything which is mixed with these un-pious objects, blood, poison, should not be thrown to water”. – Manusmriti IV: 56

Warning: Persons doing such unsocial activities and engaging in acts polluting the environment were cursed: ” A person, who is engaged in killing creatures, polluting the wells, and ponds, and tanks and destroying gardens, certainly goes to hell” Padmapurana, Bhoomikhanda 96: 7-8

  1. Concept of Air [‘Vayu’]

The observer space is the abode of matter particles, light space is the abode of energy and the intermediate space ‘Antariksha’ is the abode of field. The principal deity of Antariksha is Vayu.

Jaiminiya Brahmana quotes,’ Vayu brightens in Antariksha.’

Field is another form of energy.

Therefore, Yajurveda says,’ Vayu has penetrating brightness.’ The meaning of Vayu is made clear in Shatapatha Brahmana in the following Mantra: ‘Sun and rest of universe is woven in string.

What is that string, that is Vayu.’ – Yajurveda 1.24

This verse clearly shows that here Vayu cannot mean air alone.

Apparent meaning of Vayu is air.

The Vedic seers knew the importance of air for life.

They understood all about’ air in the atmosphere and also about the air inside the body.

The Taittiriya Upanishad throws light on five types of wind inside the body: Prana, Vrana, Apana, Udana and Samano Air resides in the body as life. Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.4

Concept and significance of air is highlighted in Vedic verses.

Rig-veda mentions ‘O Air! You are our father, the protector.’-Rigveda 10.186.2; ‘Air has medicinal values.’ – Ibid, 1.37.2; ‘Let wind blow in the form of medicine and bring me welfare and happiness.’ – Ibid 10.186. 1

Medicated air is the international physician that annihilates pollution and imparts health and hilarity, life and liveliness to people of the world.

Hilly areas are full of medicated air consisted of herbal elements.

Another verse describes characteristics of air. ‘The air is the soul of all deities. It exists in all as life-breath. It can move everywhere.

We cannot see it. Only one can hear its sound. We pray to air God.’ -Ibid 10.168.4

Ancient Indians, therefore, emphasized that the unpolluted, pure air is source of good health, happiness and long life.

Air pollution causes many diseases are discovered by Caraka in about 200 BCE: ‘the polluted air mixed with bad elements. The air is uncharacteristic of season, full of moisture, stormy, hard to breathe, icy cold, hot and dry, harmful, roaring, coming at the same time from ell direction, bad smelling, oily, full of dirth, sand, steam, creating diseases in the body and is considered polluted.

– Caraka Samhita, Vimanastanam III 6:1

  1. Concept of Ether/Space [Akasha]

Modern environmentalists discuss sound or noise pollution.

There is a relation between ether and sound.

The sound waves move in sky at various frequencies.

Scientist could see the sky which exists only in the vicinity of earth, but Taittirya Upanishad throws light on two types of ether ie: one inside the body and the other outside the body. – Taittiriya Upanshad 1.6.1; 1.5.1

The ether inside the body is regarded as the seat of mind. An interesting advice to the mankind is found in the Yajurveda, ‘Do not destroy anything of the sky and do not pollute the sky. Do not destroy anything of Antariksha.’ – Yajurveda 5.43

Sun shines in Dyuloka and we get light from sky. The sunrays strengthen our inner power and are essential for our life. Thus importance and care for ether is openly mentioned in the Vedic verses.

Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda integrate animais and birds as part of creation and as integrated to human life.

Animals and birds are part of nature and environment and as sacred and integral to human life. Vedic seers have mentioned about their characteristics and activities and have desired their welfare.

Rig-veda classifies them in three groups – sky animals like birds, forest animals and animals in human habitation. – Rigeda 10.90.8

All the three types of living creatures found in the universe have distance environment and every living creature has an environment of its own.

But when we look from man’s perspective all of them constitute his environment. There is a general feeling in the Vedic texts that animals should be safe, protected and healthy. (Yajurveda 19.20,

3.37; Atharvaveda 11.2.24)

Domestic animals, as well as wild animals along with human beings should live in peace under the control of certain deities like Rudra, Pushan etc.

Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Chandogya Upanishad, Padma Purana integrate and celebrate Plants and Herbs [Oshdhi] as part of human life

The knowledge about the origin and significance of plants can be traced out from Vedic Literature in detail. In Rigveda one Aranyani sukta is addressed to the deity of forest. Rig-veda 10.146

Aranyani, queen of the forest, received high praise from the sage, not only for her gifts to men but also for her charm. Forests should be green with trees and plants.

Oshadhi Sukta of Rig-veda addresses to plants and vegetables as mother,

‘O Motherl Hundreds are your birth places and thousands are your shoots.’ – Rigveda, 10.97.2

The plants came to existence on their earth before the creation of animals. – Ibid, 10.97.1

Chandogya Upanishad elaborates water have generated plants which in turn generated food.- Chandogya, Up. 6.2.4

The Atharvaveda mentions certain names of Oshadhis with their values.

Later this information became important source for the Ayurveda.

The Rig-veda instructs that forests should not be destroyed. –

Rigveda, 8.1.13

The Atharvaveda talks about the relation of plants with earth, ‘The earth is keeper of creation, container of forests, trees and herbs.’ – Atharvaveda 12. 1.57

Plants are live, – Ibid 1.32.1

There is an important quotation in a Purana which says, ‘One tree is equal to ten sons.’ – Padmapurana 1.44.455

The Atharvaveda prays for continuous growth of herbs, O Earth!

What on you, I dig out, let that quickly grow over.’ – Atharvaveda,12.1.35

And another prayer says, ‘O Earth! Let me not hit your vitals.’ – Ibid


The ‘Avi’ element referred in the Atharvaveda, as the cause of greenness in trees,65 is considered generally by Vedic scholars as ‘Chlorophyll.’ The term ‘Avi’ is derived from the root ‘Av’ and thus gives the direct meaning of ‘protector.’ Hence, plants were studied as a part of environment and their protection was prescribed by the Vedic seers.

Coordination between all natural powers. Shanti Mantra in Yaiur Veda and Atharva Veda pray for concordance among all natural forces – Heaven, Sky, Earth, Water, Herbs, Vegetation, Forests, Rulers, Spiritual Quest and Realisation and for all, Everywhere and in Every Thing

Ancient Indian seers knew about various aspects of environment, about cosmic order, and also about the importance of coordination between all natural powers for universal peace and harmony.

When they pray for peace at all levels in the ‘Shanti Mantra’ they side by side express their believe about the importance of coordination and interrelationship among all natural powers and regions. The Mantra runs like this

We invoke and imbibe Aum, the primordial sound of cosmic Harmony and pray for: Peace and Harmony in Heaven; Peace and Harmony in the Sky and on the Earth; Peace and Harmony in the Waters; Peace and Harmony in the Herbs, the Vegetation and the Forests, Peace and Harmony among the Peoples and the Rulers of the World; Peace and Harmony in Spiritual Quest and Realization; Peace and Harmony for one and all; Peace and Harmony Everywhere and in Every Thing; Peace, True and Real Peace, Let that Peace repose in my inner space, Peace of Peace, Everlasting Peace, We pray for Peace.

(Yajurveda 36. 1; Atharvaveda 19.9.94.)

The prayer says that not only regions, waters, plants trees, natural energies but all creatures should live in harmony and peace.

Peace should remain everywhere.

The mantra takes about the concord with the universe peace of sky, peace of mid-region, peace of earth, peace of waters, peace of plants, peace of trees, peace of all-gods, peace of Brahman, peace of universe, peace of peace; May that peace come to me!

(Yajurveda 36. 1; Atharvaveda 19.9.94.)

From the above detailed discussion, some light is thrown on the awareness of our ancient seers about the environment, and its constituents.

It is clear that the Vedic vision to live in harmony with environment was not merely physical but was far wider and much comprehensive.

The Vedic people desired to live a life of hundred years and this wish can be fulfilled only when environment will be unpolluted, clean and peaceful.

The unity in diversity is the message of Vedic physical and metaphysical sciences.

Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh beliefs in Vegetarianism as a virtue is environmental asset: Non vegetarian food is the greatest threat to environment

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative [Livestocks’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues” fao.org] the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contribute on a “massive scale” to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. The initiative concluded that,”the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The Guardian UK [“10 ways Vegetarianism can help save the planet”

18 July 2010] wrote that “vegetarianism is the biggest sustainer of environment.” Some 41percent of the Indians are vegetarians – the largest vegetarian population in the world. With meat declared as the single greatest threat to environment, the 41 percent vegetarian population which keeps away from meat for cultural and religious reasons, is making a great contribution to safeguarding environment.

Reverence for Nature have existed in all other ancient traditions. It is only after the advent of patriarchal religions that reverence for nature got undermined in religions and cultures

Images of women representing mother earth, and mother nature, are timeless. Most ancient traditions have integrated nature – particularly earth – with their life. It is only after the advent of patriarchal religions that the concept of Goddesses came to be undermined. Here are some illustrations

  1. In Sumerian mythology Ki is the earth goddess.
  2. In Akkadian orthography she has the syllabic values gi,ge,qi,qe.

Some scholars identify her with Ninhursag(lady of the mountains), the earth and fertility Mother Goddess, who had the surnames Nintu(lady of birth), Mamma, and Aruru.

  1. An Egyptian earth and fertility deity, Geb, was male and he was considered father of all snakes, however, the mound from which all life was created by parthenogenesis, represents Mut, the primal “mother of all who was not born of any”.
  2. The title “The mother of life” later was given tothe Akkadian Goddess Kubau, and hence to Hurrian Hepa, emerging in Hebrew as Eve(Heva) and Phygian Kubala (Cybele).
  3. In Norse mythology the earth is personified as Jörd, Hlödyn, and Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn.
  4. In Germanic paganism, the Earth Goddess is referred to as Nertha Thelrish Celtsworshipped Danu, whilst the Welsh Celts worshipped Dôn.
  5. In Pacific cultures, the Earth Mother was known under as many names and with as many attributes as cultures who revered

‘her, such as the Māori, whose creation myth included Papatuanuku (Earth Mother), partner to Ranginui (Sky Father) or Varima-te-takere (goddess of the beginning), the primordial mother in Cook Islands mythology.

  1. In South America in theAndes a cult of the Pachamama still survives (in regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile). The name comes from Pacha (Quechua for change, epoch) and Mama (mother).
  2. While ancient Mexican cultures referred to Mother Earth as Tonantzin Tlalli that means “Revered Mother Earth”.Phra Mae Thorani is recognized as the Goddess of the earth in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

10.Only in late Egyptian Mythology does the reverse seem true – Geb is the Earth Father while Nut is the Sky Mother, but the primordial and great goddess of Egypt was Mut, the source of all life and the mother of all. The mound of earth from which life sprang was Mut.

11.In Theosophy, the Earth Goddess is called the “Planetary Logos of Earth”

12.In Wicca, the Earth Goddess is sometimes called Gaia. The name of the Mother Goddess varies depending on the Wiccan tradition.

13.Carl Gustav Jung suggested that the archetypal mother was a part of the collective unconscious of all humans, and various

Jungian students, e.g. Erich Neumann and Ernst Whitmont have argued that such mother imagery underpins many mythologies, and precedes the image of the paternal “father”, in such religious systems. 

14.Such speculations help explain the universality of such mother goddess imagery around the world.

  1. The Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines have been sometimes explained as depictions of an Earth Goddess similar to Gaia.

16.In Native American Indian storytelling, “The Earth Goddess”, is one of several Creator-based titles and names given to the Spider Grandmother. In ancient Hawaii, Nuakea was a mother goddess of lactation.

Water – Rivers, Lakes, Ponds and Springs – as sacred in ancient Indian Traditions

In ancient India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial. It has diverse socio-religious uses and plays a central role in many religious ceremonies and rites. Water and in turn water bodies have been traditionally held sacred for the following reasons:

  • Almost all rivers, lakes, springs are attributed some degree of holiness and are often associated with the local pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.
  • Most Indian rivers are usually believed to be manifestations (avatars) of Goddesses. Rivers have been given a divine status and have been worshipped since ancient times.
  • Water plays a vital role in holy rituals / rites. It cleanses our body and hence, symbolizes purification.
  • The ecological significance of water as a source and sustainer of life.

The rhythm of life is dictated by water and Hindus hold rivers in great reverence.

India is a country that not only nurtures the resources nature has bestowed upon her, but also worships them for the all-round prosperity they bring in their wake.

Rivers are one such gift which are considered highly sacred throughout the length and breadth of the country.

This is primarily because these mighty rivers have perennially been a source of livelihood to millions of people living in areas lying along their courses.

No wonder people see in them a manifestation of divine female power (shakti).

“Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow…. His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth; he puts forth endless vigour with a flash of light …. Even as cows with milk rush to their calves, so other rivers roar into the Sindhu. As a warrior-king leads other warriors, so does Sindhu lead other rivers…. Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in gold, nobly fashioned, rich in ample wealth.” says the Rig Veda

Water – Rivers, lakes, ponds, and springs – sacred

In other ancient traditions

Water is a primordial element which underlays creation myths and stories around the world.

  1. The Egyptian Heliopolitan creation story recounts that the sun-god Atum (Re) reposed in the primordial ocean (Nun).
  2. In Assyro-Babylonian mythology, first the gods and subsequently all beings arose from the fusion of salt water (Tiamat) and sweet water (Apsu).
  3. Water divinities of various kinds appear in the mythologies of many cultures. And not surprisingly, the world abounds in sacred springs, rivers, and lakes.
  4. Even within the Judeo-Christian tradition, which generally avoids the veneration of the various phenomena of Nature, there are numerous examples of sacred springs or wells, and rivers. The water of the River Jordan is sacred because Jesus Christ was baptized in it by Saint John the Baptist. The spring at Lourdes is sacred because of its healing properties in connection with the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette.
  5. In Japan, water prefigures the purity and pliant simplicity of life.

The Japanese make pilgrimages to waterfalls. The lotus-stream of the Buddha or Bodhisattva rises up from the waters of the soul, in the same way the spirit, illumined by knowledge, frees itself from passive existence.

  1. The Roman philosopher Seneca declared that Where a spring rises or a water flows there ought we to build altars and offer sacrifices.
  2. The Celts venerated natural springs of water for their sacred and medicinal value and many examples of holy wells are known, many of them were later Christianized through rededication to a saint. This practice of venerating sacred wells continued into the Christian era in the West, though they were now referred to as wishing wells.
  3. In China, the water of the fountain at Pon Lai was believed to confer a thousand lives on those who drink it and a similar reputation was attached to the springs of Mount Lao Shan.
  4. Sacred springs were enshrined by the Ancient Greeks.

10.Goddesses and nymphs were connected with certain rivers, springs, and wells by the Celts and Romans.

11.Often the river was named after the goddess, such as the Shannon River, after Sinann, and the Boyne, after Boann, in Ireland, and the Seine, after Sequana, in Gaul (France)

12.The Celts subsequently established a shrine there dedicated to Sulis, and later the Romans built on the same spot a temple to Sulis Minerva (and renamed the town Aquae Sulis).

13.In 218 CE, after defeating the Romans, Hannibal and his armies stopped to imbide the waters at Perrier in the south of France.

  1. The water at Evians-les-Bains, on the southern side of Lake Geneva, was discovered in ancient times; in 363 CE, the Roman emperor Flavius Claudius Jovians stopped there on his way to Germany.

15.The natural sp.ing waters at Evians-les-Bains are marketed

today as Evian.

  1. The waters at San Pellegrino in Lombardy in northern Italy have been known since Roman times. Rediscovered in the 12th century, one of the famous pilgrims (pellegrino means pilgrim) who came to take the waters there was Leonardo da Vinci. The spa was established there in 1848, and bottling of the water begun


This tabulation establishes Lynn White’s view that all traditional societies world over have revered nature.

Hinduism recognises mutual-relation between different elements of nature. For example how Forest and Wildlife support each other and one cannot exist without the other

When ancient Hindu texts say that different elements of nature are interlinked and inter-dependent, it is theory. Here was the first rule of environment on how forest and wildlife are interdependent. The famous epic Mahabharata is dated BCE. Here is a verse from Mahabharata on the mutuality between forest and wildlife and how if the mutuality is disturbed both forest and wildlife will be affected Mahabharata says: “Tigers (Wild Animals) conserve Forests and Forests (Trees) protect Tigers. Forests cannot survive without

Tigers and Tigers cannot live without forests”

Let us apply what Mahabharata says to Contemporary facts. As the tiger population declined, forests were destroyed.

In 1900, there were 40000 tigers in India and the forest area coverage was 42%. Now there are less than 1800 tigers and the forest coverage has declined to 20%.

Traditionally also tigers were hunted but bow and arrow which was a game of skill in which tigers knew how to protect themselves. But colonial rulers brought guns, which killed tigers in thousands and forests were destroyed. Now India wants to grow tigers and afforest!

The two paradigms:

Nature as Sacred [Hinduism] and Nature as Secular [Christianity]

The modern world operates on the paradigm that nature Is Secular. The ancient world operated on the paradigm the nature is Sacred. This view originated in Christianity and by Cartesian and Newtonian scientific approach. The scientific establishment brought out how viewing nature as less than sacred and as secular has led to environmental destruction. It is necessary to have a global debate on whether nature is a sacred and Divine or just a secular and economic asset.

In ‘Eco-science’ [19771 a research book co-authored by John P Holdren, Adviser on scientific issues to US President Barack Obama [along with Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich] the authors state:

Lynn White Jr., professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and past president of the American Historical Association, has suggested that the basic cause of Western society’s destructive attitude toward nature lies in the Judeo-Christian tradition. He pointed out, for instance, that …..people believed trees, springs, hills, streams, and other objects of nature had guardian spirits. Those spirits had to be approached and placated before one could safely invade those territories: ‘By destroying pagan animism,.. made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.'” [The historical roots of our ecological crisis by Lyn White] Christianity fostered the basic ideas of “progress” and of time as something linear, nonseparating, and absolute, flowing from a fixed point in the past to an end point in the future. [P. 8C9].

Cartesianism, which is the foundation for modern science says, humankind’s task is to make [itself master and possessor of nature using nature based technology. It incorporates the Judo-Christian view that God created the universe for the enjoyment of man which destroyed pagan animism, which protected nature and environment.It is not only forests and rivers, the combination of Cartesianism and Judo-Christianity destroyed man’s relation with wild animals.

“Wild animals have always played an important role in human existence, subsistence, survival and wellbeing. They have been consumed as food, domesticated as beasts of burden, enjoyed as pets, and employed as symbols in human thoughts and ritual. In some pre-literate societies, people have identified themselves with wild animals that they hunt for food and through their rituals they have also celebrated the interrelatedness of life. Within the western world a major shift in such sensibilities occurred within the Judo-Christian and Cartesian traditions which insisted on the condemnation of the animal idolatry and separation of human and animal domains. This shift led to de-spiritualisation of nature to the conception of people in a “supernatural” image and to the relegation animals as objects of materialistic exploitation. [Economics and the Environment: a case of ethical neglect TN Jenkins Ecological Economics Vol 26 p151-63 reprinted in Dimensions of Environmental and Ecological Economics Editors Nirmal Chandra Sahu, Amita Kumari Choudhury Universities Press]

Deep ecological consciousness is internalised in Hinduism, Eastern and other Ancient Faiths

In the essay Hinduism and Deep Ecology, Christopher Kay Chapple says that Hinduism, broadly defined, espouses a philosophy akin to the core sensibilities of deep He discusses and explains in his essay the importance of the five elements in the Hindu world view earth [prithvi] water [ap] fire [agni], air [vayu] and space [akasha] and the relation between meditative practices and the natural world. He asserts that ritual worship provides the context for understanding the functioning of “embedded ecology” in Hindu life and the meditative and ritual deep structures of Indian life and culture can help support an indigenous form of Hindu deep ecology”The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature says: It is common perception within deep ecology movement that the religions of indigenous cultures, the world’s remnant and newly revitalised or invented pagan religions and religions originating in Asia /especially Daoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism) provide superior grounds for ecological ethics than do Occidental religions. Anthropo-centricism – the concept which keeps humans at the helm of the architecture of creation – is viewed as grounded in Western religion and philosophy, which many ecologists believe must be rejected (or a deep ecological transformation of consciousness within them must occur) if humans are to learn to live sustainably on the earth.And Frank Egler, in his study ‘The Way of Science:A Philosophy of Ecology for the Layman’ proposed a new world view called Human Ecosystem Science:” look to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism . .. as the womb from which a humanitarian-oriented Human Ecosystem Science may yet arise.” A study of Vaishnavism, an integrated philosophic branch of Hinduism, says seeds of a theology that could rouse the nearly one billion Hindus in the world to a deeper ecological consciousness are dormant in Srivaisnava tradition, but says shows that the soil is fertile. How fertile the soil is testified to by the cultural history and also the current practices of Hindus

What Rev Kochuthara sees in the ancient Hindu philosophy is environmental consciousness – the deeper inner and spiritual consciousness which makes humans realise that humans and nature an indivisible part of the divine. It is not just environmental awareness which is limited to the domain of reason. It is deeper than higher consciousness which is the consciousness of a higher Self that is higher than the material self. It is the consciousness that humans are not independent of nature but dependent on it – as much as the nature is dependent on the humans – and certainly not that humans are masters and nature is their servant.

In the early 1970s some thinkers in the West began thinking out of box on fundamental aspects of environment. The person who led the alternative thought was Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Nass. He saw that the ongoing ecological debate was just shallow and what the world needed was “deep ecological” consciousness. The term

“Jeep ecological”

consciousness was first used by Arne Naess in 1972 in his paper

“The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement.”

[1541 Both historically and in the contemporary environment movement, Naess saw two different forms of environmentalism, not necessarily incompatible with each other. One, he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts. The “deep” movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. [155] The long-range deep approach involves redesigning our whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems. The distinguishing and original characteristics of the deep ecology movement were its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings and the use of this view in shaping environmental policies.

Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans. They recognise that we cannot go on with industrialism’s “business as usual.” Without changes in basic values and practices, we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world, and its ability to support diverse human cultures. [156]

Ghana Example of protection of local faiths to safeguard environment

Empirical evidence have established that the religious beliefs of native communities have preserved environment. In one such study, the Center for International Development and Environment World Resources Institute Washington DC USA on “Religious Beliefs and Environmental Protection: The Malshegu Sacred Grove in Northern Ghana.” concluded: “The principal driving forces behind Mashegu’s effective protection of its sacred grove include a strong religious belief in the grove as the sanctuary of the local god – in good measure a result of the effectiveness of the religious leader, the rules and practices established centuries ago to guide people in their use of the forest and its resources, and the growing regional importance of the sanctuary as other local sacred groves become degraded or lost.”. The study added:

“Villages seeking to protect sacred sites threatened by nonbelievers need the support and backing of the government for the legal authority to implement and enforce traditional resource management strategies and practices” The study noted: The government of Ghana’s recognition of the importance of traditional religious beliefs in local-level natural resource management and its recent policy, legislative, and programming actions to further empower communities to take greater control of their resources have the potential to lead to improved local initiatives in environmental protection and management. Other governments and international development assistance agencies concerned with natural resource management may learn from Ghana’s example. (emphasis added). [145]

Examples of How Indian traditional communities and their environmental consciousness protect environment

In India we have several success stories of communities and traditional faiths and culture protecting environment.

One. Demazong (the Buddhist eco-cultural landscape in Sikkim Himalayas) and Apatani eco-cultural landscape in Arunachal Pradesh, which illustrate the value of traditional culture and ecological knowleage in sustaining natural resource management.

Two, natural resource conservation at the village of Mendha in Gadhchiroli district of Maharashtra. In 1987, the villagers renewed their efforts at biodiversity conservation. They decided: no commercial exploitation of the forests, except for Non-Timber Forest Produce; the villagers would themselves regulate the amount of resources they could extract from the forests and undertake measures to tackle soil erosion; forests would not be set on fire; encroachment would not be allowed; the villagers decide for themselves.

Three, the North-Eastern region of India, tribal communities meet a substantial proportion of their resource requirements from a relatively small catchment area in which they have been living for a long time. They live in complete harmony with nature.

For example, the Meetei communities in the States of Manipur and Assam. Sacred groves, or Umang Lais, as they are called in the Meetei language, form an integral part of the Manipuri tradition of



Several species of plants are protected in these groves, which also offer protection to birds and animals. These include teak, several fruit trees like lemon, plants of medicinal value such as ginger, eucalyptus and bamboo. Fishes, waterfowl and other aquatic animals like snails and insects are very common items in the diet of the Meetei. However, many of these animals are not eaten during certain periods, probably with the motive of sustainable harvesting and conservation.

Thus, in this case certain religious beliefs and practices help in the conservation of nature and its biodiversity.

Deep Environmental consciousness prevents environmental deviance and motivates people even to give up their lives to protect environment – the Indian experience 363 men women and children of Bishnoi community died to prevent trees being cut [Kejrali Massacre]

Here is a great illustration of what environmental consciousness can do to motivate people to lay down their lives to prevent trees being cut. A most powerful demonstration of what aroused environmental consciousness can do happened as recently as in the 18th century – to be precise in CE 1730. This incident happened in Rajasthan state of India.

This even is part of the history of the Bishnoi community which has sworn to be non-violent and vegetarian

The Bishnois is a small community in the state of Rajasthan

who practised environmental conservation as a part of their daily religious duty.

The religion is an off-shoot of Hinduism and was founded by Guru Maharaj Jambeshwar in the 15th century. He believed that if trees were protected, animal life would be sustained and his community would survive.

Therefore he formulated twenty nine injunctions. Principal among them was a ban on the cutting of any green tree and killing of any animal or bird.

In 1730 Amrita Devi, a Bishnois woman was at home with her three daughters when she came to know that a party of woodcutters sent by the Maharaja of Jodhpur were on their way to fell a green Kheiri tree for the construction of the Maharaja’s new palace.

She prevented the woodcutters from felling the tree and was killed by them for her resistance, as were her three daughters.

The news spread like wildfire among the Bhishnoi community and hundreds of them assembled on the spot, prepared to give their lives in this cause and 363 of them did in resisting the trees being.

This is known as the Khejrali Massacre.

The Maharaja apologised for the conduct of his officials but this has ever since been an inspiration to the environmental protectionists of India.

The Bishnois people’s defence of the natural environment needs to be more widely known as one of the world’s classic instances of martyrdom in defence of the environment.

The renowned Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar, described the Bishnoi in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger as “the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent.

What will ultimately save environment is only environmental consciousness. This requires a philosophic inspiration which could influence not the thinking of the humans but their conduct and lifestyle and habits and adopt restrained behaviour.

United Nations has accepted that Judeo-Christian theology and religious conversion has damaged environment. Need to assess the impact of religious conversions on environment as conversions make the converts irreverent to nature

In his seminal work “ecologic Special Report titled “Green Religion and Public Policy” [October, 2001] Henry Lamb, founder of the Environmental Conservation Organisation [1988] Sovereignty International Inc [1996] and Freedom21 Inc [1999] says: Western civilisations have believed that man was created in “God’s image,” and is the crown jewel in all of God’s creation. This belief too, is obsolete in the minds of many people who implement public policy: The western world has progressed using plants and animals as resources to meet the needs of people. Plants and animals are no loriger resources, they are living beings, of equal value to humans, with equal rights. [80]

Lamb adds: The United Nations agrees with this view. In its 1140-page instruction book for implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. Global Biodiversity Assessment, (Cambridge University Press, for the United Nations Environment Program, 1995)

The religions that taught the world that “In the beginning, God created..,” are condemned by the United Nations: “Societies dominated by.. [such beliefs]…have gone farthest in setting humans apart from nature and in embracing a value system that has converted the world into a warehouse of commodities for human enjoyment. In the process, not only has nature lost its sacred qualities; conversior to Christianity has meant an abandonment of an affinity with the natural world for many forest dwellers, peasants, fishers all over the world. These people followed their own religious traditions which included setting apart between 10 and 30 percent of the landscape as sacred groves and ponds. Most of these people were drawn into the larger market economy and converted to Christianity by the late 1950s. On so converting to a religious belief system that rejects assignment of sacred qualities to elements of nature, they began to cut down the sacred groves to bring the land under cultivation…” [Ibid p839]

There is need to assess the impact of religious conversions on environment and ecology by making the converts irreverent towards nature. Since religious conversions are going on unmitigated in Asia and Africa and other places where even now non-converts are reverent to nature the danger of conversions damaging the environment and ecology is clearly a present danger.

If the Malshegu community in Ghana, and Bishnoi community in Rajasthan, Apatani community in Arunachal Pradesh and Meetei community in Manipur and Assam in India had been converted, they would lost their reverence for nature and would not protect nature like they do now.

United nations has U-turned on the idea of Western anthropological modernity which had a homogenising effect to celebration of cultural diversity in the 2015 Development

Since economics and environment are closely related it is necessary to recall how the world leadership led the world on economic development issues.In its document United Nations, Department of Social and Economic Affairs [1951] the United Nations had stated:

“There is a sense in which rapid economic progress is impossible without painful adjustments. Ancient philosophies have to be scrapped; old social institutions have to disintegrate; bonds of cast, creed and race have to burst; and large numbers of persons who cannot keep up with progress have to have their expectations of a comfortable life frustrated. Very few communities are willing to pay the full price of economic progress.” 

The Princeton’ University publication Development and Anthropology “Introduction: of Modernity”press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9564.pdf

downloaded Aug 26, 2015] commented

“The [UN] report suggested no less than a total restructuring of “underdeveloped” societies. The statement quoted earlier might seem to us today amazingly ethnocentric and arrogant, at best naive; yet what has to be explained is precisely the fact that it was uttered and that it made perfect sense. The statement exemplified a growing will to transform drastically two-thirds of the world in the pursuit of the goal of material prosperity and economic progress. By the early 1950s, such a will had become hegemonic at the level of the circles of power”

The world including its development model had run on the above stated modern western anthropological norms as endorsed by the United Nations for the last six decades. But thanks to the “fit all’ development process hitting a dead-end, the global is now rapidly U-turning from fit all anthropological economic development model with first the G20 nations

[2005] and later the World Bank disowning the fit all development model and suggesting that individual nations have to work out their development strategies consistent with their situation. More importantly there is large scale clash between modern economics and environment and the idea of sustainable development is becoming more a slogan than a real programme. Therefore the world is now returning back to cultural paradigm with which environment and economics are closely linked.

The United Nations which officially endorsed the modern Western anthropology of development and called for the destruction of the indigenous philosophies and values in 1951 officially announced in 2010 that there is “no one size fits all” development model.

“Development must be nationally-driven, Deputy Secretary- General Asha-Rose Migiro stressed today, rejecting the “one size fits all approach to eradicate poverty and foster economic growth”. Finally, on 12 June 2013, during the General Assembly debates, the world nations almost unanimously discarded the fit all model and adopted culture-led model as the sustainable model. This has a far reaching consequence.

In the UN General Assembly 2015 the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again stressed the need to recognise that there is no “one-size-fits-all’ development model. He went furtner to declare the importance of culture in development. He said, “It is not enough to set global targets for all – we need to adapt to each context. Too many well-intended development programmes have failed, because they did not take cultural settings into account. This must be an overarching principle for all development efforts.”He further said: “Development has not always focused enough on people, he added. “To mobilise people, we need to understand and embrace their culture. This means encouraging dialogue, listening to individual voices, and ensuring that culture and human rights inform the new course for sustainable development. The fundamental role of culture was not fully acknowledged within the MDGs – as a goal, an overarching principle, or as an enabler.”

The UN report also said: “United Nations officials today highlighted the need to recognise the vital role of culture in poverty reduction and sustainable growth, and to ensure that it is integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.” The report added: “The significance of the nexus between culture and development for the post-2015 agenda is not yet fully grasped,” said the President of the Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, who convened the debate in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).” He further added: “Fully embracing the potential of this nexus will also help promote a greater sense of indivisibility and mutual belonging – a feeling that no community or nation can fulfil its potential until it is accompanied by the advancement of the entire mankind.”He noted that it has not been possible to reach consensus on how to build on the agreed foundations of sustainable development in the discussions that have taken place in recent months. “The gap between means and ends has yet to be bridged – in my view, partly because the cultural component has largely been absent from our discussions.”

The UN reported further: “In her keynote address, UNESCO

Director-General Irina Bokova told the meeting that no one would like to live in a world without music, art or dance, or with only one language.”Culture is what we are. It is the wellspring of collective imagination, meaning and belonging. It is also a source of identity and cohesion at a time of change. It is a source of creativity and innovation,” she stated. “No society in the world can flourish without culture. No development can be sustained without it.

Cultural diversity is also a source to find creative solutions to problems. It enhances critical thinking to challenge old models, she added. “We need to fully acknowledge this power of culture today as we shape a new global agenda to follow 2015.” The Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, highlighted the need to think more broadly about the role of culture in development.”As culture is vital to who we are, it is a vital aspect of human development. And to live lives they value, people must be free to choose their identity and to define who they are through their culture. “With globalization, our world is shrinking as we become more interconnected than ever before,” she continued. “But commensurate with that, our respect for cultural diversity needs to grow. Indeed, respect for cultural diversity and sustainable development are mutually reinforcing and they provide the necessary basis for peace and harmony, which development needs to thrive anywhere.” Culture, noted the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, affects all the dimensions of development.”As such, a human-centred, culturally sensitive approach to development will yield the most effective, sustainable, inclusive outcomes,” he said. “Specifically, a culturally diverse

approach will contribute to economic development, promote social cohesion and foster environmental sustainability. He added that, among other benefits, culturally sensitive approaches provide solutions to complex development issues in an innovative way.

“And yet, despite the benefits of cultural diversity, we continue to witness many conflict and extreme underdevelopment worldwide. This is because culture is either missing, misunderstood or worse, politicised.”

Reverend Father George Kochuthara, a Roman Catholic Priest, says Hinduism creates reverence for sacred nature and all living beings

And says Hinduism can help Christianity to rediscover ecological roots

In profound cross-religious study titled “Re-Discovering Christian Eco-theological Ethics”, Rev Father Shaji George Kochuthara, deals with comparative phllosophical position in the West and in India and how the West has to learn from Hindu concept of reverence for nature to save the environment. Here are some extracts from Rev Father Kochuthara’s paper which exhaustively deals with how the ancient Hindu literature revers nature.

In the abstract of his study Reverend Kochuthara summarises his position in the paper and says that Christian theology tends to regard any attempt to consider nature as sacred as pantheism and idolatry and by this it has denied the immanence of God in his creation. He says:

Christianity, with the theology of ‘dominating earth’, is often accused of having been responsible for the present crisis. He admits that that certain emphases in the Christian tradition did not facilitate a reverential attitude to nature, and says that uncompromising commitment to a transcendental God and the prohibition of worship of any other being, implying a denial of the immanence of God in His creation. Any attempt to consider the nature as sacred would be labeled as pantheism and idolatry and the Christian emphasis on the spiritual nature of human beings over against the physical nature of the other creatures are some of the main reasons for the lack of reverence for nature in Christian tradition, even though he contends that it is unjust to attribute to Christianity the sole responsibility for environmental destruction. The most important part of his paper is that Hinduism can help us [Christians] to discover further on our own eco-theology. He further says that we [Christians] develop a reverential attitude to nature. [149]

After exhaustively considering the sources of ancient Hindu literature that see humans as part of nature and profess and proclaim reverence to nature, the Rev Father talks about how besides Hinduism helping Christianity to rediscover its eco-theology, it also shows the possibility of working together with Christianity to face the ecological crisis and to fill the spiritual inadequacy to face the crisis.

The Rev Father says:

This attitude of reverence and gratitude to the earth and the whole cosmos in Hinduism shows us the possibility of working together to face the ecological crisis and to respond together to the spiritual inadequacy that many feel in the face of this crisis. There are differences in the basic faith vision and convictions, but a more critical reevaluation of interpreting Hindu approach to nature as pantheistic and naturalistic will help us to understand better the richness of these traditions and to find common grounds to work together. Many have said the same regarding African religions, which have a reverential approach to the nature. Besides convincing us of the possibility of working together, this will also help us to rediscover our own eco-theology and eco-ethics, to reconsider the interpretations in the past and to correct the imbalances

Hinduism has created a huge matrix of symbolism and rituals to impart, implant and ingrain Deep ecological and environmental consciousness in 


Hinduism did not stop at philosophic exposition on ecology and environment. It evolved elaborate ritualism to impart, implant and ingrain ecological and environmental values in the masses. These rituals resemble the ones followed by many ancient communities and noticed by scientists like Lynn White. But the difference is that while in most triba’ communities the rituals are limited to those who live on forests nature and animals, Hinduism prescribes the rituals even for those who do not so do. Even those who do not live in forest or eat meat or other non-vegetarian items follow the rituals which constitutes universal reverence for nature and animals.

An illustrative list of the rituals and how they create and sustain ecological and environmental consciousness is captured here

  • For the theme cf Conserving Forest ….. the ritual prescribed is

Vriksha Vandanam (reverence for trees – the tree being the symbol of forests

  • For the theme of Protecting Wildlife ….the ritual prescribed is

Naga Vandanam reverence for snakes – the snake being symbolic of Wildlife]

  • For the theme of Preserving Ecology – the ritual is Go vandanam (reverence for cows] Gaja Vandanam [reverence for elephants] and Tulsi Vandanam [reverence for Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) plant – they being symbolic of animal kingdom and plant kingdom
  • For the theme of Sustaining Environment – the ritual being Bhumi Vandanam (reverence for earth] and Ganga Vandanam (reverence for water] – as being the symbols of reverence for nature.

Scientifically it has been established that symbols are powerful reminders of the theme and the ritual of reverence connect the theme and the symbols and make those who undergo the training to recall the theme through the symbols – like when one undergoes the samskaram of Vriksha Vandanam [reverence for trees] will see every tree in forest as sacred or like one who undergoes the samskarama of Tulsi Vandanam [Reverence Tusli (Ocimum tenuiflorum) plant for will recall the entire plant life. By effective use of symbols the concept or reverence builds a deep emotional connect with the theme and influence not just the thinking of the young but also their conduct. This is deep ecological consciousness. Deep ecological consciousness is deeper than thought. It is deeper than mind. It is deep inner mind, a reflex which regulates people’s conduct within.

The traditional values of reverence for nature was actualised in daily life by religious and cultural practices to implant and inculcate reference for diverse manifestations. These rituals were practised because nature was considered sacred and as part of divinity and not as a secular phenomenon. Hundreds of millions of people practice these rituals. This is manifest in the following results. Even though India has only 2.4 percent of worlds landscape and 17percent of world’s population. Yet, it has 18 percent of worlds population of cattle; a fourth of its area covered by forest and8 percent of worlds recorded species. This is because of vegetarianism practised on a large scale in India with 41 percent of Indians keeping away from meat.

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