Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems -1: Purification of Air

Jan - Feb 2006

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Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems - I:
Purification of Air

Air, water and food are essential for the survival of any being. Sustenance of human life has additional requirements of social and cultural ambience.  It is ironical to see that man, the intelligent being, has built the grand edifice of progressive civilization and scientific evolution with a near total neglect of the foundational support system of Nature.  What could be worse, this ever-growing race of technological and industrial advancement has hampered the environment to the extent that life on the earth appears to be heading towards the edge of extinction.  The gravity of the threat is no less on the social and cultural fronts.  Every thoughtful mind is naturally concerned to find some way out.

Past few decades have witnessed several attempts – environment protection projects, protocols, policies, etc – at the national and global levels to combat the threats posed by ‘Global Warming’, ‘Brown Cloud’, ‘Green House Gases’, ‘Depletion of Ozone Layer’, ‘Industrial Waste’, ‘Pesticides and Toxicity of Soil and Crops’, ‘Scarcity of Drinking Water’, ‘Ecological Degradation’, etc. However, as no solution suggested or tried so far substantially targets or controls the root causes, the silver line of hope is rather dim and hazy.  The ongoing developments on alternate energy systems, non-conventional resources generation, reprocessing of natural resources also are too expensive and impractical for implementation in the geographically and economically heterogeneous world. Population explosion in the developing countries like India adds to the complexities and the situation remains largely grim.  

Though at a small scale, efforts of following the guidelines of the Vedic approach to environmental management and socio-economic and cultural system, guided by the rishis (seers-saints and sages of ancient India), have shown promising outcomes. It is therefore in the fitness of things to review the ancient methods and guidelines that may provide us with viable solutions to save our lovely planet.  We aim to elucidate the relevant aspects in the present and some more articles of the successive issues of “Akhand Jyoti – The Light Divine”.  

We begin with the topic of Air Pollution.  We are all aware of the causes and kinds of air pollution. Our economic growth depends upon the growth of production from the factories which means greater emission of toxic particles which move through the air across the surrounding regions and also far away; our progress also is interlinked with increase of automobile traffic, which further adds to release of poisonous gases and harmful particles in the air we breathe in.  

But, given the air-borne nature of the threat and impossibility of removal of the cause which is the core of the modern trends of industrial and economic progress, there is little that can be done to stop the ‘Brown Clouds’ of polluted material enveloping the globe. Control has to be done at source.

A blanket of chemicals, dust, industrial emissions, aerosols and motor vehicle exhausts has built up in most of the developed and fast developing nations. When winds drop, this accumulation of toxins grows bigger, waiting to be blown on to other continents. The ecologically damaging emissions have, most dangerously, also caused depletion in the protective ozone layer above the earth’s atmosphere and thus invited enormous hazardous radiations from the space. The alarming rise in varieties of cancers and respiratory problems on one hand and the rising temperatures of the globe as a whole on the other are most obvious and prominent nuisances of this pollution.  Be that Rio-de-Jenero Conference, Kyoto protocol, Doha summit or any other treaty on pollution control, none has been able to abate this threat to the desired level. The reasons are obvious –– no country can put its economic growth at stake; huge expenses associated with effective action against the source of pollution, political and geographical constraints are also the limiting factors.
The Vedas are revered as the most ancient repositories of perennial knowledge, relevant for all Ages. As harmony of Nature and all forms of Life was given utmost importance by the Vedic Rishis, an immediate question arises in our minds as to how the environment in general, and air (oxygen) in particular, was dealt in these primordial treatises. 

Vedic Views and Solutions:

While referring to the “Environment of Life”, the Vedic scriptures consider Earth – soil, water and earth’s atmosphere, Space and the Sun (plus the solar system) collectively. All components of Nature are said to be interrelated and interdependent. All powers of Nature and origins of natural resources and life-forms (including plants and trees) are given due respect in the Vedic hymns as manifestations and reflections of the divine creation – thus emphasizing the importance of each.  Several of the Vedic texts preach that the earth, water, fire, air, plants and animals are together supporting the human life system on this planet and provide guidelines towards ecological balance and healthy co-existence of all.

As per the Vedic literature, whenever there is an imbalance in the natural harmony of the above components, the process of destruction begins. The word ‘Kravyad’ is used here to describe the cause for pollution i.e. the substances which harm the ecosystem and hence the human life.  Interestingly, the Vedic scriptures also mention the occurrence of environmental pollution including air, water, and soil pollution because of artificial equipments, machineries and toxic ‘unnatural substances’ (e.g. synthesized chemicals).

On the contrary green mountains, monsoon clouds, natural rains, water (rivers and springs) forests (plants and trees), sunlight, morning atmosphere, etc are referred as purifiers of environment. For example, see the following hymn (no. 3|21|10) of the Atharva Veda and also the hymns no. 10|35|2, 10|66|9,10|66|10 and 10|64|8 of the Rig Veda.
Ye parvata¡ som priÌÚha apa¡, vata¡ parjanya adagniïte kravyadmaïiÌamaña |

“Air” is often referred in the Vedic literature as “vata” or “vayu” and oxygen in particular as “praña-vayu” or viïuddha (pure) vayu. 

At one place the Atharva Veda instructs – ‘Apo Vata Aushadhayah’; meaning: Air and Water are sacred and like natural medicines and so it is very important to keep them clean and pure. Similarly a hymn in Rig Veda (6|3|7|3) sites  ‘No chinno vayu¡ am—atam vi daÌyet’; meaning:  pure vayu  (oxygen) is like elixir (am—ata) and so it should be always available in its natural pure form. This implies that one should not carry out any activity because of which the oxygen is diminished or air is adulterated.

Another hymn in Chapter 3 of the Rig Veda says – if the forests / plants are destroyed, it will adversely affect the oxygen level and also the mineral wealth, as trees and plants are also the saviors of the precious wealth contained inside the earth.

Reference of Ozone Layer in the Vedic Texts:

It is amazing to note that the Vedas also mention about the ‘ozone layer.’
Several hymns of Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, mention that the earth is surrounded by a membrane, which is very thick.  For example:

Mahat tadulbam sthaviram tadasida, yenaviÌÚata¡ praviveïiÚhapa¡ 
– Rig Veda 10|51|1

Tasyot jayamanasya – ulba asida hirañyaya           – Atharva Veda 4|2|8

The term used for Ozone layer is ‘mahat ulba’. Mahat in Sanskrit means very big and ulba is the membrane, which covers the embryo inside the uterus. In Atharva Veda the color of this layer has been called as golden i.e. ‘hiranyaya’.   Thus comparing the Ozone layer with the membrane covering the embryo, it is clear that the function of this layer is said to be the protection of the earth. To disturb this layer shall be as harmful as disturbing the membrane covering the embryo inside the uterus.

Apart from providing guidelines for plantation and protection of trees, all the Vedas and Vedic scriptures sing paeans in praise of yagya (fire ritual) as the savior process of environmental purification and ecological balance.

Yagya is a scientific process of sublimation and transformation of healthy constituents of plants/herbal medicines into vapor phase and their expansion and dissipation in the surrounding air. It also helps in maintaining balance of oxygen, carbon-di-oxide and reducing the harmful growth of poisonous and ozone layer-depleting gases and radiations etc. Because of this, the term yagya is also used here as for every process (e.g. cycles of Nature) and philosophy, which generate healthy substances of essential and beneficial effects and goodwill. This is why yagya has been termed as the nucleus of all the natural cycles.

Aya® yagyo bhuvanasya nabhi¡ |                -Yajur Veda 23|62

Yagya is also referred here as the source of praña-parjanya (shower of water and air-purifying and vital elements) from the Dyu-Loka (upper layer of earth’s atmosphere and space beyond).

The fire ritual of yagya is given preeminent importance in the Vedas, as the first hymn of the Rig Veda refers agni (fire) as purohita (the leader and the principal guide)  –– “Agni MiÃe Purohita”.

Yagya has been described as the best way to eliminate pollution in some Upanishads; the following hymn of the “Chhandogya Upanishad  (4|16|1) states that yagya removes all the faults, impurities and pollution and purifies everything around.

AiÌa hi vai yagyo yo aya® pavate, ida® sarva® punati, tasmadev aiva yagya¡.   

Yagya is the most effective eco-friendly method of removing harmful germs, bacteria and other carriers of infections and diseases. For example, 

Indrasya Ya Mahº D—aÌat Krimerviïvasya Tarhañº |
Taya PinaÌmi Sa® Krimºn DraÌada Khalvaó Iva ||
– Atharva Veda 2 | 31 | 1

Meaning: The grand ‘force’ of yagya will destroy all the germs and insects, as a huge stone crushes and powders grains beneath it.  

It is also termed as the prime source of all energy and vigorous vegetation.  As the name suggests, the “Yajur Veda” encompasses the philosophy and science of all forms of yagya.  Several hymns here describe yagya as the best means of purification of environment, maintenance of ecological balance and healthy and happy survival and all-round well-being of all living beings and plants and trees.

Yayga is therefore an integral part of all Vedic sacraments. The Puranas and other Vedic scriptures give detailed descriptions of different kinds of yagyas for specific purposes. 

[We had presented some articles on the scientific aspects of yagya in the early issues of this magazine in 2003. In fact one full issue (July-August 2005) has been devoted to Ashwamedha yagya that used to be performed for the social, political, cultural and environmental harmony of the Nation. We shall be bringing out a separate series of articles on therapeutic applications of yagya (yagyopathy) with authentic references of the recent research works in this area.  Some research groups associated with ‘homa-therapy’ experiments, viz. a special kind of agnihotra (small scale yagya in which fire is lit on dry cow-dung) have reported on successful use of yagya-ash for healthy vegetation. Pioneering scientific study on the assessment of yagya for reducing air pollution has been undertaken by a research group led by Dr. Pranav Pandya, Chancellor, Dev Sanskriti Vishwa Vidyalaya, Haridwar in collaboration with the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi. The results of several indoor and outdoor experiments have been very encouraging and show significant potential of yagya for environmental protection. ]  

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