Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems II Soil and water

Mar - Apr 2006

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Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems – II:
Protection of Soil and Water

In the previous issue we had looked at the threats of environmental pollution and had highlighted the relevance of Vedic approach to meet the challenges in an eco-friendly manner, with special focus on purification of air.  Another dreaded challenge faced by the world today is that posed by –  (i) toxication and destruction of agricultural land; and (ii) diminishing and polluting of natural water resources.
As per the data presented in “Beyond Malthus” – a report published by the World Watch Center, Washington in 1998, there would be a drastic fall in the water reserves by the middle of the 21st century. Because of consumption of water at a rate much higher than its recharge, the level of underground water is going down by 1 to 3 meters per year, with an increasing trend of negative gradient every year.  This also has adverse effect on availability of food, as on an average 40% of the global food production depends upon irrigation. The scenario is worst for agriculture-based economies like India. As per the estimates projected in this report, if the trend remains the same, by 2050, the food grain production in India would reduce by 25%.

The International Peace Research Institute, Norway, gave similar forewarnings in February 1999. The report focused on ‘Role of Agricultural Development in Global Peace’.  The data presented therein about deaths due to malnutrition and starvation are horrific. The major cause of violent struggles within and between many of the poor countries in Africa and some other parts of the world is not political or ethnic, as it might appear to be; the roots of the problem lie in scarcity of food. As per the report, over four hundred thousands men, women and children have lost their lives in a century due to hunger and malnutrition or due to related armed conflicts.     

The uncontrolled growth of population (especially in countries like China and India) and accumulation of excessive industrial waste in the blind race of technological advancement and economic strength (especially in the developed and fast developing nations) have brought down the availability of agricultural land and water to an alarmingly low level.

More and more land is being grabbed by builders and developers. Use of chemically synthesized fertilizers and pesticides for faster and higher production has poisoned significant proportion of agricultural soil. Moreover, prolonged use of genetically engineered seeds is reported to negatively affect the fertility of the cultivable land. 

The hazardous fertilizers, together with polluted water, are poisoning the soil. Compounding effect is there in the reverse direction too! Rainwater absorbed through toxic particles in the soil is spoiling the underground water reserves. Further, with mega-cities constructed on seashores, over one-third of world’s population is residing within 50 kilometer range of seashores. (For example, nearly 330 million people are living within the 100 km strip around the 5500 km long sea-line of India between Pakistan and Bangladesh).  With significant rise in water supply through bore-wells in these regions, and with depleting level of water in the ponds and tube-wells, there is an increasing risk of undercurrents of seawater flowing towards these water sources. This is another danger of non-availability of underground water for drinking and irrigation. .     

The hidden and visible resources of water available on the earth, like any other natural resources, are similar to cash in a saving account – we would be able to draw and enjoy as much of it as we have deposited.   

Toxic industrial waste has polluted drinking water in many developing and developed countries, which are not gifted with abundance of rivers and springs. India, despite having the great gift of largest number of Himalayan rivers and higher proportions of natural water resources per unit area as compared to the global measures, is also facing acute water problems. Apart from the industrial pollution, lack of adequate sewerage facilities for the huge population, human and animal wastes, blind customs of  ‘sacrificing’ huge quantities of ritualistic substances — biodegradable and non-degradable — in the rivers, has dirtied the rivers and other water resources to the extent that at many places sacred rivers like Yamuna have become virtual gutters.

Rainfall is also going down with the depletion of forests. Three-fourth of the India is prone to the threats of drought almost every year. Though the nation has so far managed to keep its agricultural growth profile upwards, the scarcity of water is among the biggest challenges it has to overcome. Global warming effect has threatened fast melting of the Himalayan glaciers that happen to be the origins of the grand rivers like the holy Ganges.  The situation is equally grim in other parts of the world as well.  Will there be wars and ‘cold’ wars for water (as is the case with oil at present)? Will our green planet be converted into a wasteland desert or a gigantic graveyard without food and water?

Guideliens from the Vedas:

The Vedas consider –– “Vasudhaiv KuTumbkam”  (the entire world, every thing on the earth, is one family).  Every component of Nature is revered here as a manifestation of the Supreme Creator and hence has its unique significance and place in the intricate web of life with its myriad forms. 

The Vedas, being primordial sources of knowledge, do also provide clear guidelines for the welfare of all in all ages. As per the teaching of the rishis, performing yagya for the balance of natural cycles and for mutually beneficial growth of natural resources was an integral part of peoples’ life in the Indian society in the Vedic and post-Vedic times of yore. With regard to environment for sustenance of healthy life they have laid stress on maintenance of harmonious balance between the constituents of the eco-system; viz. - air, water, soil, forests, vegetation, animals, the space around the earth, the solar system; and in particular the mutual bonding (of giving and receiving) between the Sun and the earth. This fact is clearly reflected in the principal mantra of the yagya for vigor and protection and of the environment (paryavaraña); which appears in Yajur Veda (22|29)  –– 
Om Prathivyai Swaha || Om AntarikÌaya Swaha || Om Suryaya Swaha ||
Om Candraya Swaha || Om NakÌatrebhya¡ Swaha || Om Abhdaya¡ Swaha ||
Om Auïadhºbhya¡ Swaha || Om Vanspatibhya¡ Swaha || Om Caracarebhya¡ Swaha ||
Om Sarºsarpebya¡ Swaha || Idam Paryavaraña Sanïodhanaya, Idam Na Mama ||

There are also several mantras, which seem to be there, keeping in mind the humanity of Kaliyuga.  For example there are mantras that highlight protection of the purity of air, water, earth (soil), space surrounding it the Sun and also the solar system, as religious duties. Some other hymns warn against every act of polluting or otherwise harming these, as these are termed as sinful acts. Let us look at some of these (as cited in [1]) and put their teachings into practice.

The following mantra cautions us that the earth and the space around it are instinct with life and are our nourishers and protectors. If they are harmed (through pollution), it will amount to invitation for global disaster.

Dyauïca na¡ p—athvi ca prachetasa¡ rakÌatam |
Ma durvidatra nirritirña ºïata ||            
       – Rig Veda 10.36.2
A mantra of the Atharva Veda states that if we are digging the earth, we must also fill it up. We should not harm the soft and sensitive parts of the (mother) earth (for extraction of minerals, etc) for it may lead to imbalance of earth’s equilibrium and may cause natural calamities like earthquakes, depression of land, drying of water resources etc. This Mantra is also reported1 to have been quoted by Late Smt. Indira Gandhi in a Global Environmental Pollution Conference.

Yatte bhume vikhañami, kÌipram tadapi rohatu |
Ma te marm vimrikharº, ma te hradayam arpipam ||  
 –Athar.Veda 12.1.35
In yet another mantra it has been said that we have a relationship with the earth and Sun, which is reciprocal. If we take care of them and preserve them, they in turn shall do the same. This essentially means that if we cooperate with mother earth and the space surrounding it and do not pollute them, they shall, in turn, provide us with good products that will keep us happy. If we disturb them they will also disturb us. That is why it has been said in Yajur Veda that you should not destroy (pollute) the earth, space or plants. 
Ma dyava p—athvº abhiïoci¡, ma antarikÌam, ma vanaspatin.     –Yajur.V. 11.45

Water has been described as an important constituent for human life and much light has been thrown on its usefulness and importance. Water is referred in the Veda and Vedic scriptures as the elixir of life, and as a medicine, which is curative and aphrodisiac.  Polluting any water resource is termed as a sin. It is said that water possesses medicinal properties and so it has the curative powers. Water has been considered as equivalent to nectar. It gives vital energy to man. It acts as a tonic.

Âpasu antarviïwani bhaiÌaja| Âpaïca viswabhaiÌji¡ |         
Âpaswantaramritam apasu bhaiÌajam | Âpa¡ prinati bheshajam |  
 –RigVeda 1|23|19-21
While describing [in Rig Veda 7|17|4] the rivers and sea as rejuvenating and comfort giving to mankind, it is also recognized (e.g. in Rig Veda 10|64|9) that the rivers provide us with good and pure water, which is as nutritious as ghee. It is said [e.g. in Rig Veda 9.17.44] that sea is the source of precious stones (like coral etc) and wealth (minerals like petroleum etc) and it is also the basis of rain. Sea is also a source for generating energy.

Likewise the following mantra of Yajur Veda, several mantras warn against polluting water and destroying trees/plants

Ma apo hinsi¡, ma auÌadhirhinsi¡ |              
 –Yajur Veda 6|22
Water management and associated tree planting has been the subject of the Shastric texts. Ponds and tanks have been the most important source of irrigation in India. Some tanks date as far back as the Rig Vedic period. The Rig Veda (hymn no. 5|78|7) refers to lotus ponds, ponds that give life to frogs (hymn no. 7|103|2) and ponds of varying depths for bathing (hymn no. 10|71|7).

The Vedic Scriptures give more detailed guidelines for day-to-day life to the masses on what is religious (righteous duties) for humans and what is not. There also we find excellent modes of preventing environmental pollution and practical ways of maintaining the ecological balance with no cost. For example, verses 8–13 of chapter 8 of “Kriyayoga Sar”, which is part of “Padma Purana”, offer some important rules to be observed by the pilgrims when they are on pilgrimage. These rules convey that –– it is sinful to spit, urinate, throw garbage arbitrarily (i.e. care should be taken to do so at fixed places with proper sanitation arrangements). Likewise dirtying the water or surroundings of the rivers is also termed in these shlokas as a sinful act.

Recognizing that big factories generate pollution, establishing them, without any check or regulation, is also a sinful act, deserving Nature’s wrath. Rather than indulging in dissecting the words of ‘socio-religious doctrines’ and arguing to prove things one or the other, we should attempt to grasping the essence of these teachings and try to maintain harmony between ‘industrial progress’ and the ecosystem.

The earth is honored in the Vedic Scriptures as mother and all the rivers and ponds are worshipped as sacred gifts of the Almighty or as manifestations of divine powers in Nature. This approach of describing these duties (towards purification and protection of environment) as worthy of ‘rewards of heavens’ and denigrating the irresponsible, uncivilized, harmful (to the environment) activities as ‘openings to the hell’ had beneficial impact on human psychology, especially in positively motivating the masses.
The rewarding acts mentioned in the Vedas and the Vedic scriptures include those of soil and water conservation, such as – digging wells, making ponds, planting special trees, performing yagyas. What is remarkable here is that special designs and modes of maintenance of the wells/ponds suitable for regions prone to floods or droughts, etc, special types of trees as per the type of the soil and climate, etc are described in the scriptures that provide added socio-economic benefits together with maintaining the balance between the five basic elements of Nature.

These aspects will be discussed further in the successive articles of this series on “Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems”.

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