Vedic Solutions to Modern Problems:Protection of the Ecosystem - I

May - Jun 2006

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Sustenance of life on the Earth depends upon harmonious maintenance of its ecosystem. Conservation of the biodiversity and richness of its flora and fauna is therefore essential. Nature had gifted us with abundance of both – enormous varieties of creatures and thick zones of green forests. But we the humans have chosen to dangerously disturb the harmony of the ecosystem because of our selfish race for materialistic growth and greed for luxurious comforts.    

According to ecological reports nearly one-third of the forests in the world are coniferous forests and are found in the temperate regions. Tropical rain forests are valuable for their genetic resources, timber and other products. Rain forests are among the most diverse ecosystems; they cover over 6% of the earth’s surface but house over 50% of the life forms. As per the ecological surveys of 2005, tropical forests cover about 23 % of the earth’s land surface, but are disappearing at the rate of about 4 to 5 million hectares a year. Millions of hectares of deciduous forests are destroyed every year, most of them in the Caribbean region and in South America. The situation is no better in other parts of the globe.

Most of the world’s best agricultural land was once forest area. As the human population grew and there was need for more food and space for habitat, deforestation began to take place.  Now even the agricultural land is being sold like hot cakes for expansion of concrete jungles. Skyscrapers and plush malls are replacing the open forests and mangroves. The immediate consequences are being felt by most of us in terms of all-pervasive pollution, lesser rainfall etc. Unless we do something radical to reverse this process, the long -term consequences would prove to be disastrous.

Unlike the problem of air-pollution, the menaces of diminishing forests and mangroves and scarcity of drinking water are created as much by common people, individuals, as by the major industries. Cutting the trees for domestic firewood, dirtying the rivers by washing clothes in them and throwing all kinds of waste (including the ‘sacred’ remains of religious functions etc) are common among the masses in India. It is ironical that insane customs and superstitions are spread in the name of that very religion which by its very nature and philosophy regards and worships nature as Divine Mother! 

The arañyaks of the rishis (Indian sages of the Vedic Age), that is the ashrams in forests, not urban settlements, were the centers of highest forms of spiritual and cultural evolution providing society with both spiritual and intellectual guidance and teachings of material sustenance and progress in total harmony with Nature. Thus, forests in India had remained central to its cultural and civilizational evolution. The arañyaks produced the best scientific research and cultural writings. The ancient Indian Culture is therefore also called ‘Ârañya Sansk—ati’. 

In the words of Noble Laureate, poet Robindra Nath Tagore, “Forests have nurtured India's mind and India's civilization. Intellectual growth in India did not take place in enclosures made of brick, wood and mortar, but was inspired by the life of the forests in which nature's living forces express themselves in daily variation, creating a diversity of life and sounds, providing the context for the understanding of Nature and man”. Human understanding in such a context could not be restricted to perceiving Nature as inert, as an accumulation of dead resources waiting for exploitation.

In behavioral terms as well, the Indian culture teaches an attitude of gratitude towards every components of Nature which helps our survival and growth in one way or the other. Nature provides light, air, food, water and enormous other resources. This awareness of life in Nature as a precondition for man's survival led to the worship of light, air, food and water and they are considered sacred. Indian culture has been cradled by the culture of the forest first in the Vedic period and later during the times of Buddha and Mahavir.
Let us look at some of the mantras and shlokas (hymns) extracted from the Vedic texts to understand how the Vedas and other Indian scriptures guide us to help protect our ecosystem by conservation of the forests, wildlife, and water and other natural resources.
Girayaste Parvata Himavattoarañaya Te P—athivisyonamastu |
Babhrum K—aÌñam Rehiñim Viïwarupam Dhruvam P—athivimindraguptam |
Ajitoahato AkÌatoadhyaÌÚham P—athivimaham ||

— Atharva Veda 12|1|11
Meaning: O Earth! Pleasant be thy hills, snow-clad mountains and forests; O numerous colored, firm and protected Earth! On this earth I stand, undefeated, unslain, unhurt.

Yat te madhyam p—athivi yacca nabhyam yasta urja tanva¡ sambabhuvu¡ |
Tasu no tehyabhi na¡ pavasva mata bhumi¡ putro aha p—athivya¡ |
Parjanya¡ pita¡ sa na¡ pipartu ||

Atharva Veda 12|1|12
Meaning: The treasure of minerals and of other elements that provide vigor indwells in your naval part (central core). Offer these to us. Your land and the cloud enshowering upon it nurture us like a mother and father. May the shelter of these purify and strengthen us. 
Experts of Forest Management[1] underline the following conservational principles in the above hymns –  (i) It must be ensured that earth remains forested; (ii) It must be understood that humans can survive only if the earth is protected; (iii) To ensure that for humans to remain 'unslain' and 'unhurt', the integrity of  ecosystem must be maintained; (iv) Even though vaguely, it also makes reference to ecology, economy and society.

Yat te bhue vikhanabhi khÌipram tadapi pohatu |
Ma te marma vim—agvari ma te h—adayampinÌam ||

— Atharva Veda 12|1|35
Meaning: Whatever I dig out from you, O Earth! May that have quick regeneration again; may we not damage thy vital habitat and heart.

These imply[1]  the following utilization principles — (i)Human beings can use the resources from the earth for their sustenance; (ii) Resource use pattern must also help in resource regeneration; (iii) In the process of harvest no damage should be done to the earth; (iv) Humans are cautioned not against the use of nature for survival, but against  its overuse and abuse.
The first line of the next hymn says –
Yapa Suryam Vijamana Vis—agvari Yasyamasannagnyo Ye Aptwanta¡ |

Meaning: That Earth which revolves by the vibrations of the ‘grand serpent’ (rhetoric representation of the geomagnetic currents), the fire (energy) which exists in water as (the source of) electricity also resides in the Earth.

Also, sea is revered as the center of immense energy in the Vedas (e.g. in Rig Veda 9|17|44).

Although not explicitly in modern terminology, the above hymns seem to simultaneously address to three segments of sustainability – ecology, economy (by conservation and precious use of natural resources of energy) and society.

In the well known mantra, of Yajur Veda, cited below which is chanted during almost every Vedic ritual, it has been prayed to the divine powers manifested in Nature as Cosmic Forces, Sun, Space, Earth, Water, Plants and Trees, etc that they should be in their natural harmony, free of all disturbances – there should be peace and happiness in them and also in the entire world nurtured by them.

Om dyau¡ ïanti¡ antarikÌa guam ïanti¡,
p—athvi ïantirapa¡ ïantirauÌadhaya¡ ïanti¡ |
 vanaspataya¡ ïanti¡ viïwedeva¡ ïanti¡ Brahm ïanti¡ |
Sarvaguam ïanti¡, ïanti¡ reva ïanti¡ | sama ïantiredhi |   
The following hymns convey that trees and plants have showered many blessings on mankind. They have immense importance, so it has been prayed in the following mantras that we should get (more and more of) water and plants and it has been stressed that water and air are closely related.

Nishpadhwarih aushadha¡ apa¡ |            — Rig Veda 8|59|2

Apaïca me virudhasca  me |            — Yaj.Veda 18|14

We should establish harmony with water and medicinal herbs:

Sam ma s—ajami- adbhirauÌadhibhi¡ |            — Yaj. Veda 18|35

In another mantra it is said that water should be kept pure and its healthy elements[2] should be increased. The various medicinal plants should be irrigated with water and conserved.

Prañam me pahyapanam me pahi vyana me pahi cachurmauvrya vibhahi ïrotam me ïlokaya |
Âpa¡ piñvauÌadhirjiñva dipadava catutpada pahi divo v—aÌÚimeraya ||    
                                                                        — Yaj.Veda. 14|8

Further, in Atharva Veda it is said that the power of all the gods is present in the plants and trees and they provide vital energy to humans and also save them.

Prastranato Stambinorkeïuóga PravantiroÌadhira Vadami|
Anïumati¡ KañÃiniryam Viïakha havyami te virudhi vaiïva devi¡ ugra¡ puruÌa jivani¡ || 
— Atharv. Veda 8-4|7|4
Agnerghaso apam garbho ya  rohanti punarñava¡ |
Dhruva¡ sahastranamni bhaÌaji¡ satvabh—ata¡  ||                  
                                                                                                          — Atharv. Veda. 8-4|7|8

Meaning: Whose water (juice) is warm (energetic) and which can be processed in the holy fire (yagya) and which always remain fresh; hundreds of these kinds of medicinal plants should be planted here.

In another mantra (Atharva Veda 8|7|10), it is said that the medicinal herbs remove pollution and so they are called ‘ViduÌañi’.

Unmuncantivivaruña ugra viduÌañi |
Atho Balasanaïani¡ K—atyaduÌañiïca yasta iha yantwoÌadhih || 

—Atharv. Veda. 8|7|10
Similar meaning is implied in the following segment of a hymn (2|9|35) of the Yajur Veda that says – Vanaspati¡ Ïamita  (Plants / trees remove the pollution and purify the air).

In Rig Veda (6|47|27) it is mentioned that the plants and trees are sources of energy to mankind. It is also mentioned that they are a boon to mankind, without which the existence of mankind would have been in danger (Rig Veda 10|65|11). The following hymn further teaches that — it is in the interest of mankind to plant more and more plants and trees as these safeguard the water resources.

Vanaspatim van asthapayadhvam, Niïu dadidhvam akhanant utsam |
    – Rig Veda 10|101|11
Derived from the hidden and explicit teachings specified in the mantras of the Vedas the scriptures (smritis and other shastras) had set up practical guidelines, consonant with the psychology of the masses, for natural implementation of the principles of conservation, balanced utilization and regeneration of the Nature’s precious resources.  We shall cite some of these in the next article of this series and more importantly discuss how these could add to and/or fill in the lacunae in the efforts of rejuvenating and maintaining the ecosystem today.

1.Pandey DN (1999): Ethnoforestry – Local Knowledge for Sustainable Forestry and Livelihood Security. Online Edition, Asia Forest Network & Forestry Development Project, Rajasthan. (Printed Edition, Haminshu Publications, Udaipur/New Delhi. 1998).
2.Saxena Mamta (2005): Air Quality Modelling and Non-Conventional Solutions to Environmental Problems With Reference to Vedic Science.   Ph. D. Thesis (submitted), Dev Sanskriti University, Hardwar.
(series to be continued)

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