Literary Shelf

The Message of Environmental Conservation

from The World of Literature

Since time immemorial, poets, dramatists and writers have sung praises of wild expanse, forests, rivers, mountains, birds, and the whole of majestic Nature. Pristine environment has been one of the major sources of inspiration.

The five elements - earth, water, light, air and ether exist in fine proportions in the universe and if their quantity or quality is disturbed, the whole cosmic structure would be disturbed. Our scriptures give divinity to Nature and ask us to conserve it.

When Kalidas wrote ‘Abhigyan Shakuntalam’, he placed the lovely heroine of the play in the lap of mother Nature. Shakuntala is an integral part of the flora and fauna. To be true, Dushyant just did not fall in love with lovely lady alone; he is actually enchanted by the whole idea of an innocent, natural beauty in the forest.

If we place Shakuntala in concrete setting, she would not be that appealing. Shakuntala can only be conceived in our mental eye with flowers adorned on her body, and with deers and birds surrounding her. She is as innocent, as pure, and as natural as the other creatures of the forest. She does not put on gold or diamond jewels. Flowers of different colours are her earrings, bangles and necklaces. This is how Kalidas has used Nature in his works. Nature is instrumental in the development of the story.

In ‘Meghdoot’, clouds are the messengers of love. In Raghuvansha, Kalidas has given a very touching and tickling description of a peacock’s enthralling beauty.

Dasaratha saw many beasts as he was hunting. Although he saw a peacock fly very close to his chariot, he did not shoot his arrow. For, as the peacock spread its tail feathers before him, it reminded him of his wife's hair adorned with flowers of different kinds and how it would become disarranged during their lovemaking. - Raghuvansha 9.67

In ‘Sri Ram Charit Manas’ as well, the childhood of Ram, his education in the natural scene of gurukul, his stay in the forest for fourteen years, Sita’s picturesque Ashok Vatika in Lanka and upbringing of Luv and Kush in the lap of Nature are strong indications of man-nature nexus. Ram asks each leaf and each flower the whereabouts of Sita when she goes missing. He cries and embraces trees. He is helped by the whole animal kingdom in his fight against evil. Garud, Hanuman, Sugreev and his army come and assist Ram. The Ashok tree is the only source of solace to lonely Sita in Lanka.
In fact, great writers have never portrayed Nature as separate from the human world. There are no reserved areas marked for forests. All area is green. Man and Nature are part of the organic whole living together in harmony. This is exactly the spirit in which Shakespeare treats Nature in his plays, especially ‘As You Like It’. The royal court, the city, the civilized world is an unhappy place. People are jealous of each other in the urban world. There is separation, deceit, lie and treachery in the world of concrete. There is love in the air in the forest of Arden. Separated lovers meet in the forest. Misunderstandings are removed in the natural fragrance of the forest. The erring younger brother repents and offers his love to his elder brother. A father meets his lost daughter. There is collective marriage ceremony of many pairs. There is absolute joy, love philosophy, friendship, co-operation, innocence, purity, and beauty in the forest.

Under the greenwood tree 
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.
- As You Like It (2.5.1)  

The forest of Arden is the real hero of the play. Human beings become simpler, and nobler as they enter the tension-free kingdom of forest. Man is the master of his destiny in the forest. There is no hierarchy. There is no sycophancy. One works hard, lives happily and gets a sound sleep in the night. It is as though Shakespeare is prophesying what the great philosopher, Rousseau would say a century later, ‘Return to Nature’. The forest is the source of unlimited joy. The forest is the remedy of all worldly cares. As one goes through As You Like It, one feels like rushing to the forest of Arden. The unbound human spirit roams and sings freely in the forest.
While Shakespeare sees immense joy in Nature, Wordsworth, the high priest of Nature in English literature thinks that Nature is the biggest teacher. Wordsworth is undoubtedly one of the most popular poets of all times. He gave a new dimension to Nature in his poems. He elevated the status of Nature from a joy-giving source to a lesson-giving guru. According to Wordsworth, Nature is the truest preacher.
One discovers oneself in Nature. Living in the hustle-bustle of everyday life, when one goes to a forest, a mountain or one sits beside a river, new energy evokes from within. For Wordsworth, Nature is God. Nature within itself hides many sides of an individual’s personality. Nature is mysterious. It is quiet from outside but it is turbulent and mighty from within. Under the simple garb, Nature hides storms and lightening within itself. Nature has corrective powers with it. Wordsworth draws all his lessons from Nature.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good
Than all the sages can.
- The Tables Turned (1798)

Wordsworth feels that one who is in touch with nature is getting the direct supply of energy and wisdom. One who has link with Nature does not need anything else. Shelly, Keats, Byron, Robert Frost, Hopkins, Thomas Grey – the list of Nature-loving poets is endless. It will be no exaggeration to say that without pristine forests, without running rivers and timeless mountains, there cannot be much literature. Since time immemorial, writers have perceived man and Nature as an integral whole. The human race has been considered one component of the grand scheme of things in Nature. There are innumerable pleas from poets for conserving environment; for example, see the following one:  

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

- G. M. Hopkins

The four Vedas, the crown of all literature give a very detailed view of environment. The very word ‘paryavaran’ means something that encircles us, something that surrounds us, something that engulfs us. The five elements - earth, water, light, air and ether exist in fine proportions in the universe and if their quantity or quality is disturbed, the whole cosmic structure would be disturbed.

Our scriptures give divinity to Nature and ask us to conserve it. One does not destroy what one worships and therefore we are asked to worship trees, plants, rivers and mountains.  If we enlist things to be worshipped, the whole cosmos would become precious. Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Bramhaputra, Narmada, Sarayu - all rivers are divine. We are asked not to pollute them. If we pollute them, we are actually disobeying our scriptures.

Similarly, Kailasa, Himalaya and so many other mountains are divine. Animals and birds are portrayed as reincarnations of God. Peepal, Bargad, Tulsi and a whole lot of trees and plants are absolutely sacred.

The Vedas are basically Nature poems. The beauty of dawn, the grace of the sun, the elegance of dusk, the charm of the moon and different stars are sung in soulful poetry in the Vedas. It is now that we name books as belonging to one religion or the other. Vedas were not written to start any religion. They were written in order to give a good life style to human race, to elevate the human soul. The Vedas are actually very secular books. Anyone and everyone can draw universal message from them. Environmental conservation is a very strong and powerful message of all literature from the whole of the world. Reading literature evokes love for environment. Love for literature is an evergreen technology to conserve environment.   
References and Background Reading:

  • Kalidasa. 1914. Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works by Arthur W. Ryder. London: J.M.Dent and Sons.
  • Bevington, David. 2002. Shakespeare: the Seven Stages of Human Experience. London: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Lawler, Justus George. 2000. Hopkins Re-constructed: Life, Poetry and the Tradition. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
  • Alexander, J.H. 1987. Reading Wordsworth. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Kunhan Raja, C. 1957. The Vedas, A Cultural Study. Andhra University.   


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 3642      Comments: 4

Comment A lovely piece of writing. Literature is naturally rooted in Nature. The message is there but we as the perceptive readers have missed it. We have to conserve and recreate forests anyhow. Otherwise the day is not so far when we will be dying due to natures curse.

21-Feb-2013 03:12 AM

Comment Powerful as your case is for the world of nature, one raised by its devotees in poets, artists and even gods, even common folk, one stark contradiction is apparent from start to finish: the world of nature is not the world of modern humans. For all its glorification the forests are today only inhabited by a tiny remnant of primitive jungle tribes; we, as modern humans, have evolved away over the centuries from being the inhabitants of nature into being its
controllers and its spectators. In the role of spectators, we can idealise nature into forms that are belied by our avoidance of jungle life. This is so much the case today, where, for instance, wild life sanctuaries become fascinating as places of observation of flora and fauna, relayed through the medium of film; but not so as to pitch one's tent in co-habitation, populating the jungle.

Your mention of Wordsworth conjures up, in poems like The Prelude, an isolated individual roaming rural areas, and coming home to put down in words, in Wordsworth's own estimate, a recalled experience, to disseminate among civilised townsfolk. If it had been the Terai forest in the Himalayan foothills, Wordsworth would have so much more to exult about in tropical plants and exotic species - but would he not early have succumbed to malarial mosquito-bite or deadly snake-bite; or perhaps been sprung on by a leopard? Thus nature is truly more Darwinian a phenomenon, where its treats are survival based in their proper estimate. Nature in its aesthetic appreciation is a side-show, and its purpose is providential, the appreciation of beauty that is a faculty of man’s mind, to lead to the experience of the perfection of God, who alone is beauty.

09-Mar-2012 20:28 PM

Comment It is a good perception about Mother nature and Literature. Both are inseperable. Life lives on life, its true. I appreciate the author's authenticity and depth in this subject. Ecological surroundings gives solace in almost every & different moods of a person. Very nice wrtie-up and good presentation.

Misra Shail.
05-Mar-2012 22:58 PM

Comment A nice write-up. Eco criticism has been gaining importance for quite some time now.

05-Mar-2012 07:16 AM

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