Ecological Consciousness in Ancient Indian Thought

One of the hymns of Rig Veda says that we should take bounties from Mother Earth after due prayers. The prayer goes like this,

“Whatever I dig from thee, O Earth,
may that have quick recovery again.
O purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart.”

Ecological consciousness is part and parcel of ancient Indian thought. Vedas come from a long tradition of Shruti (listening and memorizing) and Smriti (memorizing and writing). The sheer bulk of Vedic literature, that is, the Vedas themselves and then discussions on them, suggests that Rig Veda must have come at least ten thousand years B.C. The extent and standard of ecological consciousness is so appealing and enriching. One hymn of Yajurveda says,

“We may see all creatures of the world as our own brethren.
We may see all creatures with the eyes of a friend.
O God, bless us with a friendly eye towards all.”

Such is the thought process of our seers. Kanda XII, Sukta 1, Mantras 1 to 63 of Atharva Veda are devoted to Mother Earth. The very first mantra of this section says that truth, greatness, proper universal order, strength, purification, tapasya (abstinence), spiritual pursuit and sacrifice support earth. The tone and emphasis on abstinence, purification and sacrifice are loud and clear. We can live happily on mother earth but with a sense of not overdoing things. We may use resources of earth but not exploit them. The clear message is to exercise restraint.

These slokas from Atharva Veda are remarkable for this unconditional reverence towards mother earth. Mother earth has been prayed in various forms. The heights, the slops, the farming fields, the plants and the whole expanse have been vividly sung.

The Vedas are very clear that it is the earth which sustains humans and life and not the vice-versa. All our advertisements of Save Earth are wrong. We cannot save earth; earth saves us. We have to save ourselves. The earth will take care of itself. If humans continue to ravage earth, it will complete its cycle of climate change and destruction. The earth will restore itself, no matter what.

The Vedic verses sing the praise of water on earth in the form of oceans, rivers, ponds, and fountains upon which the tribes of humans have flourished. Vedas come from an agrarian society. Vedas are the most secular form of poetry we can imagine. Vedas venerate space, food, breathing, cattle and farming produce. The fifth shloka of the above mentioned portion of the Atharva Veda sings the joys of having cattle, horses, fowls, food, fortune and glory. The tone of Vedas arises from the position of strength. Therefore power, property and prosperity are highlighted. It is such a beautiful balance exercising restraint in using bounties of earth and at same time enjoying the richness of natural life. Such a life is called “precious honey”.

The Vedas clearly mention that the whole of the earth was water once. Water and the purity of water are continuously worshipped in the Vedas. Pure water is always referred as nectar, as milk, as honey. It is as though the first sensible humans were recording their wonder and awe at the free gush of water and at the snows peak of the mountains. The earth is personified as the mother. The humans are personified as the progeny from the naval of the mother earth. The humans have sprung from earth and have flourished. The earth will nurture humans only when she herself prospers and flourishes. For all their energy, motivation and skills, Vedas pray to mother earth. Shloka 15th of the above mentioned section of Atharva Veda says.

“The mortals born of thee live on thee, thou supportest both bipeds and quadrupeds. Thine, O earth, are these five races of men, the mortals upon whom the rising sun sheds light with his rays!”

Such is the pure poetry of the Vedas. Mother earth gives us the inherent capacity to communicate with all that is manifest or unmanifest.

Mother earth is the place of great agitation and commotion. The Vedas pray that the elements may protest us. In this contest Agni becomes important. Thousands and thousands years B.C. the first humans realized the potence of fire. Therefore we have a continuous string of Agni Slokas. The Vedas pray that all humans may reach old age. The whole life view is soaked in positivity. Our world will be what we focus upon and therefore the Vedic literature is all about ecological balance, beauty, power and strength.

Sloka 23 onwards the tone is particularly remarkable.

“The fragrance, O earth, that has arisen from thee,
which the plants and the water hold,
which the Gandharvas and the Apsaras have part taken of,
with that make me fragrant.

Not anyone shall hate us.
The fragrance thine which enters into the lotus,
that fragrance, O earth, which the immortals yore
gathered up at the marriage of Surya,
with that make me fragrant.
Not any one shall hate us!

That fragrance of thine which is in humans,
the loveliness and charm that, is in male and female,
that which is in ladies and heroes,
that which is in wild animals with trunks,
the lustre that is in maidens,  
O earth, with that do thou blend us.
Not any one shall hate us!” (23-25)

Apart from essential beauty of worship, we may notice the obsession of being right and appreciated. Humans want to be attractive and endowed with the qualities of mother earth. The natural shine, the natural fragrance, physical forms and capacity – these are the qualities the vedic rishis have prayed for. The sources of original fragrance are the plants, the water, the light of sun, the flower of lotus and the charm of humans.

This is the authentic self that the Vedas pray for.

We can see the repeated part of the prayer which says that no one might hate us. Being liked and appreciated is an essential feature of being social. The sages have laid special emphasis on being liked by others. This denotes a code, an acceptable form of social behavior. It underlines the importance of community.

Each element, tree, plant, leaf, direction, ether, water, fire, winds - everything is held in divine awe. When one worships something, one does not harm it. We should even walk softly on mother earth. We must seek forgiveness before digging or hitting mother earth. Such is the spirit of the Vedas –

“Rock, stone, dust is this earth; this earth is supported, held together,
To this golden-breasted earth I have rendered obeisance.
The earth, upon whom the forest-sprung trees ever stand firm,
the all-nourishing, compact earth, do we invoke!
Rising or sitting, standing or walking,
may we not stumble with our right or left foot upon the earth! (26-28)

Humans are dependent on earth and not the vice-versa. The soil itself is a magical, divine creation which grows food and sustenance for us. For all our nourishment, our rich lifestyle and our food, we are very much dependent on mother earth. With prayers and with much humility, we settle upon earth. At no point do we find the sense of ownership. It is the earth which owns us, we do not own earth. The earth transforms everything into good. What is inside earth or whatever goes inside earth becomes pure and valuable. Such is the thought process of the Vedic Rishis.

Ecological consciousness runs deep in fundamental Indian thought. The ultimate aim of human life is to know and feel that one soul, one consciousness runs through all animate and inanimate objects, all manifest and unmanifest reality. We need to revive and re-live this feeling. In the face of climate crisis, we must realize that humans and Nature are not separate entities. We worship Indra, Marut, Varun, Usha, Surya, Chandra, Bhumi, Som and Agni because we know that elements are our life force. There is no human life without elements. Elements are us. This is the path to live life.

Image (c) istock.com


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

Top | Hinduism

Views: 900      Comments: 9

Comment Excellence piece of writing madam, our body is made of five substances and soil is one most important component.Human beings can't survive without nature so it's our prime duty to maintain ecological balance.well written

Dr.Pragya Tripathi
14-Aug-2023 04:28 AM

Comment A pertinent issue linked beautifully with Indian culture and scriptures! The most powerful statement is where Dr Tiwari mentions that it's we who need to be saved not the earth. We need more people who are aligned to this thought process.

Dr Sonal Dixit
13-Aug-2023 08:25 AM

Comment Such an informative piece on ecological consciousness. The earth saves us and we need to preserve the ecology to rather save ourselves.

Nutan Chaturvedi
13-Aug-2023 07:39 AM

Comment Stimulating read. In a religion that worships all aspects of nature, ecological consciousness is bound to be its central idea.

13-Aug-2023 07:13 AM

Comment Auspiciousness to Almighty Lord Vishnu, Auspiciousness to the one having the symbol of Garuda on his flag, Auspiciousness to the Lord whose eyes resemble the lotus flower. O the abode of auspiciousness, Hari, the remover of sorrows and sins of his devotees. (I bow to you)

Very nice article Ma'am

Shravan K Pandey
13-Aug-2023 00:14 AM

Comment The oneness is soul of Hinduism.

Dinkar Maurya
12-Aug-2023 20:54 PM

Comment Enlightening and lyrical piece of writing.

Shashikala Walmiki
12-Aug-2023 20:26 PM

Comment It's important point to Vedas
Health is Wealth

Rahul Warwade
12-Aug-2023 12:22 PM

Comment So well written, Shubha.

12-Aug-2023 12:13 PM

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