Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nature and Ecology in Hinduism


It's a different World, one that could have been,
At times wild and brutal, at times so serene,
Where Life abounds in different tribes,
Where fishes swim and the eagle flies,
For Eons, it has cared for it's own,
And would continue, if left alone,
But Man destroys for his greed,
And uproots Nature like a weed,
Soon the birds and beasts of our shore,
May someday be considered just folklore..


How refreshing it is to walk bare-foot on fresh grass or lounge on the beach with waves lapping at your feet watching the sea-gulls return home.. What freshness the fragrance of a rose brings and the immense comfort one gets petting a dog in your lap is indescribable..

The flora and fauna existing today are a result of billions of years of Evolutionary process and are extremely valuable for the sustenance of our Ecology.


Our Planet, Our Home



Anyone, with a logical mind knows that Man alone can not survive on this planet - Trees and shrubs provide us valuable Oxygen and Food; Birds and Bees pollinate the flowers to form Fruits and later disperse their Seeds spreading the green cover; Terrestrial and Aquatic animals provide numerous products used by mankind since time immemorial.

Yet, in his greed for more and more resources, Man has managed to cut-down millions of hectares of forests and wipe out innumerable species off the face of this planet!!

Ancient Sages of Hinduism, recognized the importance of this diversity and with their immense fore-sight and ingenuity, included them in the popular Mythology. This, undoubtedly, helped pass on the message of INCLUSIVENESS and even today, you see Hindus worshiping the Holy-cow, the Shaligram and the Banyan tree without giving it a second thought!



Krishna and Radha tending to and worshipping cows like simple cowherds



In fact, growing up in an Indian household, you can't help but pick up certain concepts of this rich tradition and I am sharing some examples from my own childhood -

The Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) herb is anti-infective and sacred and should be worshiped every morning; the Cow (Gau-Mata) is compared to a Mother as it provides nourishment and its milk is an essential supplement to the vegan diet; plants should not be disturbed at night coz they are asleep (shows the knowledge of Nyctinasty!!); the Prasadam offered to God can not include articles obtained from killing animals etc..

The scriptures contain innumerable references to plants/animals/birds and marine life and consider each living being on this planet essential for a holistic growth and an Indian kid would generally imbibe and keep following these basic principles even after he grows up.

Even the oldest archaeological civilization of the Indian sub-continent, the Indus-Saraswati Culture had elements of animal worship as evidenced by the Zebu Bull, the Unicorn Seals and numerous mythical powerful animals depicted in their artwork. 


The Zebu Bull from an Indus-Saraswati Seal



Sitting on the banks of the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, in the backyard of a Rama-Janaki Temple, I see elements of this tradition scattered throughout the Indian sub-continent.. Such remarkable ecological insight should definitely be explored and learnt from.




Ecology in Hinduism


1. The FIRST and the Most Important Concept in Hinduism, is the belief of being related to every living being on the planet.

Mythologically, it finds mention in the legend of Rishi Kashyap who is considered the Father of not only the Living beings on this planet, but ALL other life forms in our Universe!



All living-beings including the demigods are siblings!



This great Prajapati and progenitor of Life is supposed to have lived in the Kashmir Valley which, BTW derives its name from that of the Rishi. He was married to 14 daughters of Daksh Prajapati for the purpose of expanding creation.

They are the Great-Grand Maters of ALL Life today and it would perhaps be nice to at least know their names :o)


Daksha's Daughters                         Progeny
Aditi                           12 Adityas or Demigods
Krodhavasha                 Pishachas or Vampires
Kala                                Asurs and Rakshasas
Diti                                     Daityas or Demons
Danu                                     Danavs or Giants
Ira                                             All Vegetation
Tamra                                                All Birds
Khasa                                                Yakshas
Muni                                                  Apsaras
Arishta                                           Gandharvs
Vinta                                      Arun and Garud
Kadru                               Nagas or Serpents
Sursa                                Uragas or Dragons
Surbhi                   Kamdhenu and other cattle


The principle behind this thought is known as Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam. As a kid, I wasn't too sure what the words meant, but as I grew up, I realized how great and all-encompassing the nature of this thought is. It doesn't limit itself to describing one's community/religious clique/country or even Mankind as one's family but considers the ENTIRE world and ALL the species living in it as ONE BIG extended family!!


Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam - All World is my Family



The world can surely do with such a broad encompassing philosophy in current times :o)


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2. The SECOND concept is sort of a corollary of the above but has a deeper ramification - It is the belief that God exists in EVERY living thing. 

The Bhagvat Puraan declares Shri Kshirodak-shayi Vishnu to be present in each atom of the creation as 'Paramatma' or the Super-soul and various Upanishads agree that every living being has a spark of divinity within itself.

Since various plants and animals are revered in Hinduism to ensure the message of their divinity is not lost in our daily life. Some examples are: - the Sacred Basil or Tulsi mentioned earlier (Ocimum sanctum), the Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa), the Vat Vriksh or Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis); Nandi, the Bull; Airavat, the Elephant; Garud, the Avian King and Ammonite fossils known as the Shaligram



Worship of Banyan Tree on Vat-Savitri Purnima
Nandi, the Bull with a Shiva-lingam  
Worship of Tulsi on Kartik Purnima
 



Since all living-beings are extensions of God Himself, it is imperative that we refrain from hurting an insect, animal, bird, reptile or even a plant. This is the first step in developing respect for each and every living-species on this planet and consequently, VEGETARIANISM which involves less blood-shed is given a preference over non-vegetarian food habits.

It is therefore no surprise that the first scientist to demonstrate consciousness and emotion in plants was an Indian -Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose.

Even the poisonous serpents or Nagas are recognized as divine species and worshiped in temples and some of them are given munificent properties - Shesha, the eldest of the Nagas spends his considerable lifetime entirely in the service of Lord Vishnu; Vasuki, the younger brother of Shesha helped churn the ocean to obtain the Nectar of Immortality but did not touch even a drop of it and is content adorning the neck of Lord Shiva.


Shesha always guards Lord Vishnu



Other serpents like Karkotak and Takshak play important roles in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythologies. The Naga king Muchilinda even protected Buddha from wind and rain for seven days while He was meditating.

Buddhist legends prevalent as far away as Japan and China, also mention Eight Dragon-kings derived from the Hindu Nagas - Vasuki, Takshak, Nanda, Upananda, Sagar, Balvan, Anavatapta and Utpal who attended Buddha's discourse on the Lotus Sutra. Clearly, seeing the silver-lining in even the most poisonous of creatures was an art the ancient Indians had mastered!



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3. The THIRD concept is the association of different animals and birds with various Gods and Goddesses as their vehicles or Vahan.

I always wondered why divinities used animals and birds to travel around when they have access to Vimanas (space-crafts). For example, if we take the Holy Trinity, Lord Vishnu travels on the Golden-Eagle Garuda, Brahma travels on a humongous swan Hamsa, and the vehicle of Lord Shiva is the Divine Bull Nandi.

  
Lord Vishnu on Garuda
Lord Brahma riding a swan
Lord Shiva on Nandi, the Bull



But with time, I have realized that the ancient Rishis, in their immense wisdom, coupled the most important animal/bird species with the important divinities so that, in time, the masses would develop as much reverence for them as for the Gods!!

Thus, we find various gods/goddesses associated with different animals and birds that signify or enhance one or the other qualities that the Divinity represents for example:
  • Lord Shiva's bull Nandi represents strength and virility;
  • Ganesha, the God of Wisdom riding Mushak (Rat), the symbol of Ignorance;
  • Kartikeya/Murugan, rides Parvani, the splendid peacock and reigns its vanity;
  • Ganga, rides a Makar or Alligator signifying the most dominant species of its waters;
  • Shani-deva represses the thieving tendencies symbolized by a Raven or Kak;
  • Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune has an Owl Pecheka as her vehicle to remind people of using wealth wisely.
  

Indra on White Elephant, the sign of Royalty
Durga on a Lion, the symbol of Power and Bravery
Kartikeya and Ganesha enjoying a joyride on their Peacock



Similarly, Surya's chariot is pulled by Seven steeds, Chandra rides an antelope, Saraswati rides a swan, Kaushik Muni is associated with the Heron and Lord Dattatreya is always surrounded by cute little doggies :o)



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4. The FOURTH concept is that of ascribing Direct Divinity to certain forms where the animal or hybrid form is worshiped as a god.

  • The first and the most striking example of course is of the Elephant-headed god Ganesha and the Vanar god Hanuman. Both of them are a favorite all over the sub-continent with devotees right from Afghanistan to China.
 

 Ganesha from a Mongolian painting



Both of them are a big hit with people from all age-groups and all sections of the society. Ganesha is the 'Lord-of-Auspicious-beginnings' and no new project starts without worshiping the cute cuddly Lord. Hanuman, on the other hand is the role model for devotional service and an example of how one can overcome his animal instincts and reach the highest pinnacle of devotion to the Supreme Lord.
 

Hanuman from a popular animation movie


 

  • The second example is the phenomenon called Dashavatar which we have already encountered in two previous posts {Evolution in Dashavatar} and {Manu - The First Man}. It portrays the ascribing of Divinity to even lowest of life forms and elevating them to the level of Supreme Lord Vishnu Himself.

The 10 incarnations actually form a sub-set of the original 24 Incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Of these, three are animal forms generally considered too low in the hierarchy of life - a Fish (Matsya), Turtle (Kurma) and Wild-boar (Varah).


Matsya Avatar of Lord Vishnu
Kurma Avatar
Varah Avatar



Of the rest, two more are hybrids between a beast and a Man viz. the Half-man-Half-Lion Narsimha and the Matsya-Horse-Human hybrid Hayagreeva.



Lord Narsingh Deva with Prahlad on his lap
Hayagriva Avatar of Lord Vishnu blessing the demon Hayagriva before killing him
Image courtesy Vimanika Comics
{Dashavatar Volume 1}


This way, the ancient Hindu sages raised even the lowest of life forms up to a pedestal and made them worthy of reverence and therefore protection.



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5. The FIFTH and Final concept, is the integration and acknowledgement of Animals into everyday life as shown by GOD HIMSELF by means of His incarnations that lived as Human beings amongst us.

Lord Rama developed a special symbiotic relationship with various animals and Humanoid species. The Vanars especially Hanuman and Sugriv became his close allies. Bear-men like Jambavant  and birds like Jatayu and Sampaati were irreplaceable in his search for Sita.



Bears and Apes helped Lord Rama get Lady Sita back to Ayodhya



Lord Krishna too was a big-time animal lover! He was the favorite of cows and tended to them with great care. He grew up learning the traits of a cowherd and therefore exhibited deep affection to the animals around Him.


Nand baba and Yashoda maiya's Kanha with his cow



Krishna's all childhood pranks involved animals in one form or another. As a kid, He would steal butter from His mother's kitchen and distribute it amongst the monkeys around. This by the way, was my favorite Leela from Krishna's story during childhood :o)


Makhan-chor Krishna with his monkeys



When Indra opened up the heavens to submerge Vraja-mandal, Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to keep all his friends and animals safe.He could easily be the poster boy for PETA today ;o)

His flute mesmerized not only human-beings but the entire flora and fauna of Vrindavan and Vraja area. The trees gave bigger fruits, crops yielded healthier crops, cows produced more milk, flowers blossomed everywhere and everyone was at peace with their environment.


 Krishna's flute mesmerized every living-soul



Mahabharat states that even in the midst of fierce battle, Krishna told Arjun that He would stop their chariot to give the horses a breather!  He asked Arjun to construct an enclosure with his arrows where Krishna could tend to the horses and refresh them before continuing with the battle!!

It is hard to imagine the biggest (and possibly Nuclear) War of ancient World being put on hold by Krishna because He wanted to take care of the poor bleeding horses! This is the LOVE and COMPASSION showed to us humans by Lord and this is what we have to emulate.

If we just follow the above mentioned concepts in practice, it can create a world so much MORE peaceful than the one we have today. I conclude this post with the beautiful verse of the Ishopanishad that succinctly and beautifully summarizes the equality of all species in the World and puts the Human species back in its place:


Ishaavasyam idam sarvam,
Yat kincha jagatyaam jagat,
Tein tyaktein bhunjitha,
Ma gridhah kasya svid dhanam.

Everything within the Universe,
Is owned by the Lord alone,
One should only accept things necessary,
And not lust after other's quota,
Knowing well to Whom they belong.

.
Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:
.

42 comments:

  1. I'm just curious, I watched this video of a doctor that said something about a Tulsi which is also a part of the Hindi holistic system, is this true?

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    1. @TSAB yes Tulsi is actually a part of many herbal preparations in the Indian system of medicine called AYURVEDA.. it has many beneficial effects on the body right from anti-bacterial/ anti-viral as well as anti-carcinogenic traits..

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    2. http://epaper.dnaindia.com/story.aspx?id=45062&boxid=29250&ed_date=2013-05-09&ed_code=820009&ed_page=13

      In today's DNA newspaper, Mumbai version, an article published ' healing voice of Tulsi'. Link is given above.

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  2. Emperor ashoka had a gud mindset of planting trees around the roads....today our municipal corporations are doing just the opposite...nicely written bro..i really like the poem.."It's a different World, One that could have been....!

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  3. True... the respect and love for nature goes way beyond just planting trees though.. thr r numerous ways in which the ancients ensured that the diversity of species was maintained.. thanx a lot Sonu for commenting :)

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  4. I LOVE this website!!!:)

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  5. Vineet... loved reading this excellent piece. Segregating the concepts in 5 categories did a great justice to the whole concept of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, which only Hinduism follows. Keep writing and keep spreading our vedic gyan, there is more to it!

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    1. I think that blind following of this Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam idea jeopardized India. They thought their enemy also kutumba and allow them to settle.

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    2. Maybe in a way it did but then India today is a mixture of all the world has to offer.. if we didn't follow this concept we wudnt have been the microcosm of the world :)

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  6. In my numerous discussions with friends, I always highlighted this concept - of worshiping all life forms in Hinduism... I'm so glad I just need to redirect them to this link now :-)

    It's so important to understand the finer concepts rather than taking things at face value...especially in religion.

    We need to be spiritual not necessarily religious !

    Bravo !!!

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  7. Thanx a lot Jags :) m glad u thought at least one of my posts was simple enuff :)

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  8. Thanx @abhi :)
    very true.. one has to believe in the Higher power and not necessarily be dogmatic and just follow the rituals mechanically.. there should be a deep understanding of the principles taught in ur religion rather than just following what was written ages ago verbatim.

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  9. Awesome one!! Just discovered the blog now!! From now on it's regular reading! :D Continue the good work. :D

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  10. Once again a very good read vineet sir but i cant find time i am and pralaya,seems to be some technical problem or did you just delete them? anyway thanx for replying to my previous questions.
    ciao!

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  11. Thanx buddy.. dunno havent deleted any comments.. must b some technical error.. thanx again for ur encouragement :)

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  12. No,not the comments, i am talking of two of your previous posts pralaya and time iam, they are just not available,i have a strong hunger to read them :)

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  13. Ahhh where did u read those? they are currently 'under construction' :)

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  14. Because their titles do exist on blogger dashboard bro,anyway i wish to see/read them soon ;)

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  15. Lolzzz yeah they are planned but would take some time to appear here on the blog :)

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  16. vinny fantastic as usual. thanks!

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  17. Article is fantastic.how much knowlegd u have vineet

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    1. Hahaha not really Satya.. I am still learning :) but thanks a lot for ur encouragement!

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  18. Really good bro. Ur words remind me my old days with my grandma. Keep on. Love to visit this site. All time.

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    Replies
    1. Hahaha Thanx Rahul.. i'll tk that as a compliment :)

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  19. Interesting posts. I love reading scriptures but your knowledge is definitely vast in gathering information and presentation is visually appealing. There is always a confusion in mind to believe the existence of this divine world but what makes one to hold strong faith in it, is the absolute divine experience of the true devotees. You can check out Periya puranam - 63 Shaivaite Nayanmars & 12 Azhwar Saints (Pretty interesting real documented history of true devotees)

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    1. I agree.. thanx for the suggestion n the appreciation Bhuvana :)

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  20. Beautifully written vineet.we should not forget that even a small garden in the balcony gives immense peace of mind.

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    1. Indeed it does.. I myself am a big fan of outdoors and try and spend as much time as possible in company of trees, animals and birds as living in a metropolis allows :)

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  21. Truly educational for those of us who dont ascribe to religio mambo jumbo...I finally grasp d true nature of d hindu scriptures...they stress not on religious dogma but practical gudelines to living in harmony with d universe...every action is amplified n magnified to reach all encompassing Organic Nerve Center of Creator Source...good n bad...wat we sow is wat we'll reap in d end...thank u so much....we dont many such well defined sites...besides this one n another site www.vedicempire.com...pranaam Vineet ♥

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    Replies
    1. Pranaam to you as well :) Thanx for visiting and commenting

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    2. I am a student of Environment Management. I was ignorant about my own culture. This posts opens my eyes.

      Our ancestors and our religion expressed so much concern for ecology. Uniquely they smear everything with a touch of divinity so that by looking at objects,would remind us to remember God.

      Unfortunately, what i have seen in all Govt. Office including Pollution Ctrl Brd and Mins. of Env.& Forest they are only followers of rule without heart. They say don't degrade forest and use tonnes of papers just for useless correspondence.

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    3. Thats true..we have forgotten all the teachings of our ancestors and just stick o the dogma without understanding its significance

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    4. Dhanvantari god of Ayurveda emerged from the Ocean of Milk when churned by a rod (Mount Meru) entwined by a serpent (Vasuki).

      Asclepius god of medicine has rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff symbol.

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    5. Interesting.. one correction though the mountain used in Churning was not Meru but Mandar :)

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  22. Great write up yet again!
    I also realised that animal and plants are deeply ingrained in our day to day worships and occasional pujas.

    Unless the specific species of plants and animals are reared and grown, one may not be able to fully please the deities. That's a wonderful concept to embed in a culture.

    Puja samagri requires one to have so many types of flowers, leaves, even animal by products

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    1. Completely agree.. thanks for commenting :)

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  23. vineet g u r doing wonderful job.keep it up,i believe that most of our vedic literature is not only symbolic but also contains the essence of everything .kindly do explore the hidden truth eg vashishta is not a man in flesh and blood but surya narayan bhagvan aka vashishta hymn in rigveda.aryan invasion theory was the dirty rick deptt. of the british. indian civilisation is at least 4 lakh year old.

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