‘Environmental Education’ is a very new and latest area of study but it has very ancient roots in our culture since Vedic Period. Man has been very conscious about his environment since the very beginning of his religious and cultural development. The ancient Indian heritage had already provided a spacious spiritual home for the environmental ethos. It is interesting to know that the Vedas have several references in them on environmental protection, ecological balance, weather cycles, rainfall phenomena and other environment related prospects directly indicate the high level of awareness of Vedic people. Ecology was sacred science for them. The ancient sacred literature of the Vedas enshrines a holistic and poetic cosmic vision.
This paper presents an attempt to appraise the concept of environmental awareness in ancient Vedic literature.
It is widely recognized that scientific advancement has considerably altered our way of life. Unlimited exploitation of nature by man has disturbed the ecological balance between man and environment. Rapid industrialization has left us with polluted air, water, soil, wild life and exhausted natural resources. The pollution is a necessary evil of all development. It is very difficult to think of man as something separate from physical environment because life and environment are interdependent. To check the degradation of the environment and to restore the balance of nature is the most important challenge to mankind.
Vedas are ancient treasure of vast knowledge which reveals a full cognizance of the environmental concerns. Many of the Vedic hymns therefore vividly describe it. Rigveda is considered to be the oldest text. It consists ten mandals with 1028 hymns. Rigveda describes the importance of environment to the great extent. In this period man and environment were very closely knitted. They worshipped a large number of gods in form of the different natural phenomena. Whenever the aryans perceived lively power they created god, such as the sun, the moon, the sky, the dawn, thunder, wind, Air etc. According to Vedas a relationship between man and nature is of reverence, respect and kindness. Rigveda has specially enjoined man to be respectful to the nature.
Rigveda imparts so many hymns on importance and sanctity of environment. The Vedic people worshipped heaven, Antariksha, Prithvi, Aushadhi, Vanaspati for their peace, prosperity and happiness. As they were very well aware of this fact that nature is integral part of their well being.
The basis of the religion in Rigvedic period was the worship of nature in its various forms as all their gods represent one or another phenomenon of nature. Mythology was developed around the natural phenomena. The god of Rig-Vedic period numbered thirty three. Broadly the Rig-Vedic gods were classified into the following three categories.
(A) The Terrestrial Gods, Such as Prithvi, Agni, Brihaspati, Soma etc.
(B) The atmospheric Gods, Such as Indra, Rudra, Marut, Vayu, Parjanya etc.
(C) The celestial Gods, such as Surya, Usha, Savitri, Vishnu, Varuna etc.
Prithvi, was universal mother, dispenser of all good and great. She was ‘the nourisher of beings’. It was the basis of life. By Prithvi they mean mountain, deserts, oceans, rivers, lakes, trees, planets, animals, stones, underground minerals and treasures, weather, climate and seasons. By worshipping Prithvi they worshipped and admired all the gifts nature bestowed to human beings. The Vedic Hymn to the Earth, the Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda, is unquestionably the oldest and the most evocative environmental invocation. In it, the Vedic seer solemnly declares the enduring filial allegiance of humankind to Mother Earth: 'Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah: Earth is my mother, I am her son.' Mother Earth is celebrated for all her natural bounties and particularly for her gifts of herbs and vegetation. Her blessings are sought for prosperity in all endeavours and fulfilment of all righteous aspirations.
Indra, the god of thunder and rain occupied the chief place among the Vedic gods. His physical power and proportions were supposed to be stupendous, almost cosmic. He was supposed to cause the rain and relieve the dryness of earth.
Agni, god of fire, was personification of the sacrificial fire. He was considered to be an intermediary between heaven and earth i.e. between god and men. He dominated the domestic hearth and marriages were solemnized in his presence. Fire destroyed dirt and germs and hence Agni was considered to be pure. The importance of Agni can be related to that of the yajna.
Varuna, the god of sky, was the upholder of the natural order of the universe. He was supposed to enjoy the over lordship of Rta, the cosmic order, a concept which has highest flight of Rig vedic through. The world takes it regular course, day follows night and seasons succeed seasons, because of Rta, man must live according to Rta. Marut, (The storm god), Vayu (the wind god), Usha, (the goddess of dawn), Saraswati, was the river deity, Surya, (the god of light), Dyaus, (the shining god of heaven) were some of the other prominent gods who represented the different phenomena of nature.
Vedic man works to enjoy the blessings of these gods because they realize the importance of natural forces around them. They worshipped them for their property. It has been stated in the Rigveda “The dust of mother earth and light of father sky should remain be associated with full brightness for our welfare.” From the Rig-Vedic period man and environment were interdependent and interrelated.
The planets, trees, forests, animals and wild life are very useful for the survival of man. Rigvedic society was very much aware of the fact that destruction of the plants and forest would result in disease and pollution of the atmosphere. Soma was the master of plants. The entire ninth mandal in the Rigveda was devoted to soma. Soma in fact was the juice of plants, which was consumed sacramentally and offered to the gods. It was a divine drink. Vedic Rishies realized that plants are important for the survival of mankind so they were included in religion so that they can be preserved and protected by man. Various trees were worshipped by the people i.e. Tulsi, Peepal, Vata, Kadamba, Ashok, Mango, Bel, Banyan etc. The word ‘Vanaspati’ is used in several suktas. The ‘Aushadhi’ (medicine) were made from the plants which cures the disease. Forest was called as ‘Vanraj’. Not only plantation was treated as a sacred ceremony but cutting of green trees was also prohibited. This all shows the level of awareness and concern about environment.
Prevention of animals was also advocated in the Rig-Veda. Animals were also considered as part of religion. It has been mentioned in the suktas to preserve and protect animals. Worship of cow has been given special place. Several animals have been named as vehicles of Gods/Goddesses.
Today when air is unfit for breathing, water is unfit for drinking; soil is unfit for agriculture and so on ... Vedic philosophy for environment has become very significant and relevant. According to Vedic Rishies the body is composed of earth, water, fire, ether and air. So they believed in the sanctity and purity of them. Rigveda teaches us to have respect and reverence for everything god has created. It deals with respectful conservation of the environment. They maintained a well balanced life free from pollution by obeying the rural and religious norms. They realized the dependence of human welfare on the nature. Thus environment and man were deeply knitted in the Rigvedic period.
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Dr. Rachana singh
Department of Med and Mod History
ISDC, University of Allahabad.