The Practice of Cleanliness in Vedic Literatures- 260319

Gayatri Mantra

Indians have been very conscious of environment from time immemorial, and to them the issue of environment in all its dimensions is not new.  Indian Vedic Culture teaches to take care of environment to all its citizens.  For Indian, the relationship with the nature starts every morning, when many recite Gayatri Mantra as invocation to the Sun at Sunrise and again in the evening.  The Mantra says, I meditate upon the glorious splendor of vivified divine; He Himself may illumine my mind.  Our ancestors knew that we are all a product of Nature and that’s the reason why they pray nature in all their devotion.  The Vedic Gods such as Agni (Fire), Surya (Sun), Vayu (Air), Bhumi (Earth), Varuna (Water) and Indra (thunder and rain), together represent atmospehere, hydrospehere, lithosphere and sunlight and energy.  These along with biotic wealth make the basic elements of earth’s biosphere which is auto-sustainable and self-generating.  Much has been said abou the importance of these elements and environment in general in our Culture through the timeless masterpieces like Veda, Mahabharat, Ramayana, Upanishad, Purans, Smrutis, Yoga-Shastras, Samhitas etc.  In fact, all the texts were written in the sylvan surroundings of forests, the like of which have never been written in the air-conditioned rooms of the present technological age.

In the latter half of 20th Century – Environmental Science and Ecology, the disciplines of modern science comes up under which the study of environment and its constituent is done with minute details.  But, their origin can be seen long back in the Vedic and Ancient Sanskrit literatures.  The concept of environment differs from age to age, since it depends upon the condition, prevalent at that particular time. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 defines the Environment as – ‘Environment includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro organisms and property’.

From the above definition, it can be well understood that Environment consists of two components namely biotic (living organisms) and abiotic (non-living materials) factors.  The living organisms can be grouped into three types: those living mainly on land (Bhuchar), in water (Jalachar) and in air (Khechar).  The non-living materials of the Environment are land, air, water, property etc.

The word ‘Paryavarana’ which is frequently used for Environment is originated from Sanskrit that carries the meaning which encircles us, which is all around in our surroundings.  In Atharva Veda, words equivalent to this sense are used: such as Vritavrita2, Abhivarah3, Avritah4, Parivrita5, etc. The word ‘Paribesa’ or ‘Environment’ is rooted from Vedic Philosophy which defines that what we observe around us. Earth, Water, Ether or Sky, Air, Trees, Creatures etc constitutes Environment. (Asman paritah yah drusyamanah asti sah ‘Paribesah’ | Bhumih, Jalam, Gaganam, Vayuh, Brukshyah, Jeevah, Ityadayah Paribesah iti parichitah | )

Rishis – the Vedic Seers have a great vision about universe.  The universe consists of three interlinked webs, viz., Prithivi, Antariksha and Dyava.   Prithivi, the Earth, Antariksha, the aerial or intermediate region which is between heaven and earth, and Dyava, the heaven or sky is very well established in the Vedic texts.  Prithivi can be a scientific name – ‘observer space’.  It is our space, the space in which we live and die whatever we can see and observe.  All living creatures come under the universal principle of: Asti, Jayate, Bardhate, Biparinamate, Apakshiyate, Nasyati.  It means, it is there (Asti), then it take birth (jayate), then it grows (bardhate), then it starts to turn reversely (biparinamate), then it starts to decay (apakshiyate) and at last it decomposes (nasyati).  From one end of the universe to the other end is the expanse of Prithivi, and that what the name Prithivi means: the broad and extended one.  Dyava can be termed as ‘light space’ because light propagates in this space.  Antariksha can be termed as ‘Intermdediate space’ as this space exists in between observer space and light space.

The concept of the form of the earth in Rig Veda is very fascinating.  There is one small hymn addressed to Prithivi, while there are six hymns addressed to Dyava-PrithiviPrithivi is considered the mother and Dyava is considered as Father and they form a pair together.  One of the most beautiful verse of the Rig Veda says, ‘Heaven is my father, brother atmosphere is my navel, and the great earth is my mother.  Heaven and earth are parents: Matarah, Pitarah, Janitarah in union while separately called as father and mother.  They sustain all creatures.  They are great and widespread.  In Atharva Veda, the earth is described in one hymns called as Bhumi Sukta or Prithivi Sukta which indicates the environmental consciousness of Vedic Rishis.  The Rishis appear to have advanced understanding of the earth through this hymn.  Earth is called as Vasudha for containing all wealth, Hiranyagarva for having gold and treasures.  The earth is called Visvambhara because it is the representatives of the universe. This is wide earth which supports varieties of herbs, oceans, rivers, mountains, hills etc.  The earth is fully responsible for our food and prosperity.  It is praised for its strength. It served us day and night.

Water is essential and precious to all forms of life.  According to Rig Veda, the water as a part of human environment occurs in five forms, viz., Rain Water (Dvyah), Natural Spring (Sarvanti), Wells and Canals (Khanitrimah), Lakes (Svayamjah), Rivers and Oceans (Samudra).  There are some other classifications also in the Taittiriya Upanishad, Aranyaka, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda as drinking water, medicinal water, stable water etc.  The Chhandogya Upanishad describes about qualities of water.  The water is the source of joy and for living a healthy life.  It is the immediate cause of all organic beings such as vegetations, insects, worms, birds, animals, men etc.  Even the mountains, the earth, the atmosphere and heavenly bodies are water concretized.

The cycle of water is described.  From ocean waters reach the sky and from sky come back to earth.  (Atharva Veda, 4.27.4.)

According to Atharva Veda, Vayu cannot mean air alone.  Apparent meaning of Vayu is air.  The Vedic seers knew the importance of air for life.  They understood all about the air in the atmosphere and also about the air inside the body.  The Taittiriya Upanishad throws light on five types of wind inside the body: Prana, Vyana, Apanna, Udanna, Samana.  Rig Veda mentions with its verse ‘Twameva Pratekshyam Brahmasi, Twameva Pratekshyam Brahma Vadisyami’ – ‘Oh Air! You are our father, the protector.  Air has medicinal values.  Let wind blow in the form of medicine and bring me welfare and happiness.   Another verse describes characteristics of air – ‘The air is the soul of all deities.  It exists in all as life-breath.  It can move everywhere.  We cannot see it.  Only one can hear its sound.  We pray to Vayu Devata.  Vedic Arayans, therefore, emphasized that the unpolluted, pure air is source of good health, happiness and long and cherished life.  Vayu Devata is prayed to blow with its medicinal qualities.

Modern Environmentalists discuss sound or noise pollution.  There is a relation between ether and sound.  The sound waves move in sky at various frequencies.  Scientists could see the sky which exists only in the vicinity of earth.  Taittiriya Upanishad throws light on two types of ether, i.e. , Mathakash and Chidakash;  i.e., one inside the body and the other outside the body .  The ether (Akash) inside the body is regarded as the seat of mind.  So, the Yajur Veda advices humanity not to pollute the sky.3

Decades ago, when environment was not a buzz word, Vedic Philosophy  through Isho Upanishad had taught us One should enjoy with renouncing or giving up others part vide its first Mantra …    Tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma gridhah kasya swid dhanam.

According to ancient Hindu beliefs, the universe, the cosmic world comprises five basic elements ─ kshiti (earth), apah(water), teja (light/heat), marut (air) and vyoma (ether/space). 

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According to the RigVeda, all life on this planet is evolved from apah (water). Water is usually acknowledged as the basic need of all living creatures upon the face of this earth. There are copious references in Vedic literature about medicinal properties of water, uses of water, last but not the least the importance of conservation and preservation of water. Pure water is termed as ‘divyajal’ due to its following properties: Sheetam (cold to touch), Suchihi (clean), Shivam (replete with useful minerals and trace of useful elements), Istham (transparent), Vimalam Lahu Shadgunam (its acid-base balance should not exceed normal limits).

Water Purification

Purification of ground water in the dug wells is dealt with at length in Brihat-Samhita written and compiled byVarahamihira. He suggested an infusion be made from a mixture of powdered herbs namely Anjan, Bhadramustha, Khas (vetiver), Amla (emblica officinalis, gooseberry) and Nirmali (bhui amla / kataka) in water, which in measured quantities was to be added to water in the wells for purification. Detailed practical guidance for water purification is given in the famous treatise of Indian physician, Sushruta. Sushruta disclosed that muddy water could be purified with herbs and naturally occurring substances; Nirmali seeds, roots of Kamal (lotus/water lily), rhizomes of algae and three stones,Gomed (garnet) Moti (pearl) Sphatik (quartz crystal) were used. He recommended the disinfection of contaminated water by exposing it to the sun or immersing red hot iron or hot sand in it.

The ancient Indian custom of storing drinking water in brass vessels for good health has now been proved scientifically by researchers. Microbiologists affirm that water stored in brass containers can help combat many water-borne diseases and should be used in developing countries rather than their cheaper counterparts i. e plastic containers.

The scientific principle involved in this is the fact that any metal or alloy tends to disrupt biological systems. The element acts by interfering with the membranes and enzymes of cells; for bacteria, this can mean death. Pots made of brass, (an alloy of copper and zinc), shed copper particles into the water that they contain. But the miniscule amount that circulates into the water, while destroying the bacteria cannot harm human beings.

Ayurveda and Environment4


Ayurveda is an upaveda (subsection) of Atharva, the fourth Veda composed during the period 3,000 to 2,000 BC. Ayurveda has several disciplines v.i.z Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine), Shalakya Tantra (thoracic surgery, opthalmology and otolaryngology), Shalya Tantra (Surgery), Agada Tantra (Toxicology), Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry),Kaumarabhritya (Pediatrics), Rasayana (rejuvenation or anti-aging), Vajikarana (the science of fertility).

The most fascinating aspect of Ayurvedic system of medicine was the diversified method of treatment and cure ─ yoga (meditation),aromatherapy, use of gems, precious stones and amulets, herbs, diet, jyotish (astrology), color and surgery. It is amply evident that each of these methods of treatment had a direct connection with nature i.e the eco-system around us. The use of synthetics and chemicals (a part of Allopathy) was conspicuous by its absence.

Though Ayurveda came into being as a part of Atharva Veda, it has close links with other Vedas also. For instance the Yajur Veda, which lays down elaborate rituals to pacify the panchabhutas (the five basic elements of nature) for the purpose of healing both the Cosmic Being as well as the individual soul, is related to ayurveda in its principles and regulations of lifestyle. Additionally, another upaveda, the Dhanur Veda (related to warfare and the martial arts) andAyurveda both lay emphasis on the marmas (sensitive points in the body) ─ a precursor of accupressure and acupuncture perhaps!!!

Dhanvantari, believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, was the guiding spirit of Ayurveda. He made this science of health and longevity popular and widely prevalent. Two major Samhitas (treatises) were written in the early part of 1000 BC. The great physician Charaka authored Charaka Samhita which has remained a landmark of internal medicine till date. The famous surgeon Susruta, wrote Susruta Samhita, a vast treasure house of knowledge about surgery to replace limbs, cosmetic surgery, caesarian operations and even brain surgery. He is famed for his innovation of cosmetic surgery on the nose (rhinoplasty).Ayurveda’s relevance in the present age lies in its, subtle, scientific, and holistic approach to the cure and treatment of a disease. It aims at healing not only the body, but also the mind and spirit. Its understanding of the similarities of the laws of nature and the functioning of the human body helps to strike a balance between Man and Nature.

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The Ayurvedic daily routine (Dinacharya): rituals

1. Getting up – before sunrise or at approximately 6.00. The doshas present in our body have their own internal clock, and so exercise an authority over time. The Vata dosha is active between the hours of 2.00 and 6.00 in the morning (hence the dream phase during this time) and 14.00-18.00 pm. It’s much easier to get up about 6.00, when this busy dosha is still active, but not when the sleepy, sluggish Kapha comes into play (6.00 – 10.00). We often feel more lively when we get up early than when lying in to 10am.

2. In the bathroom- wash your eyes, face, teeth, clean your tongue, rinse out your nose (this removes dust, bacteria, fungi and dried mucus, hence preventing infection: just immerse your nose in some warm water cupped in your hands, take a gentle breath then blow your nose: repeat 2-3 times; after several attempts your nose will get used to this)

3. Drink approximately 200 ml of warm water, perhaps with a dash of lemon juice and honey (doing this approx. 30 mins  before breakfast rinses and gently awakens your digestive tract)

4. Go to the toilet: make a habit of emptying your bowels every morning – just like throwing out the rubbish every day. Eastern medical science attaches great importance to this as constipation (i.e. bowel movement of less than once a day) is harmful. Waste quickly becomes a toxin when held in the intestine, and this toxin can then pass through the intestinal wall if not expelled. According to TMC, the largest flow of energy in the large intestine takes place between  5-7 am, so do take advantage of the body’s natural rhythm.

5. Early morning gymnastics (10-15 min, Jivananda exercises are particularly recommended – link below)

6. Breathing exercises (min 5 min, try Jivananda exercises- link below)

7. Meditation or prayer for Antakarana or Mind Purification.

8. Oil massage (greatly pacifies Vata, purifies and warms the body)

9. Shower/getting dressed (try to use natural toiletries and comfortable clothing materials)

10. Nourishing, hot breakfast (ideally porridge, oatmeal, miso soup, vegetables, etc.)

11. Work: ensure a positive atmosphere at the workplace, drink plenty of water and take regular breaks.

12. Lunch (ideally between 12-13, when the ‘digestive fires’ are at their height)

13. Return from work (leave your job at the front door. Good for switching into ‘home mode’ are: giving you a scalp massage; taking a shower; breathing / relaxation exercises)

14. Relaxation / quality time with family and friends

15. Evening meal at around 18-19:00. Our digestive system needs minimum 4 hours to digest a substantial meal. When you go to bed with a full stomach digestion interferes with sleep and the tired body does not effectively digest food, which then decomposes in the intestines, in turn producing AMA. In addition, in the evening (20-23:00), as part of the daily cycle, glands and  organs produce enzymes and hormones which do essential work such as rebuilding cells. If the body’s energy is focused instead on digestion, then this corrective balance is lost: in the longterm risking a sudden onset of the ‘at home in Jakarta’ syndrome, which entails constant repair – and constant harmful elements.

16. Golden milk (a secret recipe Ayurvedic recipe), helps digestion and induces restful sleep.

17. Meditation or prayer for Antakarana or Mind Purification.

18. Going to bed: between 22-23:00. This is the best time, during which we more easily fall asleep and when sleep is also at its most effective. Getting up at around 6:00 the next day is ideal, as Ayurveda recommends min 6-8 hours of sleep. However, it is also known that sleep before midnight is much more valuable than during the “Hour of the Spirits.” Every hour of sleep ‘before’ is worth twice every hour of sleep deprivation after midnight. This rule unfortunately works the other way too: every hour lost after midnight is worth double of those before, and is difficult to make up, even if you sleep till the following afternoon.4 From the above one can guess the cleanliness pattern of Vedic Seers.

Our ancient Seers had given much importance to our body and had given much emphasis how to clean and take care of our body.  Veda said Yah Atmani Tisthati, Yasya Kshyaram Sariram… Yasya Atma Sariram. Certainly yes.  Even Jagat Guru Adi Sankaracharya says in one of his writings….

Deho Devalayah prokto dehi devo niranjanaha |

Architah sarvabhavena svanubhutya virajate || Ref. Sadacharah, 13

It means the body is said to be the best temple in this Universe.  The owner of the body is the Lord.  When worshipped with full devotion, He shines forth by the experience of the Self.  Here, Jagatguru Sankaracharyaji describes the puja is to be performed without duality.  The body is revered as the temple of the Lord Sri Krishna ( deho devalayah prokto).  The Jiva or the Individual is the worshipper and the Self or the Atma is the Lord Sri Krishna within (jivo hamsa sadasivah). So, by giving up all false notions and ignorance (tyajet agyana nirmalayam), the ego surrenders by offering itself to the Self, losing its individuality in the Lord within (so’ham bhavena pujayet).  Thereafter, the Self alone shines in all its glory (svanubhutya virajate

Ayur-veda or the knowledge of Life has two main goal. One is the examination of Health with hygiene.   And the second one is to eradicate all Vikaras or weaknesses.  According to Charaka Samita, Dharmarthkamamokshyanimarogyam Mulamuttamam (C.S. 1:15).  It means health is required  to fulfill all the

According to Charaka Sutra 1) Sarireindriyasatva-atmasanyogo Dhari Jivitam.  It means a living personality has four basic properties, viz. Body, Senses, Mind and Soul.  So health is difined in Shusruta Samita is as follows :

Samadoshah Samagnischa Samadhatumalakriyah |

Prasannatmeindriyamanah Swasth Ityabhidhiyate || Shrusuta Sutra, 15:41)*

It has similarity in the definition of World Health Organisation which states ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

India is now struggling with the practice of open defecation but the reason for that does not lie in Vedic Hindu Literatures.  In fact, the solution for the crisis lies in those very texts.  What the ancient Vedic Texts highlight is that distance should be maintained between faeces and human habitation.  In other words, no mixing, no contact between human wastes and the places where people live, eat and sleep.  It is also specifically mentioned that faeces and urine should not be allowed to come in contact with water bodies.  Even in agriculture, the use of raw human waste is expressly prohibited.  It has to be borne in mind that this was centuries before the germ theory of disease was formulated in Europe.  It means long long before Europeans realized that diseases could be transmitted by pathogens from faeces – Vedic Texts had precluded this from happening.  In the distant past, when population were low, the Vedic texts shows that people would walk long distances away from homes – away from rivers and wells, defecate into pits, cover them with soil and leave them to get absorbed into soil. Nature calls in nature was not considered unnatural according to Vedic Seers, provided it has to be do away from water bodies and locallity.  They would wash their hands thoroughly with cleaning agents which were naturally available. 

The problem arose when populations grew and British styles were adopted everywhere in the country.  There were fewer ‘far-off’ places to defecate because where the boundaries of one village ended, another started.  One might be defecating far away from one’s home as mentioned in the Daily Principles (Dinacharyas) of Vedic Texts, but that place could be close to another’s home or water source. 

The Vedic Principles of Cleanliness as duly mentioned in Vedic Texts like Manu Smruti, Ayurveda, Charaka Samhita and Shusruta Samhita if would be practiced- had those principles been researched and developed scientifically into a code of best practices, today India could have been full of eco-friendly toilets that produced excellent fertilizer (perhaps bio-energy too) while its rivers, lakes and wells could have been the cleanest in the world.  There would have been no need for the country to import fertilizers from foreign countries in a heavy price.  Instead of flush toilets became popular everywhere and the water (sewage) carrying away the waste from homes was dumped into rivers and lakes.  Once the sewage is generated, there is a need for sewage treatment plants with a whole range of processes to separate the water from the wastes.

But this could not last forever as populations grew rapidly.  The old habit of defecating continued in villages with people having no idea that the principle of not letting waste contaminate water sources was being violated to the very core.5

The very idea of Vedic Texts is Cleanliness is next to Godliness can be well seen in all Vedic Texts available in India.  Vedic Seers believe in three Sudhis or Cleanliness.  One is Kayika or Physical, Secondly Bachika or Verbal, and Thirdly Manasika or Antakarana or cleanliness in mental level for all round growth. They taught humans to take care of their environment, and to keep dirt and wastes away from water bodies.

Ideas and References drawn from :

1) A.R. Panchamukhi, Socio-economic Ideas in Ancient Indian Literature, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Delhi, 1998, P.467 and Atharvaveda,  12.1.52

2) Taittiriya Aranyaka 1.24.1-2.

Yajurveda 22.25.

Atharvaveda 1.6.4.

Chandogya Upanishad 7.10.1

3) Yajurveda 1.24; Shatapatha Bra. 8.7.3.10

Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.4

Rigveda 10.186.2

4) www.indiaheritage.org

5) Hindu texts not to blame for India’s sanitation crisis By Sahana Singh

Sahana Singh is Editor of Asian Water, a leading magazine on water and wastewater. She is involved in a campaign to put water and sanitation high in the agenda of governments in the Asian region so that the much-needed reforms in the sector can follow.

*Swosthabrutta Bigyan By Prof. Rahaharsha Singh

Nihar Ranjan Acharya, Founder TRUST

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