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’.1
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 | )
Vedic view on environment is well-defined in one verse of the Atharva Veda where three coverings of our surroundings are referred as Chhandansi,6 means coverings available everywhere. It teaches us to wisely utilize the three elements which are varied, visible and full of qualities, viz., water (Apah), Air (Vayuh) and plants and herbs (Vanaspatayah). They exist in the World (Prithivi) from the very beginning. It undoubtedly proves the knowledge of Vedic Seers about the basics of Environment.
According to one indigenous theory established in the Veda and Upanishad, the Universe consists of five basic elements7 (the Pancha Mahabhuta) viz., Earth or Land (Khit), Water (Apah), Light or luster (Tej or Agnih), Air (Vayuh) and Ether (Byoma or Akash)8
In Nature, there is an inbuilt system of balancing these constituents or elements and living creatures. A disturbance in percentage of any constituent of the environment beyond certain limits disturbs the natural balance and any change in the natural balance causes lots of problems to the living creatures in the universe. All constituents of the Environment are connected with a subtle web with one another. The relation of human being with environment is very natural as he cannot live without it. From the very beginning of creation he wants to know about it for self protection and self survival. Our Vedic Philosophy which is otherwise known as Sanatan (Eternal) Darshan (Philosophy) considers Vedic Aryans are children of nature. They studied nature closely in sylvan surroundings – very minutely. The verse Ritam Badisyami, Satyam Badisyamiwhich means I will tell about the laws of nature and I will speak the truth; is the Pramana (Proof) of their study. Ritam is defined variously by scholars in different Vedic Contexts, but in general sense it has been elaborated as great ‘cosmic order’ which is the cause of all motion and existence, and keeps world in order. No one can ignore it, even Devatas are abided by the Ritam – the cosmic law and they are born of Ritam. It is controlling and sustaining power acts behind all natural phenomenons. It sustains sun in the sky. It as Universal Law governs everything. The whole of the universe is working under Ritam.
Sand-storm and cyclone, intense lightening, terrific thunderclaps, the heavy rush of rain in monsoon, the swift flood in the stream that comes down from the hills, the scorching heat of the sun, the cracking red flames of the fire, all witness to power beyond man’s power. The Vedic sages felt the greatness of these forces. Therefore, they worshiped and prayed them due to regard and gratitude. They realized instinctively that action, movement, creation, change and destruction in nature are the results of forces beyond men’s control and thus they attributed towards divinity of nature. The laws behind all natural phenomena are constant and fresh phenomena are continually reproduced, but the principle of order remains the same; therefore, the principle existed already when the earliest phenomena appeared.
The main part of Rig Veda belongs to Natural hymns, the hymns related with natural forces. The hymns addressed to deities (Devatas) are under the influence of the most impressive phenomenon of nature and its aspects. The word Devatas means divine entities which is helpful to all without their any selfish gain. In these hymns, we find prayers for certain natural elements such as air, water, earth, sun, rain, dawn etc. The glorious brightness of the sun, the blaze of the sacrificial fire, the sweep of the rain-storm across the skies, the recurrence of the dawn, the steady currents of the winds, the violence of the tropical storm and other such natural energies, fundamental activities or aspects are glorified and personified as divinities (Devata). The interaction with nature resulted in appreciation and prayer …but, indeed, after a good deal of observation. Attributes assigned to deities fit in their natural forms and activities, as Soma is green, fire is bright, air is fast moving and sun is dispenser of darkness. The characteristics of these forces described in the verses prove that Vedic Seers were masters of natural science.9
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-Prithivi. Prithivi 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.10
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.11
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.
Modern Scientists should be astonished and also feel proud of Vedic Philosophy for its knowledge, wisdom and views about environment. Ancient Seers knew about various aspects of environment, about cosmic order, and also about the importance of co-ordination between all natural laws for universal peace and harmony. When they pray for peace at all level in the Shanti Mantras, they express their belief about the importance of inter-relationship among all natural laws, people, regions. The Shanti Mantra, ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramayah, Sarve Bhadrani Pasyantu, Ma Kashit Dukhah Bhag Bhavet’ –says that not only regions, waters, plant trees, natural laws and energies, but all creatures should live in harmony and peace. Peace should remain everywhere. It is pretty clear that Vedic vision to live in harmony with environment was not merely physical but was far wider and sensitive. The Vedic people desired to live a life of hundred years (Jivema Sarad Sata, Pasyame Sarad Satam… Rig. Veda) and this wish can be fulfilled only when environment would be unpolluted, clean and peaceful. The knowledge of Vedic Philosophy is meant to save the humanity from falling into utter darkness of ignorance. The unity in diversity (Sa Gachhadhwam, Sa Badadhwam …. Rig. Veda)is the message of Vedic physical and metaphysical sciences. Essence of the environmental studies in the Vedas can be put here by quoting a partial mantra of Ishoupanishad, Mantra, 1 (Ishavasya Midagwam Sarvam…..). The message is clear that environment belongs to all living beings, so it needs protection by all, for the welfare of all. Hence, for global harmony, Vedic seers always pray for the welfare of all creatures and all regions. Thus the study proves the origin of environmental studies has come up from Vedic Philosophy.
Challenges facing mankind on the environmental front have become truly global and pressing. Apprehensions are expressed that without remedial measures, we may face the bleak prospect of the collapse of the lifestyle that different societies presently enjoy. On the other hand, never before in the history have there ever been attempts on the same scale as we witness today, of the third world countries seeking to usher in socio-economic development to provide for people, the means to realize self fulfillment and create a society which is genuinely harmonious and free from want and deprivation. It is increasingly realized that the human race stands at the crossroads in choosing the options it has in the areas of environment and development. The industrial countries, having enjoyed more than their share of development, have achieved a decent standard of living. This has given to the earth pollution and eco-degradation as a result of affluence and underlying greed. It has now become clar that such patterns of development, life styles and quality of life are unsustainable. On the contrary, the developing countries are still struggling for minimum levels of sustenance. No doubt, they too have contributed to the eco-degradation and pollution, but this is essentially need and poverty based. Before we reach a point of no return, we must take tangible steps and follow a road that leads to sustainability.13
So, I would like to conclude with briefing up the Vedic Philosophy of harmony and sustainability.
Since time immemorial, Indians have been very conscious of environment. For Indians, the relationship with the nature starts every morning, when many recite the most powerful Gayatri Mantra as invocation to the Sun to the system of whom we all belong. The Vedic Gods such as Agni (fire), Surya (Sun), Vayu (Air), Bhumi (Earth), Varuna (Water) and Indra (The God of Rain), together represent atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and sunlight and energy.
Long before ecology became the refrain of the global song at Stockholm and Rio, the ancient India – our Vedic Civilization had already a sacred space for the environmental ethos. The Vedic Tradition had always promoted the principle of ecological harmony centuries ago – not because the world was perceived as heading for an environmental disaster, nor because of any immediate utilitarian exigency, but through its quest for knowledge and physical symbiosis, synthesized in a system of ethical awareness and moral responsibility. The Vedic Hymn to the Earth, the Prithivi Sukta in Atharva Veda is undoubtedly the oldest and the most sensible environmental invocation. One of the Mantra says ‘Mata Bhumih Putro Aham Prithibyah, which means Earth is my mother, I am the Son of Earth. Earth – the Mother is celebrated for all her natural bounties and particularly for her gifts of herbs (Banaspati) and vegetation.
Ishoupanishad (… Tena tyktena bhunjitha ma gridhah kasya swid dhanam) teaches us about ‘sustainable development’. In short Environmental degradation is drawing everybody’s attention now-a-days. In the race for growth, our environment has been subjected to constant damage. To sustain economic growth and development; policies, regulations and incentives need to be established along with Vedic Principle of ecological harmony which is a need of the hour.
Nihar Ranjan Acharya
AND IDEAS DRAWN FROM:
1)A.R. Panchamukhi, Socio-economic Ideas in Ancient Indian Literature, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Delhi, 1998, P.467
2) Atharvaveda, 12.1.52
3) Ibid, 1.32.4.
4) Ibid, 10.1.30
5) Ibid. 10.8.31
6) Ibid 18.1.17
7) Srimad Bhagavat and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vedic Physics, Scientific Origin of Hinduism
8)Aitareya Upanisha, 3.3
9) Origin of Environmental Science by Sashi Tiwari, P.159, 160
10) Taittiriya Aranyaka 1.24.1-2.
Chandogya Upanishad 7.10.1
11) Yajurveda 1.24; Shatapatha Bra. 126.96.36.199
Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.4
12) Yajurveda 36.1; Atharvaveda 19.9.94; A.C.Bose, The Call of the Vedas,
Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai,1999, P.281
13)A Compendium of Essays, P.397:
* From many lectures of Jagatguru Shri Kripaluji Maharaj.