With A Sense of Gratitude, We Live!
| Dr Neelam Gupta, Thought Leader, Delhi, NCR - 13 Apr 2020

The traditional beliefs of Indian societies have got a deeper understanding of the ecological system and have been completely integrated with nature to evolve a sustainable lifestyle.

By Dr. Neelam Gupta

Baisakhi is the harvest festival of Northern India. In other parts of India too, the harvest festival is significant and is called by different names, like Bihu in Assam, or PodlaBaisakh in Bengal, etc. Farmers harvest their Rabi crop and worship Mother Earth, thank her for bestowing her blessings in the form of a good crop. These rituals are not superstitions. They are part and parcel of our farming practices which include expression of gratitude towards the natural elements which have made the cropping possible for the farmer.

The farmers worship the Earth and soil and also the newly harvested crop before selling and sending to our tables with all their good wishes. What a beautiful tradition to show oneness with nature. With such traditions in our culture, it is but natural that our simple farmers cannot think of harming nature for their unreasonable gains or profits. 

For centuries, Indian religious and philosophical traditions embody the concept of environmental ethics. There are innumerable examples of festivals, rituals, songs, and myths that celebrate the gifts of Mother Earth within Indian culture, revealing the intimate sense of togetherness and harmony that exists between man and nature, which has made Indians protect and worship the elements in nature including flora and fauna in various glorious forms.

We worship trees like peepal, banyan sandalwood, beetle nut, palm, neem, coconut, juniper, Champalotus, tulsipepper, etc., for their great ecological, medicinal and environmental benefits to mankind. Such traditional and cultural attitudes have been enshrined through religious tenets and faith, to give them wide-spread acceptance in practice. These tenets have made a significant contribution in the protection and propagation of various species of trees and plants in India.

In Rajasthan, the Khejri tree is valued for its moisture-retaining properties, and it is not axed even if it comes between the constructions. The live example of this is cited in the Salasar Balaji temple in Sikar district. Some areas popularly known as sacred groves that are dedicated to a local deity worshipped by the inhabitants of that area are specially reserved for biodiversity conservation, and anthropogenic activities are completely prohibited.

These and many more similar examples show that traditional beliefs of Indian societies have got a deeper understanding of the ecological system and have been completely integrated with nature to evolve a sustainable lifestyle.

Not just the plants, Indians have established special relationships with animals, including the wild animals, and gratitude is expressed to them in various ways on various occasions. In Buddhist mythology, the Jatakas or the stories of the Buddha's previous life are replete with several incarnations of the Bodhisattvas an animal. Among the Jains, eighteen of the twenty-four Tirthankaras have an animal as their cognizance.

Hindu deities have given due places of significance to animals who are depicted as their vehicles. Worship of cows is not only of mythological significance but also of environmental and medicinal significance. A Bishnoi cult of India inhabiting the Jodhpur region is known for wildlife protection especially the famous Black Buck that is an endangered species.

The same Bishnoi community even did a collective protest. 363 men and women, young and old, one after the other, placed their heads against the trees to prevent them from being cut and were axed along with the trees. All these accounts vividly show how the ancient culture and traditions of Indian society contributed to the conservation of natural ecosystems, and the plants and animals that inhabited these.

Now, when the young generation of people like Greta Thunberg are raising concerns for sustainable development and conservation of natural resources. Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg FRSGS is a Swedish environmental activist who has gained international recognition for promoting the view that humanity is facing an existential crisis arising from climate change.

When people throughout the world are perturbed by the degradation of the environment and its disastrous consequences, traditional ethics of conservation of nature, as practiced in Indian culture and tradition, could be looked upon as a source of inspiration and guidance for the future. Perhaps no other culture can provide such a profound variety of cultural practices and ecologically sound relationship with nature as the Indian.

Today, the whole world is witnessing an unprecedented and unforeseen crisis in the form of COVID-19 pandemic, which also has a strong indication that the current outbreak of the coronavirus originated in a seafood market illegally selling wildlife in Wuhan, China. This must be a wake-up call for humanity to have greater respect for nature and other forms of lives, and irrational devouring of wild animals must be stopped. It’s clear that by protecting nature, we protect ourselves.

India is known for the moral ethos of its people towards nature. Living in harmony with Nature has been an integral part of Indian culture. This has been abundantly reflected in a variety of traditional practices, religious beliefs, rituals, folklore, arts and crafts, and in the daily lives of the Indian people from time immemorial.

Our culture and traditions, though promoted through religious tenets, are based on sound scientific principles and reasoning. If the world follows Indian traditional approach and strikes the right balance between human lives and their ecosystem, we can overcome all the modern-day challenges like climate change, depleting natural resources, and environmental sustainability and also crush the ugly heads of viruses like Corona and the suffering they cause to humanity.

(Dr. Neelam Gupta, Founder of AROH Foundation, an NGO working to empower poor and alleviate poverty, is a prominent thought leader and a prolific writer expressing her opinion on a variety of topics like education, gender, culture, livelihood, social development, etc.  president.aroh@gmail.com)

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