Hinduism and Nature intrigued me with its title. I stayed on in ‘unread’ shelf for over a year, next to my bed reading table for a few months. I think I assumed it to be a difficult book to read, so despite wanting to read, I kept postponing the reading.
Last week, after I finished reading Tulsi Ram Charit Manas, I felt a little more confident to pick this book. I have at least read one Indian scripture to be able to relate to this book. However, all my fears were dumbfounded. The book is easy to read. There are constant references to Vedas, Puranas, Upnishadas and other Indian scriptures, but it is written in a very simple manner.
The book begins by quoting Durga Saptashati Devi Kavacham:
So long as the earth is able to maintain mountains, forests and trees
Until then the human race and its progeny will be able to survive
Throughout the book, you get introduced to parts of Indian scriptures that are totally devoted to nature like Nadi Sukta talking about rivers. Or, the Bhumi Sukta of Atharva Veda talking about the landscape of earth – its mountains, hills & forests. It is like mapping the mention of nature in the scriptures. The book makes you realize how deeply integrated Hinduism when it comes to living with nature in as much perfect a balance as possible.
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In the sacred groves section, she introduces us to the concept of Tapovana, Mahavana and Sri Vanas – different types of forests. Imagine the classification of forests was on the basis of how you interact with them. There are forests you grow for produce, there are ones that Rishis use for their Tapasya and there are ones where you can take some but not all. She takes us through the different forests as mentioned in Ramayana.
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Sacred groves that maintain the diversity of varieties by preserving in a way that no one is allowed to hurt them. A very interesting point she brings out is how the rituals, when strictly followed, serve a much larger and a much-needed purpose. Most of the times, it is something that we can not foresee in the near future, but it was those who could see far in the future who created them.
Imagine Van Mahotsavas that regularly planted and preserved trees. Imagine the whole of scriptures being discussed in the dense forests of Naimisharanya.
You wonder if the answer to all the ecological problems that we are dealing with lies in going back to the basic principles that our ancestors left for us. Is it time to bring back gardens around all temples and public spaces?
Major Rivers in India
In the Divine Waters chapter, you get to listen to the stories of all major rivers in India. You learn about their mythical origins, their iconography, and their ecology. The fact that all the rivers and water bodies including the man-made step wells were worshipped, shows not just our reverence for the water element but also our understanding of the role of water in our lives. Every drop of water is preserved in areas like Mandu with no natural source of water.
Plants as protectors is a delightful chapter to read. You understand the commonly worshipped trees and the deities they are associated with. I almost felt I should keep the book down & go and plant some trees.
Children of Pasupati takes you to the concept of Ahimsa or non-violence. Extended practically, it means no killing of anyone for feeding oneself – vegetarianism. In fact, a phrase of Rig Veda is quoted to say that it actually recommends being a Vegan. So many references to vegetarianism make you think about when and where did consuming meat become mainstream.
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Book talks about the integration of animal kingdom with the human by every deity having a vehicle who is an animal. The final chapter on sacred hills takes you the hills across the country and gives you some serious travel goals.
Some quotes from the book:
- Nature is a friend, revered like a mother. Obeyed as a father and nurtured as a beloved child.
- Vedic religion was pantheistic, celebrating nature as divinity
- The forests are made up of four sentiments – Shanta or Calm, Madhura or sweet, Raudra or Angry & Vibhatsa or fearful.
- Sandalwood tree is sacred in Satyug, Champaka in Treta, Capper Bush in Dwapar & Jackfruit in Kalyuga.
- The biggest takeaway from this book is how inadequately we know our own land and our own heritage.
‘Hinduism and Nature’ book is written in a very simple manner & it is very easy to read. You need not be scared as I was to pick this book and read. It does refer to all possible scriptures, but it puts it all in the simplest possible manner for the reader.
Read it to get introduced to your own a bit.