By Gaurav Sharma
The word Veda means knowledge. Knowledge not just of the self, but also of the surroundings and the relation of the self (atma) with the surrounding environment (paryavarana).
Nature forms an important connecting link with life. In fact, nature is life. The glory of sun-rise and sunset, the mellow of virgin nature, the beauty of landscapes, silent meditation in the forest, worship of mountains and rivers find pure poetic expression in the Vedic literature.
Still, the environment has been viewed differently by different civilizations. While the modern age defines the environment as the relationship of and among the living creatures, earth, air and water (The Environment Protection Act, 1986), the Vedic worldview is far more comprehensive and insightful as it recognizes the Universe as consisting of five basic elements namely earth, fire, air, water and ether.
The scorching brightness of the sun, the inundation by the rain, the thunderous roar of lightning, the bulging red flame of fire, the immense whirling of the wind and the tremulous shaking of the earth are viewed as forces beyond man’s power and thus ascribed as Dhevi or divine.
Each fundamental element of nature assumes the character of a Devata or divinity. The Sun or Surya is regarded as the soul of everything moving and non-moving. The hymns in Atharva Veda assert water or Apah as it possesses healing powers which dissipate diseases. The reverence for water and other elements act as a deterrent against pollution.
The earth is also offered great prayers in the Vedas. It is called as Vishwambara–as the representative of the universe. Another name for earth is Prithvi, the power of which is invoked in various hymns of the Vedas for realizing the underlying truth of the Cosmos: ‘O Prithvi! thy centre, thy navel, all forces that have issued from thy body- Set us amid those forces; breathe upon us.’
The Vedic seers also understood the importance of Vayu or air for life. Rig Veda mentions, ‘O Air! You are our father, the protector. Let wind blow in the form of medicine and bring me welfare and happiness.’ Therefore, pure and unpolluted air is considered to be essential for the well being of the individual and the society by the Vedas.
Warnings and admonition against pollution of Akasha or ether also find substantial mention in the Vedic scriptures. The Yajur Veda states, ‘Do not destroy anything of the sky and do not pollute the sky. Do not destroy anything of Antariksha.’
The Mantra: Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti is not just about bringing peace within ourselves, because peace is understood to exist only in concordance with the well being of the Universe around the individual.
The so called ‘ideal’ aim of living up to a hundred years could be visualized not as a mere thought, but a lived experience only because the ancient Indians could recognize the importance of the environment, and, act on those lines.
In the Rig Veda, it is said that the universe is pervaded by a sense of Cosmic order or Rita. Therefore, the ancient Rishis or seers could realize the principle behind the shifting and changing phenomenon of nature.
On the other hand, our current perception of environment is something of an ‘other individual’–distinct and separate from our existence. And hence, it is not a great surprise that the indiscriminate usage of nature goes in accordance with such a distorted and disfigured visualization.
It is time we take-off the mask of separateness and realize our oneness with nature.