By Nithin Sridhar
The purpose of celebrating World Environment Day is to highlight the importance of preserving Earth. On this occasion, let us look into what one of the oldest Hindu scriptures, the Atharva-Veda has to say about environment and planet earth.
BhoomiSuktam or Hymn to Mother Earth is one of the most beautiful hymns that describes the beauty of Mother Earth and imparts lessons regarding the attitude a person must cultivate towards the environment.
It has 63 verses and occurs in Atharva Veda (12.1). The very first verse opens with a bold statement that defines the proper manner in which the Earth and the environment must be understood.
It (Verse 12.1.1) says that the Earth is upheld, is sustained by Truth (Satya), Eternal law/Order/Righteousness (Ritam), Consecration/Initiation (Deeksha), Devotion (Brahma) and Sacrifice (Yajna). That is, the earth that includes both the living beings as well as the surrounding environment are not just held together by gravitational and other physical laws of the Universe.
Earth is not a "jada/non-living" entity. Instead she is the "Queen of what was and what will be". She is a living mother, a force that is sustained by Truth, Order, Austerity, Devotion and Sacrifice. Hence, it is these attitudes that a human is expected to implement in his life.
This does not mean that the Suktam is denying the physical aspect of the Earth. In fact, the verse (12.1.26), clearly says that rocks, stones and dust constitute the Earth. Hence, the aim of the Suktam is to highlight the fact that physical aspect is only the outermost layer of the 'Reality'. And in order to understand Earth in a deeper, spiritual and in a meaningful way one must practice the qualities of Truth etc.
The Suktam (in verse 12.1.12) calls "Earth as the mother and humans as her sons". Hence, as offsprings of Mother Earth, it becomes a duty of humans to not only help her sustain herself, but also to protect and enrich her. Therefore, it becomes an obligation on part of humans to practice truth, righteousness, and austerity in their day to day life.
They should develop the attitude of devotion and sacrifice regarding every object, every entity present in the surrounding environment. It is only such a practice which can sustain and enrich mother Earth. A practice of truth results in a strict adherence to righteousness. A righteous person will always be upright without caving into the selfish desires. Such a person will never commit those actions that can harm other entities that are present in the environment because he realizes that Himsa or injury is adharma or against the cosmic law.
The lifestyle of Ahimsa(non-violence) itself becomes an austerity that is driven by devotion and a sense of sacrifice. If, every person cultivates these attitudes towards the surroundings, it would automatically result in the protection, preservation and enrichment of environment.
The Suktam (Verse 12.1.4-6) further describes Mother Earth as the "Mistress of four quarters in whom food and cornfields have come to be, who bears in many forms the breathing and moving life; in which men of old have performed many tasks, where the gods have defeated demons, which is the home of cattle, horses and birds; which is all sustaining, treasure bearing, firm staying place, gold breasted home of all creatures, who supports the Universal Fire (Virat/Vaishwanara)".
These verses further bring out the understanding of Earth as a nourishing, all sustaining Mother. All objects both living and non-living, the humans, animals, and the plants, depend upon the earth for their life. They derive their very existence from Earth and at death they merge back into it. It is Earth again which makes it possible for various plants and animals to be exposed to Sun-rays and hence be able to sustain and grow.
This is clearly spoken in the verse (12.1.15), wherein Mother Earth is described as one who supports both bipeds and quadrupeds, because of whom, the rising Sun spreads its undying rays on mortals. The nourishing aspect of the Earth is further highlighted in verses (12.1.29-30), wherein the Earth is referred to as "Purifier" using whose pure water a person purifies himself.
Mother Earth is further described as a place where all human actions are carried out. She is the basis, the foundation that holds together all actions. It is on her foot, that the altars are built and sacrifices are carried out (Verse 12.1.13). It is on her the riks and samans are chanted (Verse 12.1.38). The men sing and dance and the people beat their drums, rise the war cries and battle with each other (Verse 12.1.41). It is on her, the people grow various food grains (Verse 12.1.42), where people speaking different languages, practising different customs, all exist together (Verse 12.1.45).
But, the Bhoomi Suktam is concerned about those human actions that may turn to be harmful to nature. Verse 12.1.35 says, "What, O earth, I dig out of thee, quickly shall that grow again: may I not, O pure one, injure thy vitals or thy heart". The verse is clearly speaking about the misuse of natural resources and its harmful effect on the environment. It is advising humans to renounce greed and utilize the resources given by the Mother Earth in a useful way without hurting the nature in the process. The current activities such as unregulated and harmful mining and other such activities are clearly against these tenets expressed in the Suktam.
Towards the end, in Verse 12.1.48, Mother Earth is described as supporting both the fools and the wise, the good and the bad. The verse goes to highlight the motherly love and compassion of Mother Earth. She, in her magnanimity and compassion has given abode to all people, all objects. She does not discriminate between the fool and the wise or between the good or the bad. She supports everyone, including those who harm her and the environment in a dangerous way.
Such, is the compassion and love of Mother Earth for her children.
Hence, people should realize her supreme love and sacrifice, and begin to live their lives in such a way that the environment is not harmed in any manner.
The BhoomiSuktam (Verse 12.1.63) ends with a prayer asking the Mother Earth to stabilize life and fill it with grace and splendor.