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Environmentalism: The definition and Approach Through Examples of Hindu Practices and Scriptures


Examples from some Hindu scriptures and anecdotes have been briefly discussed here to highlight the fact that environmentalism is not only seen in various aspects of Hindu practices but it also provides the basis to define what environmentalism is all about. Examples of mata Seeta’s birth from the soil and her ultimate union with the earth itself tells us that it’s the earth, a constituent of environment, which recycles and appears as one form of life for a brief period of time to finally merge with it to take other forms of life. Other examples from Ramcharitmanas have been cited to explain how Hinduism prescribes that natural resources must only be used for meeting the survival needs and not the greed.

1. Introduction

Talking about environmentalism in Hinduism may appear ambiguous because in Indian system of knowledge, the existence of animate life is not considered different from the environment itself. In other words, the non-duality (अद्वैत or advait) of AdiShankaracharya appears to accommodate this concept which means that life and environment together makes the existence complete. We all know that any form of life, including plants, appeared only after other forms of life supporting infrastructures were ready on the planet. Any animal race, starting from single-cell to human, came on the planet using the support system available which can be said as the “environment” that supported all life. Henceforth the term “environment” is being considering different from the human life only for the sake of discussion but we must be clear that “the life” and “the environment” are not different from each other. Each component that constitutes environment is part of overall life on earth. To emphasize this Hinduism personifies each of these components as “God” e.g., Pavan, Varun, Fire, Earth, plants, Sun, Moon etc. That is the first example that can be considered as the microscopic involvement of environmentalism in Hinduism. This can be understood at depth by taking a few examples from the Hindu practices and some Hindu texts as discussed here.

2. A few examples

2.1 Basic practice: There might be plenty of examples to prove entanglement between environmentalism and Hinduism but here a few of them have been taken from the epic “Sri-Ramacharitmanas”1 written by Goswami Tulsidasji and other prescribed Hindu practices. The first thing that has been advised in Hinduism is to practice touching the earth after waking up with the following chant,

समुद्रवसनेदेवि, पर्वतस्तनमण्डले।विष्णुपत्नींनमस्तुभ्यंपादस्पर्शम्क्षमस्वमे।।

(Samudravasanedevi, parvatstanmandale, vishnupatnimnamastubhyampadsparshamkshamasvame.)

(It means, “O earth, you are loved by Sri Hari Vishnuji, Sea is your cloth and mountains are your breast, I bow down to you and seek your pardon as I am putting my feet on you.”)

Hinduism, which is prescribing to seek pardon from the earth (considered as a dead mud ball in western approach of science) does not consider environment as a different entity than human and for that matter any other “life”.

2.2 Birth of full-fledged human life from soil: Modern day western science describes, also evident from daily experience, that the soil is a direct home to infinite number of life forms starting from single-cell amoeba to a relatively more complex earthworm to other even more complex animals. Ramayan describes mata SeetaJi as a character that took the form of a full-fledged human life directly from the soil. One of the Seetastuti reads,

भूमेर्दुहितरं विद्यां नमामि प्रकृतिं शिवाम्2


(Meaning “I Salute You, You are the daughter of the Earth and the embodiment of Knowledge; You are the auspicious Prakriti (the nature)”.

In other words, the above shloka says that Seetaji, the one who is born from the earth, is the ultimate form of nature. After all the planned activities- as decided by the “Prarabdha”, SeetaJi leaves the body by uniting with the mother earth again. What can be a better example than the above to highlight the fact that all lives take shape from earth and in the end become one with the earth in particular and with the environment in general!

2.3 Advising non-exploitation of natural resources: A brief example from Sri Ramcharitmanas, by Goswami TulsidasJi, gives an indication how one was not allowed to use the powers gained on earth to exploit nature for personal reasons/benefits as per Niti (policy) in Hindu cultural system. When Sri Ram came to know the location of his beloved wife Seeta, kidnapped by Ravana and kept in Lanka, reaching there by crossing the sea (the Indian Ocean) was the first challenge. He asks Vibheeshan the appropriate method to cross the sea. Goswamiji writes,

संकुलमकरउरगझषजाति, अतिअगाधदुस्तरसबभाँति

(SankulMakarUragJhakhjati, atiagaadh duster sab bhanti)

(- as the words from Sri Ram which means “various breads of alligator, snakes and fish are there and it seems very difficult to cross the sea”).

Vibheeshan replies, as per Sriramcharitmanas,

कहलंकेशसुनहुरघुनायक, कोटिसिंधुसोषकतवसायक|

जद्यपितदपिनितिअसगाई, विनयकरियसागरसनजाई

(kahlankeshsunahuraghunayakkotisindhusoshak tab sayak, jadyapitadapinitiasigaeevinaykariyasagar san jaee).

(As directly said by Vibheeshan that “even though your arrow (you) is (are) capable to dry up millions of oceans but as per the “Niti”, you should request the ocean to kindly make a way for you to reach Lanka)”.

Above incidence clearly says that even though Sri Ram had the capabilities to destroy the sea, the powers to do so was not exercised because destroying nature for personal reasons was not in line with the “Niti” as per the Hindu/Sanatan way of life/culture. The text mentioned above in SriRamcharitmanas clearly says how environment should never be destroyed for own benefits. Several examples in Hindu texts clearly highlights environmentalist approach in Hindu culture.

2.4 Possibility: Let us continue the example from Ramacharitmanas and see what can be achieved if we live a life by acknowledging the fact that its environment which is required for our existence and not other way round. Tulsidasji writes,

सबतरुफरेरामहितलागी।रितुअरुकुरितु कालगतित्यागि

“Sab taru fare raam hit laagi, rituarukuritukaalgatityagi”

(..which means that For Sri Ram ji, all plants give fruits irrespective of season.)

If we take Sri Ram as a human being who lives consciously with a proper understanding that a healthy environment is necessary for our existence and not the vice-versa, the environment can help us flourish in ways that we have never imagined.

3. Summary

Different examples from the epic Ramayan clearly highlights how Hinduism advocates for environmental protection for any other life on the planet to flourish. Mata Seeta’s lifespan is an example that clearly shows how any life is born from the soil and ultimately merges into it to take other life forms. Other examples very categorically say that natural resources must not be exploited for personal benefits. Furthermore, practicing Hindu way of life gives us a hope that with our conscious behavior, the life may throb in unexpectedly pleasant ways. In summary, saying “Environmentalism as an integral part of Hinduism” will be an undermined statement because if understood to its roots, Hinduism and environmentalism are degenerate as it considers the whole existence at cosmic level as one entity and life & environment as mere ingredients.

(Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Dr. Hem C. Jha, Dr. Manushree Tanwar and Dr. Shailendra K. Saxena for their valuable inputs and we would like to thank INDIC Academy for the opportunity to express the views. Partial funding received from Centre of Indian Knowledge Systems (CISKS), IIT Indore is also acknowledged. Useful discussion with T. Ghosh, S. kandpal, C. Rani, L. Bansal (IIT Indore) is highly acknowledged.)


  1. “Sriramcharitamanas” By GoswamiTulsidasJi

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