This incident happened in my childhood. During summer vacation we went to a relative’s house. There was a river – not a big one, a stream – near to his house. The uncle allowed us to take bath in the river. I was so excited. I was about to take bath in the river for the first time in life. I ran towards the river along with other kids.
I saw an unknown old man standing on the banks of the river. He should be in his late 60s. He had long beard and was very dark complexioned. As he was chewing betel leaf with lime and arecanut, a reddish coloured liquid was oozing out of his mouth. He might have guessed that I was a new boy in the pack. He looked at me sharply and said: “Son, go piss in the coconut tree root before jumping into the river. If you piss in the river, the goddess would be angry. She would send a special fish to chop off your peeing organ…”
You may call him superstitious. Pagan. Animist. Barbarian. The ordinary old man in that incident was a follower of a life‐style that was founded upon the man’s inseparable bondage with nature. Today I can easily place him higher than any nature lovers, environmentalists, green leaders or self‐styled gurus. Our way of life (Sanatan Dharma) was sustained by those simple and illiterate human beings, not by philosophers and thinkers.
He told me to piss on the coconut tree roots, so god would bless me. The content of urine is a good organic fertilizer for the coconut tree. When you get into water, you normally piss. The water in the flowing river was used for drinking. You should not contaminate drinking river. So our ancestors tried to put scare of god in us. The modern man would tell you that the old man is spreading lies and superstitions.
The river has disappeared now. What our ancestors preserved for future generations for the last 5000 years by sacrificing their lives, was destroyed by our modern, progressive thinkers in 50 years!
I recently saw the United States President’s accusing India’s role in Global warming.
Let’s first consider who’s responsible for the global warming that the world is currently experiencing and will continue to experience in the future.
The US and West do not have moral right to advise us. World Resources Institute says that from the US, a single country produced 27% of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the world. No other single country was close — indeed, the U.S. even outdistanced all the nations of the European Union (25%) combined. This is not a justification for India to pollute. I am talking about a different reason to question the West’s pointing finger towards India.
Who killed India’s greenery?
Our ancestors – followers of Sanatan Dharma – regarded everything around us as pervaded by a subtle divine presence, may it be rivers, mountains, lakes, animals, flora, the mineral world, as well as the stars and planets. Western philosophy that founded upon Semitic beliefs, on the other hand, treats man and nature as separate entities believing that the former has the prerogative to exploit the latter. This concept has distanced humanity from Nature. As people came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In other words, the tradition of maintaining sacred groves and sacred trees vanished, due mainly to the rise of dogmatic Semitic religions, which advocated faith in one god and were explicitly for the eradication of ‘pagan’ practices.
“God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said: Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” This is the nutshell of all Western and Semitic beliefs. The bloodthirsty fanaticism that characterizes the Semitic creeds was unknown to the ‘Pagans’ or the followers of Santan Dharma who had lived for long and in peace with their environment and every variety of plant and animal worship. In our ancient stories, birds and animals have always been identified with gods and goddesses.
Animism (a term used by the colonial British in India to describe our ancestors) used to denote the worship of forces of nature as opposed to a ‘true’ (Monotheistic) god.
Till then, our ancestors considered Earth as our mother. Protecting the environment was an important expression of dharma. We believed that God is present in all nature, in all creatures, and in every human being regardless of their faith or lack of it. We had a strong tradition of non‐violence (ahimsa) that is UNKNOWN for the West and Semitics.
Trees were regarded as symbols of eternal life. So, cut those down would invite the wrath of the gods. Groves in forests were looked upon as habitations of the gods. They have worshiped trees, have tied sacred threads around them, have taken shelter under them, have held social ceremonies around these, offered them water, milk and sometimes even cow dung.
India’s sacred text, Rig Veda is a celebration of nature, its hero the God of Rain. Our scriptures caution:
“Oh wicked persons! If you roast a bird, then your bathing in sacred rivers, pilgrimage, worship and yagnas are useless.”
The Padmapurana (Bhoomikhanda 96.7‐8) warns: “A person, who is engaged in killing creatures, polluting wells, and ponds and tanks, and destroying gardens, certainly goes to hell.” Typically, our social thought had always included an ecological dimension. The man is forbidden from exploiting nature. He is taught to live in harmony with nature and recognize that divinity prevails in all elements, including plants and animals.
And Rishi Markandeya (in Mahabharata) warned us about forthcoming global warming. Terrible wars and demonic diseases will decimate the human race, and savage cold and scathing heat, scorching droughts and sweeping floods will terrorize the people….
Atharva Veda – Prithvi Sukta states: “Earth is my mother, I am her son”. Our ancestors saw Mother India as part of Mother Earth. India is the land of sacred geography (Punya bhoomi) — but to those who followed the Dharma alone.
With the arrival of European pirates and looters (British, Portuguese, French, Dutch etc.), Middle East barbaric invaders, Evangelists, all our natural beliefs and dharmic concepts were touted as superstitions. The Sanatan Dharma was paganism or animism for them. To foreigners, India has been a real estate, not a punya bhoomi (sacred land) as considered by our ancestors. The invaders have possessed India; our ancestors have belonged to it.
The invaders and pirates have thus distanced humanity from Nature. As people of Indian sub‐continent came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, (naturally) they lost their reverence for nature. Their concept of morality is based on taking into consideration only man, and leaving the entire animal world without rights.
Our tradition (that men submit to nature so the nature preserves its sacredness) lost in the Semitic West influence since the Industrial Revolution. They said: Man should conquer nature. Anything that gets in the way should be brushed aside.
The Semitic West’s idea of industrialization and development destroyed trees, these are often chopped mercilessly, and the eternal search for firewood threatens their limbs. And those wily thinkers have created a new breed of Indians conditioned with wrong concepts of life based on shallow philosophy of Semitics (They even created a religion that imitates Semitic concepts and called Hinduism). They taught us: your job is drilling, mining and stripping. Your life aim should be big gas‐guzzling cars, flashy smartphones, smelly perfumes and wet bars. Life is all about comforts, pleasure and luxury.
The modernists taught us to be arrogant and ignorant. To live like them, we have destroyed the environment of this planet. Let’s enjoy! We forgot that the resources of nature belong to all including the future generations. We have polluted the oceans, we have made the air unbreathable, and we have desecrated nature and decimated wildlife. This wrong, unessential thirst for lop‐sided developments made India the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The modern environmentalism can be summed up in a single sentence. ‘Humans cut down trees; turn them into paper and write on it: “Save Trees”.
But my ancestors said, tree is divine (“May plants, the water and the sky, Preserve us and woods and mountains, with their trees for tresses” ‐Rig Veda, V‐14.11). So, if at all you need to cut a tree, it has to be done with such a reverence that we have to pray, offer pooja and seek the permission to cut it. We have to plant ten trees if we have to cut one. Brihatsamhita says, before cutting a tree for food, fuel, shelter etc people from all four varnas should join together and invoke those trees after the worship at night with a prayer:
“O tree! I salute you. Please accept my humble worship offered according to Vedic injunctions. May those beings who reside here arrange for their residence elsewhere after accepting the injunctions. Let them forgive me!”
Ask your grandparents. It was a ritual to lay a child in the rock stage of the banyan tree near traditional temples to seek blessings of the grandpa tree. Their belief:
“When the tree sees the new born, it feels extremely happy and the movement of banyan tree leaves will increase like when it happens during the wind blows.”
Did you know newborn asphyxia happens in alarming rate? Did you know Banyan tree is the best resource of pure oxygen. Ancient people believe that a child exposed to Banyan tree will never have any hearing problems. I can hear you saying: “Uday, this is baseless superstition.”
Why don’t the parents of kids with hearing problems try this? You have nothing to lose. How does the gentle soothing sound of rustling leaves in the trees creates vibrations in the skin, nervous system, acoustic organs and improves Neuro‐linguistic system should be a subject for research…A child who had such exposure to the Banyan tree will never allow cutting it off. Why? The child would naturally develop bondage with the tree. This cannot be explained to a modernist. Yes – for the modern guys these are superstitions. They won’t have any problems with cutting of a tree. (Remember the English movie Avatar?). The tree also symbolizes life and fertility in our culture. It was under a banyan tree that our sages sat in a trance seeking enlightenment and held discourses and conducted holy rituals.
Superstitions, eh? You don’t see exploiting, killing and dying for the imaginary wrathful god sitting beyond the clouds as superstition. But some non‐exploitative and harmless beliefs to protect life in the planet are superstitions!
Don’t our ancestors deserve at least “We are sorry” from this generation?
Will I see such old man who takes protecting the environment and our trees and creatures as personal responsibility? Will I see the old man who prohibits kids from pissing in the water again?