Name of the book: Hinduism and Nature
Author: Nanditha Krishna
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Price: Rs. 250/-
One rarely finds such an interesting book from academic scholars. A historian, environmentalist and writer, Nanditha Krishna has a Ph. D. in Ancient Indian Culture. She is the Founder-Director of C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research; C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (a Centre of Excellence of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Govt. of India) etc. In 1992, she conceived the idea of conserving and restoring sacred grooves in Tamil Nadu. This is when she started reading about and understanding how Hinduism is inexorably connected to nature, as it is evident in ancient texts, faith practises, and life styles. This opened her eyes to the wealth of reverence for nature in Hinduism. Her understanding reflects in the book.
Apart from introduction and conclusion, book has five chapters. The chapters are on groves and gardens, water bodies, plants, animals and hills. The book defines the relationship between Hinduism and nature saying “There is a very strong and intimate relationship between the biophysical ecosystem and economic institutions. The two are inextricably held together by cultural relations. Hinduism has a definite code of environmental ethics. According to it, humans may not consider themselves above nature, nor can they claim to rule over other forms of life. Hence, traditionally, the Hindu attitude has been respectful towards nature.”
The respect towards the nature in Hinduism reflects in many ways. One such way is not to climb mountain peaks because they are sacred e.g. Takpa Shiri in Arunachal Pradesh is one such peak located at the altitude of 6654 meters.
In recent times there is an onslaught on Hindu rituals and practices in the name of environment protection by the courts in India. The book builds a strong understanding of Hindu practices and their concern for the environment. It also quotes a Madras High Court judgment, which said “Opposition to worshipping the panchabhuta (five elements of nature) in the guise of promoting rationality is a reason for environmental degradation.”
Different individuals extract different messages from same religious texts. This book will make one realise that Ramayana is an encyclopaedia on Botany and very little has changed till now since the time of Ramayana. This is true for any other ancient Hindu scripture and books like Abhijnana Shankuntalam, Mrichhakatika etc. There are many types of forests in India and each one has a different name. We all come across them in our routine life but never realise the significance. The book suddenly opens up a new window for the reader.
The book is exhaustive in its coverage. It covers the length and breadth of India. Not a single state has been missed out. The depth of the books coverage is pleasantly surprising. For example, the book talks about two beautiful gardens at Rani Sati Temple in Birmitrapur, which is 35 km away from Rourkela. The reviewer in spite of spending 25 years at Rourkela was not aware of it. The readers from every part of India will have similar feeling while reading the book.
Hinduism was present in many parts of the world and its impact on nature is still visible on those parts. The rivers are not worshipped in India alone, but wherever Hinduism was present rivers were respected. The Mekong River, which flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam is a sacred river in South East Asia, so it was named Ma Ganga, from which comes “Mekong”.
Book also connects the reader to the ancient practices which have got corrupted today due to various reasons and in turn have become harmful to nature. One such example is the fact that images of Ganesha were never baked. They were given red eyes from the seeds of the coral tree and after puja, the idol was put back into the water body to become the silt again.
Connect of science and technology with the Hindu practices has been beautifully established. Why a particular tree or herb is grown within the compound and outside the compound are explained scientifically.
The highlight of the book is the way it underlines the importance of women in the environmental protection. Not only this, it also reminds what Atharva Veda had stated “The Earth is my mother and I am her child.”
It is a very timely and exhaustive book. We are living in an era where the environment is under serious threat and Hindu practices are being questioned at every step. The book will help counter both the issues. The book is written in very simple language and it is like reading a story. Every paragraph adds something new and valuable to the reader’s knowledge. The notes and bibliography section are very useful. It is a book which should be read by every Indian.