Since as early as 1000 BC, there has been a deep relationship between environment and religion. Since the origin of Hinduism, nature has been worshipped as God. It’s not the same today. On one hand, we are polluting the Ganga and taking holy dips in the same river on the other.
Here’s a look at how Hinduism has changed over the years.
Worshipping nature was an indispensable part of Hinduism
Worship of nature and environment was an intrinsic part of Hindu sacred texts and teachings – including the Vedas, Bhagwat Gita, Vedanta, Punranas, Mahabharat, Ramayan etc. These theologies asked the Hindu followers to see God in every object around the universe – namely air, water fire, earth and space. These 5 objects or ‘panchbootas’ are also the main concept of the Vedas – the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Chipko movement is widely known as an example of Hindu environmental leadership. As the earth is worshipped as a goddess and mother, it’s our ‘dharma’ to protect her. Many Hindus also touch the floor before getting out of the bed and ask to forgive them for trampling her body. The Chipko movement, which included hugging the trees to save them from getting cut, reflects a similar devotion to the earth. Likewise, before the foundation of the building is dug, a priest is invited to perform the Bhoomi Pooja in order to seek forgiveness for violating her.
The old Hindu pujas had direct links to the need to conserve nature. Vat Vriksha Puja, a festival in which devotees worship the highly valuable and sacred Banyan tree. The Chaath Puja is an expression of gratitude to the Sun, as all species, directly and indirectly, depend on the solar energy. Kua Pujan is the custom of worshipping wells. As Vedic Hinduism spread throughout the Indian subcontinent, traditional practices were merged with Vedic beliefs.
Rituals were scientifically backed
Back then, rituals and religious practices formed an important part of Hinduism. Almost all Hindu ritual require to honour nature – particularly water and trees. Whether it’s encircling the trees with threads, every household having a sacred plant (like tulsi, neem, sandalwood) or bowing to the rivers.
One important ritual being ‘yagna’ – a Hindu fire ritual which dates back 3,000 years back in which practitioner offer items as ghee, grains or herbs to sacred fire as an offering to God. An image of saints pouring ghee and aggravating the fire may look pretty polluting. But, the reality is quite ironic. This ritual, in fact, purifies the air, kills pathogens like bacteria and fungi and has positive effects on the soil and micro-organisms. Here’s how. The smoke emitted from these rituals is not similar to that emitted from the factories. The yagnas use mango wood – which gives out nearly zero carbon emission. The gas released after burning the mango wood – Formic Aldehyde – kills bacteria and purifies the air. A research by Dr Kundanlal, an M.D. in allopathic medicine, yagna can kill 94% of bacteria. Cow’s ghee is another important ingredient in the ritual. Ghee freezes faster than water, that’s a common experience. The ghee when burnt in fire, it rises up in the atmosphere where the water vapour is abundant. The ghee gets frozen, becomes heavier and moves back to the earth with clouds of water, which nourishes the vegetation.
Hindu rituals mentioned in the Vedas and performed by our ancestors were not only scientific but also positive for the environment and human health. Ayurveda, which is also based on Hinduism, recognised plants for healthcare and wellbeing.
Festivals were earth-friendly
The early 80s, idols for Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Dussehra, were manually moulded in every household from clay – an earth-friendly material which dissolves easily in water. Colours were naturally derived from vegetable and plants. Spinach leaves was green, turmeric was yellow, sandalwood and pomegranate was red, Indian berries like grapes was for blue, beetroot for purple etc. This way no harm was done to nature. The entire Hindu festival calendar was framed to be parallel with the changing cycle of season. Diwali marked the beginning of winter and thus spreading warmth by lighting diyas. Holi marked as a transition from winter to summer. As this period induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere – Holika (bonfire) is burnt which ideally raised the temperature by 50-60 degree Celsius killing the bacteria.
But, it all changed during the modern era
As said by Vrindavan-based scholar – Swami Srivatsa Goswami – ‘Hindus have become champions at raping their own mother’. 800 crore of flowers are dumped every year in Ganga alone. One day of Diwali consumes electricity which can power 1.5 crore homes. The cremation rituals followed by Hindus costs 50 million trees every year. Holi wastes 150 lakh litre of water. These practices carried out in the name of Hinduism are not remotely connected to the ancient teaching of Vedas and Bhagwat Gita. The Chhath Puja used to be a festival to worship nature itself. The main items used in the Puja were ‘duara’ and ‘soop’ which are made from bamboo – a biodegradable product. But today, it’s left the rivers like the Yamuna and Ganga polluted. Despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposing a fine of Rs 5,000 on anyone throwing religious offering (flowers, plastic bags, leftover food, incense sticks, ceramic pots) in the Yamuna river, it’s not really stopped this practice. The government also put barricades on 565 ghats, that too didn’t stop people from littering. Blind faith and lack of understanding of the origins of these practices has led to the drastic evolution of Hinduism.
It’s not Hinduism as a religion which should be blamed, it’s the way people have interpreted it, is the issue. Modernity, commercialism and politicisation have taken away the true essence of Hinduism. The bigger, the better – is the new motto of festivals.
Ganesh Chaturthi was not always about gigantic idols, designer mandals and loud music. Here’s how it’s evolved over the years.
Festivals are swiftly moving from community driven to consumer-driven. Post the economic liberalisation in 1991, as our income grew so did the huge spending on festivals and religion. Today, there are 2.1 million temples in the country, the festival economy is rapidly soaring with Ganesh Chaturthi alone generating 20,000 crore business. Durga Puja equals to one-third of West Bengal’s economy. Festivals have become an entirely new venture for the food and beverage industry, electronics showroom, online websites, grooming and travel etc. which scream discounts during festive seasons. Thomas Cook recorded a growth of over 36% during the festive season. The early 2000s, the affluent urban Indians started the trend of vacationing during festivals. Which soon widespread across Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas. To cater to this demand travel companies now are coming up with festival-related travel packages customised to include traditional meals and small pooja at exotic locations.
Indians are very sensitive about religious matters. Pinpointing religious rituals, practices and customs have led to protests and unrests in the society. Religious leaders, scholars and groups can play an important role in using this soft power to protect the environment. In 2015, a push by Sikh environmental groups drove the Golden Temple, the Sikh faith’s holiest which feeds 100,000 people daily, to start growing its own organic food to reduce its impact on nature. We need more and more groups like these to who can reconnect the importance of enviornment with religion.