05 May Ecology and Forest: The Environmental Protection
Forests were very important in ancient times. From the age of Vedas, protection of forests was emphasized for ecological balance.
It is interesting to know that the ancient Vedas have several references in them on environmental protection, ecological balance, weather cycles, rainfall phenomena, hydrologic cycle, and related subjects that directly indicate the high level of awareness of the seers and people of that time.
Because they lived in the forest, the early Vedic teachers attached great importance to trees. Beneath a tree was the right place for a disciple to receive spiritual instruction from a guru. The tree was the symbol of patience and tolerance.
The sages carefully studied and recorded the herbal and medicinal properties of the forest. Some trees gained special significance, and poems and prayers were composed about them and the spirits dwelling within them.
Kautilya in his Artha-sastra (321– 296 BC) mentions that the superintendent of forests had to collect forest produce through the forest guards. He provides a long list of trees, varieties of bamboos, creepers, fibrous plants, drugs and poisons, skins of various animals, etc. that came under the purview of this officer.
According to Manu (Manusmriti), the preservation of wild animals was encouraged and hunting as a sport was regarded as detrimental to proper development of the character and personality of the ruler.
There is more to learn from our ancient literature; for example, we learn about the biodiversity of flora.
The four Vedas mention more than 75 species, Satapatha Bhrahmana mentions over 25 species, and Charaka Samhita – an Ayurvedic (Indian medicine) treatise – mentions more than 320 plants. Sushruta records over 750 medicinal plant species.
The oldest book, Rigveda, mentions a large number of poisonous and non-poisonous, aquatic and terrestrial, and domestic and wild creatures and animals. Puranas mention about 500 species of plants.
The tradition of valuing trees led to a subtle ecological relationship between human communities and the forest community of trees, plants, and animals.
The basis of this relationship was the recognition of the right of trees, forest-dwelling animals, and plants to live alongside humans, free from exploitation. Human society depended on the forest for survival and prosperity and therefore had to protect it.
Furthermore, the forest provided a place of peace and harmony with God where the spiritual goals of life could be pursued by the forest sages.
Ancient treasures of vast knowledge reveal a full cognizance of the undesirable effects of environmental degradation, whether caused by natural factors or human activities. The protection of the environment was understood to be closely related to the protection of the dyaus or heavens and prithvi or earth.
Between these two lies the atmosphere and the environment that we refer to as the paryavaran. Many of the Rig Vedic hymns therefore vividly describe the Dyava Prithvi that is, they describe Heaven and Earth together.
The Rig Veda venerates deities like Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Maruts and Aditya, that are responsible for maintaining the requisite balance in the functioning of all entities of Nature whether the mountains, lakes, heaven and earth, the forests or the waters.