Nature: an integral part of Hindu worship and life

Being brought up in a Hindu household, nature has been close to my heart ever since childhood. Almost all Hindu households keep the Tulsi plant and worship it regularly. In Mumbai, it is difficult to rear cows but whenever I visited my village, playing with the cows and calves raised by our family there was fun to say the least. Hindu scriptures have accorded a place of great importance to ‘Prakriti’ (nature). It is said that Maheshwara separated Devi Adi Shakti from Himself and gave Her to Brahma so that the latter could complete the task of creation. Devi Shakti then took the form of Prakriti and hence every being in this universe is said to be permeated by Her.

From the time of evolution, ecology has been flourishing and the myriad species that inhabit this planet have been playing a crucial role in the sustenance of this planet. Nature existed much before humans evolved and will continue much after we perish. The issue of pollution and destruction of nature that we see all around today is a result of human greed. If we observe carefully then we would see that no specie takes more than what it requires; no specie except humans that is. Human greed knows no limits and often times it is this that leads to overdrawing from nature. When we overdraw from a bank then we will have to pay interest on the overdrawn amount. Similarly when we take more than what we need then it is us who will have to pay the price for the same.

Our sages and seers recognised the importance of nature and the diverse species that lives in it. Hence, they included nature worship in our shastras. We have an occasion to celebrate so many aspects of nature; right from Gaumata to Shaligramas and other such aspects of nature. Nag Panchami is not just about feeding milk to serpents but the significance is deeper in the sense that Nagas are worshipped as life giving. We can understand this if we look at it from the ecological perspective where serpents kept the rodent population in check thereby helping farmers protect their crops. We worship trees such as the Vat Vriksha (Banyan tree) because according to Hinduism, the same universal soul ‘Parmatma’ resides in all living as well as non-living species.

Besides the fact that it is the same universal soul that permeates every being in this universe, we are also united by the fact that we share a common progenitor. Shastras state that all living beings came from Rishi Kashyap (who hailed from Kashmir valley and after whom the valley itself has been named). He married the daughters of Prajapati Daksh so as to bring to life every living form. His children from Aditi were Adityas or demigods, Diti were Daityas or demons, Vinata were Garuda and Aruna, Kadru were the Nagas (serpents), Krodhavasha were Pisachas, Kala were Asuras and rakshasas, Danu were Danavas (giants), Khasa were Yakshas, Apsaras were born to his wife Muni, Ira gave birth to all vegetation, Tamra to all birds, Arishta was the mother of the Gandharvas (celestial beings), Sursa gave birth to Uragas (dragons) and Surbhi was the mother of Kamadhenu and other cattle.

We also see our deities riding animals or birds; that is each animal is the ‘vahana’ of a particular Devata/Devi. Not just animals but even specific plants, trees and flowers are associated with different Devis and Devatas in Hindu Shastras. This was essentially done to bring home the point that we need to respect these beings as well. There are many devatas who are a combination of various animals or humans and animals such as Narasimha, Hayagreeva or Sarabeshwara. Even the Dasavatars of Shri Hari Vishnu corresponds to some aquatic or terrestrial species. Our scriptures often used symbolism to make things easily understandable for humans. These aren’t merely tales or stories but depictions of deeper concepts made easier for us.

It is important for us to realise the significance of nature and the need to protect it. Hinduism teaches us to respect every being, both living and non-living, and see the same ‘Parmatma’ in everything. Respecting nature comes naturally to us. However, in our greed we have not just wiped out species from the face of planet earth but continue to inflict untold horrors which are destroying this beautiful planet we call home.

Here’s what Ishopanishad teaches us:

Shloka: ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत्

तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ।।

Transliteration: îsHâ vâsyamidam sarvam yat kiñca jagatyâm jagat,

tena tyaktena bhuñjîthâ mâ gRidhaH kasya sviddhanam

Meaning: Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one must not accept other things, knowing well to Whom they belong.

The next time you are strolling on the beach or lazing in a garden amidst nature recall this quote from the Ishopanishad and remember that we cohabit this earth with other species. When the thought that God permeates everything will guide us we shall certainly preserve nature instead of misusing and abusing it.