For a foreigner, visiting India for the first time could be an overwhelming experience. From the sandy tract in the north-west to the snowy Himalayas in North-Northeast, from fertile plains to long coastline in the Peninsular region, India is a vast country with great diversity in physical features. However, it isn’t just the landscapes that are so diverse- the people, cultures and languages are quite distinctive too, changing every 15 to 20 kilometres.
Enchanted with this land of multicoloured landscapes, many a time the foreigners stay in the villages, visit different religious sites, eat street food, and try to learn & converse in a local language— a modest attempt to blend in. However, to understand any civilization, especially Indian, one must scrutinize its core characteristics which include thousands of distinct and unique cultures of all religions, communities and their commonly practised social norms.
Man & Environment- Preservation not exploitation
Often overlooked, yet one of the most beautiful aspects of our civilization is a balanced pattern in the man-environment interaction. From most ancient scriptures such as Rig-Veda to Athara- Veda to Surpala’s Vrikshayurveda, every book reverberates the environment tradition which elaborates on plant science, where a tree is seen as a symbolic representation of the universe. Similarly, Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment is also regarded as the symbol of “the universal consciousness”.
Nevertheless, it would be erroneous to presume that the environmental consciousness was just limited to religious scriptures and symbolism as the nature preservation in India dates back to 3500 BCE. Dholavira, an Indus Valley site, has been accorded by the archaeologist as one of the earliest cities to invest in water harvesting. This manifests that the local Indus population was already well adapted to living in different environmental conditions where instead of exploiting, they learned to live with pre-existing conditions.
Another great example can be of the Grand Anicut (Kallanai Dam) on the river Kaveri. Built by the great Chola King, Karikala, it diverted the Kaveri waters without “impounding them”. It is the oldest water-regulator structure in India yet is still in use. Contrary to modern-day dams which are built at the cost of surrounding habitat— often killing trees and other plant life, this ancient dam was built considering environmental factors.
Despite such old upright examples to follow, we have not been able to regard nature’s gifts to us and, in turn, have milked it. Modern-day practices like rapid urbanization and exponential growth have severed these age-old organic links between man and his environment and we still continue to exploit nature beyond our basic necessities.
Did COVID-19 enlighten the consciousness?
As humans have been confined to their homes, awaiting a remedy or further announcement by the governments for COVID-19 pandemic, other species were able to roam freely.
With millions of registered cars off the streets and factories & construction activities suspended, AQI levels fell below 20, especially in cities like Delhi where 200 is considered as average and generally soars to 900 in the winters. However, this is just not the one-off instance as the tangible improvements in the other densely populated Indian cities make us believe that the Earth can be saved.
From spotting Critically Endangered Ganges Dolphin, also our national aquatic animal, at Ganga Ghats of Kolkata, to Ganga water at Haridwar being deemed fit for consumption in decades. Such changes, in just a span of a few weeks, prove that we can still undo the damage we have brought upon the environment.
With sustainable practices such as making rainwater harvesting compulsory in rain shadow areas, a partial ban on non-biodegradable substances like rubber, plastic & cement, one car one family rule, and recycling, we can help save about one million plant and animal species which risk extinction due to human activities.
As we fight the deadly virus and prep-up for World’s Environment Day, let’s use traditional Indian values to help restore ecological balance & build a world where instead of growing exponentially, we live with nature.