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Meeting Ground: Vedas and Rio


At the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992, environmental issues were hotly debated and an
attempt was made to arrive at a blueprint for future conservation efforts. A document,
known as Agenda 21, was issued, which provided 27 guiding principles for sustainable

Interestingly, several of the 'Rio principles' for environmental conservation were taught
and practised in ancient India.

The modern holistic approach for ecological balance is reflected in the most ancient of
Indian scriptures, the Vedas. For instance, the first Rio principle enunciates that ''human
beings are at the centre of sustainable development in harmony with Nature''. The ancient
seers had prayed: ''Maintain us in well-being in summer, winter, dew-time, spring,
autumn, and rainy season.

Grant us happiness in cattle and children. May we enjoy your unassailed protection''. The
Prithivi Sukta of the Atharvaveda especially propounds man's close relationship with

The fourth Rio principle says that ''environmental protection shall constitute an integral
part of development''; several Vedic hymns expressly instructed people not to harm the
waters, vegetation, and environment — ''prithiveem ma himseeh'', ''antariksham ma
himseeh'', ''mapo maushadheerhimseeh'' (Yajurveda). A prayer in the Rigveda says: "We
offer our reverence to Nature's great bounties, to those who are old, and to the young,
may we speak with the force at our command, the glory of all divine powers. May we not
overlook any of them".

The seventh Rio principle prescribes that the ''earth's eco-system should be conserved,
protected and restored''. Along with land, protection of water bodies, as well as flora and
fauna has been integral to India's ancient tradition. People were exhorted to conserve the
environment, for as is mentioned in the Rigveda: "That is the forest, which is the tree out
of which (the gods) have fabricated heaven and earth, ever stationary and undecaying,
giving protection to the deities; through numerous days and dawns (men) praise (the gods
for this)".

The Earth was revered as mother. According to the Atharvaveda, "bhoomih mata
putroham prithivyah", — like a mother the earth is to be respected and protected. The
basics of maintaining ecological balance were well understood. Nature demands: "Dehi
me dadami te", — you give me, and I give you (Yajurveda). We see the consequences
globally now for not following this basic rule. We cannot exploit Nature without
nurturing her in return. Our ancient seers realised that doing so would harm Nature's
delicate balance.

Several Vedic hymns are prayers for maintaining balance in the functioning of all aspects
of Nature, like this Rigvedic hymn: "I invoke the vast and beautiful day and night, heaven
and earth, Mitra and Varuna with Aryaman, Indra, the Maruts, the mountains, the waters
(of earth), the Adityas, heaven and earth, the waters (of the firmament), the whole host of

The twenty-fifth Rio principle talks about how ''peace, development and environmental
protection are interdependent and indivisible''. In ancient India, it was well understood
that ecological balance is dependent on actions, good or bad, of individuals and society.

The Vedas are great treasures of knowledge. The scientific approach presented by them
in viewing various entities of Nature and visualising the process of creation is amazing,
given that modern tools of scientific enquiry were not available then. It is unfortunate that
we have forgotten the golden principles set out in them and are proceeding towards self-

(The writer is executive secretary of the International Commission on Irrigation and


Times of India, June 5, 2002 <Meeting Ground: Vedas and Rio - The Times of India