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Dharma: ecological balance   

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The king was the administrator of dharma. He was to be guided by this principle of balance, harmonizing relationships between all kingdoms of nature, mineral, vegetable, animal and man, various groups and administrative units. Dharma was the underlying  principle of political, economic and social relations in a state, and this principle was to be extended even to the earth and its products. We catch a glimpse of this knowledge of ecological balance in the coronation oath which was administered to a king. Aitareya Brahmana gives the promise which Purohita took from the king to the following effect: 

“Between the night I am born and the night I die whatever good I might have done, my heaven, my life, my progeny, may I be deprived of it, if I oppress you. (Book viii, chapter 4). Satapatha Brahmana states that the king should take consent of the earth at the time of the Rajasuya ceremony thus: 

“Mother Prithvi (Earth), injure me not, nor I thee.” 

It was a bounden duty of the king to see to it that the earth was not subjected to undue strain, her resources not unduly depleted. The earth was the mother, she sustained life with her products.   

Somadev in his Niti Vakyamrita gives a hymn which it was incumbent upon the king to recite every day: 

“I am protecting this cow (earth) which bears the milk of four oceans, whose calf is dharma, whose tail is enterprise (purushartha), whose hoofs are varna and ashrama (four groups and four orders), whose ears are desire and action (karma and artha), whose horns are diplomacy and valor, whose eyes are truth and purity, and whose face is law…I shall not be patient with anyone who injures her.” 

This is probably the earliest record in all human history of man’s clear realization of the ecological state to preserve. Nations that have flouted this most significant fact of social life have disappeared and their wrecks lie scattered along the shores of history. India knew this principle and honored it in practice. 

Place of nature in Indian literature 

India’s attitude to nature was one of comradeship. Flowers, birds, beasts and men shared the one life, facing the same suffering and pain of the upward travail, entertained the same sentiments and affections. The early Vedic Indians became lyrical in their adoration of nature and its manifestations. This is a description of the Dawn in the Rig Veda  

Usha, the dawn, is often invoked, and is the subject of some of the most beautiful hymns that are to be found in the lyrical poetry of any ancient nation. 

Beautous daughter of the sky!
Hold they ruddy light on high,
Grant us wealth and grant us day,
Bring us food and morning's ray.
White-robed goddess of the morning sky,
Bring us light, let night's deep shadows fly.

This light, most radiant of lights, has come; this gracious one who illumines all things is born. As night is removed by the rising sun, so is this the birthplace of the dawn....We behold her, daughter of the sky, youthful, robed in white, driving forth the darkness. Princess of limitless treasure, shine down upon us throughout the day." - Rig Veda I. 113.

"We gaze upon her as she comes
The shining daughter of the sky
The mighty darkness she uncovers,
And light she makes, the pleasant one that we see."


Usha! (Dawn) Hail, Beautous daughter of the sky!

(image source: The Splendour That Was 'Ind'  - By K T Shah).


Of the hymns to other deities, the hymns to those to Usha, the Dawn, are especially beautiful. Some of the loveliest nature poetry of this period is dedicated to her, depicted as a young maiden who comes to mankind in the special characteristics of the dawn. Dawn bring a feeling of hope and refreshment, of entering into the activity of the universe. 

The Aryas worshipped Nature. They were fascinated by their natural surroundings. Gods representing the forces of nature are mentioned in the hymns of Rig Veda. Rta was the term used to mean the natural law of the cosmic order and morality. It was the regulator of the whole Universe. The lotus keeps its vigil during the night and opens its heart to the life-giving touch of the sun in the early morn. The bee and flower play a game of hide and seek. All nature, flowers, trees, birds and deer grieve over Shakuntala's departure from her father's hermitage and her leave-taking is one of the most touching scenes in the drama of Kalidasa. The swan paints a poetic picture of Nala on whom Damyanti had set her heart. The bird Jatayu gives a fight to Ravana to rescue Sita as she is being kidnapped to Lanka. Indian literature is suffused with a feeling of tenderness towards all sub-human manifestations of life.

(source: India: A synthesis of cultures – by Kewal Motwani p. 110-111 and 166-167).

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Updated -  October 28, 2008