Indian religious and Cultural Heritage is the collection of social norms, ethical values, traditional traditions, belief systems. India is a country with a diverse culture. India’s culture refers to a group of small distinct civilizations. Clothing, festivals, languages, religions, music, dance, architecture, food, and art are all part of Indian culture.
Religious and cultural heritage includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Heritage refers to what we acquire from our forefathers and mothers. India is a country with many different cultures and traditions. Our country is home to people of many castes, faiths, and creeds. Each ethnic group in our country has its own genesis story, as well as its own set of traditions and culture. They have all made their mark on Indian culture and religious heritage. Nature has carved out a separate geographical entity in India.
Because of the great number of religious groups that live in our country, Indian heritage and culture are diverse and vibrant. Every community has its own set of traditions and rituals that it passes on to future generations. The concerns concern for the environment protection in India can be traced back to the ancient period. Different Religious faith has different methods or mentions about the protection of environment.
The ancient Indian law on environment protection is found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra which says that it was the dharma of each individual in the society to protect nature. The people worshiped the objects of nature. The trees , water , land and animals gained a much important position in ancient times.
Indian society has, since time immemorial, been conscious of the necessity of protecting the environment and ecology. The main motto of social life has been “to live in harmony with nature.” Sages and saints of India lived in forests. Their preaching contained in Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, etc. are ample evidence of the society’s respect for plants, trees, earth, sky, air, water and every form of life. It was regarded as a sacred duty of everyone to protect them.
In those days, people worshiped trees, rivers and sea which were treated as belonging to all living creatures. The children were educated by their parents and grandparents about the necessity of keeping the environment clean and protecting earth, rivers, sea, forests, trees, flora, fauna and every species of life.
India is a land of rites and rituals. Almost all major religions of the world are represented in India. All these religions realized the proximity of mankind with nature. All religions regulated the conduct of mankind in such a manner, which was conducive to nature and not adverse to nature.
In Vedic period, the environment was part of the ethos of ancient people. In Rig Veda, it is mentioned that the universe consists of five basic elements. They are Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Ether (space). These five elements provide the basis for life in everything and man is ordained to conserve them. It is further ordained that nobody will destroy vegetation and no one shall kill animals. Thus, it shows compassion for both animals and plants.
Yajurveda, which is approximately 1200 to 1000 BC old, in the Shanti Path explains the importance of the environment for peace. The mantra emphasizes that for universal peace, the conservation and preservation of earth, sky, space, water, plants, forests and nature is required. It says:
“May the sky be peaceful; may the mid-space be peaceful; may the earth be peaceful; may the waters be peaceful; may the annual plants be peaceful, may the forests be peaceful, may all the bounties of Nature be peaceful, may the knowledge be peaceful; may all the things be peaceful, may there be peace and peace only; may such a peace come to me.”
The Yajna or sacrificial fire, apparently done to worship one or the other deity , also helps in purifying the air and thus keeping the environment healthy.
In Yajurveda the significance of Yajna has been explained by stating that butter and firewood are offered into the sacrificial fire, it dissolves them to their subtlety so as to settle in the atmosphere and thus making it free from impurities and stink.
Similarly, Samaveda also highlights the importance of sacrificial fire as it helps in keeping away the mosquitoes and other insects.
Yajna or sacrificial fire is also considered the cause of biological evolution.
Shaloka 14 of chapter 3 of Shri Bhagwat Gita explains that the blood and the semen is the chemical transformation of the cereal consumed. From the seminal sperm creatures are begotten. But the cereal grows because of water that rains and the rains are brought about through the Yajna or the sacrificial fires.
In the Manusmriti also it is stated that the Yaina or sacrificial fire is the cause of biological evolution.
Sages of the Atharva Veda chanted-
“What of thee I dig out, let that quickly grow over, let me not hit thy vital, or thy heart.”
This means that one can take from the earth and atmosphere only so much as one puts back to them. In the present days, this is considered one of the most important principles of sustainable development.
The purity and quality of water has been highlighted in the Atharva Veda. It is mentioned that pure water cures many ailments and it acts as a preventer of the diseases which are not yet contracted. Atharva Veda also speaks about the protection of wildlife and domestic cattle. The cattle were meant to adorn the ceremony but not for sacrifice. The killing of animals in the name of Yajna has been condemned as mad and undisciplined acts in Mahabharata.
The Padma Purana mentions that those who sacrifice cattle are doomed to perdition.
In Manusmriti, the cruelty towards animals has been condemned. It is stated that the killer of the cattle is doomed to die as many times as there are hair on the skin of the cattle. It is further stated that even after death, he shall have no peace.
Manusmriti also mentions the optimum use of the resources of nature. This is yet another way to maintain the ecosystem.
Certain trees are considered to be sacred and they are worshipped. They are not to be cut. In Padma Purana and Karma Purana, it is mentioned that the trees like, peepal, bel, ber, neem, etc. are the abode of God and they are not to be cut.
This is nothing but a way of conserving the vegetation. Planting of trees and plants like tulsi in every house is considered to be a religious act.
Hinduism considers nature as “the body of God”. Different aspects of nature, ie., plants (Tulsi), trees (Peepal), birds (Garuda) and animals (Lion) are worshiped. Thus, nature has been directly interconnected with religion and religion has a direct effect on the conservation and protection of the environment.
From the cultural heritage point of view also we find that in India there has been a close link between the environment protection or nature and human beings.
For example, the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is known for protecting trees even at the cost of their lives. Even today, the Bishnoi community villages are found to be green amidst deserts. They have the cultural tradition of planting and protecting certain trees and plants around their house.??
The basic tenets of Buddhism are simplicity and ahimsa or non-violence.
Both these principles of Buddhism are of great importance in the conservation and protection of the natural environment. The principle of simplicity teaches us that man should not overexploit natural resources. Man should not become greedy to earn more and more in the shortest possible time by exploiting natural wealth and leaving nothing for the future generation.
There is sufficiency of everything in the nature of man’s need but not for man’s greed. Thus, the first principle of Buddhism, i.e., simplicity, is based on sustainability which is also the crying need of the present times.
The other basic principle of Buddhism, i.e., ahimsa or non-violence, teaches us that we should not kill animals. It shows the love for fauna and flora. In Buddhism we also find emphasis on tree plantation and their preservation. King Ashoka wanted the non-violence to be the cultural heritage of the people. Therefore, punishment was prescribed tor killing animals.
The basic thrust of Jainism is on the minimum destruction of living and non-living resources for the benefit of man. People following Jainism also believe in the principle of simplicity, i.e., to meet their minimum needs without over-exploiting nature and natural wealth. Thus, Jainism is also based on the principle which is in close harmony with nature and helps in protecting and preserving nature.
The Holy Koran declares that everything is created from water. Thus, there is a significance of purity of water. Allah is considered to be the owner of land and mankind is the trustee or guardian, whereas other living creatures are considered to be the beneficiaries. In Islam also, there is close harmony between man and nature.
Christians are baptized in water, as a sign of purification. In fact, in almost all religions, a common thread is the sacred quality of water.
Pope Paul VI , In his message to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972 stated that the environment and resources are for everyone; they are inalienable property of everyone.
Sikh religion is comparatively of recent origin.
The concern for the environment is evident from the fact that it considers every creature to be the incarnation of God and hence conservation and preservation are essential principles. Guru Nanak ji said,
“Air is vital force, water the progenitor, the vast earth the mother of all, day and night are nurses fondling all creation in their lap. (Jap Ji Sahib)”
Guru Granth Sahib Ji also emphasizes that human beings are composed of five basic elements of nature, i.e., earth, air, water, fire and sky.
Thus, a close relationship between nature and mankind has been recognized.
Thus, in the ancient time, water, animals and plants mostly attracted a favourable attention of each member of the society. It was the religion which controlled the activities of individuals. The dharma of the environment was to sustain and ensure progress and welfare of all. The inner urge of the individuals to follow the set norms of the society, motivated them to allow the natural objects to remain in the natural state. The most important and noteworthy development of this period was that each individual knew his duty to protect the environment and he tried to act accordingly.
It is not that earlier in India there were no laws to protect the environment from pollution and that it is a recent phenomenon to have laws to protect the environment. Even from the last century, in India, there have been various Statutory Provisions, Specific Legislations and application of Common Law Principles the object of which is to protect the environment.
Thus, broadly speaking, the legal remedies which are available in India for protecting the environment from pollution are Common Law Remedies and Statutory Remedies.