Marathi Culture and Festivals

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Earth Day April 22/2015

A Hindu woman performing a religious ceremony around the Tulsi plant:

a painting by M.V. Dhurandhar, Bombay, courtesy of Victoria &Albert Museum, London

Our traditions teach us to worship all aspects of Nature and revere trees and plants, while oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains and forests were looked upon as abode of the gods.  The banyan tree is one of the sacred trees of India. It has aerial roots that grow down into the soil forming additional trunks. It is planted in front of temples and it was under a banyan tree that the sages, like Gautama Buddha, sat in meditation to seek enlightenment and it was here that they held – and still do - discourses.

Besides the sacred trees, there are some sacred plants e.g. the Tulsi, an ancient variety of the basil, and is worshipped by the Hindus. In homes, Tulsi is grown in pots and people do daily puja to it. Among other virtues of the Tulsi are its medicinal properties. Its leaves have a pleasing aroma and act as a cough elixir and the leaves are also eaten to help digestion and prevent illnesses.

The numerous other plants and animals that form part of Hindu worship are messages incorporated by the Scriptures and wise Hindu Saints to teach us that we humans are part of nature and not outside it nor above it. But nowadays for majority of Hindus, worship is generally confined to temples and homes but their actions in exploiting Nature prove they are equal contributors in global warming, pollution and emissions.

Excerpts about reverence for Nature from the book Hindu Wisdom bSushama Londhe

  • The Vedic Hymn to Earth, the Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda, is unquestionably the oldest and the most evocative environmental invocation. It declares the allegiance of humankind to Mother Earth: 'Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah: Earth is my mother, I am her son.'
  • Mahatma Gandhi, one among India's many nationalists fighting for Indian independence from British rule, observed:  "I bow my head in reverence to our ancestors for their sense of the beautiful in nature and for their foresight in investing beautiful manifestations of Nature with a religious significance." 
  • Dr. Karan Singh, "In our arrogance and ignorance we have destroyed the environment of this planet. We have polluted the oceans, we have made the air unbreathable, and we have desecrated nature and decimated wildlife. But the Vedantic seers knew that man was not something apart from nature, and, therefore, they constantly exhort us that, while we work for own salvation, we must also work for the welfare of all beings." (source: Essays in Hinduism)

Shobha Daniell