Is conservation of nature a way of life for us? It may sound a bit surprising but the answer is more a ‘yes’ than a ‘no’. Yes, we cut trees, waste water and pollute the air with our cars. But sometime, we also participate in conservation of nature, though may be unknowingly. Let me make my point clear. Every time we pass by that neighbourhood peepal tree, we do a pranam. Yes, the tree boasts of a trishul placed by some holy saint long back and we are devotees of Lord Shiva. So we pay our tribute each time we pass by it. But let us look at this subject of our everyday worship a bit more closely.
India has thousands of such holy peepal trees spread in our cities and villages and towns. Now it is interesting to note that these peepal trees (Ficus Religiosa) are actually endemic to the Indian sub-continent (i.e Ficus trees are found only in the Indian sub – continent) and has great ecological and medicinal significance. Various parts of this tree is used in traditional medicine for about 50 types of disorders including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, gastric problems, inflammatory disorders, infectious and sexual disorders. This is a tree that bears fruit all-round the year, thus supplying a continuous supply of food to the wildlife of the place where it is flourishing. Besides, it is home to many birds and animals like squirrels. This aspect of the tree assumes great importance specially in a city where wild life habitat and wildlife food are scarce. And such is our way of life that by attaching a religious sentiment to the peepal tree, we have always tried to ensure that these trees are not cut down.
This recent news, published on 22nd of May 2012 in an English daily called Greater Jammu (http://www.greaterjammu.com/2012/20120523/state.html) proves the point:
Jammu, May 22: Cutting of a ‘Peepal’ Tree at Cremation Ground sparked protests by various organizations including political, social and religious. Greater Jammu in its Tuesday’s edition published a news item under the title ‘Cutting of ‘Peepal’ in cremation ground evokes resentment’ following which various bodies and associations were today up in arms in one voice.
The protestors including the Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena today expressed anger against ‘Sewa Samiti’ and Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) for allegedly hurting sentiment of the community.
It is difficult to believe that the importance of these trees and their “sacredness” is a mere coincidence. Generally it is seen that species which give value oriented services to the ecology, economy and the community of a region are deemed as sacred by the people there. Of course, on the face value of it, their belief is not steered by any economic or ecological perspective; rather the whole guiding force for the people has always been religious.
This kind of ecological ethos are most common among the tribal people of the country. The North East region of India is home to many tribal and ethnic groups. The religious practices and folklores of most of these indigenous societies maintain a conservationist ethos which in turn has helped them to sustain their base of natural resource. There is the famous example of the Sacred Groves of Meghalaya. The trees in this grove are considered holy by the local people and it is believed that bad luck will befall the person who harms these trees. According to local belief, one, however does not face any harm if they utilize assets of such sacred groves (say, eat a fruit, etc.) right at the spot but it is considered ominous to carry the assets away from the sacred spot. Also, interestingly, if one unknowingly breaks the religious code, no harm will strike him. Such beliefs, no doubt, endear the concept of sacred groves to its immediate influence circle.
This kind of conservationist religious sentiment is not confined to the plant kingdom alone. A cursory look at our mythology will prove the point. The rat and the elephant are associated with Lord Ganesha, the owl belongs to Goddess Lakshmi, the swan is always seen with Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Durga is incomplete without her ferocious lion, the bull and the snake are the favourite of Lord Shiva, the cow is the friend of Lord Krishna, and so goes on the list. We hold these animals sacred and are opposed to harm them because their partners are our Gods.
We Indians are religious people and since ages, religion has made a conservationist out of us. What we need to do is consciously realize the conservationist sentiment behind our religions and try to incorporate them with greater meaning and greater role in our daily life.