Indic traditions and art have always been eco-friendly, imbibing elements of nature, imparting an identity to the form and being a source of inspiration for us, writes MARUTI NANDAN P TIWARI
Prakriti is omnipresent and omnipotent. Elaborate textual and visual references to nature have been found in Indic philosophy and art since the time of Sindhu-Saraswati culture, about 2500 to 1000 BCE, revealing its inseparability from human life.
Indian art is an integrated visual manifestation of the human and non-human, nature. It transmits in a non-verbal language a strong message about how humanity and the divine world can exist and survive only along with nature. Hence, nature is to be sustained and protected by all means. Indic scriptures too are full of references indicating the importance of the earth, trees, water, animals, and plants for our survival, and also add them to the list of sacred objects of worship.
Prithvi Shanti, Vanaspatayah Shanti — this line of the Shanti Mantra from the Yajur Ved, verse 36:17, talks about shanti, pacification, of the earth and the vegetation world. The Atharva Ved, 12:1:26, says that the earth is our mother and we all are her sons. Our welfare depends on her prasannata, happiness; and our purna vinash, annihilation, is due to her aprasannata, unhappiness.
In the Gita, 10:19-40, Krishn tells Arjun about some of his forms; he says he is the best in worldly manifestations including flora and fauna. He is the Ashvattha, pipal, among trees, Airavat among elephants, Vasuki in snakes, Anant in cobras, simha in animals, garuda in birds, the Ganga in rivers, Meru in mountains, and sagar, ocean, in all water bodies.
The ancient practise of worshipping animals and plants continues even today. Many of us worship the cow with calf; snake; meena-jugal, two fish; elephant; tulsi; and neem, pipal and banyan trees. Some of these are also considered auspicious symbols. The Lion Capital of Ashok that has been adopted as our national emblem shows four asiatic lions standing back to back; a lotus, horse, elephant and a bull. The state emblem of Uttar Pradesh includes a pair of fish. These are present day symbols derived from the past.
Hindu gods and goddesses, along with Jain tirthankars and the Buddha — all are associated with flora and fauna in some way. Their vahans, mounts, or chinha, cognisance, are derived from nature. For example, the lotus is shown in the hands of Surya, Lakshmi, Vishnu, and Saraswati; and Ikshu-dhanush, a bow made of sugarcane, is associated with Kamadev, god of love.
In most cases, the individual identity of deities and Jain tirthankars rests mainly on the vahans and chinhas, and attributes drawn from the world of flora and fauna. And if these are withdrawn, their very identity will be lost. A unique murti of the Buddha from the Gupta period showing him sitting in the dharmachakra-pravartana mudra of preaching, preserved in Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, reveals a wonderful assimilation of nature in the rendering of the halo, created by undulating creepers. It suggests an unceasing flow of energy and life. If we remove this halo, the image does not remain that graceful. The other point is the presence of two deer on the pedestal that flank the central dharmachakra, symbolising the dharma in the form of the Buddha’s teachings. In the inanimate stone, what animal other than the deer could have suggested the outcome of the teachings, that is peace? Incidentally, the chinha of the sixteenth Jain Tirthankar is mrig, deer, corresponding with his name, Shantinath.
Ancient Indic literature and art have always harboured an eco-friendly spirit, imbibing elements of nature to give meaning, message and identity to the form. ■