Nature Worship in India!
“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.” ~ Hubert Reeves
This quote is a true fact which is unfortunately causing destruction of the earth. Communities with their beliefs of God are busy fighting wars to prove their supremacy thereby degrading the earth and the quality of lives. They are oblivious to the extraordinary power and beauty of nature around them.
Nature is all around us and its elements determine the quality of our lives. The power of nature and its impacts on our lives have been recognized by different communities across the globe. Several communities worship the forces of nature in their unique ways.
“Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.” ~ Charlie Cook
Some communities worship nature to bow down before the supreme power of nature while others perform rituals and ceremonies to invoke different aspects of nature. For instance, many communities perform elaborate rituals in case there is a drought in their attempt to please the “Gods” who will send them rains.
I come from India and follow Hinduism, one of the most ancient religions. Nature worship is the mainstay of my religion, Hinduism.
Let me tell you how the beliefs and concepts in Hinduism are integrated with the forces of nature.
According to the ancient Hindu philosophy, God is transcendental but He manifests Himself in the various forces of nature. Therefore, Hindus worship every element of nature. In fact, nature is referred to as “Mother Nature” simply because just like a Mother, nature gives selflessly.
All religious customs and traditions in Hinduism are designed to express gratitude to different forces of nature.
Many people question the existence of so many Gods in Hinduism. Well! Each of these Gods is an element of Nature. Hindus have personified almost all aspects of life as Gods and they worship them in the form of idols. If we look around us at the number of natural elements that support our lives, it will be easy to understand why Hindus pray to so many Gods!
The reason that forces of nature are personified as idols and worshipped is because it is easier to concentrate while praying when there is something to focus on rather than praying to a something that is formless.
Hinduism preaches living in harmony with nature and peaceful coexistence with plants and animals. A vegetarian diet is recommended for Hindus so that institutionalized killing of animals for human consumption is prevented.
Environmental protection is a part of the religion and not something extra. In other words, Hindus who adhere to the beliefs and concepts preached by the religious texts play their role in the conservation of the environment as a part of their lives.
The ancient texts of Hinduism profess that all matter is made of five elements. These are Earth(Prithvi), Water(Jala), Air(Vayu), Space(Akash), and Fire(Agni). Since humans are believed to be made from these basic elements, Hinduism preaches living in harmony with these elements. Hindus are taught to acknowledge their presence and worship them.
Space or Akash is an element that corresponds to awareness. It is Akash that animates Vayu which in turns connects us to vital aspects like breath and touch. Akash is considered all powerful and revered by Hindus. Akash is considered to be an element that initiates life and is considered above the other four elements.
Air is personified as Lord Vayu and revered by Hindus. Lord Vayu is believed to elevate the mind to a higher level of truth and consciousness while freeing one from lower impulses. Vayu or wind is an element that is the basis of our existence. Hence, it is worshipped not only by Hindus but also Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
Fire is a vital element without which we cannot fathom our existence. Fire is associated with aspects of live such as sense of sight, heat, desire, and motivation, etc. It is quite obvious that these are aspects that make life meaningful. Hindus represent Fire as “Agni Devata.” Several rituals in Hinduism involve lighting up a sacred fire. The purpose of this is to express gratitude to this element. Also specific materials are used for lighting up holy fires. These are materials like sandalwood sticks, camphor, “ghee”, etc. All these materials when burnt help purify the air around the place.
We are all aware of the important role that water plays in our lives. 75% of our bodies are made up of water. According to Hinduism, water is responsible for sense of taste, emotion, and cohesion. As we can see, these aspects are “life-giving” factors of life. Therefore, Hindus include water in every religious ceremony or ritual. This is the Hindu way of acknowledging water and expressing gratitude. Most temples are located on riverbanks or seashores or coastal areas. If a natural source of water is absent, a tank is built near the temples. It is customary to take a dip in the source of water before entering the temple. A confluence of two or three rivers is considered scared. Rivers like the Ganges is considered holy. Many rituals are performed in this river. Taking a dip in this river is considered powerful enough to purify the soul. Water is also a part of all religious ceremonies. It is used for bathing Dieties. It is also used for filling “kalasa” or pot which is adorned with coconut and mango leaves.
According to Hinduism, our physical form corresponds to Prithvi or Earth. Earth is very sacred for Hindus and the religion preaches worshipping the Earth and avoiding all activities that lead to its destruction. Earth is worshipped as a Goddess. Many Hindus even in this day and age perform “Bhoomi Pujan” before digging the foundation for a construction. This is their way of seeking forgiveness from Mother Earth for violating her.
Hinduism professes the theory that humans are created from these natural elements and when they die, their physical bodies should become a part of nature. It is for this reason that bodies of Hindus are cremated or burnt to ashes after death. The idea behind this is to convert the physical body into natural elements again. When a human body is cremated, all the parts of the body get converted to ashes and the smoke which again become a part of nature.
Besides praying to these basic elements, Hindus also worship different forms of nature. Here are some common examples:
Plants like the Peepal Tree are considered sacred and Hindus pray to them because peepal and other such trees have several medicinal properties. Another important plant that adorns most Hindu households and is considered sacred is “Thulasi” or Basil. The thulasi plant is very handy to treat several ailments like cold, cough, etc.
The concept of idol worship in Hinduism is often questioned. However, idols are used just to symbolize different elements of nature. For instance, there is Lord Ganesha, who is represented with a human body with the head of an elephant. Lord Ganesha is worshipped across the country. There is a story that explains why the Lord has an elephant head. However, it is a way to worship the elephant which is considered a very important animal that maintains the ecological balance.
Another animal that is sacred to Hindus is the Cow. All the products from the cow like its milk and dung are considered as blessings from the Divine. In fact, cow’s milk is considered as a complete food.
Another popular practice in Hinduism is offering prayers to the Sun. The Sun God or Surya is worshipped because of the very nature of the Sun and its role in the survival of the planet. There are numerous temples in India that are built specifically to worship the Sun God.
Many Hindu festivals are celebrated to honor different seasons. There are festivals like “Basanth Panchmi” which indicates the onset of spring. Festivals like “Pongal” are celebrated to acknowledge the harvest season.
All in all every aspect of nature whether it is trees, plants, elements like fire, water, etc., birds, animals, seasons, are worshipped and celebrated. In other words Hindus salute the very forces of existence that give us life and support us.
It is interesting to observe that years of research has now proven that the beliefs and religious practices followed by Hindus have a scientific basis.
Hinduism, relies mostly on acknowledging nature which is the truth that exists around us. The concept of nature worship in Hinduism is aptly explained by this quote,
“Nature is man’s religious book, with lessons for every day.” ~ Theodore Parker
Is Nature Worship Relevant?
If we discard the religious aspect of nature worship and look at nature and its forces objectively, we will realize that nature is a strong force to reckon with!
In the current situation we are trying our best to find solutions in different ways. We are looking at science, religion, philosophy, etc. to provide us answers to the mayhem caused by Coronavirus.
While each of these fields will offer some solution in some way or the other, it is time that we paid some attention to the nature, the environment, and the condition of the planet.
We are amid the worst pandemic of our times. One of the chief reasons for the onset of the pandemic is considered to be the widespread destruction of nature. The mindless consumerism and greed of humans has led to encroachment of the natural habitat of animals and birds. Consequently the viruses that used to reside in the bodies of birds and animals are now looking for new hosts in us, humans. And, so in the past few years we have experienced different types of diseases spread by birds and animals like Bird Flu, Swine Flu, etc. And, now COVID 19 which has become an unmanageable pandemic causing death of humans and impacting economies.
While we are trying our best to cope with the pandemic in different ways, we need to treat it like a wake-up call. I think the most important lesson that it has driven home is that, “Humans need to stop playing with nature and start treating it with Respect.”
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” ~ Wendell Berry
We need to appreciate what nature has given us selflessly. We are forced to stay locked down and we are frustrated and depressed. But why not just stay calm and let nature heal itself! When we work throughout the year, don’t we crave for a break? Doesn’t nature deserve a break?
The ancient Hindu beliefs and systems have professed the importance of each element of nature as it is nature that makes us live and function! It is time that we took nature seriously and did our bit to help it rebuild. We have taken nature for granted for years, but now it is time that we acknowledged the needs of the planet and took care of it.
Fortunately taking care of nature and the planet is not too complicated and each one of us can do our bit in simple ways. So, why not take care of our planet and our environment because our wealth and possessions are transitory, it is only nature that is permanent!
So, why not invest your time and energy in rebuilding the earth, instead of worrying about things beyond your control!
“We have today to learn to get back into accord with the wisdom of nature and realize again our brotherhood with the animals and with the water and the sea.” ~ Joseph Campbell