Ancient Indian Wisdom on Sustainability We Can Use Even Today

The climate crisis will take a heavy toll on the human race if not urgently addressed. It is abundantly clear that a sustainable future is the only way out. While this is a relatively recent idea, it was a concept thriving in India for ages. Environmentalism has been a dominant theme across traditions, festivals, and even philosophy.

India-environment
Image via Unsplash

ENVIRONMENTALISM IN THOUGHT

Balancing Material Wants

An important tenet in Hinduism is Purushartha, which means ‘object of human pursuit.’ It refers to the four main goals in life- Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. While Artha means prosperity and wealth, Kama means pleasure and Dharma refers to virtue, righteousness, moral duty, and responsibility. The above three are called ‘trivarga’ or three categories. Moksha, of all four, is considered the ultimate goal. It means spiritual liberation.

Artha and Kama are treated as destructive. If fed onto too much, they can pave the way for ultimate ruin, which alludes to over-indulgence, obsession with material well-being, and concentration of wealth. Therefore, these two elements are not as important as Dharma or Moksha.


It is the predatory consumerism of human beings that is leading to wastage and over-exploitation of resources. Therefore, one is advised to strike a balance between the four tenets of Purushartha. Material pursuits should never outweigh spiritual ones. Observe how the concept teaches us to curb our wants and desires. Do you see the lesson here? Consume in such a fashion that you leave enough for your progenies i.e. practice sustainability.


Recognition of Natural Elements as ‘Sacred’

Hindu thought is intertwined with nature, and references to the same are found in the scriptures too. Atharvaveda (12, 1, 8, and 10) and its famous Bhoomi Sukta (verse dedicated to Earth) state that the earth is called mother and imparts “strength and brilliance of energy” to the State. Trees are held sacred in the Padma Purana (Srishti Khanda 58).


Also see | Gautam Buddha Teachings


ENVIRONMENTALISM IN ACTION

Natural Tableware

Banana-leaf-india
Chitpavan Brahmin Thali by Kashmira3091 via Wikimedia Commons

With globalisation came the use of plastics. Now, a plastic-free lifestyle is the new buzzword. The eco-friendly techniques the world is adopting today have their roots in Indian traditions. Plant-made products are being flung open to European markets. Leaf Republic Limited, based in Germany, is one of the biggest customers of Pattal. Pattals are plates and bowls made from Sal or Banyan leaves stitched together with wooden sticks. They are actively used in wedding ceremonies, feasts all over India, and particularly in tribal areas.

Besides Pattal, banana leaves have always been used to serve meals. It is a popular cultural practice in parts of West Bengal. Banana leaves also exhibit antibacterial properties, thus, are safe to use. Leaf plates are biodegradable and easily decompose in the soil. This generates little to no waste at all. The hassle of waste disposal is completely phased out of the equation.


Lately, many independent manufacturers have started producing disposable tableware from the sheath of Areca nuts(also known as Betel Nuts). Such manufacturing units are the reason why India is an emerging hub of sustainable alternatives and eco-friendly products.


Plant-based Products

soap-nut
Soap Nut by Dinesh Valke via Wikimedia Commons

Toiletries and hygiene products are known to generate a lot of solid waste. Our forefathers were already using eco-friendly techniques for that, too. Neem sticks were used as toothbrushes and combs, too. Neem is one of nature's best antimicrobial agents. Sapindus Mukorossi is a medicinal plant mentioned in the Ayurveda and is found in India and Nepal. Also known as Soap Nut or Reetha, it forms more lather than any chemical shampoo there is.


Also see | Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore


Eco-Friendly Cooling Systems

earthen-pots
Earthen Pots by Shankar S. via Wikimedia Commons

Refrigerators are among the biggest contributors of CFCs- chlorofluorocarbons emissions. These harmful chemicals are responsible for depleting the Ozone Layer. We sure need a substitute, but what if I told you it's already there? The technology of natural cooling in earthen pots. The temperature at which we store water in refrigerators isn’t healthy for the body anyway. Earthen pots cool them just enough. In Gujarat, many businesses have introduced earthen refrigerators and even water bottles to the market.


Earthen Utensils

kulhad-chai
Kulhad by Biswarup Ganguli via Wikimedia Commons

In India, vendors and tea stalls make use of ‘Kulhad’ (earthen cup) instead of plastic cups. Kulhad is biodegradable and makes your favourite drink plastic-free. One can cook more nutritious meals in earthen utensils, as they add minerals such as calcium and phosphorus to the food. The same idea has gained popularity among the Vegan community.


A sustainable and eco-friendly living is inseparable from Ancient India. What is becoming a necessity now had already been devised by our ancestors. It is time we stop dismissing them as ‘outdated’ and embrace their lifestyle too.


Also see | Legends of Holi


AUTHOR

Pratha Editorial Team

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