In Focus

Myths, Legends That Honour Earth Every Day!

By A Draft Correspondent

This year, the significance of Earth Day is even more pronounced as nations grapple with the worsening climate crisis, more frequent and extreme weather events and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that, in fact, gave the planet a chance to recuperate when the lockdown stopped all human activities. Innumerable legends and mythology offer tales and lessons on protecting Mother Earth and respecting nature. It’s time for man to stop and draw lessons from these tales or else, as the legend goes, face nature’s fury.

LEGENDARY: Hindu mythology is ripe with stories and lessons on protecting Mother Earth
Even as countries tackle the second wave of the deadly virus, it was during the lockdown, last year, when following a halt on all kinds of human activity and interference, Mother Nature took over the opportunity to heal and reset the parameters. The pandemic had achieved what decades of international negotiations and ‘cooperation’ couldn’t at a time when the most powerful nations seemed helpless in the battle to save the planet and, in turn, human lives.

Scriptures Worship Earth As Mother

Ancient scriptures revere and worship Earth as mother. The goddess representing Earth, Bhooma Devi, Bhumi or Prithvi is the consort of Lord Vishnu’s avatar Varaha. Lord Ram’s wife Sita is Bhumi’s daughter as she was born from Earth.

Many rituals among traditional communities offer homage to Bhumi Devi to seek her blessings and patronage for survival and prosperity. It’s also mentioned in the scriptures that before starting any work on land to build a house or a road, it’s important to worship land or Bhumi Devi for her blessings.
Worship of Mother Earth is incomplete without rain. In Indian mythology, Lord Indra is the God of Rain and thunderstorms. According to the scriptures, Lord Indra is the king of swarg (Heaven) and of the life-sustaining rain, thunder, lightning, storms and rivers.

‘We Have Lost Connect With Surroundings’

“I remember, as a child, when my grandmother would read out stories from mythology passed down from generations. Everything had a connection with Earth or a life form on it. Also, every act by a man would be accounted for. It’s so relevant today when we have lost connect with our surroundings and our acts destroy everything that sustains us. It’s important for all of us to revive this knowledge,” says Mumbai-based teacher Prajakta Joshi who also feels it’s important to find these stories and read them out to children today.

In many native cultures, in India and beyond, earth and the elements of nature are worshipped. Many tribal communities in India such as the Bhils, Bishnois, etc., have rituals and practices to protect the forest, land and water i.e., their own ecosystem. The conservation rituals and practices are an extension of their duties or dharma and not separate acts to ‘save the environment’. For them, religion and environment aren’t disjoint…they’re two inseparable parts of one theology.

Nature, Plant Or Animal Worshipped As Totem

SACRED: The Blackbuck
Many tribal groups have a totem of their own that they worship. It usually an element of nature, a plant or an animal that helps in sustaining humanity, particularly so associated with their day-to-day lives. For example, the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan consider the Black Buck to be the reincarnation of their religious head Guru Bhagwan Jambeshwar also known as Jambaji. Born in 1451, Jambaji had laid down 29 commandments for his followers and that’s how the group came to be known as Bishnoi. Bish means twenty and noi means nine.

So, a member of this community shall never tolerate, allow or perform the killing of a wild animal or the cutting down of a tree. A Bishnoi is known to readily even lay down his life to protect the blackbuck.

The largest tribal group in Jharkhand, the Santhals have hundreds of totemic groups named after plants, animals or objects. The Gonds, found in Maharashtra mostly in Vidarbha region, are a goat clan whose members consider the goat as their totem. Apparently, as legend goes: A goat that had been stolen by their ancestors for sacrifice but turned into a pig when the theft was discovered, saving the thieves from a certain punishment. Among the Todas, a Dravidian ethnic group living in the Nilgiri mountains, the buffaloes are revered and most of the rituals have to do with buffaloes and the treatment of their milk. 

Planting Gardens Eradicates Sins, Says Purana

Pancha Mahabhutas or the five basic elements – Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Space or Aether - create are the basis of all creation including any living organism, human body even Earth according to Hinduism. Each element has its own form and the five are interconnected forming a delicate balance to sustain life.

The Puranas dating back to fourth century AD elaborately mention conservation of the environment. ‘God Keshava is pleased with a person who does not harm or destroy other creatures or animals (Vishnu Puran).’ The puranas also mention the virtues of plants and trees and emphasise on the need for tree plantations. Agni Puran, for example, says that the plantation of trees and creations of gardens leads to eradication of sins. Padma Puran also says that cutting of a green tree is an offence punishable in hell.

The ‘Worshipped’ Tiger Protects People 

Back home, in Maharashtra, even today, the ancient tiger/leopard deity Waghoba is worshipped. Several temples housing centuries-old Waghoba idols are still thronged by devotees who strongly believe that Waghoba or Bageshwar protects their people and preserves the forest they live in. Tribal groups in Maharashtra and Goa worship him primarily. These include the Warli, Bhaina, Bharia, Dangis, Bhatra, Gosain, Kol, Gond, Korku, Velip, Koshti, etc.