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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Himanshu Bhatt

The ecology of the world has been considered sacred to Hindus because plans are living beings, and hence, children of the earth albeit not sentient. As a consequence, plants have been implemented in worship and ceremonies. Specific communities, such as Bishnois, Bhils, and Swadhyayis, have a close connection with the ecosphere and treat it as a part of their spirituality to protect the environment. For example, Swadhyayis have built Vrikshamandiras (tree temples) and Nirmal Nirs (water-harvesting sites.) Scriptures too have promoted environmentalism. The Varaha Purana says that one who plants five mango trees does not go to hell, and the Vishnu Dharmottara[1] claims that one who plants a tree will not fall into hell. The Matsya Purana describes "The Festival of Trees" wherein participants plants trees. Also in the Matsya Purana[2] Parvati is asked what she achieves by "creating and rearing trees like sons," to which Parvati replied that humans who do so as well will receive heavenly rewards, and that through her environmental mission she will "protect the universe to safeguard it..." Kautilya's Arthashastra prescribes varying levels of fines for people who destroy trees, groves, and forests. That the ecology played a significant role in their compilation can be seen even in some of the titles of texts. For example, the Aranyanakas (Belonging to the wilderness) and Upanishads (Up-down-sitting, referring to gurus and their pupils seated in their forest ashram.)

"Hinduism comes closest to being a nature religion. Rivers, rocks, trees, plants, animals, and birds all play their part, both in mythology and everyday worship. This harmony is most evident in remote places like this, and I hope it does not lose its unique character in the ruthless urban advance." - Ruskin Bond

It has been common for many communities to implement sustainable development when constructing a temple. Almost every temple in southern India dedicated to Shakti, Shiva, or Vishnu have a sthala vriksha ("tree of a [sacred] place"), which was the tree sacred to that area whereupon the temple's construction happened.[3] Some of the temples' ceremonies also involve their trees, such as circumambulation around the trees. Tirumala Tirupati temple has a billboard which reads, "Vriksho rakshati rakshatah," meaning "Trees protect us - protect them." Some spiritual leaders like Veer Bhadra Mishra and Sathya Sai Baba have used the World Wildlife Fund towards cleaning up the natural environment.

Eco-friendly symbolisms can be seen in Hindu architecture, artwork, and even dances. Ecofeminist Mallika Sarabhai, a participant of the Chipko Andolan, sees environmental echos within the Bharat Natyam dance, which she is a professional performer of. She communicates the message of trees protecting rural women through her dance performances.

Plants have been utilized not only in ceremonies but also for medicinal purposes. Ayurvedic homeopathy implementing plants towards providing medicine is known as vrikshayurveda and plant science in general is known as Vanaspati Vidya.

You (The Supreme God) are the dark blue butterfly, and the green parrot with red eyes. You are the thundercloud, the seasons and the oceans.

—Shvetashvatara Upanishad 4.4


The presence of Brahm or God Almighty is seen everywhere (making Hinduism panentheistic), and this can be seen in shastras like the Bhagavad Gita[4], Bhagavata Purana[5], and Brahma Samhita[6]. This principle is Ishavasyam and it helps humans identify God Almighty within (Antaryamin.) It is an important principle because it refers to the omnipresence of Brahm, meaning it would exist everywhere, within living and non-living objects, and so all living things in particular have value.


Aikatmyam is the doctrine wherein Hindus identify with everything that exists in the universe.[7] It is the interconnectedness of all. Because of this, it means caretaking of the environment they live in to sustain all life - humans, animals, and plants.


The doctrine of loksangraha (welfare of the world) proposes that humans be the caretakers of the planet and its creatures - treating them well is good karma (resulting in merit), while treating them poorly is bad karma (resulting in sin.) The related doctrine of trikarana suddhi (pure thoughts, words, deeds) also applies to both sentient and non-sentient living beings. The Vow of Ahimsa applies to plants too, and outright killing of plants is forbidden because it kills the life of the plant, who is sacred in its own right, and because a provides sustenance for humans and animals.

Peace be to Earth and to airy spaces! Peace to the heaven, peace to the waters, peace to the plants, and peace to the trees!

—Atharva Veda 19.9.14

"But do the many Hindu philosophies and communities value nature and privilege the existence of plants, trees, water? Although the short answer is yes, Hindus have answered this question in many different ways that have been documented in excellent texts. Plants and trees are valued so highly in Hindu sacred texts that their destruction is connected with doomsday scenarios." - Mary Evelyn Tucker[8]

Sarla Behn was a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi

Sarla Behn (born Catherine Mary Heilman), a Swiss woman who became Mahatma Gandhi's disciple in India, was one of the main organizers of the Chipko Andolan (Hug the Tree Movement) in India. She had used verses from the Bhagavata Purana wherein Krishna mentions his deep admiration for Vrindavan forest. Participants of the movement had tied rakhis on trees and sung verses from the Bhagavata Purana.[9] She helped create awareness of the environment in India. She stood against massive deforestation operations and was successful. Her organization was the Parvatiya Paryavaran Samrakshan Samiti (Mountain Environment Protection Committee) Dharamghar in Uttarakhand, which is become the environmentalist capital of India. She also initiated the Vyapak Lok Shikshan (Comprehensive Public Education) program to educate the public in India about helping the environment. She also wrote the Sanrakshan Ya Vinash (Conservation or Destruction) and Revive Our Dying Planet.

The Earth is my mother and I am her child!

—Atharva Veda 12.1.12

Vandana Shiva is an environmental activist, eco-feminist, and scholar who has authored over 20 books and 500 essays

Vandana Shiva is a part of the Women's Environment & Development Organization and created the Bija Vidyapeeth college for sustainable living.

Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species.

—Srimad Bhagavatam 11.2.41

T.T. Devasthanam (the organization of the temple) had began the Shri Venkateswara Vanabhivriddhi Schemes in 1981 wherein a donation made to the temple is used for purchasing and planting trees and plants. The donor is in turn given recognition by being granted a special darshan (viewing of the idol in the temple's inner sanctum.) Over 2,500,000 trees are said to have been planted on the hills and plains as a result of this program.

In 1991 a group of Hindus took action to address the environmental hardships such as its deforestation and pollution, and together with community involvement and a grant from the World Wide Fund (WWF) they organized a program to start restoring the land for Krishna.[10]

Some notable environmentalist other than the ones mentioned include, D.V. Shridharan, a writer for Indic Academy, and professor Vijaya Nagarajan who writes and lectures students on Hinduism within the Religious Students department and the environment within the Environmental Studies department at University of San Francisco.

Some major environmental initiatives have begun, started by Hindu activists. Sanrakahan is one such initiative, begun by Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (whose founder is Sri Ashutosh Maharaj.) Isha Outreach, Isha Based, and Project GreenHands are another, begun by Isha Foundation. Ayudh India and Amrita SeRVe is another, begun by Mata Amritanandamayi Math.

Communities and temples have also been established, which are eco-friendly. Govardhan Eco Village is an Vaishnava eco-friendly village. Sadhana Forest is an eco-friendly utopia within Auroville (the township founded by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.) Badrikashram in another eco-farming utopia, located in Rajpura Town, Punjab.[2] One of Europe's largest sustainable and eco-friendly villages is the Krishna Valley in Hungary. ISKCON’s Alachua Temple hosts its Eco Farm Fall Festival to make visitors more ecologically conscious. Yash Bhatt and Arjun Thakkar in Gujarat have developed a way to turn flowers (i.e., offered in puja) into organic manure to enrich gardens. Swami Narayan Temple in Kingsbury, U.K. is world's largest eco-friendly worship hall. Plans for an eco-friendly £10M temple in Northampton, U.K. have been approved. Gangadhareshwara Shiva Temple in Bengaluru reuses milk offered as propitiation and is turned into butter milk for temple visitors. Shivalaya-Dwadash Jyotirling Dham in Sadar reuses offerings made to the Shivlings by containing the milk offered to be able to perpetually use it with a visitor's the push of a button. Parleshwar and Mahalakshmi temples in Mumbai collect and convert offerings into compost, which is fed to 150 trees in vicinities of the temples every month. Kundam festival of Sri Bannari Amman Temple in Bannari promotes eco-tourism, as do the Sidheswar Temple of Athamallik and Nanda Devi Temple of Munsyari, and the Agung Mountain and the Besakih, Tanah Lot, and Uluwatu temples of Indonesia. The Deogar airport terminal building and runways are being designed with inspiration from the eco-friendly Shikhars of the Baidyanath Temple.

Sugathakumari [the daughter of Hindu revivalist Bodheswarananda and a her mother was a Sanskrit teacher] had spent 3 years at university researching 'Comparative Study of the Concept of Moksha in Indian Schools of Philosophy' [but didn't finish this thesis.] She is an eco-feminist and has participated in a number of environmentalist missions. For example, she was a prominent figure in the Save Silent Valley protest.

Divine Nature[edit]

“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.” — Rabindranath Tagore

The nature of God is such that God is nature, and more. The Supreme utilizes nature in particular.

'Physitheism' is the theological definition of venerating the natural environment.


"The culture of the forest has fueled the culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes from renewal of life which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilization." - Rabindranath Tagore

Monasticism or Gyana Marga, which is not a requirement for Hindus to attain Moksh, has been practiced to give more focus to Brahm or to expiate all karmas (sin), which are defilements to the soul. Ascetics have historically taken sanctuary in forests, which is which the Vanaprastha (Forest-dweller) stage of life, the Hindu practices asceticism in the forest. A large number of monks, while they lived within a monastic community in the forests, did not even have monasteries (maths.) It was very common for Buddhist monks to have monasteries, but in the case of Sanatan ascetics, it was not the norm.

Monasticism is not as common in the modern era because the tradition was banned under Islamist rule and ascetics were executed. Also, with the technological progress of society, possessions have become greater attachments for people, and asceticism seems more impractical. Ascetics do exist, but usually in monasteries that are within cities or towns.

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Organizations and Initiatives


  1. Vishnu Dharmottara 3.297.13
  2. Matsya Purana 154.506-512
  3. P. 770 Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature By Bron Taylor
  4. Bhagavad Gita 6.30
  5. Bhagavata Purana 11.2.45
  6. Brahma Samhita 5.38
  7. "Eka eva dwaita darsana hina atma yatra bhavati"[1]
  8. P. 180 Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change? By Mary Evelyn Tucker
  9. P. 10 Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities Sustenance and Sustainability By Pankaj Jain
  10. P. 378 Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice By Robert Rinehart and Robin Rinehart

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