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| Last Updated:: 01/09/2023

Green Pilgrimage for a Clean India






The Prithivī sūkta (Book 12) of the Atharva Veda devotes 63 stanzas in praise of the earth and nature, human dependence on the earth and the respect that should be given to her.



  • Earth is the abode of a family of all beings – vasudaiva kutumbakam: “O Mother Earth. Sacred are thy hills, snowy mountains and deep forests. Be kind to us and bestow upon us happiness. May you be fertile, arable and nourisher of all. May you continue supporting all people and nations. May you protect us from your anger (natural disasters). And may no one exploit and subjugate your children” (12.1.11).


  • “Environmental sustenance, agriculture, biodiversity, water, air and soil are important to all beings. The earth’s attributes are for everybody and no single group or nation has special authority over it. Therefore people on this planet should strive for the welfare of all and hatred towards none" (12.1.18).



Dharma is righteousness, incorporating duty, cosmic law and justice. It is sanātana, or eternal, and supports the whole universe. “Dharma exists for the general welfare of all living beings; hence, that by which the welfare of all living creatures is sustained, that for sure is Dharma” (Mahābhārata, Shānti parva, 109.10). Duty towards humanity and god’s creation is an integral part of dhārmic ecology in Hinduism. Dharma is a set of duties that holds the social and moral fabric together by maintaining order in society and creating an atmosphere of harmony and understanding in our relationships with all of god’s creation. Right action, or dharmic action, has beneficial results, while adharmic action results in negativity. Therefore one should ensure that one’s karma or action is good (Mahābhārata, Shānti parva, 232.16).



Every person must act for the general welfare of the earth, all humanity and all aspects of the earth. Prakriti, cosmic matter, is central to all creation. The five elements that constitute prakriti are earth, air, fire, water and space (prithivī, vāyu, agni, āpa andākāsha). The world, and everything in it, is made up of these five elements, and their proper balance and harmony are essential for the well-being of man and matter. Man is not superior to nature, nor does he have dominion over other creation.



Pollution or pradūshana of any sort is abhorred: it is a punishable offence “Punishment…should be awarded to those who throw dust and muddy water on the roads…A person who throws inside the city the carcass of animals…must be punished” (Kautilya, Arthashastra, 2.145).



The ill effects of environmental pollution (vikriti) was identified several millennia ago “From pollution two types of diseases occur in human beings. The first is related to the body and the other to the mind, and both are inter-related...Cool, warm and air-these are three virtues of the body. When they are balanced in the body it is free from disease”. (MahabharataRajadharmanushasana parva, 16.811). The great medical scientist Charaka was prescient when he said, “Due to pollution of weather, several types of diseases will come up and they will ruin the country. Therefore, collect the medicinal plants before the beginning of terrible diseases and change in the nature of the earth” (Charaka SamhitāVimānasthānam, 3.2).



Water is sacred because all life depends on it: it is a medium of purification and a source of energy. “The waters in the sky (rain), the water of rivers, and water in the well whose source is the ocean, may all these sacred waters protect me” (Rig Veda, 7.49.2). The rivers are regarded as Goddesses, and a dip in the sacred waters destroys one’s sins. The river waters also contain medicinal properties that cure several ailments. River banks and mountains were once the abode of ancient rishis. The rivers, especially, are taboo for any degrading or despoiling activities (Charaka SamhitāSūtrasthānam, 27. 213-215; Manusmriti, 4.56).



Green pilgrimage



Usually holy pilgrimage sites are situated in places which are beautiful because of their natural settings, such as mountains, rivers and their sources, lakes or the sea; or they are secluded places where it is possible to practice penance and concentrate the mind in meditative contemplation. A mountain standing above the lonely landscape, a remote temple and the smell of incense and blue waters accentuate the feeling of ancient holiness. The unpolluted air, pesticide-free food and the rarefied air instill love, compassion and the ancient wisdom of the sages in the heart of the pilgrim. The swirling waters, the wind whistling through the trees and the tinkle of temple bells are the closest to nirvana on earth.



Yātrā means a pilgrimage to holy places like mountains, the confluence of sacred rivers and seas, places associated with the Hindu epics Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata, and other sacred pilgrimage sites. Tīrtha yātrā refers to a pilgrimage to a sacred place of pilgrimage near a river, lake or sea, since sacred waters are the most precious of all creation. Tīrtha means "a ford or a body of water that may be easily crossed", both literally and figuratively. Usually holy shrines are situated on mountains, near rivers, lakes or seas or near the sources of rivers or at secluded places where it is possible to practice meditation and contemplation. The various bathing ghāts on the Rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Kaveri and other rivers are important tīrthas. All rivers are regarded as sacred, as are unusual phenomena, like the Amarnath Cave Temple in the Jammu and Kashmir Himalayas which houses an Ice Shiva Lingam form, which waxes and wanes with the moon.


A pilgrimage to holy places is considered to be a ritual to cleanse one’s inner self, wash out evil tendencies and open up the path of righteous living. “Performance of rituals is an elaborate affair involving heavy expenditure which only the rich can afford… Tīrtha yātrā can be accomplished by all, even the poor, and therefore excels in merit even the best of rituals” (MahābhārataVanaparva, 82. 13-17).



Water sources – whether a river or sea – are the most sacred because of their ability to clean the pilgrim physically, and because the flowing waters clean themselves. However, external cleanliness alone is ineffective without inner purity. “An evil mind is not purified even though one washes himself a hundred times in a tīrtha…One must therefore approach tīrthas only with proper faith and devotion”. “Certain places on earth are more sacred on earth – some on account of their situation, others because of their sparkling waters, and others because of the association or habitation of saintly people” (MahābhārataAnushāsana parva, 108. 16-18).



Kshetra is a holy precinct, where there may be a temple or where a holy person lived or a sacred event took place. Almost every temple-city is a kshetra. Kshetras like Varanasi, Kanchipuram and Haridwar are the longest continuing sacred sites in the history of the human race.



A yātrā is desirable, but not obligatory. One can go on a yātrā for a variety of reasons - festivals, to perform rituals for one's ancestors, or to obtain good karma. To Hindus, the journey itself is as important as the destination, and the hardships of travel serve as an act of devotion in themselves. Visiting a sacred place is believed by the pilgrim to purify the self and bring one closer to the divine.



Rules for a pilgrimage                                          



Before starting, the pilgrim must take certain vows that are observed strictly till he returns. The success of a tīrtha yātrā depends on the pilgrim’s faith and devotion. The shāstras have made suggestions:




           ·     For a start, he must dress modestly, in clothes fit for a pilgrim, and follow certain                  disciplinary rules.


           ·     He must control the hands, feet and mind, meaning one should not do or think of                anything that is against Dharma or righteousness.


           ·       His good behaviour must be above reproach.


           ·       He must observe the vow of fasting and may eat only once a day.


           ·         A pilgrim is supposed to do a yātrā with bare feet, if possible.


           ·     A pilgrim should travel without vehicles. When one undertakes a journey to a                      tīrtha, it is specifically recommended that one should, as far as possible, go                          walking. However, one who is physically unwell and undertakes a journey to a                      tīrtha even by employing a conveyance does not lose any merit


          ·       He who gives a gift in a tīrtha or a kshetra, say the scriptures, shakes off his                        poverty, and he who accepts a gift in such places, or brings back something from                there, purchases poverty for himself.


          ·     It is also important that one leaves a sacred place as it was when one arrived                       there. This means no pollution, no garbage, no disturbing the environment.



The usual rule is to go to a tīrtha, fast there for 3 days and make charitable gifts to the poor. A pilgrim is expected to take his provisions (like rice and lentils) and a few utensils. He must cook his own food, but may not cut wood for that purpose. He is expected to use fallen twigs to make a fire. He may eat only once a day.  No hunting of killing animals for food (or any other reason) is permitted. Nor is meat eating permitted on a pilgrimage. All the good karma is wiped out immediately. No weddings or battles may be conducted at tīrthas.




                                                     REMEMBER -

                                CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS.