Monday, September 21, 2015

Why Nature Is My Religion...

It must be the bounty of dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers, and crickets thanks to the Vizag monsoon that must have brought them in droves. Off late, I have been seeing the Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis) everywhere—perched on telegraph poles, lamp posts, and tree tops, “chack-chacking”. The otherwise dull (in appearance), unruffled, and solitary bird has resurfaced in a different avatar—noisier and in company of its own ilk. Chasing each other in flashes of “turquoise and sapphire”, their merriment presents a mesmerising sight.

When the blue jay flew
overhead… the sun caught its wings
and a haiku was born

The Indian Roller has been a fixture on Dolphin Hill, inconspicuous on a perch, in a picture of peaceful solitude. In flight, the dun-coloured apparition transforms into royalty when it unfurls its blue shade-card plumage, deserving of the epithet of Blue Jay or Neelkanth (blue throat, in vernacular lingo). Its languid twirls and swirls on wings make the other sobriquet of “roller” apt indeed.  

The Blue Jay is a bird of the countryside, a friend of the farmer as it is a natural “pest control”. Not for nothing is this beauty the state bird of several states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Karnataka.  Just as I was revelling in its antics comes the news that poachers are all out to net the unsuspecting creature.

Why would anyone want to do so? According to popular belief the bird is sacred to Lord Vishnu and its darshan is supposed to be propitious, particularly on the occasion of Dasshera. The Neelkanth is said to be sacred to Hindus. Likewise, the owl that is denigrated in many cultures as “evil” or “foolish” is revered by Hindus as a symbol of knowledge. Uluka (owl in Sanskrit) is the vehicle of Goddess Laxmi; inherent in this concept of vahan is the idea of conservation. And yet, the owl suffers a similar fate as the blue jay.

We know only too well what ill-fortune befalls snakes towards Nagpanchami and temple elephants that are kept chained or paraded for pelf, routinely. Going by the track record of such barbaric practices one can only imagine the plight of these hapless birds.

Isn’t it a travesty that birds are venerated and then exploited for its “religious” significance?

Unlike many anthropocentric religions which place Man on a pedestal, Hinduism places Nature in the same bracket as humans. The religion preaches love for and worships Nature in all forms—the five elements, animals, birds, fish, even stones.  And yet some of its votaries carry on pernicious practices in the very name of religion.

Man exploits animals for sport and food, for greed and in the name of God. He ensnares, captures, maims, poaches, declaws, defangs, gouges, skins, and slaughters creatures to fulfil imagined desires and fetishes. Vegetarianism is not the bone of contention here, but animal cruelty certainly is. My focus is on unethical treatment of animals and activities that are forbidden by law for being unjust and insensitive. These “criminals” who indulge in trade of animals and animal parts of vulnerable and endangered wildlife often go scot-free and untraced by moribund authorities. Laws such as Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 are mere paper tigers.  

Criminals are deliberate offenders but what about those who seek “darshan” or partake of such rituals because of their blind beliefs? How does one trace or book them and how many will you crucify? This section of “offenders” is a subset of the masses for whom religion is the opium, for which they can kill or instigate killing of animals. Who is to say they may not extend the same discourtesies to humans?

What I do not understand is why don’t any of our more respectable spiritual leaders such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Jaggi Vasudev, to name two, raise their voice against these practices and condemn them as anti-Hindu? Why don’t they take up the mantle of animal rights activists to protect our wildlife and try and stop such inhuman practices in the name of “God”? 

I am an avowed spiritual Hindu who takes pride in the ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and sarva dharma sama bhava; a jnana yogi, if you will. I distance myself from rituals, symbolisms, and idol worship. I go to a temple to “see” its art and architecture, learn about local deities, and not necessarily to pray. I am not a “practising” Hindu or a “believer” in the traditional sense. Having said that let me add: I am enamoured by Hindu epics, mythology, rituals and festivals for the stories and significance behind them. I am besotted by the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses—some in animal avatar and others with their animal vehicles—for the million manifestations of mankind. I am completely smitten by images and symbolisms, therein, for the sheer ingenuity and artistry.  The universal principle of Sanatan Dharma appeals to me intellectually.

In recent times though, some political “Hindus” are giving the religion a bad name. I don't identify with that kind of collective, institutional brand of militant Hinduism. I wish to reclaim the pristine nature of my religion. I much rather worship trees, birds, animals, sun, moon, stars…that exist, if it will help break barriers, than create Gods, label them, and form a cult. Nature—the Earth—has existed for eons and is universal to humankind irrespective of geography, history, and borders. You just have to look at a tiger or an elephant, watch its behaviour in the wild, to know what Satyam Shivam Sundaram stands for.  

Look at the serendipity. As I was anguishing the roller birds’ fate and mulling over this piece, I happened to see the life-changing Marathi film, “Dr. Prakash Baba Amte—The Real Hero”, on television.

A blog will do not justice to his life-story. Let’s just say that here is a man who not only won the confidence of isolated Adivasi of interior Maharashtra and changed their lives, but also that of orphaned wild animals such as lions and leopards. For Dr. Amte, whose life and work is phenomenally inspiring, Nature is the binding factor for all humanity. It is mother, teacher, provider, healer et al.  Dr. Amte chose Nature over man-made religion to establish peace and harmony in his karmabhoomi, Hemalkasa, which is an El Dorado, of sorts.

The extreme right-wing elements of the party in power and the fringe will do well to remember that they are doing the biggest disservice to Hindu religion—to its inclusive nature—of which they proclaim to be custodians of. They better back off soonest.


“...the turquoise and sapphire-tinted splendour of his wings…" -  description of a roller from JL Kipling’s, “Animals in India”

Haiku: A three-line verse of Japanese origin usually with Nature as its theme

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: The World/Earth is one big family

Sarva dharma sama bhava: All religions deserve equal respect

Jnana Yogi: A “seeker” or one who follows the path of Knowledge, one of the four paths to attain salvation 

Vahana: Favoured vehicle of travel of Gods and Goddesses according to Hindu mythology

Santana Dharma: It is not a faith, but an idea that there is no beginning or end to Universe and that Truthwhether we know it or notis universal and eternal 

Satyam Shivam Sundaram: Truth, Divinity, and Beauty

Karmabhoomi: The concept of “land of work” where one’s purpose in life is to be fulfilled 


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