top of page



Air, water, land are the representative samples of the natural environment, and geophysical, atmospheric, and hydrological systems determine the character of the biosphere including biota and mankind of a region. If we try to disturb Nature or the natural environment in excess, it disturbs and damages us irreparably.

Therefore, it is necessary to know how to behave with various components of the natural environment. The principles of ethics which guide an individual as to how to behave with the environment is known as environmental ethics. It mainly consists of rules. of moral correctness or moral behavior towards the components of the environment, viz. land, water, air, flora, and fauna.

In the present Chapter, an attempt has been made to discover and reiterate the environment. ethical rules prevailing in the olden society and how far they are being abided by and recognized byanimal/bird the Indian Constitution.

Environmental Ethics in Olden Times

Since Vedic time the main motto of social life was ' to live in harmony. with Nature ' . Sages, saints and great teachers of India lived in forests, meditated, and expressed themselves in the form of Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, and Dharmas. This literature of olden times preached in one form or the other a worshipful attitude towards plants, trees, Mother Earth, sky ( Aakash ) , air ( Vayu ), water ( Jal ), and animals and to keep a benevolent attitude towards them. It was regarded as a sacred duty of every person to protect them. The Hindu religion enshrined respect for Nature, environmental harmony and conservation. It instructed man to show reverence for the presence of divinity in nature. Therefore, trees , animals ( cow ) , hills, mountains, rivers are worshipped as symbols of reverence to these representative samples of Nature.

A perusal of Hindu religious scriptures is called the Vedas, Upnishads, Smritis, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Geeta, mythological literature. including stories, social and moral codes and political rules reveal that the following were the general guiding principles to be observed by all in their daily life:

  • respect nature ;

  • life in living is dependent on various components of nature ;

  • keep harmony with nature ;

  • protect the natural environment ;

  • utilise natural resources only to satisfy the need of the people ; presence of the divinity of nature in all living and non - living objects ; destruction of nature means destruction of mankind ;

  • all must have compassion for animate objects, e.g. trees , animals, birds , aquatic life , etc .;

  • air , water , land , sky , trees , animals are the creation of God and He dwells in all them . Therefore , to worship them is to worship Him the Creator of the universe ;

  • man , being one of the creations of God , has no special privilege or authority over other creatures , on the other hand he has more obligations and duties to protect and improve them ;

  • Ahimsa Parmo Dharmah ( non - violence ) is the dharma of the highest order , one should be non - violent towards animals , trees , and other micro-organisms alike . Hinsa ( violence ) was considered as a sin . Therefore , ' not eating of meat in Hinduism is considered both an appropriate conduct and a duty ;

  • drought , fury of floods and storms , heavy rains , cloudbursts , lightning, earthquakes , volcanic eruptions , heavy tides are the violent forms of anger manifested by the gods and goddesses ;

  • purity of thought and expression , and cleanliness of the environment around us should be observed ;

  • all lives , human and non - human including trees , are of equal value and all have the same right to existence . It shows that the principle of sanctity of life is clearly ingrained in the Hindu religion .

Many Many verses in the Rigveda and Athara Veda have been devoted to the praise of Lord Surya ( Sun ) , Vayu Devta ( Lord of the Winds ) , Agni Devta ( God of Fire ) , Varuna Devta ( God of Water ) , Prithvi Mata ( Mother Earth ) , Vanya Devi ( Goddess of Forests ) , etc. Therefore , cutting of trees , polluting air , water , land were regarded as sins as elements of Nature were to be respected and regarded as gods and goddesses . Protection of their purity and wholesomeness was considered to be the duty of everyone . Hindu society did not consider it proper even to throw dust on a public path ( Highway ) Rigveda , Manusmriti , Charak Samhita have emphasized on the purity of water and healing and medicinal value of water . Because of these injunctions a system of Maryada ( code of conduct ) developed in Indian society to keep water clean and wholesome .

Similarly , trees and plants have been regarded as indispensable in the life of human beings . They have been considered as revered , bestowers of god and protectors from evil with a concept of God living in them . Trees and plants are considered as the abode of various gods and goddesses . This sense of worship has also a background of unflity and spiritfulness . The Rigveda devoted an entire hymn to the praise of healing properties of trees .

The following are some of the names of trees associated with gods and goddesses .

  1. ​Lotus :

  2. Vat ( Banyan )

  3. Ashoka

  4. Kadamb Palasa

  5. Neem

  6. fig

  7. Mango

  8. Pipal

Laxmi ( Goddess of Wealth ) Brahma ( Creator of Universe ) Buddha, Indra Krishna Brahma, Gandharva Sitala, Manas a Vishnu, Rudra Laxmi, Goverdhan Vishnu, Krishna

Thus, trees are worshipped as Varikchay Devta ( Tree Deity ) with prayers, offerings of water , flower, sweets and encircled by sacred threads. The planting of trees is also regarded as a sacred religious duty and work of great virtue. Matsya Puran has regarded the plantation of one tree as equal to ten sons. According to Vaha Purana ' one who plants one pipal, one neem, one ber , ten flowering plants or creepers, two pomegranates, two oranges, and five mango trees will not go to hell. Therefore, cutting of trees and destruction of flora was considered a sinful act . Manusmriti - known as the first systematic Treaty on Hindu Law , has prescribed various punishments for destroying trees and plants . Charak Samhita has considered the destruction of forests as the most dangerous act for humanity and its welfare.

The destruction of forests is most dangerous for the nation and for human beings. Vanaspati ( vegetation ) has direct relationship with the well-being of society. Due to the pollution of the natural environment and the destruction of Vanaspati, many diseases crop up to ruin the nation. Only then Vanaspati with medicinal qualities may enhance the nature and cure diseases of human beings.

Charak also mentioned specifically air pollution as a cause of many diseases "

The polluted air is mixed with bad elements . The air which is devoid of the virtues of season , full of moisture , gusty, hard , icy - cool, hot , dry , foul harmful , roaring, colliding from two or three side helling , oily, full of dirt, smoke, sand, and steam, creates diseases in the body and is polluted. " Charak Samhita , 3.6 ( 1 )

Similarly , the Charak Samhita also prohibits the use of unwholesome water .

The above discussions show that Hindu worship of trees and plants has been partly based on utility and partly as a religious duty and mythology . Gradually , trees and plants became religious objects and objects of worship .

Animals , Birds and Hindu Way of Life

The above discussion makes it amply clear that the Hindu way of life has respect and consideration for the natural world including animals and birds. The most important aspect of Hindu theology in the association accorded to different species with reincarnation and deities, and it is believed that the Supreme Being actually gets himself incarnated in the form of various species.

Further, Hindus were advised to treat all other species just like their own children.
One should look upon deer , camels, monkeys , donkeys, rats , reptiles, birds and is as though they were their own children , what is that which distinguishes these from those ( children)

" Several Hindu gods and goddesses have animals and birds as their mounts. Some of them, associated with Hindu gods & goddesses, are as follows :

​Name of animal / bird

​Name of god / goddess

Lion Wild goose Elephant Bull Rat Swan Eagle Serpent Monkey Peacock Owl Crocodile Ass Dog Deer



Indra , Ganesh






Hanuman , Ram

Kartikeya , Saraswati




Bhairava , Dattatrey


Apart from the economic importance of animals and birds in Vedic India, they fulfilled significant ritualistic and symbolic roles in society. For example, cow's milk and other dairy products are used in religious ceremonies, fasting days and offered as oblations to gods . Looking at the uses and medicinal utility of cow's milk, urine and dung , cow is sanctified and cow slaughter is treated as the highest form of sin . These rituals and sanctity are still maintained and observed today in the daily life of Hindus .

The killing of animals is against the basic tenet of Hindu way of life. Ahinsa (non-violence) - therefore, having a deep belief in the principle of non-violence, it was felt that the grace of God could be achieved by not killing and killing His creatures. Silent animals and birds are a sin. By the end of the Vedic and Upanishad periods, Buddhism and Jainism came into existence. Non-violence, truth, respect and love for other living beings including trees became the core principles of these religions. They also include teachings on environmental protection.

The Buddhist emperor - Ashoka the Great - promoted the planting and conservation of flora and fauna. He prescribed various punishments for the killing of animals, including ants, squirrels, rats, birds and cutting down trees.


bottom of page