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Vedic Indians in 3500 BC revered nature

Covid-19 has reignited the debate on human security, which had been diluted post-September 11. The classical definition of security encompassed only the use of force by states to secure them against threat posed by other states, to their territorial integrity, autonomy and political stability. But the classical definition was challenged as it conceived threats emanating only from other states, and excluded natural disasters, climate change, disease, pandemics, malnutrition, poverty, drugs etc. In the 1970s, the Club of Rome described poverty, degradation of the environment, loss of faith in institutions, uncontrolled urban spread, insecurity of employment, alienation of youth, rejection of traditional values, and inflation and other monetary and economic disruptions as central to human security. The 1980s saw two commissions, namely, the Independent Commission on International Development Issues chaired by Willy Brandt and the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues headed by Olof Palme. The former brought out the “North-South report” whereas the latter produced the famous “common security” report. Both the reports addressed the need to provide better living conditions, dignity, peace, food and work to every human being. In 1991, the Stockholm Initiative on Global Security also subscribed to the above notion of security. However, the debate on human security received a huge boost in 1994 when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report introducing the concept of “human security” per se by Mehbub-ul-Haq. The report highlighted the idea of the “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” and raised four key questions: security for whom; security of which values; security from what threats; and security by what means? Today these questions have taken the centre stage yet again.

Battered by the Covid-19 pandemic the world community is debating notions of human security. Ironically, the arguments warning against the mutation of nature and natural order of things and natural life, doing rounds in debates, is something the Indus Valley people had realised 3500 years ago in the Indian subcontinent during the Indus Valley Civilisation. The Indus Valley people were nature worshippers and those practices were slowly institutionalised in the modern Hindu culture and traditions.

The respect for nature has its roots in the Indus Valley Civilisation. माताभूमिःपुत्रोऽहंपृथिव्याः is a sanskrit hymn taken from the ancient scripture Vedas (Atharva Veda) which means “My mother is the earth and I am her son”. India’s ancient history literature provides references to worshipping of nature and natural elements such as air, dawn, earth, rain, sun, water etc. The Rig Veda contains many hymns dedicated to the gods representing some of these elements. The Vedic sages are said to have revered and warned against the power and forces of nature, and yoga and meditation were common practices to connect with the cosmic energy and elements that power life on earth. During archaeological excavations artifacts have been found to substantiate nature worship. Seals from the Indus Valley carry image of a tree—described as the Tree of Life. In the Hindu mythology rivers, trees, mountains, rocks and natural elements are revered and associated with various gods and goddesses. For centuries, worshipping of nature was dismissed as superstition and unscientific by the West and Indians were ridiculed for revering these elements. When a devout revers the Ganges as Mother, it shows his/her reverence to the centrality importance of the rivers in the ecosystem and its role as a life-giver. The concept of human security and the key arguments in the Covid-19 debate raging across the world emphasising the importance and need for respecting nature is something the Vedic Indians had understood and embraced 3500 years ago.