Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mother Earth and her inheritors

Samudra vasane devi, parvatha sthana mandale

Vishnu patni namasthubhyam padasparsham kshamasva me

This is what people of my culture chanted on awakening, before their foot touched the ground. It is a hymn and an ode to Mother Earth that is translated thus:

O Mother who wears the oceans as Her garments,

One whose bosoms are the mountain ranges

O divine Mother who is protected by Lord Vishnu himself,

Kindly pardon my touching you with my feet

With that, one respectfully places one’s palm on the ground, reverently touches it to one’s eyes, and then places the foot on the floor. It is a reverence built into the daily routine, an awareness that we are mere inhabitants of our glorious planet that gives us life and provides daily nourishment. It is a way of life filled with awe and gratitude, and aware of our place among other living creatures of this planet.

In the Hindu faith, reverence for every living creature is built in. Lord Ganesha has the mouse has his mount, Lord Shiva has Nandi the bull, Lord Vishnu has Garuda the bald eagle, Goddess Durga the tiger….Shiva even wears the serpent as an ornament, and entire rituals are built around the serpent.

Some trees and plants are regarded sacred, and cutting of a tree was done only when necessary. Before a tree was cut, a person said a prayer apologizing for cutting down a living tree, and ensured that they planted 10 other trees soon after….. Wanton destruction was never part of the psyche. I remember growing up listening to a story about a mango tree that was a boy’s best friend from childhood through the time when he had to cut it down to build his house as an adult. The story always made me sad. I had mentioned in a previous blog about the place the Tulasi plant has in the Indian way of life.

In many states of India there are special areas marked as serpent groves – where vegetation is left to flourish wildly, nourishing flora and fauna. These are called variously as “Nagara havu”, “Sarpa kavu” depending on the language – with some small idols of serpents placed respectfully over there. People are forbidden to alter the vegetation or enter it except at specific worship times, to preserve the silence of the grove and allow the animals there to live undisturbed. Legend has it that if one disturbs a serpent grove, ponds will dry up. Please see article by Mr.Udaylal Pai on such groves: http://udaypai.in/?p=849

In my state, it was said that if the serpent habitat is disturbed, ill luck due to disturbing the serpent (Naga dosham) will befall a person and will affect many generations.

It is easy to dismiss these as mere superstitions, and make fun of such practices. But if you think about it, the worship of various animals as mounts of the Gods, and the preservation of serpent groves speaks of a reverence for Earth and all her living creatures. It bespeaks an attitude that says that every creature has its place in the grand scheme of things, and is deserving of respect and a right to live freely.

Serpent groves were places where entire eco-systems flourished, with predator and prey in balance. Farmers particularly liked these groves as the serpents kept rodent and insect population in control, and emerged during nocturnal hours when the farmers themselves would not be in the fields.

Serpent groves were places where the jungle took over, preventing soil erosion, serving as traps for rainfall, and purifying the air we breathed. What about the ill luck that befalls the one who disturbs the serpent grove and will affect future generations?? Well, if the air is not purified and the ecological balance is disturbed, will it not affect the generations to come? How did cancer rates climb so high if not for such wanton destruction in the name of “progress” and “development”?

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In my ancestral home in the village, there was a cowshed in the backyard. Animals were taken to graze for a few hours during the day, and brought back at night. There was always a haystack nearby, to help feed the cows. Many people have seen a cobra glide nearby, going about its business. Perhaps its home was in a nearby field or grove, and it frequented areas where it knew that prey was available in the form of mice that can be usually found where grain is stored (ancestral homes had a granary where harvested rice is kept).

The cobra was left undisturbed, as it never came near humans and kept mice under control. Many people in the villages of Tamil Nadu call such snakes “vaazhum paambu” (thriving snake) and do not disturb or kill them. Man and snake live in harmony in this manner.

Cows in the cowshed lived well unto old age and died of natural causes. They had their pasture hours and resting hours. The shed had a thatched roof and was cleaned a couple of times each day. Cowdung was dried and used as fuel. Cow and calf stayed together until the calf was old enough to be weaned. Vegetable peels were given to the cow, as was the starch from washing the rice each day, along with some peanut or cottonseed cakes. And we got fresh milk everyday.

It was a peaceful eco-friendly way of living.

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The way of looking at Mother Earth is slowly changing in India, where the western way of seeing Earth is taking root. This foreign, and different way of life looks at Earth and her resources – her flora and fauna – as something that is available for mankind to freely use, abuse and exploit at will. From an attitude that sees us as one of the types of creatures inhabiting the Earth, there has been a shift to an attitude that says Man is superior, and animals are at his mercy.

This attitude dictates that plants and their genes can be mucked with at will, to suit the tastes of man. Factory farms are coming up, to suit the demands of KFC and such places, which dictate that western farming practices be adopted in Indian poultry farms, to “increase productivity”.

Those of us living in the US know about the cruelty of factory farms. Such farming practices include placing hens in battery cages where movement is limited to sitting and standing, and extending neck to partake of the feed. The birds cannot even spread their wings! Hens are debeaked, and male chicks are squashed at birth. The birds’ movement is limited to fatten them up fast. I believe there were even experiments conducted to see if hens can be made to lay eggs in a form more suitable for packaging!!

As for cattle and hog farms, the poor animals are confined to small crates and live in such inhumane and unhygienic conditions that they develop infections, needing antibiotics. 80% of antibiotics in the US are apparently used in animal farms. Rampant antibiotic use creates superbugs, resistant to antibiotics and making medical treatment difficult for infectious diseases. Had the animals been allowed to live freely, and pastured, they would not have needed antibiotics!

It is one thing to consume meat, or even be part of the meat industry. It is entirely another to make the lives of animals a living hell and prison by confining them to small cramped spaces reeking of their own waste! Such waste collects in pools, polluting ground water and creating an environmental hazard. All in the name of development and increasing productivity!

Another area of exploitation is the growing Beauty industry. Where shampoos and various cosmetics are tested on animals, causing untold agony to these poor creatures! Some of these shampoos are marketed as “derived from plant sources”.

When I was growing up, we used shikakai and soap nut to wash hair, and ground hibiscus leaves as conditioner. Sometimes henna was used. All natural, derived from plant sources, no animal testing. Coconut oil was used to control frizz. None of the spray chemicals that need to be tested first on animals! I look at the array of products I use (admittedly, many from cruelty-free brands) and feel shame that I’ve moved so far away from the way I was raised.

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This attitude that the Earth is ours to exploit and destroy at will, is also seen in the form of building multiple residences for families that have become smaller and smaller. Previously large homes were there but they supported an extended family where multiple generations lived under one roof, as one big family. Now families have become nuclear, with one family trying to own multiple residences as a way of building wealth. The size of these residences has increased, and each such residence has become a possession to flaunt.

Previously in the US, there used to be a trend of downsizing and moving to a smaller house when the children grew up and had their own families. This was done because the aging couple didn’t want to maintain a large house once it became just the two of them. Those who did not want to downsize simply kept and maintained their home.

Now there is a rising trend of “upsizing” among non-resident Indians in the US, where people move to far larger houses once children are grown. One reason cited is that they are making an investment in such a house, and that investment will appreciate. I have heard of families where the couple bought a 6000 sq foot home. That is 3000 sq foot per person!

Trees were destroyed to build such a spanking new, large home where people needed to communicate through intercoms to talk to each other, and cannot easily find one another if in different parts of the house. Central air and central heat consume more of Earth’s resources in maintaining the lifestyle the family is accustomed to. This is considered an asset that the children will inherit, an asset that appreciates.

The same excuse is given for people buying and keeping homes in multiple places. Some are holiday homes, that are kept idle for most of the year, until the family chooses to vacation there for a couple of months. Some are just bought as assets to buy and sell. This propels the building industry to build more and more, and for investors to speculate, sending prices through the roof.

If we look at India, speculation has pushed home prices well beyond the reach of the common man in most places, with metro cities expanding outward, and non-resident expats wanting the western lifestyle in India building large villa-style homes. More forests are destroyed and the way of life that said all living creatures deserve their place on Earth is giving way to the new way of life that says the Earth and her resources are available for grabs, for the highest bidder who can do what they please, and destroy at will. Farmlands are becoming home-building plots.

Of course, due to lost ecological balance, clean air is hard to come by. We need more and more pesticides to control insects and rodents, whose populations would have naturally been in check through natural predators, had we chosen the path of conservation. Cancer rates go up and up due to all this. So more hospitals are being built, and a previously rural and peaceful area becomes increasingly urbanized, or “developed”.

This “development” through building homes is done ostensibly so that future generations can inherit the assets. Parents feel more secure with such assets…..Do we stop to wonder: with such plundering of the Earth, what are they inheriting? Dirty air, lost biodiversity, genetically modified plants and food, polluted water……and an attitude of further plundering our precious planet, to see if anymore resources in her womb can be exploited and bought and sold? I hear gold is a hot asset and Amazonian forests are being destroyed in search of gold that will then be hoarded as an asset….

Among all living species, humans are the only ones who take more than they need from Earth, and leave a legacy of destruction.

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Can we change this attitude, and how?

PETA and animal welfare activists will tell you that the only way to be humane is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. This may not be possible for everyone. Perhaps people can move away from factory farm products, and buy milk, eggs and meat from humane farms with pastured animals? While doing so, also stop patronizing fast food chains that source their meat from cruel factory farms?

Perhaps limit purchasing anything made of silk, leather or wool  (I used to think wool was cruelty-free but my environmentally aware child asked me to read about merino wool and how it is produced. Enough said).

For those who believe in buying real estate for wealth-building: instead of a large 6000 sq foot home, how about buying a tract of land as an “asset”, building a house just enough for one’s needs and some wants to ensure a comfortable lifestyle. And having a yard with a large garden…? Plant some trees, grow some vegetables and fruit….If backyard is large enough, leave some of it to grow wild and attract bees and butterflies. If you are really wealthy that you can buy several acres of land, perhaps preserve an area as a forest?

It will be a start. Our children do not need to inherit anything except a good work ethic and a pristine planet….

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