What is a Green Kumbh Yatra?

What is a Green Kumbh?

A Kumbh – which means a clay or brass pitcher or “kalash as it is known in Sanskrit – is an integral part of all sacred activities in Vedic Hindu culture. In the context of environmental and biodiversity conservation, it is aptly named “Green Kumbh” – a symbol of the “web of life” and the ecosystem that includes all animals, humans, plants, microscopic creatures and their habitats on the planet.

What is a “Yatra”?

‘Yatra’ is a journey usually to spiritual places.

What is the Green Kumbh Yatra?

Dubbed as the “Olympic Torch for Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation,” the Green Kumbh Yatra is an international initiative featuring a sacred metal kumbh (urn) that is being carried across numerous countries to promote the importance of environmental and biodiversity conservation.

The “Green Kumbh Yatra”, has no modern precedent. – it is an environmental journey dedicated to environment and biodiversity that was formally launched on October 14, 2012 at COP11 – Eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity at Hyderabad, India.

The Yatra was organized in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, DiversEarth, Sacred Natural Sites Initiative, IUCN, WCPA Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas and Vikasa Tarangini.
Since its launch, the Green Kumbh has traversed several thousand miles through rural routes of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, Allahabad, the site of the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Banaras, Delhi and Nepal. It was received in Jerusalem on April 22, 2013. The Yatra continued to Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, United Kingdom, USA and Canada. It has reached South Korea for COP12 in October 2014.

Green Kumbh Yatra is the brainchild of Kusum Vyas, founder of GYAN and Living Planet Foundation of Houston, Texas. It is a faith-based response to climate change and biodiversity conservation which the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes as “the world’s largest civil society movement on climate change”.

Green Kumbh Yatra was introduced by Living Planet and GYAN at COP11 as a launching point to engage the hearts and minds of the local communities with the beauty and significance of the natural world and the critical habitat upon which they depend.

The main objective of the Green Kumbh Yatra is to mobilize the masses at grassroots and raise public and political awareness by highlighting the conservation of Sacred Natural Sites, Greening Pilgrimage Sites and emphasize the profound connection between the collective wisdom and resources of the faith traditions and their role in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

Events connected the Green Kumbh Yatra are broad public affair/s focused on a bottom-up approach to creating awareness by local people themselves. Therefore, local organizations, communities and local governments in providing on-the-ground and on-site participation, are essential components of the Green Kumbh initiative.

Contact: Kusum Vyas
Founder of the Green Kumbh Movement.
Hindu Climate Change Ambassador
Distinguished International Visiting Professor, Universitas Mahendradatta, Bali, Indonesia
Founder & President, Living Planet Foundation & Green Action Yatra Network (GYAN)
Founder, Esha Vasyam, Gulf of Mannar World Heritage Site Campaign -Save Ram Sethu
Global Institute for Truth & Awareness (GITA)
http://www.livingplanetfoundation.org
http://www.gyanworldwide.org

Moving in the New Direction : The Gulf of Mannar

Moving in the New Direction : The Gulf of Mannar

Ranil Senanayake

Ranil 2

Dr. Ranil Senanayake

The Gulf of Mannar, shared by India and Sri Lanka is unique, connected to the ocean on both sides but cut off from the full effect of the Indian Ocean by being traversed by a geological structure. So shallow, it was impossible to traverse the underwater chain in anything with a greater draft than a canoe Carswell & Prickett (1984), and the situation of Mantai on the east side of this natural barrier is significant. The narrow channel between the island of Mannar and mainland, like Pamban channel between the island of Rameswaran and the Indian mainland, may have allowed the passage of slightly large boats, but certainly nothing like the ocean-going vessels engaged in long-distance international trade. It is therefore evident that Mantai represented a terminus for westbound traffic. From this point, goods would either have been carried overland to the west, or trans-shipped through the Mannar channel in smaller boats to large boats waiting out at sea. The differential between the water levels on either side of Adam’s bridge is such that every 12hr, as a result of the tides, there is a powerful flow of water through the channel. This means that little boats would be carried through the channel in either direction simply by the tidal flow (Goonatilake 2002). A modern transport system that used tidal flow is just one consideration for the effective use of the regions resources.

We are just beginning to understand the scientific and conservation value of the body of water termed the Gulf of Mannar. The Gulf of Mannar is a body of shallow water that lies between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal; it functions as gulf due to an extraordinary geological formation called Ram Sethu or Adams Bridge. This rocky ridge was once a range of low hills, once a chain of interlinked islands, and now a breakwater, but it always acted to isolate the Gulf of Mannar from the oceanic forces of the southern seas. This geological formation has connections to many human myths and proto-histories. It is here that Hanuman, moving with haste his armies to aid Rama, created bridges to aid their movement along the island chain. It is here, along a stony bridge that
Adam, who was once placed on the holy peak, walked out of paradise. It helps explain much of the isolation forces that led to the patterns of speciation that we seen between South India and Sri Lanka. By acting as a range of hills it directed the northward movement of now drowned ‘Dereniyagala Oya’river, by acting as a breakwater it created tranquil ocean conditions in the Gulf, leading the evolution of highly diverse marine ecosystems such as Marine Grass Beds, Coral Reefs, Oyster Ledges. It is the home of the Dugong, accredited by some to be the origin of the ‘Mermaid’ myth, The placid waters provide a safe calving ground to the smaller cetaceans. It is a ‘spiritual site’ to millions of people. It stands in danger.

Of recent this bridge has become barrier to a mega-project, one that saw the need to dredge a shipping channel through the Gulf of Mannar that would have cut a break in the ‘bridge’ and destroyed the ecosystems of the Gulf. Fortunately, the supreme court of India recognised the potential conflict in allowing the project to go ahead in this form and it was restrained by a stay order. For the moment, the law protects the well being of the GOM, but only temporarily. Alternate alignments are being sought, when the whole premise of the project needs joint re-examination.

This delay has given us time to re-examine the project, its premises and the validity of its impact reports. The initial findings are disturbing, it states that ‘the project has been hasty, ill conceived and without any discussion with a neighbouring county, Sri Lanka, who share the waters.’(IUCN). The Sri Lankan situation, already strained, with the burden of war and regional politics will only worsen by unilateral action that can have severe transboundary effects. The gaps in the Environmental Impact Report submitted in support of this project shows the project as fatally flawed. The EIA for the Sethusamudram Canal Project was conducted by NEERI on behalf of the Government of India and the Evaluation of the Environmental Impact Study was made by the Tuticorin Port Trust. This work has been found to contain enormous gaps by a study conducted by the IUCN (Anon 2005). Some of the key gaps identified by the IUCN study are:

• The Terms of Reference for the EIA is absent
• The EIA is largely unsatisfactory in depth and analysis.
• There is absolutely no consideration of impacts on Sri Lanka.
• There are a number of highly critical gaps in the analysis of potential impacts on livelihoods and ecosystems.
• Stakeholder consultation is inadequate, while Sri Lankan stakeholders have not been consulted at all.
• There is insufficient consideration of the project’s impacts on local livelihoods both within the Indian and Sri Lankan territories.
• Consideration of environmental costs have not been thoroughly examined and accounted for.
• Due to the large number of gaps in the EIA, the proposed mitigation measures are largely inadequate as there is no sufficient consideration of a number of potential impacts.
• Several proposed mitigation measures in the environmental management plan seem unrealistic and implementation of these may be problematic.
• In many cases, although it is stated that environmentally safe methods will be used, mitigation measures and operational guidelines are not described in detail and do not highlight exactly how negative environmental impacts will be avoided.

The IUCN study, made the following recommendations:

• Conduct a full EIA on the proposed project’s impact on the coastal areas and territorial waters of Sri Lanka with full consultation with Sri Lankan stakeholders.
• Conduct a scientific assessment of marine and coastal biodiversity in the North and Northwestern marine and coastal area of Sri Lanka.
• Recalculate the economic feasibility of the project, and the project budget, after incorporating the findings of the EIA. At minimum calculations should include physical costs of environmental mitigation and management plan, ideally to include environmental economic costs and benefits.
• Proposed mitigation measures in the environmental management plan should be reviewed in light of standard shipping practices, capacity to implement measures and the projected cost of measures.

History,

But first, the antecedents of the issue should examine. The land, which we today refer to as the ‘Gulf of Mannar’, was in fact a well-watered valley not very long ago. The land had the range of hills to the south that separated it from the Indian Ocean. Then a sea level rise was experienced which flooded the valley from both the north and the south until all that was left of the hills was a chain of small islands. This phenomena of emergence and flood, has gone on since the Miocene (Cooray 1967). Thus what we call the ‘bridge’, the rocky formation that has become such a bone of contention today, currently serving to arrest the through flow of the oceanic currents across a sheltered gulf; once was a valley with wooded hills, close knit series of island chains connecting India with Sri Lanka and was (is) an undersea ocean barrier, that protects the gulf. The fluctuation of the landscape between from lush, to dry to drowned was very pronounced during the Pleistocene (Deraniyagala 1958 ). The Pleistocene climate has been hypothesized by Deraniyagala (op cit) to consist three distinct phases termed the Ratnapura Phase, Palagaha Turai phase and the Colombo phase (early Holocene).

The Ratnapura phase was characterized by wet, cool climatic conditions. The fossil beds from this stage contain lake dwelling animals like the Hippopotamus Hexoprotodon and aquatic vegetation suggesting large lakes and swamps. The Palugaha Turai phase is represented by highly oxidized red earth and wind blown sands that suggest a dry, arid period, overlying the beds of the Ratnapura phase. The Colombo phase is essentially the early Holocene, which became wetter and stabilized itself in the climatic conditions experienced today

Regardless of the number of connections with the mainland, immigration of species adapted to cool and moist conditions would have been possible only in the early part of the Pleistocene as later connections will have coincided with the Palagaha Turai and Colombo phase This trend is also suggested in the work of De Terra and Patterson (1939) who noted that the climate of central India had changed from wet-tropical to dry-tropical by mid-Pleistocene times.

Although the Pleistocene has been identified as the period of radiation and speciation of Sri Lankan biota (Moore), Holocene events have also played central part in creating the present history. The global phenomenon termed the Holocene transgression saw sea levels at 35,000 years before present (ybp) approximately the same level as today. But between these times the sea level fell by about130m and rose again to present levels. (Emory and Milliman 1968). The form of the Holocene transgression has been computed using a range of indicators from around the world. Although the possibility of lag exists in sheltered or otherwise modified areas as shown by some temporal anomalies, the amplitude has been constant. The Holocene transgression trends for the Indian Ocean is assumed to be similar to the trends measured for the Great Barrier Reef and South China Sea (Emory and Milliman op cit, Davies and Kinsey 1977, Hopley and Kinsey 1988) .

When the Holocene transgression began at about 35,000-34,000 ybp the Island had very much the same outline as present. From this time on, the sea began to recede until about 28,000 ybp when a large landmass was formed to the north extending the Jaffna peninsula in size and extending Mannar island into a peninsula that connected Sri Lanka with the mainland. Two other significant geographical features were expressed at this time, a new riverine floodplain south of the Mannar peninsula and the complex of islands that emerged in the south (Senanayake 1994)

The riverine floodplain to the south was created by two large rivers the old courses of which have been described by Deraniyagala (1958). While it is probable that these two rivers joined at around the mid Holocene, they have remained distinct during the early and late portions of the Holocene. One river was an extension of the Aravi Aru of today; the other drained the watersheds of the Kal Aru, Modaragam Oya, Kala Oya and Mi Oya. This large river named the ‘Deraniyagala Oya’ created a series of riverine flats that existed for about 22,000 years. (Senanayake 1994 ).

Humans had been hunter-gatherers in this region over 50,000 years ago (Deraniyagala 1990). It is known that the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture also began at this time, but to practise agriculture one has to lead a sedentary lifestyle, difficult in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Unless, one was surrounded by an overabundance of food. The retreating seas of the Holocene transgression created salt marshes, with a superabundance of human food, an opportunity to lead a settled lifestyle. For about 20,000 years the ocean retreated creating between Sri Lanka and India, new land, a’ Virgin Continent’, which is a literal translation of’ Kumari Kandam’ (Mahalingam 1981) A very apt name for the huge landmass that appeared literally out of the ocean. This new land, recently won from the sea would have been highly productive, and as settled culture arose, somewhere on this new land, the first sangam was established by the arising civilization.

These lands existed for about 4000 years and were resubmerged with a rise in sea level that began at about 17,000 ybp and culminated at the ten meter level about 6000-7000 years ago . The rise in sea leaves at the late Holocene seems to have happened rapidly as the present coastline is known to have stabilized at about 6000ybp ( Hopley 1983). The recent and rapid drowning of theses lands in relatively recent (5500-6000ybp) times is also suggested by the presence of ‘drowned forests’ along the old river plain of the Deraniyagala Oya. The river course still exists and is visible today. The stumps of drowned forests have been recoded in this area as far back as 1950 and confirmed by divers examining the sites in the 1980’s.

The geological and fossil evidence confirms the fact that the Gulf of Mannar was once a fertile river valley. This validates many Tamil scholars who have interpreted the existence of such a land in the classical Tamil literature. It provides credibility to the myth and legend that spoke of drowned sangams, but was dismissed for the lack of proof. The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) of India has discovered and provided ample evidence of drowned cities off Poompuhur in the South East coast of Tamil Nadu, right within the area where Kumari Kandam has been hypothesized. The discoveries of other drowned constructions off Mahabalipuram adds weight to the idea that the region now underwater had been once habituated by a large population. The fishermen of the area are familiar with sunken ruins, that they claim is where fish gather. The evidence that there are drowned cities and temples in what is presently the sea is overwhelming (Hancock 2002) . The Gulf of Mannar is not only a treasure in terms of its biodiversity, but also as a place of huge archaeological interest. It may hold keys to early human cultural development.

It is the relative calm of the marine environment that affords the conservation of both ecosystems and artefacts The Gulf of Mannar, due to its sheltered nature its shallow waters have become a regions of the great diversity. The dry climate of the two landmasses on each side has meant that there are no major rivers and thus no major silt load being deposited into its waters. The relative absence of heavy, polluting industries along either coastline makes it optimal for sustainable development. It also means that most of the relatively undisturbed ecosystems of today, can be maintained in this state through design. The region is very fragile, even the current load of fertilizers washing in from the land on both sides is enough to trigger dinoflagellate blooms in quantities vast enough to suck all the oxygen out of the water, suffocating fish and other creatures of the marine ecosystem. In terms of resource destruction around 250metres3 of coral is quarried from the Gulf of Mannar per day with the subsequent release of the carbon component as CO2. In a world stumbling towards sustainable development, could we not consider such a zone as having the right climate to promote a different model ? A prefect background to such an eventuality is the recognition of the unique scientific and cultural value of this zone and propose the Gulf of Mannar as a World Heritage Site. Such recognition will also boost tourist and real estate development as it will be based on the provision of good ecosystem services. Currently high-end tourism has moved up to the tip if Kalpitiya peninsula in Sri Lanka. The next land point is Mannar and the bridge protecting a very tourist friendly sea. The Gulf of Mannar as a World Heritage Site will go a long way in developing much needed tourism ventures on both sides of the Gulf.

In terms of the Ramayana much as been and will be said. The Ram Sethu, or Rama’s Bridge constructed for his armies to cross into Lanka, considering the closeness of the islands at the time of the setting of the Ramayana, bridges might have been modest. The placement of his protagonist Ravana who is said to have had his citadel in Lanka would seem to be on the other side of Ram Sethu. The Rajavali complied about the fourth century AD. It speaks of an antiquarian time when ‘The citadel of Ravana, 25 palaces and 400,000 streets were swallowed up by the sea’ (Upham 2007). The submerged land was suggested to lie between Tuticorin in India and the island of Mannar in Sri Lanka. It has been suggested by many researchers that Mannar Island is a remnant of that ancient landmass. The exciting finds by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) of India of apparently man made structures at a depth of 23 meters in the northern part of the Gulf of Mannar; suggest the great need for marine archaeology before destructive activity is unleashed on the site.

It is our challenge to examine the plethora of values, of concerns, environmental and spiritual, that surround this area and to invite commentary or views that will lead to the submission of a proposal to recognise the Gulf of Mannar as a World Heritage Site. But the journey to examine this piece of the planet has produced a vision of the other unique characters of this zone. If developed in the manner that the world is calling for, the value and prestige gained by both nations in terms of an alternative economic engine to the current approach, it could become a world model.

The Rio Earth Summit made it clear: Development must meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own. The landmark commission headed by Ms. Gro Harlem Bruntland ex-premier of Norway was responsible for the establishment of The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in December, 1992 and ”Sustainable Development” was recognized as a goal of multilateral and bilateral funding. The concept of sustainable development has become a universally accepted foundation for countries around the world when they contend with environmental problems today. It was put forward by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, and was presented through its report in 1987, Our Common Future.

The CSD is supported by a multitude of international agreements, of these, some of the notable are:
• The Convention on Biological Diversity,
• The Desertification Convention,
• The Montreal Protocol and
• The Kyoto Protocol et al.

These global agreements not only oblige countries to legislate to meet their stated goals; they also have financial instruments through which this process can be facilitated. An example is the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of 3.2 billion dollars. Some times such instruments may drive markets such as the case of Ozone depleting gases such as CFCs, others may be market driven as the case of Carbon trading under the Kyoto Protocol. Indications of a market responding to the needs of sustainable development are seen in the growth of eco tourism, organic food and green and ethical investment.

Based on the CSD, a number of multilateral instruments both legal and financial could be developed around the world. Agriculture, trade and industry that meet with the CSD guidelines should have an increasing opportunity to benefit from the international trading system. Today, it is clear that the warning calls of climate change and financial dislocation have been heeded. The offers of new taxes, incentives and markets are increasing around the world for green and ethical investment. After years of being ignored as not having much value to prevailing economic dogma, Sustainable Development is now gaining the credence it deserves. A new vision on what is possible is emerging. A shipping channel through this region, an idea that is already over a century old, does not take any of this into consideration, it is an idea whose times has passed. We should not sacrifice the future on ghosts of the past. The resources that will be affected negatively are many, the opportunity cost high, an example of critically important issues, that have been ignored is the thorium and other nuclear materials that have been concentrated by the formation of the Gulf of Mannar and could give the region centuries of cheap, safe power. Disrupting the flow patterns could destroy these invaluable resources by scattering them to deeper waters.

Sri Lanka and India have developed a framework for regional investment incentives termed Free Trade Zones (FTZ). These could provide models for Sustainable Development Zones (SDZ) where the concepts of Sustainable Development guide production and market growth. The Government of Sri Lanka has appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee, to study the establishment of SDZ’s. The Koslanda SDZ is an example (Sandarasagara 2006, pers com). Thus the concept of a SDZ is not new to Sri Lanka.

An SDZ established in the Gulf of Mannar will create a new focus of economic activity in the area, in keeping with all international conventions and having the capacity to attract targeted funding for Sustainable Development. It will also provide an ideal opportunity for the development of an information trading community within the zone.

In terns of conservation, India has already set the pace for the region by the establishment of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve by the Government of India and the State of Tamil Nadu in 1989 this was the first marine protected area to be declared in South and South East Asia. Thus an extension to recognize the area as a world heritage Site will be in keeping with this policy.

If situated within a world heritage site, the SDZ can capitalize on the natural assets of this unique geographical location and can provide a focus for a varied range of international investments in both nations, The Boards of Investment (BOI) could assist in attracting a greater share of Green Investment, Ethical Investment, Eco Tourism, High End Tourism, Yacht servicing, Whale Watching, IT industrial zone, Marine Based Attractions, Nature Based Attractions amongst many other possibilities. The Pearl Oyster Fishery and the historical trading stories of this region could indeed fuel a new marketing image, a new development paradigm and place this region well on the path to sustainable development.

With a new chance for peace, we have an opportunity to align with the international community’s imperative and seek the economic advantages of such a development. An SDZ can offer a natural attraction for the establishment of UN agencies within the zone, as it will conform to the model being promoted by the UN system. The poor farmer and fisher families who have inhabited these coasts for millennia, should not become the latest victims of the rapacious history of the last millennium, rather they should be the recipients of the ideals and values of the new.

Thus it is proposed that we begin to consider the possibilities of a new role for this region, neglected for decades, riven by war, it cries out for change. Now the opportunity arises. Will the Gulf of Mannar represent a new vision of development? A new change? Can it embody the goals of Sustainable Development and of peace and thereby diminish the painful memories of war by creating a “Zone of Peace” as a model for a war weary world? Can we create a Zone of Peace, where living up to the ideals of the emerging 21st century will be rewarded ? Paraphrasing the new president elect of the Unites States on the need to change, and understanding that there is a dawning of a global awareness, I believe that we can now say, “Yes! We can!”

This meeting is yet another firm step into such a future.

References

Anon 2005 Sethusamudram EIA Analysis ,Conducted by IUCN – The World Conservation Union, No. 53, Horton Place, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka
Brundtland. G.H. 1987 United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, report in, Our Common Future.UNCED. New York.

Carswell, J. & M. Prickett (1984) Mantai 1980, a preliminary investigation. Ancient Ceylon. 5:7-80.
Cooray P.G. 1967 The Geology of Ceylon. Nat. Mus. Ceyl. Publ. Colombo

Davies P.J. and D.W.Kinsey 1977 Holocene reef growth – One Tree Island, Great Barrier Reef. Marine Geology 24 : M1-M11.

Deraniyagala P.E.P. 1958 The Pleistocene of Ceylon. Nat. Mus. Ceyl. Publ.Colombo.

Deraniyagala S.U.1990. Human Ecology During the Pleistocene in Sri Lanka In Ecology and Landscape Management In Sri Lanka pp 201-219 (eds) W,Erdelen, Ch.Preu,N.Ishwaran and Ch. Santiapillai. Verlag Josef Margraf, Weikersheim.

Emroy and Milliman 1968 Sea levels during the Past 35,000 Years. Science 162: 1121-1123
Hancock G. 2002 Underworld, Penguin Books, London.

Hopley D. 1983 Australian sea levels during the last 15,000 years. Jasmes Cook Univ. of Nth Qld Dept of Geog Momogr. Series, Occ, Pap 3, 104 pp

Hopley D. and Kinsey D.W. 1988 The effects of a rapid short term sea leval rise on the Great Barrier Reef. In Greenhouse – Planning for climate change. ed G.I.Pearman CSIRO, Melbourne 189-201.

Mahalingam N. 1981 Kumar Kamdan the lost continent: Proc of the fifth International Conference/Seminar on Tamil Studies. Intl.Assoc.of Tamil Research, Madras

Sandarasagara 2006, pers com The Koslande Sustainable Development Zone , Koslande

Senanayake R. 1994. The Evolution of the Major Landscape Categories in Sri Lanka and Distribution Patterns of SomeSelected Taxa : Ecological Inplications. In Ecology and Landscape Management In Sri Lanka pp 201-219 (eds) W,Erdelen, Ch.Preu,N.Ishwaran and Ch. Santiapillai. Verlag Josef Margraf, Weikersheim.

W. L. D. P. T. S. de A. Goonatilake 2002. Historical and Archaeological sites of Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay, Coastal Maritime Zone of Sri Lanka.

IUCN Sri Lanka. 53, Horton Place, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka

Upham. E (Ed) 2007 The Mahavansi, the Raja-Vali V3: Forming the Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon. Kessinger Publishing

 

 

GULF OF MANNAR – The Last Pristine Refuge in the South

Aside

GULF OF MANNAR
The Last Pristine Refuge in the South

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The studies of human impact on global oceans have just been released. They suggest that the current patterns of development have produced areas, which have in effect become ‘dead zones’ where life just persists. In other cases the condition of coral reefs, sea grass ecosystems and coastal mangroves provide the indicators of the level of degradation. Studies by the University of California and Stanford University have demonstrated the rate of loss and mapped this loss globally.

The map above also indicates other concerns with the loss of ocean ecosystem quality; these are, increasing industrial and urban pollution. These follow zones considered areas of high development.

In South Asia the toxic ring that encircles the southern part of India and Sri Lanka is clearly seen. In area renown for its unique biodiversity, this is a matter of urgent concern. Serendipitously, within this ring, lies an ocean zone unimpacted due to a variety of reasons, cultural, political, and economic. The area called the Gulf of Mannar (GOM) is the last pristine refuge in the South.

By Dr. Ranil Senanayake, Sri Lanka
Systems Ecologist, Marine Archeologist

HINDU THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGE

HINDU THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT

 

We believe that our life is a sacred journey and we are all pilgrims on planet Earth. Our scriptures tell us that being pilgrims is not just wandering aimlessly, or earning karmic merit by enduring hardship on a strenuous journey: they exhort us to follow Dharma so we may lead a daily life of contentment, discipline and righteousness without straining the Earth’s resources. Our every thought, word and action is to be guided by the highest ethical code of universal benevolence or Sarva Bhuta Hita (Yajur Veda 12.32). This ancient injunction implores us to live unselfishly, put principle before power, people before politics, and the collective good above personal gain. 

 

As Hindus, how we follow the pilgrims’ way is more important than the actual destination. The doctrine of karma cautions us that every step we take today will yield a corresponding result in the future: If one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if one sows evil, one will reap evil (Vedas). Thus we believe that the greenhouse effect, acid rain, toxic waste, soil erosion, pesticide contamination, groundwater pollution and other environmental problems that continue to threaten our survival are the result of our past collective actions (karma). Since good karma yields positive results, we should adjust our lifestyles and accept certain restraints on our desires so as to tread as lightly as possible on the planet that is our shared home, and so minimize our impact on the environment. Ishavasya Upanishat advises us to lead a devout and frugal lifestyle and eliminate greed and wasteful consumption: “Everything in the universe belongs to the Lord. Therefore take only what you need, that is set-aside for you. Do not take anything else, for you know to whom it belongs.”

 

Our scriptures reveal a clear conception of the ecosystem and our belief system is permeated by a reverence for all life. We believe that the great forces of nature (Pancha Mahabhutas), namely earth (prithvi), water (apas), air (vayu), fire (agni) and space (akasha), as well as our ecosystems are all bound to each other in a complex web of life within the great rhythms of nature which is sacred. We believe as the Chandogya Upanishad says that the universe truly is divine (Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma), meaning that the entire universe, which includes our ecosystems and us, are aspects of the same divinity called Brahman. This doctrine of an all-pervading divinity is confirmed as Vasudeva Sarvam, “Everything is God” in the Bhagavad-Gita, our most popular scripture. From the Panchatantra and the Hitopadesha flows the doctrine of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means that the entire world (vasudha, “the wealth-yielder”) is one family and our universe with all ecosystems, including all sentient and non-sentient things in nature, is interconnected. Thus we should tread lightly on this sacred ground, aware that all things in entire creation are in harmony through the all-pervading power of the Supreme deity and all sentient and non-sentient things in the universe are pervaded by the same one God. We should therefore respect them because the same God Who is in us is also in them: Ishavasyam Idam Sarvam (Isavasya Upanishat). 

 

We believe that cutting down of trees and destruction of flora is a sinful act. We should worship trees as Vriksha Devata (tree gods), forests as Vana Devatas, mountains as Giri Devatas, rivers as Goddesses, cow and cattle for their agrarian utility. Kautilya’s Arthasastra prescribes various punishments for destroying trees and plants. The Vedas state, “Vriksho Rakshati Rakshitaha”, meaning, “Protect trees, trees will protect you.” We believe water is a purifier, thus we offer a daily prayer to the deity of water: “The waters in the sky, the waters of rivers, and water in the well whose source is the ocean, may all these sacred waters protect me” (Rig-Veda 7.49.2)

 

We see all creatures as spiritually equal. We are urged by Krishna to ‘see with equal vision a priest, a cow, an elephant and a dog.’ We do not support the exploitation of animals, especially on the industrial scale that is commonplace in today’s farming industry. We believe this exploitation does great damage to the natural environment as well as to the human spirit.

 

Our ancient sages personified the Earth as Mother Earth and worshipped her as Goddess (Devi):Mata bhumih putro aham prithivyaha”, meaning, the Earth is my mother I am the Earth’s son (Atharva Veda). Thousands of years later, at the Global Conference in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, the world experts addressed our planet as Mother Earth for the first time at an international meeting. 

 

To the Hindus, the notion of subjugating or exploiting Mother Earth is akin to violating the body of one’s mother. The sanctity of our relationship with Mother Earth is expressed in our morning prayer recited before setting our right foot on the floor when we ask Devi to forgive us for trampling on her body: “Salutations to Lord Vishnu’s divine wife, ocean-clad, adorned with mountains, pardon me Mother, for setting my foot on you.” (Samudra Vasane Devi, Parvata Sthana Mandite, Vishnu Patni Namasthubhyam, Pada Sparsham Kshamasva Me).

 

We believe that this teaching may well be the earliest imperative to caution mankind to be mindful of our impact on the earth. We Hindus must acknowledge that our Dharma teaches us to love the Earth, appreciate her beauty and as “wanderers” explore her many mysteries. 

 

As followers of Sanatana Dharma, which teaches harmony and respect for nature, we call on all Hindus to:

 

  • Follow Lord Krishna’s message, “Conserve ecology or perish” and develop a sustainable lifestyle
  • Reduce your carbon footprint and ideally “leave a positive footprint”
  • Support local conservation programs that protect terrestrial and marine species and their habitats
  • Protect portions of the planet that are held in common, including the oceans and the atmosphere
  • Help eliminate and clean up open sewers, impure water, unplanned development and polluted air
  • Do not waste water or electricity
  • Dispose of rubbish appropriately, no matter how much litter lies around
  • Eat natural, healthy, fresh foods, avoiding consumption of meat
  • Recycle whenever possible
  • Support people and initiatives that achieve these Earth-friendly goals

 

Compiled by Kusum Vyas

Hindu Climate Change Ambassador, GYAN/Living Planet Foundation.

Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai (Don’t be Offended, its Holi!)

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 “Gentle breeze, blowing from the south, softens the chilly air of the winter. The land comes to life as the flora suddenly bursts into maturity and young flowers bloom all over. The air is filled with intoxicating smell of fresh flowers and the effect is seen even on the cuckoo which is in an inebriated state”.

Indian Poet Kalidasa on Vasanta Ritu (The Spring Season)

 

Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai (Don’t be Offended, its Holi!)

 

Spring! It’s that time of the year when Mother Nature’s energy has awoken from its winter slumbers, bringing hope, growth  and a riot of vivacious colors to herald the new beginning.

 

Come March 17, and Indians across India and throughout the world will come together to welcome one of this most beautiful seasons of the year with the festival of colors known as Holi or Phagwah in the Indo-Caribbean Hindu community.

 

What’s so special about this celebration? First, because Holi is one of the most popular and ancient festivals in India.  References to Holi are found in ancient paintings and murals and in sculptures on walls of ancient Hindu temples. A panel sculpted in the 7th Century temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The carved sculpture depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or ‘ pichkaris ‘ to drench the Royal couple in colors.

 

The tradition has continued uninterrupted for a  millennia. In India, while they share prayer and sumptuous food, the best part is the ritual of taking to the streets and splashing friends and even total strangers with dry colors, water balloons, sprayers and even, dousing them with entire buckets of colored water. On this day, everybody, old and young, is fair game.

 

This is the time to relax social codes. The day takes the form of a fun-filled, boisterous celebration where barriers between rich and poor, men and women, young and old are broken down. All are free to throw colors  on each other and  get pummeled with vibrant bags of colorful powder.

 

It’s a time during which mischievous behavior is not only condoned, but encouraged. Crowds of people playfully pelt each other with painted in mesmerizing hues of blues, yellows, magentas, greens, violets, and more adding a rainbow-like hue to the environment. In India it is common to see kids squirting passers-by with flower-based colorful liquid!

 

As with all Indian festivals, Holi also has sacred aspects associated with it – a majority centering on triumph of good over evil.

 

The most popular one is about an arrogant king who resents his son Prahlada for worshiping Lord Vishnu, the creator of the Universe. When every attempt to stop him fails, his sister, Holika believed to be immune to fire, joins in the effort, by inviting the young boy to accompany her into a large fire. Helped by the powers of Lord Vishnu, Prahlada escapes unscathed, while Holika burns to ashes. To commemorate this event, huge bonfires are lit the night before Holi to cleanse the air of evil spirits.

 

In the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, the festival is attributed to the immortal love between the mischievous fun-loving god Krishna and his devotee Radha. Therefore, people of Braj where he spent most of his life, celebrate it with great gusto for almost two weeks!

 

While history and circumstances may have flung many Indians to the farthest reaches of the globe, they remain undiminished in their enthusiasm for festivals and rituals that define home. Wherever Indian Diaspora lives in sizable numbers, Holi is the same jamboree of myriad colors as in India.  However, whenever Holi falls in the middle of working week, the Indian expatriate community celebrates the festival on a weekend  closest to the actual date.

 

It is perfectly natural for Indians living in the West to be overcome with nostalgia when major festivals like Holi come around. Some hold on to their Indian roots and strive hard to keep up the tradition with religious fervor and put effort into passing on the legacy to their  children. For others it is a day filled with fun, good food and an abundance of nostalgia in the midst of a riotous crowd stomping to either heavy bhangra beat in the background or  the all-time favorite Bollywood Holi song, “Rang Barase…”

 

Come March 17, cities and towns across the world will once again burst with color as we welcome the joy of Spring. Thanks to the internet and social media, now it’s easier than ever to locate a Holi celebration at a temple, university town square or public park near you. Be sure to prepare yourself for an exuberant show of goodwill, cheer, thick with clouds of color and, yes – plenty of good food.  A word of caution for those who want to keep their clothes clean: Even if you stand back and away from the crowd, you are fair game for the kids and you may get some of that color  splattered on your clothes!

 

But then, as they say in India, “Bura Na Mano, Holi hai—don’t be offended, it’s Holi!

 

Kusum Vyas

Hindu View of Nature

ImageBy Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley)

  The Hindu approach to ecology requires that we first understand how Hindu Dharma views the world of nature, which can be different than that of other religions, as well as from science.

Western religious thought based upon Biblical traditions regards nature as something created by God. If nature is sacred, it is so as God’s creation. This is the basis of the approach to ecology in most western religious traditions. They ask us to protect nature as God’s creation. However, they can be suspicious of nature Gods and may not favor worshipping the Earth itself. Historically they have criticized nature based or pagan religions as unholy, including Hinduism.

The Hindu view of nature is based upon the Vedas, Upanishads and Vedanta and their philosophical views, as well as on Hindu devotional and ritualistic practices. According to Hindu thought, there is no separation between the Divine and the world of nature. Both are the two aspects of the same reality. The cosmic reality is one like the ocean. Nature or the manifest world is like the waves on the surface of the sea. Brahman or the unmanifest Absolute is like the depths of the sea. But it is all water, all the same single ocean.

Ultimately for the Hindu as the Upanishads say, “Everything is Brahman,” Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. This does not mean Hindus worships the forces of nature on an outer level out of superstition and fear. The Hindu mind perceives a Divine and sacred presence working behind the forms of nature as their inner spirit, which is the real object of their adoration, not the outer form.

The sacred presence of Brahman, or the Supreme Divine Reality, is there in God or the Creator, what is called Ishvara or the cosmic lord in Hindu thought. Yet it is also present in the soul or reincarnating entity, what is called the Jiva as our higher Self. And, it is present in the world of nature, Jagat. God, soul and the world are aspects of One Reality, which is Brahman. Each of these three shares the entirety of the underlying Reality. Each is sacred and holds the same deeper nature of Being, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat-chit-ananda). The Hindu Yogi can discern the same supreme Reality in the human being, a snake, a particle of dust or a distant star, as well as beyond all time and space!

This Vedic vision of unity is the basis for a yogic ecological approach in which we can honor the entire universe as part of our own higher Self. It takes us beyond the duality of God and the creation. God does not create the world out of nothing. The world, God and the soul are inherent aspects of the same Eternal Being. We need not protect nature as we would an inferior creature. We can honor nature as our own greater life and expression.

Sacred Places

In western religions there are many sacred places. However, these holy sites are defined mainly in human terms, even if they occur in a beautiful natural setting. A place is usually regarded as sacred in western religions because some prophet, savior or saint visited there or communicated to God from that location. The place is not itself usually regarded as sacred according to its natural power alone. In western religions one may visit or admire beautiful places in nature, honoring them as Gods’ creation, but one does not worship or honor the place itself as a manifestation of Divinity.

God similarly is looked upon in anthropomorphic terms, as a glorified human being, mainly as a father. It is not usually accepted to look at the Divine in the form of an animal, plant or force of nature.

In Hindu thought, there are also many sacred sites. But these are defined primarily in terms of nature, not by human activity. Mt. Kailas is sacred as a mountain, for example, and as the abode of Shiva or the higher consciousness. Indeed all mountains are sacred because they afford us access to the higher realms of meditation.

The Ganga is sacred as a river. Indeed all rivers are sacred because they nourish and purify not only the body and mind but the inner being. The sacred nature of such places does not depend upon human activity, though it can be enhanced by human activity as ritual, mantra and meditation.

Hindu thought defines the Divine not just in human terms but also in terms of nature. The Divine is not only the father, mother, brother, sister, lord and friend, but also takes form as the sacred animals, plants, rocks, planets and stars. Hindu temples contain not only human representations of divinity but also deities with animal heads and animal bodies. They contain sacred plants, flowers, rocks, fire and water as well.

This sense of the Divine in all of nature is the reason why Hindus find sacred places everywhere. Hindus have sacred mountains and hills, sacred rivers and lakes, sacred trees and groves, sacred flowers and grasses. They can honor the Divine not only in the human form but in all the forms of nature.  This Hindu devotional attitude is not mere primitive idolatry. It is not a worship of nature externally. It is a recognition of the Divine reality within all things.

Hindus honor all the forms of the Divine but also recognize the formless Divine even beyond the Creator, extending to the Absolute. Vedanta teaches us that this Absolute or Brahman is the being, self and soul of everything animate and inanimate. It says our very Self is the entire universe and the entire universe dwells within us. To honor nature is to honor ourselves. To honor ourselves, one should honor all of nature.

For the Hindus the Earth is sacred as the very manifestation of the Divine Mother. She is Bhumi Devi, the Earth Goddess. One of the reasons that Hindus honor cows is that the cow represents the energies and qualities of the Earth, selfless caring, sharing and the providing of nourishment to all.  Hindu prayers are done at the rising of the Sun, at noon and at sunset, honoring the Divine light that comes to us through the Sun. Nature is always included in the Hindu approach. Even the great Hindu Yogis retire into nature to pursue their practices, taking refuge in the Himalayas and other mountains and wilderness areas where there is a more direct contact with the Divine.

We find a similar acknowledgement of the sacred nature of all life in most native traditions of the world, extending back to Greek, Roman, Celtic, Egyptian and Babylonian traditions in the West. A similar spirit can be found in European romantic thought of the nineteenth century. It is not something uniquely Hindu but reflects a perception of the world born of art and meditation.

Hindu Science of Ritual and Mantra

Hindu ritual worship works with the forces of nature to bring a higher consciousness and energy into the world. Hindu rituals are part of a comprehensive spiritual science designed to connect us to higher planes of consciousness and creativity. Hindu rituals form probably the most sophisticated ritualistic approach in the world, allowing us to link up with the inner forces of nature in a systematic manner.

            Hindu pujas do this with special prayers and mantras, and offerings of subtle sensory essences like flowers, incense, ghee flames, special water or food, and fragrant oils. This is designed to allow the Prana or the Spirit of the Deity to enter into the form for worship, whether it is a statue or a natural object, so that the powers of the higher planes and worlds can have a place to bless us here on Earth.

            Hindu yajnas or fire rituals offer special substances into a consecrated sacred fire like special wood, resins, ghee, grains, and seeds for the fire to transform into higher vibrations for the benefit of all. Hindu scriptures explain these rituals in great detail including special methods of performance and special times and places to do them. No one with an open mind can experience these rituals and not feel elevated.

            Hindu rituals are designed to harmonize the human being with the world of nature and the higher levels of the universe. The Hindu worship of nature is part of a greater yogic science of accessing all the healing and transformative powers of the greater Conscious Universe of body, mind and spirit. Indeed traditional Yoga practices begin with such rituals.

The Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, pray for peace from the Earth, Atmosphere, Heaven, Mountains, Rivers, Sun, Moon and Stars, from the entire universe. They see peace as a universal reality, not the result of human activity, not just a truce between warring armies. They show us how to access that universal peace that transcends all boundaries and limited identities.

Vedic mantras are composed in special cosmic sounds that connect us to the cosmic mind and the Divine creative energies at work in the universe. Chanting such mantras is one of the most powerful things we can do not only to uplift ourselves but to uplift the planet. Vedic mantras are part of a sophisticated Yoga of sound, which can help us and our world on many levels.

Ecological Value of Hindu Rituals and Mantras

It is important that we bring Hindu rituals and mantras to all countries, particularly to their sites of natural beauty in order to bring the Divine powers back into the world. These rituals are part of a universal science that is helpful for everyone and is particularly crucial in this ecological era, where we are damaging the very fabric of life. We must purify and reenergize the sacred sites in nature, through rituals, mantra and meditation.

There are many such special sacred places on Earth. These are defined by their natural power more so than any human presence. We must learn to recognize these places and go to them to honor the cosmic being, opening up to them as centers of transformation to restore the natural order that we are violating.

Hinduism has a practical yogic ecology of linking us to the greater universe. If we bring Hindus practices into the modern world, we can not only heal the planet and heal ourselves; we can fulfill our highest goal as a species, the liberation of consciousness into the infinite.

            Many indigenous cultures and the old pagan traditions of Europe have a similar understanding of all nature as sacred, and recognize the special sacred places in their environment. This is the basis of ancient sacred sites like Stonehenge and the rituals that went at such places. These traditions also need to be honored and their practices revived.

Need for Hindus to Restore their Ecological Awareness

Many modern Hindus have forgotten their traditional sacred approach to nature. This is particularly obvious in India where the natural environment is often degraded and polluted. Under the compulsions caused by overpopulation, lack of education and the need to develop the economy, nature in India everywhere is suffering. Even Hindu temples are not being kept up with proper dignity and respect. In India, the government has taken over many temples and uses them to make money, giving little back to beautify the temple or even keep them clean. While there have been notable efforts to counter this, much more work yet remains to be done.

            Outside of India, many Hindus have lost their ecological vision as well. They are used to the urban life and often don’t move beyond the cities. It is important that Hindus reclaim the ecological vision inherent in their religion. This means bringing nature back into their lives, not only through rituals, mantras and meditation but pilgrimage to the sacred sites in nature like Kailas, Gangotri, Vaishnodevi and many others, not only in India but all over the world.

 It is also important that western thinkers examine the Hindu view of the world and its profound philosophy of Vedanta which sees the unity of all beings in the Self. Vedanta can provide a spiritual and philosophical vision for a deeper ecological approach that we so desperately need to save our natural environment.

Uttarakhand Tragedy: Is Kalidasa Prophecy Coming True??

Long before the scourge of commercialization took root, the Himalayan sanctuaries were places of pristine beauty and rich biodiversity, revered by followers of five major religions.

Ancient texts illustrate a deep ecological awareness. The Mahābhārata says, “The Himalaya is adorned with rivers, inhabited by lions, tigers, birds, bumble bees, swans and cakoras, in lovely lakes with lotuses”.

4th Century poet Kalidasa in Kumarasambhava describes the Himalaya as a “treasure house of precious minerals, biodiversity and the source of Ganga”.

On June 16th, the world watched in horror as flash floods decimated the Uttarakhand region of the Himalaya. Untold numbers were swept away or buried. Thousands of victims languished without food and water awaiting rescue, some dying before help arrived.

Within a matter of hours, the catastrophe transformed a region fabled for spirituality and pristine beauty to one of death and devastation. One month later, entire villages and towns remain buried in sludge and silt waiting for life and hope to return.

While bad weather appears to be the immediate cause, the prevailing narrative reflects that the calamity was a man-made disaster triggered by unbridled development. We believe that it was the result of “violation of natural laws by selfish human beings” as warned by Kalidasa. Uttarakhand is reaping the consequences of ecocide perpetrated over decades by leaders who talk about conservation but promote harmful projects.

Looking deeper we see the progression of misplaced priorities, prior warnings notwithstanding. There is plenty of blame to go around, but this is no time to point fingers. Once the manic burst of media frenzy and political spats has subsided and the whirlwind slowed, the disaster should be a call to action.

An action plan drawn on the lines of World Bank and Global Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR) must be implemented. It must undertake an apolitical study of the region – including the impact of dam construction and unchecked growth– to define standards and policy. This needs to be done on a war footing.

Back in the days of Kalidasa, the Himalaya was a “treasure house” of lush nature. If there were any buildings, they were simple, thatched huts. India’s population was less than one percent of what it is today; there was no railway and the average Indian never ventured more than 50 miles from home.

The region now hosts an annual influx of millions of foreign tourists. Natural landscapes have become unregulated concrete sprawls developing rapidly at the expense of local ecology. Unbridled hydropower mania too is trampling the region. Naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the region’s raison d’être.

The consequences are deforestation and loss of natural habitat, near extinction of the indigenous flora and fauna, leading to soil erosion, flooding and landslides. Had forests been maintained, death and destruction would have perhaps been significantly lower.

Indigenous people, coexisting harmoniously with nature, have long decried the encroachment into their habitats. Their cries have fallen on deaf ears. Nature warns us that it cannot indefinitely ignore the ravages of mindless pillage. India must designate the region as protected, halt construction and restrict visitors. Such a quota already exists for Amarnath.

 Measures that appear to be bitter pills presenting political risks in the short term will yield rich dividends in the future.  The difference lies in the measure of vision and collective will. The painful images of the devastation must be the catalyst for change. The time to begin is now.

Let us heed the tears of Kalidasa.

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Dr. Kusum Vyas is a graduate of Nairobi and Texas A&M University and Distinguished International Visiting Professor, Universitas Mahendradatta in Bali. Kusum is the founder of the Green Kumbh movement and she is the Hindu Climate Change Ambassador for GYAN (Green Yatra Action Network), an initiative nurtured to give roots and wings to a global Hindu response to climate change and biodiversity loss. GYAN is focused on religion-based environmentalism that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes as “the world’s largest civil society movement on climate change”.  Both GYAN & Green Kumbh are initiatives of Living Planet Foundation, a Texas based non-profit organization which Kusum founded in 2004. Kusum was voted number one Environmental Hero followed by Al Gore in a recent poll conducted by Earth Protect.

Contact: kusumvyasusa@gmail.com
http://www.livingplanetfoundation.org
http://www.gyanworldwide.org