India is a land of rich cultural heritage with various traditions, weaved around as to live in harmony with nature. Our ancestors sure had a deep understanding of the basic essence that their livelihood depends on environment. Sustainability was the core element of Indian culture and every part of the ecosystem was duly preserved & respected in one way or other. The harmony between humans and nature is integral to Indian traditions and ethos, which is evident through myths, folklore, religion, arts, scriptures & preachings. Infact, it is said that no other culture provides such rich ecological practices that establish a relationship with nature.
The 3Rs(Reduce, Recycle, Reuse) practice was followed by the Indian System. Every available resource was utilised until it gets down to it’s simplest form after which it becomes part of the nature. Since all the resources used in those days were biodegradable, there was nothing called as ‘waste’. The same lost their relevance with the advancement of consumerism and resulted into one of the biggest environmental challenges of waste production. Anything non biodegradable never had a place in traditional Indian lifestyle. Please don’t take me wrong that I’m against synthetics, I agree that some are life savers too in the current scenario, which none can deny but they are also the key hindrance to a sustainable lifestyle and are proved to be of more harm than good. One such lifesaving example may be the advancements in allopathy treatments & medications but a deeper insight of the same reveals that the very cause of most diseases, which it claims to cure, is due to moving away from a balanced natural lifestyle. Also, it is an undeniable fact that without any of these synthetics, our ancestors had lived a sustainable lifestyle of wellness and harmony.
Following are few such sustainable practices followed by our ancestors, most of which are still followed, especially in rural communities.
- Locally grown and seasonal produce were consumed. This reduced the need for preservation and transportation.
- Wasting food was considered a sin those days and there were many recipes prevalent to make use of leftover food like Upma, Vegetable peel chutneys, etc.
- Grinding & hand churning in wooden & stonewares played a vital role. This helped in energy saving and were also healthier because wood & stonewares have their own health benefits.
- Food preservation was mostly done by pickling and sun drying.
- Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Due to dharmic traditions, influenced by various sages & saints, Indians majorly moved to vegetarianism. In ancient India, the diet was primarily plant based and even in case of non vegetarians, meat consumption frequency and hence overall percentage was lesser.
- Earthen pots & matkas were used to store water and keep it cool instead of refrigerators.
- The houses were made of both mud and fired bricks, wood, bamboo, clays, metals and stones.
- Natural plasticisers were made of herb, fruit & tree bark extracts.
- Natural polymers were made from cow dung, green algae, coconut shells, etc.
- Cement was made from brick powder and lime.
- Measuring equipments were made of metals, wood and strings were used.
- Handloom and handwoven fabrics that required skill but not much energy were used.
- Khadi clothes made from cotton, wool or silk, which is said to have the least carbon footprint, were majorly used.
- Vegetable, leaves and flower dyes were mostly used for colors.
- Also, India has a rich heritage of various hand embroidered fabrics namely banarasi , kanjivaram , patola , zardozi, kalamkari, sujani, phulkari, kashida, kantha, Nagaland weaves, etc.
- Cotton handkerchiefs & kitchen towels were used over a long period unlike the use & throw tissues today.
- There was a tradition of passing clothes to younger generation. Even today, there are many brides & grooms who traditionally wear such clothes passed on for generations.
- Dusters and bags(instead of plastic bags) were made from used cloths, rugs from old blankets, floor mats from old sacks and many more.
- Old clothes were used for menstruation too.
- Trees were revered and worshipped. Most temples had trees within and there were prayer procedures associated with the same.
- The entire living of Lord Ram & Devi Sita were close to nature and the scripture, Vishnu Samhrita has some direct instructions dealing with biodiversity conservation.
- Also, sacred groves dedicated to a deity or a village God, protected, and worshipped are found all over India. E.g. In Kerala there are hundreds of small jungles dedicated to snakes (Sarpakavu, Sarpa – snake, kavu – jungle). There is Ayyappankavu, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, visited by millions of devotees every year, being the sacred hill of Sabarimala with an Ayyappan temple
- Most animals were considered holy and some were worshipped too as God’s different avatars or their mounts. Snake worship is prevalent in many places even today.
- Panchatantra, an ancient Indian collection of interrelated animal fables in sanskrit verse and prose, arranged within a frame story conveying morals through animal behaviours is noteworthy.
- Crow feeding plays a significant role in Hindu mythology and feeding them were considered as being delivered to our dead ancestors.
- In olden days, kolams/rangolis were drawn in coarse rice flour. The very purpose of which was to invite ants, birds and other small creatures to eat it.
- Though many of these are seen as superstitions today, they were in reality traditional strategies deviced to preserve the relationship between Man & Nature.
- It is sad that 81 species of mammals, 38 species of birds and 18 species of amphibians and reptiles are now listed as ‘rare’ and ‘threatened’. Among these are the tiger, leopard, Asiatic elephant and all three species of the Indian crocodile. About 1500 species of plants are on the endangered list. (Source – Centre for cultural resources & training, India).
The 5 elements of nature:
- Sun, wind, air, land and water were worshipped as Panchabhuta.
- Rain water harvesting in Indian communities were prevalent since long and were specific according to topography, climate & rainfall in that particular region. E.g. Step Wells of Gujarat, Tanks of Tamil Nadu, Johads of Rajasthan.
- Bucket bathing was practiced which requires comparatively lesser water consumption compared to bathing in showers and tubs.
- Clothes and Vessels were hand washed using natural cleansers & sun dried, which saves water and energy.
- The waste water treatment was done by phytoremediation, i.e., passing waste water through the plant species of native origin.
- Land/Soil was respected, preserved and worshipped in the name of ‘Bhoomipuja’. Also, there was no threat of chemical pesticides and fertilisers causing soil pollution.
- As trees were preserved, air purification was taken care of. It was also devoid of pollution by green house gases, factory and vehicle emissions, etc.
- Ayurveda was the age old practice of medicine in India.
- Ayurvedic medicines are made from plants & minerals whereas Allopathy drugs are synthetically prepared from chemicals.
- Ayurvedic medicines are environment friendly as they are biodegradable whereas Allopathy medical wastes disposal is a complex issue. Read my detailed post on Allopathy Vs Ayurveda here.
- Also, the lifestyle itself was holistic with the concept of ‘food is medicine’ strongly rooted in the minds.
- Indians were well trained to store wet and dry waste separately. This system is prevalent in many states in India even today.
- The wastes were treated at the sources before it mixed in the external environment. The bio-wastes were mostly consumed by animals or kept at the site where natural decomposition takes place. In absence of the space, there used to be a community site for collection of solid biowastes.
- These community bio-wastes were treated as sacred site. One of the rituals of Indian marriage ceremony is “Ghoora Pujan” or “Kachra Pujan” which means worshipping the waste. The same was deviced to signify the importance and value of waste.
- Also, the broomstick which is commonly used, made of the grass species or the date palm leaves was associated with the Goddess of Wealth. I still remember my dad mentioning something similar associated to wealth when I often disrespect the same.
- Animal waste namely cow dung, for it’s antibacterial properties was used for walls, flooring and as manure.
With the influence of cross cultural learnings, the impact of which can be positive or negative, most of these sustainable lifestyle practices have gone for a toss. World has now realised the relationship between our lifestyle and it’s impact on the environment.
I strongly feel India needs a shift in value system and go back to our traditions rooted by our ancestors, turning back to a lifestyle close to nature focusing on sustainability, well-being & happiness! This need not be done overnight as the current lifestyle, availability of resources and many more have undergone a drastic change, so even if we intend to change overnight, there are too many hindrances on the way. Hence, I believe in taking one step at a time and consciously staying aware, working on our consumption patterns, changing use & throw mentality and materialistic living as much possible, within the limitations of our current lifestyle demands. By doing this, we can definitely decrease our carbon footprints. This isn’t new for us, just that we have been diverted for a while. Let’s go back to our roots, retain our values and realign our lifestyle! Baby steps matter.
This post is a part of #Reuseblogtrain hosted by Papri and Yogita and sponsored by Aroma Essentials. Read and engage on some really useful #reuse #recycle #reduce posts by 15 amazing bloggers. The bloggers would receive a customized product from the brand!
I would like to thank Gurjeet and hand over the baton to Hema, a HR turned blogger who loves to write about food, health and travel.