Water, Wood, and Wisdom: Ecological
Perspectives from the Hindu Traditions
FROM THE CRADLE that is a baby’s first bed to the cremation
pyre that is the last resting place for the body in many
Hindu traditions, wood is an integral part of Hindu lives.
From home hearths to religious sacraments, wood and fire are
conspicuously present. Hindu weddings take place in front of a
sacred fire that is considered to be an eternal witness; at death,
the bodies are consigned to the fire.
The ashes of the cremated body are immersed in holy waters—
the same rivers that feed and irrigate paddy fields; the
same water that cooks the rice and bathes the dead before
cremation. From cradle to cremation, Hindus have long had a
palpable, organic connection with nature. But today they must
also face the reality of environmental disaster. With the population
hovering around a billion in India (with eight hundred
million Hindus), the use, abuse, and misuse of resources is
placing India on the fast track to disaster. What, if anything,
can Hindu tradition say about this looming environmental crisis?
Are there any resources in the Hindu religious and cultural
traditions that can inspire and motivate Hindus to take action?1
While in the Western world one has to argue for the significance
and relevance of religion in everyday life, in India the
interest and involvement in religion is tangible; religious symbols
are ubiquitous. The traditional mantra heard among Hindus,
“Hinduism is more than a religion; it is a way of life,” is
more than a trite saying. There is a deep relationship between
religion and ingrained social structures and behavioral pat-
Vasudha Narayanan is a professor of religion at the University of Florida
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