International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky and Water

edited by Christopher Key Chapple , Mary Evelyn Tucker

Introductory Essay by Makarand Paranjape

Hinduism and Ecology is part of a series on religions and ecology based on a number of conferences that took place between 1996 and 1998 at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions. The subtitles of each volume offer a clue as to what the reader may expect in the contents. This volume is called The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water.

Twenty-one essays are presented here, some by the world’s leading authorities on Hinduism. They are divided into five somewhat uneven groupings: “The Cultural Underpinnings: Traditional Hindu Concepts of Nature,” which contains the largest number of essays, seven in all; “Gandhian Philosophy and the Development of an Indigenous Indian Environmental Ethic,” the second and the shortest section, which contains two essays; “Forests in Classic Texts and Traditions,” with four essays; “Flowering Sacrality and Risking Profanity: The Yamuna, Ganga, and Narmada Rivers,” with five essays; and, finally, “Can Hindu Text and Ritual Practice Help Develop Environmental Conscience?” which is the concluding section, consisting of three essays.

These thematic groups roughly reflect the subtitle because they deal with earth, sky, and water, in both their physical and symbolic senses. In addition, the book has a Preface, a Series Forward, a very useful Introduction by Chapple, and two Appendices, of which the first, by Harry Blair, offers a thematic encapsulation of the various papers in the volume. The book ends with a Glossary and extensive bibliography, followed by an index. Given its range and the depth of concerns plus the other material in it, this is no doubt a very useful introduction to the subject.

The book’s primary challenge is to come to terms with the overwhelming environmental challenge that India faces. With is exploding population, economic growth, and consumption patterns, it has now been quite well understood for decades that India faces an unprecedented ecological crisis. What resources do Hindu religious and intellectual traditions offer to combat this crisis? This volume attempts to addresses this question from a variety of perspectives. The paradox that India is home not only of the world’s largest environmental movement but also of Gandhian thought, with its anticipation of deep-ecological concerns, is only too palpable, as is the irony that India’s great rivers, considered sacred and revered since times immemorial, are today tragically, even disastrously, polluted. The volume attempts to tackle these problems and contradictions from all the three levels of Hinduism that the anthropologist Agehananada Bharati proposed—village Hinduism, Sanskrtic-Vedic Hinduism, and Renaissance or Neo-Hinduism. Unlike a good deal of similar material, what distinguishes this volume is the number of Hindu voices in it, although a majority of them are located in the Western academy.

To sum up, this book reflects both the strengths of its origin in a large international conference, as it does some of the drawbacks of such a format. Necessarily eclectic, it provides a broad and invariably interesting array of approaches to the topic, some more focussed and effective than others, rather than a coherent or even original argument. This is what makes it both a necessary starting place for a deeper study of the subject and also a tempting point of departure.