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The plants sold as prasada are inexpensive; they cost about the equivalent of five cents each.

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The saplings cultivated are suitable for the soil in various parts of India, and by planting them at home one can have a piece of the sacred place of Tirumala wherever one lives. In this program, a devotee donates money for the purchase and planting of trees and plants. The donor is honored by being granted special darshan viewing of the deity in the inner shrine , accommodations on Tirumala normally very hard to get , and public acknowledgment of the gift strategically placed boards list the names of donors and the amount of their donations.

Almost every temple in South India dedicated to the gods Shiva or Vishnu, or to a manifestation of the goddess, has a sthala vriksha, a special tree regarded as sacred to that area. The sthala vriksha symbolizes all trees and reminds pilgrims that all trees are worthy of respect.


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The Trees of Badrinath. Badrinath, a major pilgrimage center in the Himalayas, was a victim of overuse. A handful of pilgrims would go to the temple, high in the forested mountains. Located at 3, meters, it used to be surrounded by heavy forests. Now, with new roads, over , pilgrims visit the temple every year. Through the joint efforts of the director of the G. The Institute supplied the plants; the priest blessed them and urged the pilgrims to plant the trees as a sign of religious devotion.

The priest told the story of how the Goddess Ganga the river would not come to Earth until Lord Shiva promised to break her fall. The priest likened the forests to the matted hair of Shiva.

The trees are now cut; in summer the Ganga floods the land and landslides destroy the local villages. Many of the plants died during the winter that followed. In response, the G. Pant Institute established a nursery at Hanumanchatti to acclimatize seedlings. It also designed special metal covers to prevent snow from breaking the soft tips of the plants.

Scientists determined the most promising native trees for planting and preserving biodiversity—Himalayan birch, oak, maple, spruce, and juniper, as well as other species.

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As a consequence, survival rates improved dramatically, and some plants have reached a height of two meters. The Paradise of Vrindavana. Vrindavan, the pastoral home of Lord Krishna in the Puranas, is the site of major environmental initiatives.

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The World Vaisnava Association is actively involved in this project. By bathing in the great rivers of India, one is said to be morally cleansed of sins and to acquire merit or auspiciousness. A story popular in oral tradition makes the point: A king goes to sleep on the banks of the River Ganga.

When he wakes up in the middle of the night, he sees some women covered in filth taking a dip in the holy river.

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They emerge from the river cleansed and then disappear. The king returns on several nights and sees the same thing. Eventually he asks them who they are; they reply that they are the embodiments of the rivers of India. Every day, they tell him, human beings bathe in the rivers and their sins are absolved by that act.

The rivers—embodied as women—absorb the moral dirt and then come to the Ganga, the grand purifier, to purify themselves. Variations on the story describe where the Ganga goes to get herself purified, although it is generally assumed that she needs no purification. The generic version of the story distinguishes between two kinds of dirt.


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  5. Moral dirt or sin, known as papa in Sanskrit, is perceptible as physical dirt in the bodies of the river. The story, therefore, makes a direct connection between morality and physical pollution. In addition to moral purity and physical purity, one may also note that in other Hindu contexts there is a third kind of purity: ritual purity. Ritual purity encompasses physical purity, but all that is physically clean is not ritually pure.

    The sacred rivers are often being used as latrines, despite the injunctions in the dharma texts against such a practice. The rivers that are to supposed to purify stand stagnant, reflecting the rancid countenance of adharma, unrighteous behavior. A mahant spiritual and administrative head of the second-largest temple in Varanasi, he educates people on why and how the holy River Ganges should be kept free of bacterial pollution. He notes that corpses, not quite burnt from the funeral pyre, are dropped into the Ganga.

    Devotion and law have also come together in the saving of the Yamuna River. The Yamuna River is one of the most sacred in India, beloved for its close association with the life of Krishna. When Krishna was born, his father carried him across the river to a place of safety; growing up on the banks of this river, Krishna played with the cowherd girls and stole their clothes while they were bathing in the river.

    It was on the banks of the Yamuna that he played his magic flute and danced through the moonlit nights. And yet this is today one of the most polluted rivers in India, with tons of industrial dyes, sewage, and other pollutants being dumped into the sacred waters. Gopishwar Nath Chaturvedi, a traditional ritual leader for pilgrims and a resident of Mathura the birthplace of Lord Krishna , has taken the lead in trying to save the river.

    Leading a group of pilgrims to the river for a ritual bath in , he saw the water colored red and green from industrial dyes that had been dumped from the nearby mills. Dead fish covered the ground, and birds were picking at their flesh. This scene struck him as a desecration of his mother, the river Yamuna. The legal counsel in these cases was M. Mehta, an attorney who has been at the forefront of cases dealing with the environment.

    One may also reflect briefly on the gender of the rivers. Though there are some exceptions, most of the rivers of India are considered to be female, while mountains are generally male. Rivers are perceived to be nurturing and sometimes judgmental mothers, feeding, nourishing, quenching, and when angered flooding the earth. Rivers are also personified as deities; Ganga is sometimes portrayed as a consort of Lord Shiva. In the plains of Tamilnadu, Kaveri Amman Mother Kaveri is seen as a devotee and sometimes the consort of Lord Vishnu, and several temples like Terazhundur, near Kumbakonam have a striking image of this personified river in the innermost shrine.

    In the pre-eighth-century Vishnu temple at Tirucherai, a small village near Kumbakonam, the River Kaveri is seen as in a maternal posture with a child on her lap. When the Kaveri is swollen after the early monsoon rains, I have heard the residents of Srirangam a large temple town on an island in the middle of the river say she was pregnant. This is a wonderful celebration of her life-giving potential: the surging river, rich with the monsoon waters, sweeps into the plains, watering the newly planted crops in the Thanjavur delta, and giving birth to the food that will nourish the population.

    Thus, according to some Hindu traditions, only Lord Vishnu or Mother Kaveri can give one both nourishment and salvation. The despoliation of rivers in recent years is sometimes compared to the denigration of women at various times in many civilizations. In India, the situation is complicated; there have been powerful women whose names are known as poets, patrons, performers, and philosophers; on the other hand, there have also been some androcentric texts and practices in which the lot of women has not been good.

    At the same time, a number of Indian women have become active around ecological issues. In many parts of India, women are involved in the Chipko movement, which promotes the protection of trees. The theory and practice of classical dance in India natya shastra is seen as a religious activity.

    In other words, dance—indeed, most performing arts—is a path to salvation within some Hindu traditions. The song refers to a myth in which the God Shiva drank poison to save the universe. When the gods and the demons were churning the ocean of milk, using the serpent Vasuki as a rope, the snake spit out poisonous fumes, which overwhelmed the participants. Shiva saved them by consuming the poison and his neck turned blue. He is known as Nilakantha—the blue-throated one.

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    The following song is set in the pattern of Karnatic music in the raga Begada :. O Nilakantha, lord, come here! You have your work cut out for you; I understand you consumed poison that day, but will it do just to sip a tiny bit of poison in your palm? We have spread potent poison all over this earth, the waters of the sea, the air, everywhere. O Shiva, be a sport, O Shiva, be a sport —if you suck this poison out you too will turn blue all over like Vishnu!

    Notice that the references here are not to philosophical texts, but to a story from the Puranas that many Hindus would know. The tone of the song is teasing—a mood adopted in many classical Bharata Natyam songs, in which the young girl flirts with a god, frequently in a romantic situation. Here, Shiva is told that the sipping of a little poison at the time that the cosmic ocean of milk was churned is not enough; he is to suck out the poison from the whole world.

    The traditional context is preserved, but the message has been modified to draw attention to the poison that we have spread through our earth, water, and air.

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    The audience for these ecologically aware dance recitals is diverse. It includes the very government workers, industrialists, and management executives who are responsible, either directly or indirectly, for regulating pollution. Mallika Sarabhai dances in urban and rural areas where she is able to get the attention of multiple audiences. A particular strength of dance as a medium is its subtlety: without being strident, the songs and expressions convey a message that lingers long after the performance is over. To a large extent, I would argue, the performance does the work that theological texts once did: that of reshaping and transforming attitudes and perspectives in the Hindu context.