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Human Ecology In the Vedas

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Human Ecology In the Vedas
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Item Code: IDD109
Author: M. Vannucci
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 1999
ISBN: 8124601151
Pages: 358
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.6" X 5.8"
weight of the book: 620 gms
From the Jacket

Directing his view towards the whole universe holistically, amazingly, the Rgvedic man – as this study shows – was awakened to the cosmic Law and Order (Rta); he saw how nothing: nature, environment, or the universe itself, was ever static; and how the orderly Energy was at the root of all changes and movements. Instinctively, he not only bowed down to the 'Order' that reigns supreme, but also tried to attune himself, his behaviour, and his everyday activity to the eternal laws of the universe. Which, says the author, he recognized as his dharma.

A sequel to her earlier, well-received title: Ecological Readings in the Veda, Dr. Marta Vannucci's this book sets out fresh, insightful analyses the Vedic writings to highlight the ancient rsis' perceptions of the Universe, the ancient rsis' perceptions of the Universe, Nature, and cause-effect relationships; and how, millennia ago, these sages came to revere, even adore, Nature in its different manifestations and, wittingly or unwittingly, evolve an environmentally friendly culture. In support of her findings, the author also analyses a few selected hymns from the Rgveda, using a biological key to 'decode' these songs. Additionally, she also explores some important aspects of two Vedic gods: Indra and Varuna, who respectively represent the 'material' and 'immaterial' reality.

Highly relevant appendices apart, the book includes a comprehensive glossary of Sanskrit/non-English words and numerous bibliographic references.

About the Author

Marta Vannucci, a Brazilian citizen, born in Italy in 1921, is a globally distinguished biological oceanographer, with a versatile mind. An erstwhile UNESCO's Senior Expert (Marine Sciences) and Director of its Regional Office in Delhi, she has held a number of high-ranking academic/advisory/administrative positions at national and international levels.

A resident of India since 1970, Dr. Vannucci is Vice-President of the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems, Japan and a member of several learned societies including the Academy of Sciences of Brazil. She is honoured with the Grand Cross of the 'Order of Merit in Science', of Brazil. Besides intensive eight years studies of Latin, she knows almost all Latin derived languages, English, German, Sanskrit and Hindi.


When I was writing the book Ecological Readings in the Veda I was very worried because I feared that I would be unworthy of the task. While I still feel that I am very far from the lofty heights, I am grateful to the Gods and to the many learned persons and scholars who encourage me to continue along the arduous path of learning from the Vedic lore. The passionate urge to understand that is peculiar to Man, as I wrote at that time, pushed me deeper and deeper along this path of studies, trying to absorb as much insight into Vedic wisdom as my personal limitations would allow.

Part I of the present book is vastly based on my earlier book 'Ecological Readings in the Veda' and reflects my endeavour to express in simple terms what reason shows to be the understanding that the rsis had of the universe. The eagerness to attain to the Absolute Truth caused the ancient sages to express in poetical metres the result of their observations of nature, of their studies of the relations of causes and effects, of the empirical and experimental science that they practised for survival, for better living and for war. In their search for the Absolute Truth, the Vedic and pre-Vedic sages uncovered particular truths, which are each and every one part of the Absolute Truth. The unveiling of Rta proceeded step by step; each step translated into norms and regulations for everyday each step translated into norms and regulations for everyday healthy living; each one was then represented, reconstructed and lived over again through rituals. Clearly the Vedic sages had a notion of the fundamental pairs of opposites that keep the system going, such as Lord Agni and common fire. They perceived that matter and energy are the two interchangeable and interdependent extremes of a continuum and that Agni sublimates matter into energy, that solar energy and water create matter in mother Earth and in what grows from her. They realized that the life principle being undefinable, Hope, Bhaga, or the urge to go on living, is indelibly lined to Life and the sources of life were identified, hence the pair Savitr-Bhaga. The ancient sages also saw the continuum time/space, but that aspect of Vedic wisdom I have not dared approach.

The mental torment grew after the book was published and felt more and more belittled by my audacity; I am fully aware that I was not entirely successful in expressing clearly enough my 'readings'. The wealth of knowledge expressed in concise and often cryptic form by the ancients is not tolerant of simple interpretation and explanation.

One of the serious omissions of that book is the absence of a discussion of what I consider to be one of the significant differences between Western and Eastern philosophies. I the West Nature, the environment, the universe were considered to be static in time. The word evolution did not exist and when it was first used in relation to evolving nature, it was anathemized. Nature was taken to be immutable since first created by God, the Infinitum Ens (the Infinite Being) and the idea is present already in the Aristotelic principles of classic Greek philosophy that bridled all creative thinking, from cosmogony to theatrical presentations. Judaic, Christian, Islamic philosophies willfully disregarded the obvious changes over time and the evolution of everything in the universe. One of the great merits I see in Vedic and Vedic-derived philosophies, and other oriental philosophies, is the recognition that nothing is ever static, everywhere in the universe. Hence the impermanence of everything, as the Epicurean philosophers of Democritus' school knew well.

Due to these reasons I revised the first text and selected a few hymns that support the above and that have remained living. Guides for mankind over the centuries. These show both the impermanence and continuous change of everything, the need for mutual adjustment of the components of the system and at the same time show that the basic laws of physics, chemistry, physico-chemistry, movements of the astral bodies, remain unchanged over infinite time and space, at least as man could detect them without powerful instruments. They further show that the interaction of the parts of the very complex time/space continuum inevitably causes changes and evolution of the constituent parts.

Part I of the present book contains much of the earlier text, revised and enlarged. The general conclusion is that the formulation of dharma is based on fundamental ethical laws of nature to which all living beings as well as man are subject. Further, because of his intrinsic nature and his position in the community, nobody can escape his dharma, though ecological constraints influence his behaviour and karma. Any deviation from one's dharma is an aberration that carries with it dire consequences for the offender.

Part II is the analysis of three hymns and discusses some aspect of two important personalities that offer much support to the concepts expressed above. The hymn to the 'Manduka' (the Frogs), RV, VII; 103, describes the seasonal cycles, the role of Visnu as Preserver and the corresponding rituals to ensure man's participation in the cosmic drama in tune with Rta, the Law and Order of the Universe. The hymn for the wedding of Surya, the sun's daughter, RV, X; 85, focuses on the biological and social role of marriage and woman, valid even for present-day changing lifestyles. The third is one of the shortest of the whole Rgveda, RV, X; 146. It is dedicated to Aranyani, the lady of the forest; it visualizes the forest as an ecosystem with a strong personality of its own, but not immutable. The first appendix reflects the rsis' perception of different aspects of reality, material and virtual reality, as personified in certain traits of the Great God Varuna and the King of the Gods, Indra. In the second Appendix I formulate the hypothesis that the inebriating drink: soma, was originally grapes' wine, though substitutes of the soma plant may have been and are still used at different time and places.

Finally, I would say as I presume, that the Great Truth discovered by the ancient sages is that the ethics of nature dictates the dharma of man and communities, and this in turn is subject to ecological imperatives which position the individual karma.

I acknowledge with deep gratitude the support given by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, and in particular Dr. Uma Chakravarty from whose constructive criticism I learned so much. Too many other generous persons have helped me and guided me in my search; it would be impossible to mention them all. To my publisher, Sri Susheel Mittal I am grateful for steadily and gently pushing me out of my innate shyness and laziness.


Rsi Vasista and other rsis could distinguish wisdom from folly and dharma from adharma, truth from non-truth. However, when the relations between cause and effect were not apparent, they would use impossible or 'fantastic explanation' that we now call myths. The myth goes from the general to the particular and substitutes explanations, it substitutes logical deductions and jumps from the cause to the observed or desired effect. Myths are used as an 'explanation' ad hoc and never are generally valid. The myth gives no general explanation based on particular effects or consequences. There are no inferences in mythologies, this is why they are called myths, rather than legends, rules or laws. The short-cut from cause to effect is called a 'myth'. Myths are important for the development of the culture typical for each civilization, because they preserve a quantum of knowledge or wisdom of the collective mind of the people, generation after generation. Myths gradually fade away with time when the correct, logical, possible and factual, experimental and scientific explanations gradually substitute fantasy. For instance the myth of Rahu devouring the sun and/or moon is a mythical and easily memorized way of 'explaining' eclipses, though the correct explanation, namely the projection of the shadow of the Earth on the sun or moon was well known already at the time of the rsis. This could also be used as an example of how 'esoteric' knowledge which in all cultures is the science of the priesthood, was purposefully kept away from the masses, either because it is too difficult to explain to the non-initiated or because the knowledge could be misused.

In all cultures, myths and legends were also created to engrave into the collective memory of the people the tradition and history of their clan or race. An example from more recent times is the deification of Demetra into the goddess of agriculture in ancient Greece; she give the knowledge and expertise which was purposefully transformed into a myth to ensure that the teachings be correctly applied. My studies show (Vannucci, under press in: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute) that the 'Great Gift' that the Greek goddess Demetra gave to mankind was the practical knowledge of how to cultivate hexaploid wheat. History became legend and the legend was transformed into a myth and the religious practices called 'Mysteries' instituted by Demetra herself at Eleusis in Attika were performed for over 2000 years out of gratefulness because she gave the seeds of a special variety of wheat to a Greek called Triptolemus and taught how to cultivate it.

Legends are usually the poetical presentation of history or just wishful thinking. However the truths discussed in the Veda are mostly the result of the study of nature and of men's place in the universe, they are backed by carefully prepared rites and rituals, as were also the 'Mysteries' that took place at Eleusis.

The rsi accumulated a great wealth of correct knowledge translated or not into myths. Much of this was used to acquire wisdom and is expressed in the sacred texts either in mythical or explicit language. Many hymns of the Vedas have maintained their validity over 50 or 60 centuries.

The fundamental difference between the science of the ancient rsis and the science of the west, lies in the aims for which the learned persons of the priesthood sought truth: the 'unveiling' or Rta'. Knowledge, in the West, was basically used to acquire power; technicalities had priority over pure knowledge. Even scholastic philosophy is in many ways the methodological and technical aspect of ancient philosophies, but discusses no new truths. In the East, as revealed clearly in the Vedas, knowledge was gained basically for the purpose of acquiring wisdom. Wisdom was the aim of the rsi and wisdom was applied even for developing techniques to improve the quality of life, as for instance Ayurveda or yoga.

Vedic man had his views directed holistically towards the whole universe and was amazed at what he saw: the order and energy that reign throughout the world he lived in, these he called Rta and Agni and he consciously worshipped the orderly energy that is at the root of all movement, including all forms of life. The details of how the system functions, the dynamics of the universe and its parts were still beyond man's power of understanding. Though he often could see the effects he could not understand. The causes. He instinctively had to obey and he in tune with the order that reigns supreme. Hence religion and the rites that accompany religions.

It was recently brought to my attention that speaking in biological terms, dharma and karma may to a certain extent be understood respectively as the genotype and the phenotype of man as a biological species. Dharma corresponds to the hereditary endowment, the genome, the DNA which is unique of each individual, while karma regulates the behaviour and action of each one of us. Behaviour and actions – the phenotype – as well as the physical aspect are the result of the forces of the world around us the within us: the outer and the inner worlds. All and every individual action and each person's individual behaviour bear consequences that act on each person's individual karma.

Part I of this book gives the general frame of mind, and the evolution of the thinking of Vedic man over several centuries, while man was migrating and living in a variety of different environments, prior to and much earlier than the written text. Part II gives some details of the wisdom acquired in relation to societal health of the community and of the individual. It further gives some details on the observation of the seasons, of the respect due to Nature and its preservation, and in general to some of the norms that should be followed for the well-being of the individual, the family, the community, to promote health of the body, of the mind and of the spirit.

Looking at the world we now live in, in spite of all the knowledge, the science, the previously unimaginable technological knowhow, the world looks very much like a madhouse and is much less wise than the world of the ancients. Personally I would like to express an utopic wish: that man would distinguish between wisdom and folly.


Part I
1The Problem and the Hypotheses7
2The Quest for Sources27
3The Concept of God39
4Ecological Aspects49
5Lord Agni and Fire115
6Lord Savitr, Life and Hope145
7Conclusion – Contemporary and Vedic Expression of Ecology155
Part II
1Manduka, the Frogs – RV, VII; 103173
2The Wedding of Surya – RV, X; 85217
3Aranyani, the Lady of the Forest – RV, X; 146261
4Indra and Varuna, Material and Immaterial Reality275
Appendix I – The Carpenter and Pythagoras Theorem – T.B. Swaminathan297
Appendix II – Note on the Identity of the Soma Plant.301
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