Trees and plants have long been held sacred to communities the world over. In India they feature in our myths, epics, rituals, worship, and daily life. There is the pipal, under which the Buddha meditated, the banyan, in whose branches hide spirits; the ashoka, in a grove of which Sita sheltered, and the tulsi, without which no Hindu house is considered complete. Before temples were constructed, trees were open-air shrines and many were symbolic of the Buddha himself.
Sacred Plants of India lays out the sociocultural roots of the plants found in the Indian subcontinent, while asserting their ecological importance. Informative, thought-provoking, and meticulously researched, this book draws on mythology, botany, and the ancient religious traditions of India to assemble a fascinating account of India's flora.
Nanditha Krishna is a historian, environmentalist, and writer based in Chennai. A PhD in ancient Indian culture, she is the director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre. She has pioneered the documentation of the ecological traditions of India, restored over fifty sacred groves, and established schools, the C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research, and the Shakunthala Jagannathan Museum of Folk Art. Her published works include Sacred Animals of India, The Book of Demons, The Book of Vishnu, Madras Then Chennai Now, Balaji-Venkateshwara, Ganesha, Painted Manuscripts of the Sarasvati Mahal Library, Arts and Crafts of Tamilnadu, and The Art and Iconography of Vishnu-Narayana, besides numerous research papers and newspaper articles. She is a professor and research guide for the PhD programme of the University of Madras and has received several prestigious national and international awards.
M. Amirthalingam is a botanist and environmental education officer at the C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre. He has researched and published the books Sacred Groves of Tamil Nadu, Sacred Trees of Tamil Nadu, Temple Tanks of Chennai, and Flora and Fauna of Valmiki's Ramayana, besides research papers and articles in various journals, magazines, and seminar proceedings. He is currently working on the All India Coordinated Research Project on Sacred Grove Ecosystem Service Assessment in the inland plains of Tamil Nadu sponsored by the ministry of environment and forests, Government of India.
'Sacred Animals of India' was planned for the Asia for Animals Conference held in January 2007 at Chennai. However, when I began researching the subject, I discovered a wealth of material that was impossible to ignore. So I decided to cover the subject. in greater depth.
This book was first published as a limited edition by C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC), for release during the National Conference on the Environment and Indian History held at Chennai in January 2008. It has been expanded to include many more myths and legends involving animals, and rewritten for a more general readership.
My love for animals was instilled in me by my late father, A.R. Jagannathan, a wildlife enthusiast who took me to so many national parks and sanctuaries that I became an avid environmentalist. He was an ardent Hanuman devotee, while my late Ganesha-worshipping mother Shakunthala Jaganathan and I jointly wrote a book Ganesha-The Auspicious... The Beginning (Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd) in 1992. The seed for this book was probably sown long ago by my parents.
None of this would have been possible without the interest and involvement of Ravi Singh and Udayan Mitra of Penguin, who encouraged me to complete the book quickly, and Archana Shankar, my editor. Thank you, Ravi, Udayan and Archana.
Several people helped me in so many ways: M. Amirthalingam assisted me right through my research, especially in finding the correct names for each animal in various languages. Dr T. Sundaramurthi and P. Sudhakar of C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, Chennai, and Dr A. Raman of Orange University, Australia, gave the zoological information and ecological role of each animal. G. Balaji searched for illustrations
in the private collection of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation
and H. Manikandan kept track of all the materials. My husband
Dr S. Chinny Krishna, who is also the chairman of the Blue
Cross of India, updated me on animal welfare issues in India. He
also read, re-read, questioned and edited the book. My sincere
thanks to all of them.
Once we decided to illustrate this book with drawings, Y. Venkatesh went through the ardous task of sketching each figure. It was a difficult task to make elaborate pictures of Ganesha and Gajalakshmi into simple sketches, but he did it, I believe, very successfully.
Every animal is introduced with the myths and legends that establish its religious status, followed by a short note on the ecological or social role of the animal, which made it important in people's lives. The problems of its survival and treatment in today's world have also been covered.
I have tried to provide the Hindi, Tamil and Sanskrit names for each animal and/or the local name in the state where it is specially revered, for many animals are restricted to specific geographic areas.
An appendix on Sacred Animals and Animal Divinities of Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt has been included. While all ancient civilizations revered animals, the similarities between these neighbours and India require special emphasis. Further, although they may be of greater antiquity than the Indian examples, they have been restricted to an appendix so that they do not divert attention from the main topic of the book.
The ancient religions of India-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism -have never differentiated between the soul of a human being and the soul of an animal. All life forms are subject to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The liberation of the soul depends on one's karmas or actions, and one goes through several births till the soul realizes the truth. Thus a person, an animal and an insect are equally part of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Finally, when good karmas lead to self-realization, the soul is liberated from the cycle of samsara. This is moksha or nirvana, the ultimate liberation of the individual soul, leading it to oneness with the Supreme Being or Brahman. Everything has been created by the Supreme Being, comes from the Supreme Being and returns to the Supreme Being. Animals are sacred because people identify with them, an identity born of the belief in karma and the transmigration of souls.
Ancient civilizations revered nature in all its aspects. In Indian traditions, the proper balance of the pancha bhuta (five elements) -prithvi (earth), vayu (wind), akasha (sky or space), apa (water) and agni (fire or energy)-is essential for the harmony and balance of life on earth. All life forms contribute equally to the balance of these five elements.
The worship of animals probably began very early in human history, when human beings were struggling to survive in a hostile environment. Man and animal have coexisted since the beginning of creation, sometimes in harmony and at other times in hostility, as they fought over limited resources.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
Children’s Books (84)
Brahma Sutras (84)
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