top of page

Bhishma’s advice to Yudhisthira on planting trees

Introductory Note:

The deep inter­con­nect­ed­ness between Man and Nature has been cel­e­brat­ed in our cul­ture for cen­turies. In every aspect of life, through sim­ple yet deep rit­u­als and prac­tices, this inter­con­nec­tion is brought to the fore­front. We as a civ­i­liza­tion have nev­er sub­scribed to the the­o­ry of Man dom­i­nat­ing and exploit­ing Nature, but have evolved sys­tems and best prac­tices that bring forth an inclu­sive, inte­grat­ed and holis­tic vision. A glimpse of our Iti­hasas and Puranas, our trea­sure trove of knowl­edge, will give one an overview of the Indi­an eco­log­i­cal world­view. To a sin­cere seek­er who delves deep into it with shrad­dha, the promise and assur­ance of expe­ri­ence of this inter­con­nect­ed­ness is pre­sent­ed. The beau­ty, intel­li­gence and robust­ness of the Indi­an tra­di­tion has been in its demon­strat­ed abil­i­ty to trans­late Vedan­tic truths of uni­ty and one­ness into sim­ple rit­u­als that can be fol­lowed by ordi­nary peo­ple in every­day life. In this series, we will look at var­i­ous eco­log­i­cal ref­er­ences in our Iti­hasas and how they are rel­e­vant in today’s times.

In the Mahabharata:

In the Anushasana Par­va of Mahab­haratha, after the great war, King Yud­dhi­s­ti­ra, on the advice of Shri Krish­na, approach­es Bhish­ma Pita­ma­ha to learn from his rich expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge in dif­fer­ent fields. They dis­cuss at length on the var­i­ous aspects of gov­er­nance and the nuances of Dhar­ma.

Yud­hishti­ra is keen to know from Bhish­ma him­self, the rewards one would receive for plant­i­ng trees and dig­ging tanks. Lay­ing great empha­sis on the mer­its of plant­i­ng trees, Bhish­ma explains that plant­i­ng trees is hailed as a great act of char­i­ty, and would lead to fame and well­ness in this world and beyond. The trees that one plants become his chil­dren.

“Do thou, there­fore, plant trees, O Yud­hishthi­ra! The trees that a man plants become the planter’s chil­dren. There is no doubt about this. Depart­ing from this world, such a man ascends to Heav­en. Ver­i­ly many eter­nal regions of bliss become his. Trees grat­i­fy the deities by their flow­ers; the Pitris by their fruits; and all guests and strangers by the shad­ow they give. Kin­naras and Ura­gas and Rak­shasas and deities and Gand­har­vas and human beings, as also Rishis, all have recourse to trees as their refuge. Trees that bear flow­ers and fruits grat­i­fy all men. The planter of trees is res­cued in the next world by the trees he plants like chil­dren res­cu­ing their own father. There­fore, the man that is desirous of achiev­ing his own good, should plant trees by the side of tanks and cher­ish them like his own chil­dren.”

This also reminds one of Pad­ma Shri. “Saalumara­da” Thim­mak­ka, a 105 year old envi­ron­men­tal activist from Kar­nata­ka who has plant­ed, nur­tured and tak­en care of over 385 Banyan trees and 800 oth­er trees as her own chil­dren.

Bhish­ma describes six types of plants and dif­fer­ent kinds of veg­eta­bles that need to be grown.

~ Vrik­shas - Trees

~ Gul­mas - Bush­es and suc­cu­lent shrubs of var­i­ous kinds

~ Latas - Creep­ing and wind­ing plants

~ Val­lis - Creep­ers

~ Twak­saras - Cin­na­mon and bro­ken bones tree (needs ver­i­fi­ca­tion)

~ Tri­nas - Grass­es and plants of that type

Bhish­ma then goes on to expound the method of dig­ging tanks, its impor­tance and mer­its. “A piece of land that is agree­able to the sight, fer­tile, sit­u­at­ed in the midst of delight­ful scenes adorned with diverse kinds of met­als, and inhab­it­ed by all sorts of crea­tures, is regard­ed as the fore­most of sports. A par­tic­u­lar por­tion of such land should be select­ed for dig­ging a tank.” The exca­va­tion of a tank will lead to water get­ting stored dur­ing the rainy sea­son, and will cre­ate a nour­ish­ing ecosys­tem to the delight of insects, birds and ani­mals. He also explains the impor­tance of land­scap­ing and sur­round­ing the water bod­ies with trees and says that build­ing such tanks would lead to the aggre­gate of three: Dhar­ma (Right­eous­ness), Artha (Wealth) and Kama (Plea­sure). Bhish­ma refers to the Puranas to men­tion what mer­its one would accu­mu­late by plant­i­ng trees and dig­ging wells in com­par­i­son with per­form­ing var­i­ous Yaj­nas.

Three types of Vana: Tapo­vana , Maha­vana, Shri­vana

Safe­guard­ing the rich bio­di­ver­si­ty that this land is blessed with requires a mul­ti pronged strat­e­gy. In the Hin­du tra­di­tion, forests were clas­si­fied into three types :

Tapo­vana: The San­skrit word tapas means penance and vana means for­est. This type of for­est was acces­si­ble to Rishis and Tapasvis and not to all peo­ple. The Rishis lived in sync with nature and spent their time in deep med­i­ta­tion and yog­ic prac­tices. There are many sto­ries in our Iti­hasas and Puranas of sages med­i­tat­ing amidst dense forests in caves. Many sages also had dis­ci­ples and some had edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions with hun­dreds of dis­ci­ples. Sim­ple liv­ing meant that their pres­ence in the forests would place no bur­den on it as they nei­ther had to har­vest or exploit nat­ur­al resources. Many Great Epics were nar­rat­ed by sages in the forests. The Mahab­haratha is nar­rat­ed in the Naimisha Aranya by the great Sauna­ka Rishi amidst the con­gre­ga­tion of many Rishis. The Tapo­vana forests were called Rak­shas or pro­tect­ed sanc­tu­ar­ies for the ani­mals.

Maha­vana: The great nat­ur­al forests were called Maha­vana. Home to a rich vari­ety of flo­ra and fau­na, these dense forests were also Rak­shas or pro­tect­ed sanc­tu­ar­ies.

Sree­vana: These were ‘forests of pros­per­i­ty’. A com­bi­na­tion of nat­ur­al forests and groves, these spaces were open to peo­ple from the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties and they could grow fruit bear­ing trees, med­i­c­i­nal plants and herbs, har­vest tim­ber, col­lect dry leaves from this area. This ensured that the nat­ur­al dense forests were not cleared by peo­ple for cul­ti­va­tion.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page