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Prakriti Darshana : The Lifestyle of Bharata

Our coun­try, Bhara­ta, is known as the land devot­ed to knowl­edge. The word Bhara­ta is com­posed of the words ‘Bha’ भा mean­ing light (of knowl­edge) and ‘ratha’ रत mean­ing attached or devot­ed. We belong to a land, where the high­est human aspi­ra­tion was to know and live the truth – that all life is one. There is just life, with­out divi­sion. Our rishis designed every aspect of our life and cul­ture in a way that reflects the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of all beings. The entire uni­verse is seen as the leela (play) of Moth­er Divine, Ma Shak­ti. The peo­ple of Bhara­ta revered and wor­shipped the rivers, moun­tains, plants, ani­mals and Bhu­mide­vi as expres­sions of Moth­er Divine. They con­scious­ly aligned their lifestyles in a way as to cause lit­tle or no harm to beings around them. Main­tain­ing the bal­ance of life was always the core of our cul­ture, and this bal­ance is true sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

The social and eco­log­i­cal cri­sis that we face today is fun­da­men­tal­ly due to a dis­con­nect that has been cre­at­ed : we feel dis­con­nect­ed from all of life; we feel as though we are sep­a­rate from the beings around us and from Moth­er Nature. The fact is that we are an insep­a­ra­ble part of Moth­er Nature, and the only way we can regain the bal­ance of life on our plan­et is to real­ize our deep con­nec­tion and act with ener­gy and vigour that is based on this real­iza­tion.

We, as the liv­ing descen­dants of the great peo­ple of Bhara­ta, have an awe­some oppor­tu­ni­ty to change our plan­et and bring in beau­ty, bal­ance and true knowl­edge – knowl­edge that empow­ers all of us to be self-reliant and progress as a civ­i­liza­tion. The world and its innu­mer­able prob­lems only appear com­pli­cat­ed; it appears so because our vision is frag­ment­ed. We believe that the dif­fer­ent dimen­sions of our world­ly life – eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, reli­gious, social, and eco­log­i­cal – are all sep­a­rate and inde­pen­dent of each oth­er. This is not true. These are all high­ly inter­linked and if we aspire for true sus­tain­abil­i­ty, our actions must bring about bal­ance along all these dimen­sions.

Once we see how every­thing is inter­linked, we real­ize that we are not sep­a­rate from the world. We are the world. We can make a pow­er­ful and sig­nif­i­cant change by begin­ning with our­selves. We need to change our­selves and our lifestyle, absorb­ing what we desire from the ancient knowl­edge tra­di­tion of Bhara­ta.

We can make a great con­tri­bu­tion to sus­tain­abil­i­ty just by liv­ing a sim­ple life – sim­ple, yet a pros­per­ous life. Let us see how our ances­tors lived their dai­ly lives, and think about what we can imbibe into our own lives today.

The most basic neces­si­ty of life is food and water. These form the basis of good health. True health can only be when we live in har­mo­ny with oth­er species and our envi­ron­ment. This is the most fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of organ­ic agri­cul­ture, which sus­tains and enhances the health of soil, plants, ani­mals, humans and our plan­et as one and indi­vis­i­ble. This prin­ci­ple points out that the health of indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties can­not be sep­a­rat­ed from the health of ecosys­tems — healthy soils pro­duce healthy crops that fos­ter the health of ani­mals and peo­ple. In oth­er words, health is the whole­ness and integri­ty of liv­ing sys­tems. It is only today that we speak of terms such as “organ­ic” and “ecol­o­gy”. In India, all human endeav­ours were under­tak­en keep­ing in mind the impact on the nat­ur­al ecosys­tems. All farm­ing was organ­ic.

The prac­tice of farm­ing was insep­a­ra­ble from cows; their dung and urine was used to pre­pare fer­tilis­er for the crops. Pests were con­trolled (not elim­i­nat­ed) using nat­ur­al sub­stances like neem oil. Farm­ers pro­duced tox­in-free, nutri­tious food for the peo­ple of their com­mu­ni­ty. They sold their pro­duce direct­ly to the peo­ple for a good price in mar­kets called san­the. This was con­ve­nient, since food was grown local­ly and sold local­ly. Thus, com­mu­ni­ties were self-reliant in pro­duc­ing healthy food.

Some fam­i­lies had their own land and grew their own food. Hous­es were con­struct­ed using local­ly sourced soil and nat­ur­al build­ing mate­ri­als, with­out steel and cement. Every house had a back­yard where peo­ple grew fruit trees and veg­eta­bles that were native to the region. Native vari­eties of veg­eta­bles, keerai and grains were con­sumed, and they were grown local­ly. The Indi­an sci­ence of health, Ayurve­da, rec­om­mends foods grown with­in a radius of 100 miles as one of the best ways to stay healthy. Foods that grow in the same envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mat­ic con­di­tions as our body are bet­ter adapt­ed to our body.

Mil­lets were cul­ti­vat­ed. Mil­lets are hardy, rain­fed crops that require no irri­ga­tion and can grow on the poor­est of soils. They are supe­ri­or to rice in all aspects of nutri­tion, since they are rich in fibre, iron, cal­ci­um and micronu­tri­ents. Mil­lets such as Raa­gi, Kam­bu, Samai, Thi­nai and Siru­cholam pro­vide for a tru­ly bal­anced diet, and can solve the prob­lem of dia­betes and mal­nu­tri­tion.

Cows were an inte­gral part of every house­hold. Cow milk is con­sid­ered a whole­some food, a com­plete diet in itself. In our land, cows are sacred and wor­shipped as moth­ers, because what should have gone to their own off­spring, they allow us to have. All the prod­ucts from cows were indis­pens­able for the house­hold. In those days, peo­ple used ghee (clar­i­fied but­ter) in their dai­ly cook­ing, more than they did oil. The con­sump­tion of ghee is actu­al­ly good for health, and does not cause health issues as do canola oil and vanas­pati. When con­sumed before a meal, ghee kin­dles diges­tion. Cow dung was also used as cook­ing fuel. Cow dung was flat­tened into cakes and dried in the sun. The dried cow dung was placed on dried leaves and lit and it pro­vid­ed the ener­gy for cook­ing. The ash­es were then used for wash­ing ves­sels, which were earth­en pots. Coconut husk was used as a scrub.

It is only today that we speak of waste man­age­ment and recy­cling. In India, there was no con­cept of waste. Every­thing fol­lowed a closed loop and was recy­cled back into nature. Peo­ple com­post­ed their kitchen wastes and used the com­post to fer­tilise their gar­den. Cow dung and cow urine were added to the com­post, as cow dung is rich in micro-organ­isms that are need­ed to break down organ­ic mat­ter. Food was served on banana leaves (Banana plants are com­mon­ly seen in most house­holds even today). They are thick and waxy and can car­ry sev­er­al dish­es eas­i­ly. After the meal, they were com­post­ed. Or, they were fed to the cows and it turned into dung, which was then used as fer­tilis­er. There was sim­ply no issue of waste accu­mu­la­tion and pol­lu­tion due to dis­pos­able plas­tic prod­ucts that we face today.

Skin and hair was tak­en care of using nat­ur­al prod­ucts. Soap­nuts, or Poon­thi kot­tai was used for mul­ti­ple pur­pos­es such as wash­ing clothes, uten­sils, clean­ing jew­ellery, and wash­ing hair and skin. See­vakai and arap­pu was used by Indi­an women to wash their hair and main­tain it healthy and strong. Ash­es were used for tooth clean­ing — our grand­fa­thers had teeth so strong they could break a sug­ar­cane stem into two! Neem twigs were used as tooth brush­es to clean. The antibac­te­r­i­al prop­er­ties of neem pre­vent plaque for­ma­tion.

It is only today we speak of “waste man­age­ment” and “recy­cling”. In India, there was no con­cept of waste! Every­thing fol­lowed a closed loop. Peo­ple com­post­ed their kitchen wastes and used the com­post to fer­tilise their gar­den. Cow dung and cow urine were also added to the com­post, as cow dung is rich in micro-organ­isms need­ed to break down organ­ic mat­ter. Food was always served on banana leaves. They are thick and waxy and can car­ry sev­er­al dish­es eas­i­ly. After the meal, they were put into the com­post pit and turned into com­post. Or, they were fed to cat­tle and turned into dung, which was then used as fer­tilis­er. Cloth bags and bas­kets made from bam­boo were used to car­ry items after pur­chas­ing from the mar­ket. Women man­aged their men­stru­al cycle using cloth, and the cloth was washed, sun-dried and reused. There was no issue of pol­lu­tion due to dis­pos­able prod­ucts such as plas­tic plates, plas­tic car­ry bags and plas­tic con­tain­ing nap­kins.

There was no dis­ease in the scale we face today (most of which are due to the con­sump­tion of processed foods), because our approach to health was always sim­ple and intu­itive : food is the great­est med­i­cine, and health began in the kitchen. A woman, in the role of the moth­er, had a very sig­nif­i­cant and cru­cial role to play in ensur­ing that nutri­tious food was made avail­able to all mem­bers of her fam­i­ly. Cook­ing was as much a sci­ence as it was an art, for Indi­an cook­ing was done accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of Ayurve­da. Com­mon ail­ments were treat­ed using herbs and spices and alter­ing ingre­di­ents in the food.

Our tra­di­tion is the most ancient and liv­ing tra­di­tion. We can see that sus­tain­abil­i­ty has been seam­less­ly woven into our dai­ly activ­i­ties. Every­thing that is need­ed for har­mo­nious and pros­per­ous liv­ing is already pro­vid­ed to us by Moth­er Nature. We sim­ply need to inte­grate them into our lifestyle. As the peo­ple of this great nation, we have the most sig­nif­i­cant role to play in the world’s tran­si­tion towards sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and progress of human­i­ty, a role that can­not be under­mined giv­en the sim­plic­i­ty of our approach, for in sim­plic­i­ty lies true bril­liance.

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