Green wisdom in Indian tradition

PANCHAVTI: INDIAN APPROACH TO ENVIRONMENT Banwari; Translated from Hindi by Asha Vohra Publisher: Shri Vinayaka Publications, Delhi Price: Rs 200; Pages: 181

By Sumanta Pal
Published: Wednesday 15 September 1993

FOR THOSE who would have us believe the environment movement is the product of the twentieth century Western mind, Banwari's book provides a fitting rebuff. Almost admirable in scope, it introduces the environmental dimensions of Indian tradition in a manner that is absorbing, to say the least.

What is even more surprising is the excellence of the translation, which leaves little doubt about its worth or quality. Despite the severity to which a translator is subject, he or, as in this case, she "is usually credited only with 'reproducing' and not 'producing' the work."

Asha Vohra overcomes this handicap somewhat and succeeds in capturing the essence of the original work. Pancavati is in fact full of culture-specific and value-loaded concepts. And it is almost impossible to translate such concepts into English. In such cases, Hindi or Sanskrit words have been used, along with their nearest English synonyms. However, a reader not well versed with Indian tradition may find it difficult to grasp fully the import of these concepts.

Pancavati shows that the most notable features of Indian civilisation are its antiquity and continuity. Throughout history, sages and community elders have recognised the vital importance of maintaining the ecological balance for the general welfare of mankind. What Pancavati explores is the integrated approach to development in Indian civilisation, avoiding undue exploitation of natural resources. This underlying theme, however bold in its approach, is commonplace. Where Banwari goes beyond it is in analysing the account of beliefs and practices, philosophies and religious convictions as reflected in Indian epics and in presenting, perhaps for the first time, the time-tested techniques discovered by Indian sages, seers, craftsmen and householders and practised for over 5,000 years for the preservation of the environment.

Some of Banwari's observations are interesting. Tradition states that to preserve the prosperity of a community, a community should live within a srivana (forest for increasing affluence through conservation). According to our tradition, the vana (forest) should not be within the village, rather the village should be within the vana.

Besides discussing medicinal properties of trees and traditional methods of increasing land fertility, the book also describes techniques to cure sick trees. But, Pancavati offers very little scientific explanation to support the traditions it describes. This, most surprisingly, is left to the imagination of the reader.
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