Nature Conservation in Ancient India

“Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species.”

This passage is from the Srimad Bhagavatam (2.2.41) explaining, everything in the world is part of one sacred unity. The elements, the forces in the universe, all creatures, all things living and unliving, are ultimately part of one divinity.

The natural environment has significantly shaped people’s lives and activities since the early stages of human history. Historical evidence indicates that humans lived lives that were closely interlinked to forests and nature. The principles of forest ecology and management are found in ancient Indian books, including Arthasastra, Sathapatha Bhramanas, Vedas, Manusmrti, BrhatSamhita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Rajtarangini.

We don’t really need scriptural approval for wanting to preserve the world around us, minimize pollution, and do any of the other things associated with environmental conservation. However, Hindu scriptures do indeed have a number of passages that, if truly internalized, lead to a reverence for all life and compassionate conservation. The preservation of trees and wildlife was given significant consideration in the Vedic writings. For instance, it was against the law to cut trees, and punishment was outlined for such behavior. Humans were essentially barred from exploiting nature, deliberately or unknowingly. It was believed all things, including plants and animals, are manifestations of divinity, therefore it was important to live in harmony with all beings.

According to numerous ancient Indian texts, including Kalidasa’s Abhigyan Shakuntalam, India’s sacred groves (Tapovana) were abundant in ecological diversity and riches. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna compares the earth to a single banyan tree with infinite branches where all animal species, humans, and demigods roam, which illustrates the idea of communal ecology. Some verses from the Gita point to the integral relationship of every element of nature.

O Arjuna, I am the highest, the supreme. You will find everything resting in me as the pearls strung on a thread. O son of Kunti, I am the taste in water, the luminosity of the sun and the moon. In the Vedic Mantras, I am the Om of the holy words. I am the sound in ether and the ability in man.

In simpler words, everything in the universe is created by the almighty God itself. Those creations are like the beads on a single that form a beautiful necklace. Water, the sun, the moon, and the life wind (sacred syllable Om) are all related to each other. These verses are pointing to the integral relationship among every element of this universe. Each of them is beautifully arranged on a string and is governed by a unique force to drive this universe. If one of these is affected, the whole system will be in unstable condition, like that necklace-if the string is torn, there will be no existence of the necklace.  

Kautilya‟s Arthaśāstra, an ancient Indian treatise on administration, economic policy, taxation, diplomacy, planning, and other dimensions of statecraft, the maintenance of public sanitation and preservation of the environment, forest, and wildlife finds a prominent place. The administration and the ruler were directed to preserve and promote environmental welfare. The need to develop abhayāranya or abhayavana, Forest and Animal Sanctuaries, where trees and animals would both reside free from the fear of slaughter was stressed. Kautilya also prescribed the post of a forest superintendent and penalties for poaching and causing damage to forests, especially productive ones.

Ancient Indian civilizations were built on interactions with various biological phenomena and a concern for their preservation. The ancient people created several efficient systems to safeguard our ecosystems and environment which genuinely depict sustainable development. 

Asoka’s administration is the most notable instance of an environmentally conscious statehood in India’s early history. According to the writings in Asoka’s Pillar Edict V, he imported and grew herbs fit for both humans and animals. Every eight kilometers along the roadways, he had ponds dug up, shelters built, and banyan trees planted to provide shade for people and animals. He outlawed royal hunting and animal sacrifices out of concern for nature and its significance. The burning of forests without cause was prohibited. (2)

There were various aspects of the Indus Valley civilization as well, social organization and urban planning that demonstrated a sensitivity to the environment. Peacocks, one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, elephants, and bulls were depicted in their seals and mud pots showing their affinity to nature.

Through religious and philosophical teachings, attempts were made to establish ecological equilibrium during the time of Gautama Buddha (6th–5th century B.C.). The idea of Ahimsa (non-violence), central to Buddhism and Jainism, is the best example. They promoted a gentle and non-aggressive attitude toward nature and the wise use of resources, and they condemned the killing of animals for sacrifice or rites. The twenty-four Jain Tirthankaras were all intimately connected to the environment in some way. This demonstrates how a peaceful, pollution-free atmosphere could enable man to achieve the highest level of knowledge. (2)

The Principle of Guardianship of nature in Islam teaches environmental sustainability through the concept of trusteeship. According to Islamic philosophy, humans are the trustees of nature which is itself a divine trust. Being a khalifa (or guardian), it is our responsibility therefore to make sure that nature is passed on in as pure a form as possible, to the next generation.

The globe has become a “global village,” a highly informational yet environmentally unsustainable society. The reality that humans have grown apart from nature as humanity has progressed through the millennia cannot be disputed by a discerning observer, as concern for the environment peaked during the pre-Vedic period and gradually decreased through time. Ancient teachings over the ages strongly focus on environmental protection and ecological harmony. Utilizing nature for human benefit was prohibited by religion.


1.Bhattacharya S. Forest and biodiversity conservation. 2014.

2.Bithin DT. History of Environmental Conservation (Ancient and Medieval Periods). 2019.

3. Environmental Conservation in Islamic Teachings.March 25, 2022, by Neeshad Shafi

4. Hindy quotes about nature for Earth Day, April 20,2018 by Mat Mcdermott

Leave a Reply