Lockdowns and Dharti Ma

Just like mother’s milk that initially nourishes us, so does Mother Earth nourish us until we die – and return to Her

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Sometime after the first Covid-imposed lockdowns around the world last year, there was a profusion of articles from all over describing how Nature was reviving. India witnessed the rare sight of dolphins cavorting in the clear waters of the Ganga river, but they were also sighted clearly enjoying themselves off the coasts of Mumbai and Chennai. From Delhi came  posts of the blue sky there as well as in the adjoining towns of Noida and Gurgaon, and also of the clear blue waters of the Yamuna river and of the Ganga at Hardwar. They revived many warm memories and nostalgia of these places familiar to me, and a yearning to visit as soon as possible. This horizon is alas receding even further with the second and imminent third Covid waves that are surfing on the planet.

The Earth is healing. Photo – i.ytimg.com

In Venice too, the waters became crystal clear once again. 

In Mauritius several citizens waxed lyrical about seeing birds that had virtually disappeared from the landscape that began to be seen again, including in my own yard.  But I apprehended that when the lockdown was lifted the noise of the traffic that will start to ply again will disturb these denizens, making them show up less frequently. Unfortunately, this did happen, as the madness that we call ‘normal’ returned in full swing.

This time round, I have hardly come across any articles about the glories of the Earth recovering its freshness and glory. Perhaps we have been too preoccupied with trying to control the spread of the coronavirus and coping with its medical consequences and the rising numbers of deaths.

It’s just as well therefore that, on April 22, the UN will refresh our collective memory about our debt and responsibility to ‘Mother Earth’ by celebrating International Mother Earth Day. I don’t know when there was a transition to the idea of the Earth being Mother changed from the prevailing industrial one of man exerting dominion over nature to exploit it at its will, but perhaps it’s better late than never.

Explanations had to be given about how Mother Nature was sometimes known as Mother Earth or the Earth Mother, as a personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it, in the form of the mother. Also that we call our Earth as Mother Earth because earth is the only planet where life can exist as life, meaning  the home place where you born, where you grow, where you eat and play, that Earth is the only one Mother of all living organism who gives you everything you need.

But to the Hindus, the Earth has long been known intuitively as Dharti Ma. Dhar comes from the Sanskrit root dhri which means to support/to sustain, and from which the term dharma is also derived, and refers to ‘that which sustains or upholds.’

Dharti Ma is therefore the Earth Mother who supports our collective physical weight: multiply 7.5 billion by, say, an average of 40 kg and that will give an approximation of the weight pressing down on Dharti Ma, which weight is continuously increasing as the population grows; add to that the weight of all the other animals and plants and the total is mind-boggling. But Dharti Ma not only supports our weight, and our burdens, She also sustains us – all of us living things, because She produces all the food that we consume. Our food is either of plant or animal origin, so we are fed directly (the plants that we eat) and indirectly: the animal flesh, which is itself built up from either plants or other animals consumed by the predator animals. When we eat animal flesh we are also predators, however gastronomically smart the dishes may be that we prepare.

Just like mother’s milk that initially nourishes us, so does Mother Earth nourish us until we die – and return to Her. And here again, one moment’s thought will make us realise how magnanimous a Mother She is indeed: for after some hours when the flesh starts to rot, we can no longer be endured by our near and dear ones, and no other human being can ‘take us in’ either, so we go back to: Dharti Ma, to Her ample womb and bosom. And are ‘accepted’ without any reluctance or repugnance whatsoever.

Why? Because we are made of the same material as Her, in fact of the same stuff that all that exists in the universe is made of. These are the five elements – NB: not as defined in chemistry, which is a too limited a perspective from the cosmic point of view – and they are fire, air, space, earth and water. In Hinduism these five fundamental constituent elements are known as agni, vayu, akash, prithvi and jal. By earth in this terminology is meant all the minerals. And for that matter anywhere in the universe it is these same elements that go into the composition of whatever objects exist.

It is thus a bit of a paradox that we have to proclaim an International Mother Earth Day, to create awareness about how precious the Earth is to us and to sensitize us about the now critical need to protect it from our depredations. Ecological salvage and environmental protection and preservation have now become an imperative if we are to survive. This has to be drummed into us by the UN from a global platform because we have let go of our simple commonsense, which would have made us realise for ourselves how important it is to protect the Mother that sustains us from birth – why, even before birth as we lie in our mother’s womb! – to death. And also how intimately we are connected, through the five elements, to the universe as a whole.

This organic connection with the earth is what makes us cherish a little corner that we can call our own, where we can sit in peace and silence, and contemplate the beauty and the vastness that nature has graced us with, and look inwards to express the gratitude that we owe. Those who fail to understand this deep connection tend to use disparaging terms such as polytheism, paganism, animism when referring to people who feel so embedded in Nature that they consider it endowed with the same life-giving power that animates them.

Many years ago, when visiting the Grand Canyon, I bought a little book there titled ‘Earth Prayers From Around the World’, a collection of ‘365 prayers, poems, and invocations for honoring the earth.’ On the dedication page we read: ‘May the Earth always speak to your spirit.’

In their introduction ‘A call to Earth prayer’ the authors write: ‘We wanted to link our personal spiritual life with that of the entire biosphere. Perhaps everything prays – not only humans.’ They go on to say that the voices represented in the book unfold a ‘collective story’ of women and men throughout history and prehistory who share a ‘common spiritual heritage we choose to call Earth Prayer. And it is based on one single recognition: we are, body and spirit, one with the Earth and with all of creation.’

But of course we are: since we are made of the same five elements, as the sages thousands of years ago understood, experienced, and proclaimed as a Universal Truth, Unique and Eternal. Just listen to these healing words that the authors offer for our delight:

 

The beauty of the trees
the softness of the air
the fragrance of the grass
speaks to me
The summit of the mountain
the thunder of the sky
the rhythm of the sea
speaks to me
And my heart soars.

 

Blessed be our Dharti Ma, for ever and ever…


* Published in print edition on 6 April 2021

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