Sabyasachi Patra

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue XII

Conservation: Learnings from Mahabharata


Several incidents and examples that I have faced or read have remained in my memory as I have not been able to get an answer.

During my childhood days, while wandering alone in the nearby hillock, I have always been fearful whether I will stumble upon some unknown animal or snake. I have no idea if it was a result of reading Jim Corbett’s experiences in his much acclaimed book ‘Jungle Lore’ where as a child he had accidentally stepped upon a sleeping python and had immediately discharged his muzzle loading gun into it and ran away as fast as he could. In later years, I had successfully overpowered this fear and used to sit alone in waterholes in the night waiting for animals come to drink water.

However, I often wonder why we get tensed when faced with an unknown situation and tend to kill/subjugate the other. This thought had again come to my mind when I was reading Dr. George Schaller’s experiences in the high Himalayas, especially in his book ‘Stones of Silence’. He had said that hardly anyone had visited Changthang and other pristine wilderness areas and had encountered animals that didn’t have any fear of humans.

Two weeks back, on 9th December, Dr. George Schaller showed us his slides and he said that these animals had no fear of man. They were never persecuted by man, so didn’t run away when he approached close. However, these days people rundown animals using their motor cycles, if they don’t have guns. As a result, the animals develop fear and now runaway when they see an approaching human being.

In a stark contrast to the lack of fear seen in animals by Dr. Schaller, a few weeks back, fifteen bullets from an automatic AK 47 were pumped into a lactating tigress near the Kohra range in Kaziranga:

This senseless and arrogant display of firepower in pumping fifteen bullets from the AK 47 left many people stunned.

We always talk of sensitising the armed forces and police etc that they should not over react. Whenever, the armed forces have been given clear-cut instructions they have followed it religiously and have even given up their lives in trying to uphold those instructions. For eg. the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) in Srilanka was instructed not to fire at civilians and the LTTE militants had even taken benefit of this by hiding within civilians and firing at the IPKF soldiers. So it becomes a bit difficult to understand why the armed forces and police officers become trigger happy when they see a wild animal. Why cannot they be instructed to maintain peace in front of stone-throwing mob without firing at a tiger or leopard?

The question that comes to my mind is with no one persecuting us except for our own brethren why are we so insecure? Why our first reaction is to kill or maim any animal that appears on our way?


In my childhood days we used to read the Mahabharata and I was especially fond of the carvings in the stones in various temples in Orissa. There is the mention of Krishna taking the ‘Nabagunjara rupa’ or the form of a monster Nabagunjara to test Arjuna. The monstrous Nabagunjara had head of a rooster, neck of a peacock, left fore feet of an elephant, one hind leg of tiger and the other hind leg of horse, waist of lion, hump of bull, tail in form of a snake, and the right fore leg in the form of a human hand carrying a lotus. However, Arjuna could immediately know that Krishna is playing a trick on him as he could see the Padma ie lotus in the human hand. While reading Devdutt Pattanaik’s retelling of the Mahabharata titled ‘Jaya’, I was again reminded of this. He has reminded us that this Nabagunjara story highlights an important facet of Hindu philosophy what cannot be understood by the human intellect need not be feared because it ultimately comes from God.

Nabagunjara Rupa by Traditional Oriya Artists

In a country where the majority of people are Hindus and since in the past we have had massive mobilisation of people for building a temple, one ought to expect that the Hindu philosophy of not fearing the unknown is followed and we don’t resort to killing any animal, bird, insect, reptile that we find near our human habitations.

Is it a product of our complicated modern life where each of us is looking to lord over a lesser mortal to compensate for being subjugated by someone else in the social/official hierarchy?

Or is it because we have forgotten our culture?

Dr. George Schaller had said that Conservation is all about ‘Culture, Economics and Politics’. With our politicians displaying the propensity to self-destruct and the economic modelling failing to take into account our nature heritage, the Culture plank may be the only hope for Conservation.

Discharging Hot Water: Learnings from Mahabharata:

At a time, when our nuclear scientists and planners are least bothered about the impact of the hot water they want to discharge in the creeks of Jaitapur where the nuclear power plant is planned, it would be pertinent to quote an incident from Mahabharata. (For details about Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant please check here:

After the Mahabharata war, where one billion and two hundred and twenty million people were killed, Gandhari had asked Krishna as to why her 100 sons had to die. Krishna had replied that it was written in Gandhari’s fate that she was destined to watch her 100 sons die. Krishna told Gandhari that during her younger days, while cooking rice she had poured hot water on the ground thereby destroying hundred eggs of an insect. This had made the insect curse Gandhari to witness the death of her sons the way the insect had to see the death of her own.

Stunned by this discourse, Gandhari had said that it was the act of an innocent child. Krishna had explained that the laws of Karma are like that. Every action howsoever unintentional has an equal reaction, and one has to experience it in this life or the next. So in Andhra Pradesh women are advised never to pour hot water on the ground. The hot water must be cooled or mixed with cold water before pouring on the ground.

In a country with such a rich culture and with specific examples, do we need to look elsewhere to learn how we treat our mother earth?

In the Vishnu Purana, Dharitri or the Earth Goddess took the form of a cow to complain to Vishnu that she has been milked so greedily by the kings on earth that her udders have become sore. So Vishnu promised her that Parashurama, Ram and Krishna will spill blood to teach the greedy kings will a lesson so that she can drink their blood taking the form of a lioness. In another retelling of this story by Devadutt Patnaik in his book ‘Jaya’, Bhisma on his death bed had told Yudhishtira, the eldest Pandava, that King Vena was killed by the sages when Dharitri or Earth Goddess tired of the exploitation ran away inform of a cow and cried before the sages. Prithu, the son of the slain King Vena, begged before the Earth goddess that without her, his subjects will die. The earth goddess had replied that her udders have been squeezed till it is sore and her back broken by the ambition of the people. This led to Prithu creating a Code of conduct for all humans based on empathy rather than exploitation for the survival of all humanity. This code of conduct was given the name ‘Dharma’ by Prithu. By this code, the earth became a cow while kings became the earth’s cowherds ensuring there was always enough milk for humans as well as the cow’s calves. Today the kings have made way for democratically elected Governments, military rulers, greedy corporations that are often bigger than some countries and other despots.

One should take cues from this example and learn that there is one earth where we live. It is enough for our needs but not our greeds. We need to stop this exploitation of mother earth. We need to rise above this petty fight as to who is responsible for this climate change and who ought to pay/sacrifice their material comforts and ensure that we lessen mother earth’s burden and cool down her anger.


Other Conservation Issues:

Hydropower rejected by FAC approved by Ministry:

A project developed by GMR in Uttarakhand on Alakananda river was earlier rejected by the forest advisory committee. However, the ministry has decided to give the go ahead for this project which will now come up in the ecologically sensitive area.

Climate Change: Waiting on climate is escapism: Dr Pachauri

Climate Change: India in climate change agreement with neighbours:

More than 100 leopards killed in Uttarakhand in 2011

Alarm due to Crow deaths

India Does not need Nuclear energy


Wildlife Photography:

Images shared by our members between Nov. 10th 2011 and Dec 9th 2011 that depict interesting behavior, habitat, rare species or just plain beautiful.

Blue Sheep by Hem Chander

Wild Ass by Supreet Sahoo

White Bellied Sea-eagle Pair by Abhishek Jamalabad

Ruddy Turnstone by Roopak Gangadharan

Purple Sunbird by Kalpamoi Kakati

Jumping Spider by Joshi Bhavya



IndiaWilds has completed three years..


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