In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecology in Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Vedas
  • Mahābhārata and Bhagavad Gita
  • The Five Elements
  • Yoga
  • Goddess Traditions
  • Forests, Trees, and Plants
  • Sacred Groves
  • Animals, Hinduism, and Ecology
  • Bishnoi
  • Chipko Movement
  • Gandhi
  • Hindu Ecology in World Context
  • Vandana Shiva
  • Critiques of Hindu Environmentalism
  • Films

Hinduism Ecology in Hinduism
Christopher Key Chapple, Pankaj Jain
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0018


The contemporary problems of environmental degradation have not gone unnoticed by adherents and scholars of the Hindu faith. From the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics as well as later yoga manuals, and popular religious movements, we can gather a sense of the complexity with which the Hindu tradition has discussed the natural world. As is the case with all the world’s religious traditions, this issue is of contemporary concern and not directly addressed in the traditional literature and practices. However, by examining and creatively engaging the texts and practices of Hinduism, an environmental ethic is being explored and developed by scholars of Hinduism and Hindu theologians. This article will focus on general approaches to thinking about nature and ecology within the Hindu tradition. It will also include entries on specific issues, including forest preservation and river restoration. It begins with a survey of General Overviews and Reference Works and then examines four traditional resources: the Vedas (the repository for ancient Hindu teachings and rituals), the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita (the epic text that gives narrative examples of successes and failures of fulfilling Hindu dharma or religious ideals), the Five Elements discussed in both philosophy and literature, and the Yoga tradition, which includes physical, metaphysical, and ethical speculations and practices. The goddess tradition will also be explored as a resource for thinking about the earth, particularly through Bhu Devi, the earth Goddess Traditions. The bibliography then turns to four areas of environmental concern: Forests, Trees, and Plants; Sacred Groves; Rivers; and Animals, Hinduism, and Ecology. Two activist movements merit their own bibliographies: Chipko Movement and Bishnoi. Gandhi himself talked about the problem of pollution and has inspired many contemporary environmentalists in India. Partly because of his emphasis on simple living and his critique of global economies and consumerism, his writings and example have helped define the global development of ecological values. One leading activist, Vandana Shiva, has done extensive work at the popular level in advocating a new, eco-friendly version of Gandhianism. This bibliography also includes a section on Films that highlight environmental issues in issue, as well as a section of critiques of Hindu Critiques of Hindu Environmentalism.

General Overviews

This group of resources will introduce the reader to basic resources and methods for thinking about Hinduism and ecology. Dwivedi and Tiwari 1987 covers the classical literature. Tantra and goddess traditions are discussed in Nelson 1998. Gosling 2001 gives a comprehensive survey of contemporary issues, including the role of Hindu nationalism. Chapple and Tucker 2000 sets forth a broad framework for understanding Hinduism and ecology. Jain 2010 gives a detailed account of three movements in India that have undertaken environmental projects. James 1999 anthologizes the classic essays that introduce the field of Hinduism and ecology. Forum on Religion and Ecology maintains links to journalistic reports and provides synopsis of Hindu and Jaina approaches to ecology. Kent 2016 surveys Hinduism in light of environmental issues in modern India. James and Jain 2015 surveys Indian philosophical perspectives toward the environment with a discussion on Gandhi.

  • Chapple, Christopher Key, and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    These twenty-one scholarly articles address the following areas: Hindu concepts of nature, Gandhian philosophy; forests in classical texts and more recent traditions; the Yamuna, Ganga, and Narmada Rivers; and the relationship between ritual practice and environmental conscience.

  • Dwivedi, O. P., and B. N. Tiwari. Environmental Crisis and Hindu Religion. New Delhi: Gitanjali, 1987.

    Introduces primary resources for the study of nature in Hindu tradition, including the Vedas, the Upanisads, the epics, and the Puranas.

  • Forum on Religion and Ecology.

    Includes a comprehensive bibliography on Hinduism and ecology and links to various projects. The home page for the forum provides links to current news stories worldwide.

  • Gosling, David A. Religion and Ecology in India and Southeast Asia. London: Routledge, 2001.

    Overview of history and major issues, including colonial impact, the Chipko and Appiko movements, and major figures, including Bose, Gandhi, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Anna Hazare, Karan Singh, M. C. Mehta, and Amartya Sen. List of one hundred nongovernmental organizations from India that participated in the 1992 Earth Summit.

  • Jain, Pankaj. Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

    Study of Bhil tribal ecology, the Svadhyaya movement, and the Bishnois community.

  • James, George, ed. Ethical Perspectives on Environmental Issues in India. New Delhi: A. P. H., 1999.

    Includes seminal essays by Anil Agarwal, Vandana Shiva, Ramachandra Guha, Madhav Gadgil, O. P. Dwivedi, Amit Roy, T. N. Khoshoo, on topics ranging from women, forests, population control, Tagore, and Gandhi.

  • James, George, and Pankaj Jain. “Environmental Ethics: Indian Perspectives.” In Ethics, Science, Technology, and Engineering: A Global Resource. 2d ed. Vol. 2. Edited by J. Britt Holbrook and Carl Mitcham, 119–121. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan, 2015.

    Surveys Indian philosophical perspectives toward the environment with a discussion on Gandhi.

  • Kent, Eliza. “Hinduism and Environmentalism in Modern India.” In Hinduism in the Modern World. Edited by Brian A. Hatcher, 290–308. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    Survey of Hinduism and environmental issues in modern India.

  • Narayanan, Vasudha. “Water, Wood, and Wisdom: Ecological Perspectives from the Hindu Traditions.” Daedalus 130.4 (Fall 2001): 179–206.

    Textual and narrative accounts of why ecology matters in traditional and contemporary forms of Hindu faith and practice.

  • Nelson, Lance. “Ecology.” In Studying Hinduism: Key Concepts and Methods. Edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, 97–111. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Survey of issues and resources.

  • Nelson, Lance E. Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

    Scholarly essays on foundations (Chapple), karma theory (Coward), nature in the Upanisads (Sharma), Vedanta (Nelson), tantra (Sherma), Srivaisnavism (Mumme), recycling (Korom), pilgrimage (Kinsley), Krishna (Sullivan), the earth goddess (Nagarajan), and the Ganges River (Alley).

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