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Forests & Settlements

Forests & Settlements

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Published by Ramita Udayashankar
The essay ‘Forests and Settlements’ by Romila Thapar is an extract from the book ‘Environmental Issues in India: A Reader’ by Mahesh Rangrajan.
The essay ‘Forests and Settlements’ by Romila Thapar is an extract from the book ‘Environmental Issues in India: A Reader’ by Mahesh Rangrajan.

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Published by: Ramita Udayashankar on Nov 20, 2013
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06/22/2014

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FORESTS AND SETTLEMENTS
Romila Thapar
Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India
. The essay ‘Forests and Settlements’
 by Romila Thapar is an extract from the book
‘Environmental Issues in India: A Reader’ by Mahesh
Rangrajan. In this article, Thapar highlights the relationship between - the Varna to Ksetra - the relationship of the forest to the settlement. A harmonious relationship  between human beings and nature was particularly important in the traditional culture of the Indians.
India’s attitude towards forests has been changing in the course of history. The
ancient Indians celebrated trees in culture and literature. Seals from Indus valley civilization depict a
variety of animals. But as time passed by, man’s inclination
towards nature has underwent a significant change. The decline of the Indus cities was substantially due to their inability to check the degradation of their environment. In a culture of high literacy and technological advancement the importance given to nature and forests is declining at an alarming rate. The ancient tinnai concept of the Tamil Sangam texts details the importance of eco-zones which is classified into 5 divisions:
 
The littoral
 
The wetlands
 
The pastoral tracts
 
The dry zone
 
The hilly backwoods She opined that there is a dichotomy between the grama and aranya which evolved in early times when the village constituted the settlement which was used to highlight social perceptions.
Grama
 
 
Orderly and known
 
Location came to be called as civilization
 
It is the place where Vedic rituals can be performed
 
 
It is basic to agriculture, urban living, exchange, govt., the arts, and the culture of elite groups
 Aranya
 
 
Forest
 – 
 disorderly, unknown, unpredictable
 
Inhabited by predators and strange creatures
 
Forest dwellers being described as wild and strange These differences are highlighted in the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. The incidents narrated in the Mahabharata talks about the destruction of the forest and forest life. Tree-worship, in
 
India, had been common since the earliest time. It was a regular feature in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The peepal, neem and sacred groves hold cultural and religious significance. The worship of trees as a part of a fertility cult has remained a constant feature of the religion of pastoralists,  peasants, and urbanites. Ritual vessels used in the Vedic sacrifices had specific  junctions and were only to be made of specific kinds of wood, which suggests a symbolism regarding trees and wood which was far more complex than in any other societies. Pastoral groups consist of people who live in the settled society but graze their animals in the forest. They were familiar only with the edge of the forest. However, it shows that forests were seen as altogether agreeable, friendly and welcoming. The cycles of 
 
Krishna legends are perfect examples of the importance of pastoral groups to Indian culture. In the ancient Indian treatise
 
Arthashastra, author Kautilya forbids the unlawful felling of trees. Hunting certain species of wild animals was banned, forest and wildlife reserves were established and cruelty to domestic and wild animals was  prohibited in the kingdom of Emperor Ashoka. The closeness of man to the forest through ascetism is also demonstrated in the idyllic picture which is often constructed of life in an ashrama in a forest which contributed to the growth of settlements in forests. Forest dwellers were brought under control, their forest resources
 – 
 timber, mines, gem stones
 – 
 appropriated, and they were then converted into the lower castes of the area and established on the edges of towns or in separate settlements in the forest.

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