Ramayana is the First Poem (Adi Kavya) in Sanskrit language. The interaction between man and nature is quite evident throughout the Poem. The very first instance which formed the source of the Epic poem is the episode of Valmiki cursing a hunter who shot down a heron bird when it was in union with the female counterpart. The following verse bursts forth from the mouth of Valmiki which became the “first” verse to be composed by a man:
Maa Nishaada pratishtaam tvam agamah saashvatee samaah, |
Yat Krauncha-mithunaad ekam avaadheeh kaama-mohitam ||
“O hunter! You will not live for long since you shot down the male one out of a pair of heron birds as it was making love.”
This suggests the importance attached to the preservation of life in forests. None was entitled to kill any animal, bird or animal in the vicinity of the tapovana (penance groves) or even the forests unless it was absolutely necessary.
Forests are the most striking features of the land surface. During the Ramayana age there were dense forests e.g., Chitrakoota, Naimishaaranya, Dandakaranya, Panchavati etc., which abounded in wild life. A very interesting and eventful part of Rama’s life is associated with his wanderings in the dense forests of India. According to the references in the Ramayana, natural vegetation can be classified into (A) FORESTS and (B) GRASSES. The diversity of Indian climate must have been responsible for the growth of different types of trees all over the country.
Major forests of the Ramayana as mentioned in the Ramayana are:
(a) Chaitraratha Vana: Located north of the source of Yamuna and west of the Bhagirathi around Dehradun and Mussoorrie. It was a very dense forest belonging to Kubera.
(b) Nandana Vana: It was also a thick forest in the Himalaya belonging to Kubera and was noted of its scenic beauty. Lodhraka, Padmaka (a species of sandal wood) and Deodara were the main trees found in the Himalayas during the Ramayana period. Deodara (called Devadaru) is one of the most important timbers of India.
(c) Saala Vana: This was to the west of Ayodhya, stretching between the Gomati and Sarayu rivers. It was a huge forest during the Ramayana age.
(d) Kurujaangala: A forest stretched between the upper portions of the rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati in the northwest of Hastinapura was known as Kurujaangala.
(e) Bhaarunda Vana and Varootha Vana: These were located in the northern India and it is very difficult to identify them now.
(f) Naimishaaranya: It was a very famous forest tract noted for sacrifices and known as the abode of ascetics. It stretched on the left bank of the Gomati and is identified as Nimsar, 45 miles to the northwest of Lucknow.
(g) Saravana: It was a forest of reeds and was stretched in the Himalayan region.
(h) Taatakaa Vana: The district of Shahabad (Bihar) was occupied by Maladas and Kaarushas in the epic age. In these principalities, there was a dense forest inhabited by lions, tigers, wild boars and elephants and thickly set with Dhavas, Asvakarnas, Kakubhas (Arjunas), Bilvas (Aegle marmelos), Tindukas, Patalas and Jujubes. The forest region was occupied by a Yaksha woman called Taatakaa, who was the sovereign ruler of the forest. It also included some parts of Chotanagpur plateau.
(i) Chirtakoota Vana: This forest stretched between Shankargarh hills to the present Chitrakoota which is identified with the modern Kamatnathgiri, 60 miles southwest from Allahabad. This forest was set with umbrageous trees belonging to deciduous group such as Amra (mangoes), Jambu (rose apple), Asanas, Lodhra, Priyalas, Panasas (bread-fruit trees), Dhavas, Ankolas, Bhavyas, Venus (bamboos), Badaris (Jujube trees), Amalaka (Emblic myrobalan), Vetra (cane) and Bijaka (pomegranates). This forest was inhabited by tigers, leopards, bears, deer and elephants and was crowded with numerous species of birds.
(j) Alakshita Vana: Located in Saurashtra, this forest covered the area between Alech Hills to Girnar Hills. It seems that during the Ramayana period, this region was formed with thick mantle of forest hardly allowing sunlight to pass the ground and hence, the name Alakshsita (not visible).
(k) Dandaka Aranya: During the Ramayana age, the Dakshina Desa was largely a forest tract with few inhabited regions. The most reputed of all the forests was Dandaka, stretching from Chitakoota Hill and comprising the region between the modern Bundelkhand and the river Krishna. According to some, it extended right across the peninsula from the Hills of Orissa to the source of the river Godavari. Perhaps, it stretched well up to the territory of the Tamil kingdoms. According to the Epic, it was situated between the Vindhya and the Sivali mountains and a part of it was called Janasthaana. Agastya narrated the details of this forest to Rama which was once conquered by Dandaka, an ancestor of Rama and brought under
(l) the authority of the imperial power of Ayodhya. During the Ramayana age the hermitages of sages formed the establishment in the forest regions and there were some routes through thick forests. Different parts of this forest had different names such as (1) Pippalee Vana, (b) Madhooka and Nyagrodha Vana, (c) Panchavatee Vana, (d) Krauncha Aranya, (e) Matanga Aranya and (f) Velaa Vana.
Grasslands must have been extensive all over the country especially in the alluvial plains of the northern India. In addition to the use of grass as fodder, it was of high value in the ritual performance. Invariably in all religious and social activities, grass formed an essential accessory. In many religious and social observations of the Hindus, grass is being used as a sacred item even now.
It is significant that the grasses mentioned in the Ramayana pertain to the subtropical type. The main grasses referred to are: Darbha (Desmostachya bipinnata) also known as Kusha (Poa cyno suroides), Munja (Saccarum Munja Roxb), Kaasha (Gnarled shrubs), Shaadvala and Shara (reed).
Great importance was attached to the preservation of environment during the Ramayana period.
The utility of forests was realized by all. Great importance was attached to afforestation. In the Sundarakanda, we have description of the destruction of the prestigious Ashoka Garden of Ravana by Hanuman which enraged the demon King. Also, when Hanuman came back with the good news of having located Sita in the capital of Ravana, the monkeys celebrated the event by generating anger and terror in the heart of Dadhimukha, the garden keeper. The monkeys not only drank honey and ate fruits to their hearts’ content, but also destroyed all the trees in drunken frenzy.
In the Yuddha Kanda, there is the description of Hanuman bringing the Sanjeevani Mountain which contained valuable medicinal herbs with the help of which Lakshmana was revived.
Forests became the abodes of sages as well demons and demonesses, who were war-mongering anti-social elements. They disturbed the peace of the forest. When Rama entered the Dandaka forest, the sages were happy since he protected them by punishing the demons. This naturally enraged the demons who fought with Rama. Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana was living at Janasthana. It was because of her misadventure with Rama and Lakshmana, the entire tribe of Rakshasas met with their end.
The Ramayana thus provides vast and interesting information about Nature in all her variety. Living in conformity with Nature is the way of the civilized and this was welcomed by all. Going against Nature was considered unethical and disastrous. The holy sages living in forests and meditating on the banks of rivers were honoring Mother Nature. Those who made the forests and sacred spots their hideouts for macabre and unscrupulous activities were put down by Rama with an iron hand. This was part of the scheme of establishing Dharma, as pronounced by Krishna in the Dvapara Yuga:
Paritraanaaya Saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha Dushkritaam |
Dharma-samsthaapanaarthaaya Sambhavaami Yuge Yuge || (Gita IV. 8)
“I shall manifest myself from time to time, to protect the virtuous, to punish the wicked and to establish Dharma on a firm foundation.”