Sustainability has always been one of the core components of Indian culture. Its philosophy, teachings, and values have always pushed for a sustainable way of life. Given its long history, and an abundance of diversity in relief, religion, and race, India has been treading the path of a Sustainable way of life since ancient times. There are numerous ancient Indian sustainable practices that are evidence of Indian sensibility.
Civilization began in India along major rivers in the Neolithic ages. It gradually matured and was able to grow and develop only due to its vivacity for ingenuity. From using baked clay to make houses to earthen pots and a fairly sophisticated drainage system, it speaks volumes about the innovative ways they integrated nature in a sustainable manner in their life for their betterment.
These ancient Indian sustainable practices carried forward from one generation to another and slowly became a habit and a unique character trait of the ancient Indian way. These sustainable practices became a part of Indian life by integrating into religion, good practices, norms, and various other institutions which instilled these as second nature of the masses. Here is a list of 5 such Sustainable practices which have been sustainable since ancient times and are still part of the daily life of billions of Indians.
Top 5 Ancient Indian Sustainable Practices
Nature provides the way
One of the characteristic traits of Indian culture and way of life is the integration of nature in almost every sphere. Since ancient times, the people of India have been using banana leaves as plates for eating food. This is especially prevalent in southern India. And this tradition still carries on even today.
It is no longer a regular part of our daily life but is practised in rural parts of India as well as on certain occasions on a wider level. Earthen pots are widely used throughout India to cool water instead of fancy refrigerators during the scorching summer. A variety of earthen utensils were used to cook food as well. It has a variety of health benefits on top of being extremely eco-friendly.
Terracotta containers were used to store grains on a large scale as well. Nowadays, jute bags are used to store grains. Which is again eco-friendly. Utensils made out of different metals such as iron, aluminium, and copper were used as well. All of these practices make use of natural resources available in the surroundings to fulfil their needs in a way that is Sustainable for both, i.e, man and nature.
Given the vast geographical diversity, weather is not consistent and homogeneous throughout India. This was true for ancient times as well. Thus, most of the population was saturated around the big rivers which can support large civilizations. The clothes our ancestors wore during that time were primarily made up of cotton or silk.
On top of this, the colours used to dye the clothes were derived from nature and natural sources, free of any harmful chemicals. They used to wear only what was considered sufficient to cover their decency. They also didn’t believe in gathering more than what is necessary. And that’s true for clothes as well. These fabrics were light and 100% biodegradable as well.
Beyond this, their frugal lifestyle extends to using resources and repurposing them for other uses beyond their intended use as well. For instance, a piece of cloth doesn’t get directly discarded once it is torn or not fit for wearing. Old sarees were turned into blankets and after a few years, these were cut into multiple pieces to be used as a mop in the kitchen. Old clothes are also woven into beautiful doormats.
Beauty & Grooming
Ancient Indians explored their surroundings extensively and tried to learn how they can benefit from them. People back in the day used 100% natural products for their grooming and beauty needs as well. They studied a variety of plants and their benefits. These are mentioned in a variety of ancient texts as well. People still today use many of these home remedies.
Neem plant was used for multiple things, for instance, Neem combs and Neem toothbrushes have been used in India for centuries. These are used even now due to their antifungal and antibacterial properties. These are making a comeback in the recent past as they are not only sustainable but superior to plastic toothbrushes in many ways.
There are other herbs and medicinal plants as well. A combination of milk and turmeric was widely used in skincare routines. Plants like Amla, Reetha, and Shikakai were used for hair care. Their knowledge was vast and extensive. That’s why you can find your grandmother with all sorts of home remedies for almost anything and everything. They employed all these things in a sustainable manner without adversely impacting their body or harming nature.
A plant-based diet has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce environmental degradation, and promote a healthy diet as well. The Indian subcontinent was among the regions where agriculture first began. But unlike other regions, it was the ancient Indian, specifically Hindus and Jain, which show the earliest record of vegetarianism as a concept and practice.
This might surprise you all but even today, India is home to the largest vegetarian population country in the world. And this is not a recent phenomenon. Ever since ancient times, the people of India pushed for agrarian civilization where most of the food choices of the people were plant-based. It remains true even today.
These food habits were based on the concept of ahimsa, non-violence, and compassion towards all beings. But beyond this, it is the more sustainable approach to living life as well. It prevents overhunting and the emission of greenhouse gases as well. Though this trend has been on the decline, people in India still practice a hybrid of vegetarianism and eating nonveg in a way that’s unique to India. Apart from this, the Indian way of eating with hands reduces the need for cutlery.
Respect for nature
Last but certainly the most important practice of ancient India which has been sustainable is the inherent respect given to mother nature. There are specific festivals dedicated to harvesting seasons to pay respect. Among the three pillars of Sustainability, a sensibility for mother nature is perhaps among the most important as it teaches how nature and man are co-dependent.
The religious faith and thought of the Indian subcontinent, especially Hindu, is intertwined with nature. There are references to workshop different elements of the earth in the scriptures. There are multiple gods and goddesses of nature. For instance, one of the sculptures of the Harappan civilization is the Mother Goddess, i.e, nature personified.
Many types of trees are considered sacred in many parts of India. On top of all this, there are innumerable tribes found in India, who workshop mother nature dedicatedly. All of this creates sensibility, gratitude, and reverence for nature. It further implies a sensible co-existence with nature rather than mindless exploitation of natural resources. This ancient sensibility is passed down from generation to generation and practised in India even today.