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Protection of Environment in Ancient India, Gupta and Maurya Empires

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Kings of ancient India have also tried to protecte the environment in their kingdom. A breif detail of Maurya and Gupta empires are regarding the protection of environment.

Maurya Empire:

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During 5th and 6th centuries BCE owing to abundant natural resources and suitable environmental and climatic conditions, the kingdom of Magadha could establish a vast empire in northern India. It is known it is known that the Nanda dynasty who ruled from Pataliputra and sometimes considered as the first empire builder of India dug a canal in ancient Orissa (Kalinga) near Bhubaneswar which was extended by the great Kharavela during his reign period. The Mauryas who succeeded the Nandas made great endeavours for the development of environment, and did many things in this direction. The Arthashastra of Kautilya and the Indica of Megasthenes throws welcome light on the environment protection. The Arthashastra of Kautilya contains laws about the environment. According to Kautilya it should be the dharma (moral duty) of each individual in the society to protect nature. Kautilya (Shamasastry 1956:222 and 262) prescribed fines related to the cutting of different parts of trees. According to him “For cutting off the tender sprouts of fruit trees, flower trees or shady trees in the parks near a city, a fine of 6 panas shall be imposed; for cutting off the minor branches of the same trees, 12 panas; and for cutting off the big branches, 24 panas shall be levied. Cutting of the trunks of the same shall be punished with the first amercement; and felling the same shall be punished with the middlemost amercerment. In case of plants which bear flowers, fruits, or provide shade, half of the above fine shall be levied.” According to the Girnar Rock Inscription, Pushyagupta one of the governors of Chandragupta Maurya built a dam across a river near Girnar in Saurashtra. Ashoka, the great Maurya who became a righteous and non-violent human being after the devastating Kalinga war of c. 261 BCE through his edicts prohibits animal slaughter and, thus, encouraged the growth of animal world. His stress upon the plantation of tree at various parts of his empire not confine to beautification alone but goes much beyond. The Mauryas were succeeded in the north India by the Sungas and Kushanas and in the south by the Satavahanas of Andhra who also gave emphasis on the preservation and protection of environment. Depiction of animal figures, trees and vegetal motifs in fact dominated the post-Maurya art and sculpture. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 1stcentury CE) and Ptolemy (c. 2ndcentury CE) furnish valuable information about various aspects of environment during this period. Kalingan emperor Kharavela, a great supporter of nature and environment extended the canal constructed by Mahapadma Nanda three hundred years ago from Tanasulia to Kalinganagari, his capital city (Sahu 1984:339). Because of natural beauty and suitable environment Kanishka established his capital at Purushapura, the extreme northwestern part of India. During this period, Rudradaman, the most important Shaka ruler repaired the Sudarshana Lake which was in use for irrigation in the semi-arid zone of Kathiawad from the time of the Mauryas (Jha 2003:115). The Satavahanas were famous for their adventurous maritime activities. They, along with the Kalingans plied across the deep see too far off countries of Southeast Asia and Ceylon/Sri Lanka where they not only carried out trade and commerce but also disseminated the Indian culture and civilization.

Gupta Period:

The Gupta period was also considered the golden age of the ancient Indian history marked significant developments in the arena of prevention and protection of environment. It was an age of prosperity and is known as the classical age in the Indian history. Fa-Hien, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II (c. 375TCETtoT415TCE) made references to natural and ecological aspects of the Gupta period. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription mentions that Samudragupta, the mighty Gupta ruler conquered the forest states of central India (atavirajyas) which indicate that central India was filled with dense forests and mountains. Agriculture tremendously flourished during this period and stress was given on the importance of agriculture (BongardTLevinT1998:130). The later Gupta and post Gupta periods marked the development of two significant things, i.e., growth of feudalism and the decay of urban centers which were seriously affected by the environmental factors. Feudalism led to the emergence of feudal lords and the expansion of agriculture which ultimately involved in the irrigation issues. It is believed that when agriculture extended people became more interested towards cultivation of land instead of long trade as a result, trade to some extent was declined leading to ultimate decline of urbanization and urban centers in ancient India. In the words of D.N. Jha (2003:156), “The extension of agriculture helped the process of the formation of new states by providing a stable agrarian base from the late Gupta period, when trade ceased to play a major role in socio-political transformation”.

People used the water of different rivers mainly of Ganga for irrigational purposes. The poets, astronomers and scientists of the Gupta period were greatly influenced by the environment. Kalidas, the renowned literary figure of ancient India who probably belongs to the reign of ChandraguptaTII, in his work Ritusamhara describes the six seasons in relation to shringara. Meghaduta, (cloud messenger) another poetical work written by him reflects various aspects of nature, especially of clouds. Aryabhatta, the great scientist and astronomer and the author of the Aryabhatiyam, who flourished in the fifth century CE contrary to the existing notions, opined that the earth revolves around the sun an rotates on its axis which is a great contribution to the world of natural science. The Panchasiddhantika of Varahamihira (c.6thCE) deals with five astronomical systems (siddhanta). Harshavardhan (c. 606 CE to c. 647 CE), the greatest ruler of the Pushyabhuti dynasty ruled over northern India during the 7thcentury CE. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang (Yuan Chwang) (630 CE to 643 CE) visited India during the reign period of Harshavardhan. Harsha though started his rule from Thaneswar in Haryana subsequently realizing the importance of Kanauj which was located on the Gangetic basin later on shifted his capital to the later place.

He convoked a religious assembly at Prayaga on the bank of the river Ganga under the presidency of Hiuen Tsang. As per the description of Banabhatta, his court poet, Harsha in course of his search to find out Rajyashri, his sister during the time of her distress, made friendship with Vyaghraketu of the Vindhya forest who introduces him every creek and corner of the hills (Mookerji 1965:26) which reminds us the friendship of Rama with Sugriva of the Ramayana period. Harsha recovers his sister when she was ‘prepared to enter the funeral pyre’ in the Vindhya forest. It indicates one thing that the Vindhya Mountain was impenetrable during those days. Hiuen Tsang in his eye witness accounts refers to many natural spots and vividly described about them. The Chola kingdom in the south, ruling from Tanjore, their capital became a great maritime power because of its location on the extensive sea coast. Similarly, throughout the Indian history environment has got its due weight. Almost all the kings, in spite of their variation in personal aptitude take concrete steps for the management of water and forest; undertake irrigational activities, constructed canals and bridges and planted trees for the benefit and welfare of the public.

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