By Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar
The thought of Earth Day brings to mind a wonderful legend from the Srimad Bhagavatham one of India’s great Epics, lesser known than the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This epic chronicles the earthly manifestations of Lord Vishnu, the sustainer as per Sanathana Dharma.
In the line of Prahalada and Dhruva who were great kings of Bharata was born yet another noble King Anga. He had no issues and after conducting a huge Yagna (Fire Ritual) he received a bowl of Payasam that contained herbs that would help his wife conceive.
Soon they were blessed with a child, who sadly brought more sorrow and pain than joy. As he grew the people gave him the name Vena which meant tyrant, for he filled his days with hunting and killing hundreds of innocent animals and destroying Mother Nature. He was so cruel he did not hesitate to kill his playmates too.
No mentoring or advice worked on him. King Anga one night walked away leaving behind his kingdom, people and family to meditate. His ministers searched in vain for him, the elders and sages took a hard decision to anoint Vena the king, hopeful that his negative behaviour would pass.
As he sat on the throne of his father and illustrious ancestors what increased was blind arrogance and not wisdom. His rule unleashed a period none would want to remember. He prevented the sages from their Vedic rituals snatching away all the cereals and grains they had. His subjects devastated the earth over- exploiting her they did not conserve water and allowed the land to dry and waste.
Soon his behaviour was intolerable and led the Rishis to curse him and bring death upon him.
The sages with their powers and prayers brought a partial manifestation of Lord Vishnu as his progeny and a divine lady as his wife. The new king Prithu and the Queen Archi were epitomes of goodness. After the anointing of the royal couple they opened the doors to the citizens to listen to any requests they had, what they saw shocked them. They were famished, sad and gaunt, their demand was food and water.
Immediately Prithu realised the pain was caused by Mother Earth, Bhumi Devi, he took his weapons and stormed out ready to punish her. Bhumi Devi understanding his rage manifested as a cow and began to flee. He chased her till she could run no more and raised his bow ready to shoot, when she took courage and spoke, “ Oh, King, you are none other than a manifestation of Lord Vishnu, should you overcome your anger you will agree with me that the laws you made should not be broken. I am ready to yield my bounty and feed your children if your subjects follow the laws.”
Prithu had calmed down and began to listen to her. She said “flatten the land so when it rains the excess goes into a place and is stored for the months after the end of the rainy season. Find subjects who know how to care for me so I can yield and give you the cereals and grains for food. Give the sages grains and cereals so they can continue their Vedic rituals and bring peace to the lands. Let your subjects take from the animals only as much as they need and not chastise them. Take from my depths only what is needed not out of greed and I will willingly give.”
Prithu followed what she said, Mother Earth yielded food and resources and there was peace and happiness.
The time has come when we should make a choice to either be like Vena or like Prithu.
In modern India there are many ways in which the Earth mother is venerated. When a cow or buffalo is bought, the first five streams of milk are allowed to flow into the ground, as an offering to the Earth goddess or Bhu Devi. Every subsequent milking follows this.
Before the construction of a new house or temple, the Earth Goddess is worshipped and so also when it is occupied for the first time.
Most of all, almost throughout India people worship Bhu Devi on waking up, before stepping on the ground in a Bhu Vandanam:
By stepping on the ground after praying to Mother Earth, the distressing vibrations which are accumulated in the body during sleep, are dissipated into the earth.