Prof Mohd Junaid Jazib
It is rather in the recent years that the environmental considerations have arrested the attention of one and all. This, apparently an appreciable change in the society’s collective behavior, is very significant from the environmentalists’ point of view. If truth be told, the natural environment which comprises an indispensable setup of the conditions and the materials crucial for life, has suffered a lot on account of man’s reckless pursuit for the economic development especially during the last century. The disruption in the form of pollutions, alterations or depletions brought about in the natural ecosystems has led to very serious consequences including a grave threat to man’s own survival. It owes to the incessant efforts by the environmentalists and the social activists that an environmental awakening has dawned worldwide during the last few decades. At present, almost every individual who has a little familiarity with the ecological jargon would like to talk, as a connoisseur, on environmental issues and ecological disasters. Murkier, nay, parodic aspect of this seemingly desired trend is that the motive of these expressive campaigns is often impregnated with certain vested interests rather than aiming at environmental or ecological gains. Some of these pseudo-crusaders wake up only on certain occasions to undertake noisy campaigns in the name of ecological issues and but exit the scene as soon as the particular season is over.
Environmentalism as a movement refers to adopting and encouraging the ways which are safe and beneficial to natural environment. There are innumerable ways which man can adopt to serve the purpose of environmental protection. Planting trees, avoiding wastage, stressing on cleanliness, honoring life-forms, loving nature, practicing peace, valuing simplicity, being accountable, etc. are the most effective doctrine for environmental cause. Man originally belongs to his environment and for that reason he possesses a natural tendency to feel one with it. Since time immemorial man, realising the role of nature/environment in his being and well being, discovered and adopted a way of coexisting with nature and respecting it. His attachment with nature shows its expression in variety of ways he evolved as set of rules in the form of religio-cultural practices which enable him to live a life in tune with nature and nature’s requirements. He, sometimes out of love and sometimes out of fear, started worshipping natural objects and phenomenon. This strong affiliation of man with nature assumed the shape of a spiritual entity in his psyche. He started drawing psychological and intangible satiation from nature, natural phenomena and natural objects in addition to his dependence on it for his material needs. He worshipped landscape, mountain, river, spring, tree, or any other awe-inspiring object. This spiritual element (i.e. viewing nature with attached intangible psychological value) formed the basis of environmental protection and its relevance in his life never let him go beyond certain limits to damage his environs for his material requirements. The Indian socio-cultural complex vastly acknowledges the role and relevance of nature in sustaining life and society. There is strong tradition of nature worship interwoven with the basic fabric of Indian society and it appears articulated in religious-socio-cultural rituals in the subcontinent. It, by and large, seeks out at establishing and maintaining a strong linkage with nature.
Tourism as a religious performance and as an embodiment of nature-worship is a universal practice being prevalent in almost all major faiths. There are about 300 million people world over, comprising 5 per cent of the total human population, who undertake such travelling yearly. Though the basis and the beginning of such practices might be mostly oblivious, it is clear from their modus operand that all natural objects, be it a mountain, a river, a spring, a tree, a cave, a land formation or anything of like, essentially occupies the central position in such sacred journeys. A devout on a pilgrimage is expected to behave and act in a very godly manner. He ought to be more pious, exceptionally peace loving, extra polite, compassionate, very open-minded and completely un-hurting. An individual on a holy voyage travelling through nature in search of spiritual attainments can’t imagine or tolerate minutest of the damage caused to the natural environment. It’s the spirit of conservation deeply ramified in the sacred voyages that the concept of Ecotourism as a conservation approach got its origin from.
The Himalayas is one of the most fragile ecosystems of the world. The great mountain is very important from economic as well as ecological perspectives in the region. Besides being the home to unique biodiversity treasures, with this 2,410km long majestic mountain curve across the south Asia are attached the mythological values which can play pivotal role in its ecological conservation. As the millions with spiritual intentions visit different locations in the Himalayas every year, the opportunity must be used to transform the devotees into eco-crusaders. There must be a proper awareness mechanism in place for the tourists visiting ecological fragile landscapes, be it the Holy Amarnath, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamnotri, Kailash, Pir Gali, Baba Reshi or any other shrine where people confluence to seek salvation.
There are certainly some environmental implications linked with religious tourism too, as every socio-religious institution/ observance has its pluses as well as minuses, but their proper and moderate forms are always for the betterment of mankind. if not assigned political interpretations, religious tourism can grow to be the greatest of the endeavors to conserve natural environment and ecology. None can prove a better environmentalist than a pious, God fearing and nature loving person who is awakened to assume the responsibility of an aware ecologist in letter and spirit.