Is Swachhata part of our culture?
This sudden enthusiasm among the people towards cleanliness should not be misconstrued to mean that the concept of “Swacchata” is alien to Indian culture. It becomes vital to understand the concept of cleanliness or “Shaucha” (as it is called in Sanskrit) that is propounded by Hindu Dharma.
With India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching Swacch Bharat Abhiyan to clean up the streets of India on October 2nd, 2014, the concept of “Swacchata” or “Cleanliness” has taken center stage in the national discourse. As a result of this initiative, many people are voluntarily coming forward and participating in efforts to clean up the surroundings. Many celebrities have also pledged their support for such initiatives. There is a large-scale awareness among the masses also about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean.
But, this sudden enthusiasm among the people towards cleanliness should not be misconstrued to mean that the concept of “Swacchata” is alien to Indian culture and that the present enthusiasm is only due to modern day influences. The stereotype that India is a country of filth, garbage and pollution with no concept of cleanliness and hygiene has been propagated long enough so much so that people have come to associate lack of cleanliness with Indian-ness. Though it is true that, the streets of India indeed need a thorough clean-up and people should be made aware of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. But, to even suggest that “lack of cleanliness” is inherent among Indians and by implication is rooted in Hindu Dharma is derogatory to say the least. In the face of such baseless criticisms, it becomes vital to understand the concept of cleanliness or “Shaucha” (as it is called in Sanskrit) that is propounded by Hindu Dharma.
Shaucha as a basic duty of all people:
“Shaucha” is considered as one of the vital elements in leading a Dharmic life. The Hindu scriptures time and again stress the importance of Shaucha. Daksha Smriti states that a person should try to maintain Shaucha in whatever work he engages in and without such an adherence to purity, all actions and works becomes fruitless. “Shaucha” literally means both cleanliness and purity. The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali describe Shaucha as-
शौचात्स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः ||
Shaucha is that from which there arises dislike i.e. dispassion towards one’s body and detachment towards contact with others. Shaucha gives rise to purity of mind, contentment, one-pointedness, conquest of the senses and competency to attain Atma-Darshana (Self-Realization).
Hence, Shaucha not only refers to the cleanliness of the surroundings but also to the purity of body and mind. In fact, Shaucha refers to those qualities (with respect to purity) that make an object or a person competent for a specific use or a specific task as the case may be. For example, Shaucha of a utensil may refer to whether its clean or dirty that will decide whether it is suitable or not for kitchen use. Similarly, Shaucha in context of a Brahmachari (a student learning Vedas etc.) refers to all those actions like bathing daily , abstaining from liquor, meat and sex that are prescribed for him. It is practice of these tenets of purity and cleanliness in thoughts, speech and action that will lead a person to purify his mind and attain Self-Realization. It is for this reason, the Yoga-Sutras prescribe Shaucha as one of the four Niyamas or duties that is to be practiced every practitioner of Yoga. The same sentiment has been expressed in Manu Smriti that declares-
अहिंसा सत्यम् अस्तेयं शौचम् इन्द्रियनिग्रहः |
एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्ये अब्रवीन् मनुः ||
Non-Violence, Truth, Non-Stealing, Cleanliness/Purity and Sense-Control are the duties that are common for all four classes, so declares Manu.
Hence, Cleanliness or Purity- whether it is cleanliness of the surroundings or the hygiene of the body or the purity of speech and mind, they are all considered as an obligation, a basic duty of all human beings. And if any person is violating this tenet of Shaucha through his thoughts, speech or action, then he is violating Dharma (Righteousness and Obligatory Duty). Such an adharmic action is termed as Paapam, a sin that would result in sorrow for that individual.
External and Internal Shaucha:
The Hindu philosophy divides the concept of Shaucha into two types- External Cleanliness and Internal Purity. Veda Vyasa in his commentary on Yoga-Sutra describes External Shaucha as removing the impurities of objects using clay and water and Internal Shaucha as removing the impurities of mind. Hence, External Shaucha refers to cleanliness with respect to a person’s body, various objects a person comes into contact with and cleanliness with respect to the surrounding environment. On the other hand, Internal Shaucha refers to the purity of actions, speech and thoughts of a person.
Shaucha regarding Environment:
The environment is given utmost importance in Hindu philosophy. This becomes clear if one goes through the Bhoomi Sukta of Atharva Veda that considers the Earth as Mother, a Living force and praises her beauty and existence. It describes her as having many slopes and plains and bearing various plants with healing powers. It even calls the Earth as a Mistress of four quarters who is all-sustaining, treasure bearing mother who is home to all moving life. The Sukta also expresses concern about over-digging of the earth when it says “Whatever I dig from thee, may that have quick growth again. Oh purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart”. This verse clearly speaks against indiscriminate mining and other such activities that are done with no regard for environmental consequences.
Hence, Hindu scriptures have always given utmost importance to the health and cleanliness of environment. The Yajnavalkya Smriti says that the (unclean) ground can be cleaned by sweeping, burning, digging, by the lapse of time, by the walking of a cow and by the sprinkling of water. Similarly, the flowing waters like a river gets purified by the current of its own flow and unclean objects can be cleaned by mud and water.
The Manu Smriti dictates that one should not throw filthy substances like urine, faeces, saliva, cloths defiled by impure substances, blood, poisonous things and any other impure substances into water. Such, unclean substances should not be thrown into fire as well. A person should not urinate on roads, on ashes, in a cow pan, on ploughed land, in water, in fire, in a ruined temple, in ant hill, in holes inhabited by living creatures or on a hill top. It further suggests that, one should void urine or faeces by covering the ground with sticks, grass, leaves, clod etc.. This is suggested because, faeces are organic matter and when covered by mud, grass etc. they naturally decompose without causing any pollution. And for this reason, the Manu-Smriti says that one must dispose of urine (and faeces as well), remnants of food and the water used for bathing far away from dwelling place. Another verse, advises the disposal of food made impure by birds, insects or by hair falling into it by putting mud over it. That is, such food must be buried in ground so as to allow for natural decomposition.
These assertions present in the Hindu scriptures makes it clear that, a person is obliged to keep his surroundings clean. And all such activities that cause pollution of water, air, earth or fire are considered as Adharma and hence must be avoided.
Shaucha regarding various Objects:
In everyday life we make use of various objects for various purposes. We use many utensils for cooking and eating, we use clothes to cover over body, we use house to live in etc. As people are in constant contact with various objects, it is essential to keep the objects in a clean and hygienic condition. The Smriti’s suggest that unclean objects can be cleaned by water and mud . They give a long list of various objects and methods of their purification.
The golden and silver vessels can be cleaned with water. For the oil-vessels, the cleaning is effective with warm water. Silk clothes can be cleaned using salt-earth, water and cow-urine, whereas the sack-clothes can be cleaned using bilva-fruit. The linen cloth is cleaned using mustard seeds and an earthen vessel that is stained with liquor, blood, urine can be purified by baking it again in fire. Similarly, various vegetables can be cleaned by washing them with water. By adopting these measures, a person can ensure the purity of the objects that he is using.
Shaucha regarding the body:
The human body cannot be considered clean and pure as it not only becomes dirty due to dust from the surroundings but also due to various bodily secretions. The scriptures speak about twelve impure substances that are secreted by the human body. These secretions, if not cleaned may cause various infections and allergies. Hence, a person who wishes to keep his body clean must wash his body thoroughly with water and mud. The water that is used for bathing and drinking should be clean and pure. A water is considered pure if it possesses no smell, colour, and taste and is free from any other impurities. It is for this reason, the scriptures advise people to bathe daily in waters of rivers, ponds and lakes.
Another aspect of bodily hygiene is the kind of food that is consumed. The scriptures suggest that the food that has been touched by feet, smelt by cow, touched by dog, in which hair or insects are found, which has turned sour or has been kept over-night and which has been sneezed over by another person. should not be consumed as they have been contaminated. By implementing the above mentioned exercises and food habits, a person can maintain bodily purity and hygiene.
Shaucha regarding the mind, speech and actions:
Internal Purity refers to purity with respect to thoughts, speech and actions. A person may be clean externally, but if his thoughts and deeds are impure then he cannot be considered as adhering to Shaucha Dharma. Manu Smriti declares that among all the kinds of purity, the purity in the wealth attained is the highest. It further adds that, the cleanliness obtained from mud and water is not real purity at all. That is, only a person with clean character who earns wealth through honesty and hard-work can be considered as being “pure” because only the purity of mind is the real Shaucha. A person who is pure in his mind, will invariably be pure in his body, speech and actions.
But, it is not very easy to purify the mind. The mind is afflicted with various impurities. The scriptures classify these impurities into six types collectively referred as “Arishad-Vargas/Internal Passions” or “Shad Ripus/Six enemies”. They are kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (pride) and matsarya (jealousy). In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes Kama, Krodha and Lobha as three gates of hell. People who cave in for these mental passions commit various sins (paapam/adharma) through their thoughts, speech and actions.
The scriptures speak of three kinds of sins that a person who is in control of his passions commits through his mind. They are- desiring of wealth and objects that belongs to others, desire to hurt or injure others and adherence to falsehood. Similarly, the four kinds of sins committed through speech harsh and vulgarity, lying, speaking ill about others and speaking incoherently and idly. The three kinds of sins that a person commits through his body are forcefully or stealthily taking the wealth and objects that belong to others, committing violence and having sexual intercourse with another person’s wife. A person can prevent himself from committing these sins, only by purifying his mind by getting rid of his internal passions. He can do so by practising Dharmic tenets in his thoughts, speech and action. For example, by speaking truth in a pleasant manner. Similarly, by destroying any unpleasant thoughts (be it due to lust or due to anger) by a process of self-examination and discrimination (vivekna), one can avoid committing these sins. A practice of charity can likewise prevent one from lusting after others wealth.
On the other hand, a person becomes impure by committing various sins intentionally or unintentionally. Hence, in such a situation, the scriptures prescribe various methods of repentance /prayaschita, by which he can attain purity. A person who has done prohibited actions can become pure by Charity. A person who has committed some sin secretly (i.e. in his mind) can become pure by the practice of Japa. A learned person becomes purified through forgiveness, a knower of Vedas by austerities, women who have committed mental sins are purified by their menses and a twice-born by taking renunciation. The scriptures further state that, the intellect is purified by knowledge, the mind is purified by truth and the atma is purified by tapas/austerity and jnana/self-realization. Hence, it is only by the practice of Dharmic tenets like satya, asteya and tapas a person is able overcome the lust and other internal passions and attain Chitta-Shuddhi (Purification of the mind) which is necessary to attain self-realization. This self-realization is the ultimate goal of the practice of Shaucha.
Therefore, a thorough reading of Hindu scriptures it is clear that Shaucha or Swacchata constitutes an important tenet of Dharma, but it also expands the concept of cleanliness from not only being just limited to defecation practices of people but to a broadened concept of purity that addresses purity at all levels of human existence- ecological, physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual.