“The Vedic sages regarded the whole universe as a single living organism, a vast and intricate and unceasingly changing and interacting system of vital energy known as Prana, continually streaming forth from Brahman (consciousness), but is also pervaded by it, the two being related to each other like body and soul.

—Prabuddha Bharata, (September 1983) a journal of the Ramakrishna order, started by 

Swami Vivekananda in 1896.


Dorbal Prabhakara Sharma looks at the Godavari, standing on its bank at Kovvur in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district and he seems to be one with it.

 It’s late morning in Kovvur, but a mist still hovers over the river. The water is greenish and a tad murky. The road-cum-rail bridge—4.1 km in length—that connects the south to the east coast, and Rajahmundry on the opposite bank in East Godavari district is a ghostly silhouette. A multi-purpose irrigation project is being built 30 km upstream.

A group of pilgrims from Maharashtra are bathing in the river, and some are sitting and praying. They have trekked down from the Brahmagiri Mountains at Trayambakeshwar in Nashik district of Maharashtra where they would have tasted the water at the point of origin, and now are in its mighty mainstream.

The river branches into two major distributaries, Gautami and Vasishta, at Dowleswaram, 12 km downstream, where stands the Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage, built in 1850 and rebuilt in 1970. Downstream, the river again branches off into six waterways.  After completing its 1,465 km journey, it empties into the Bay of Bengal.

Sharma, 70, has long contemplated the river, its flows and its moods. Its myth and lore ground him in the spirit of the river. Born in 1948 in Ramayampeta, in Medak district of (now) Telangana, he came to Kovvur in 1968. He worked as a Sanskrit teacher at the Oriental college, and from 1995 to 2006 was principal. He is the Andhra Pradesh president of Samskrita Bharati, an organisation working to revive Sanskrit. He has developed a 10-day course for children to speak Sanskrit, which forms the base for further development. Every summer, he conducts regular camps to help kids speak Sanskrit.

He is steeped in the Hindu shastras. They comprise the Vedas (vid: to know)—Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Athrva Veda. Each Veda has two sections, namely Samhita, containing hymns and mantras, and Brahmana, detailing the meaning and use of the mantras. Some portions of the Vedas are called Upanishads, which are many in number, and are also called Vedanta, either because they are at the end of the Vedas or because they are the essence of the Vedas. Since the Vedas are direct revelations the sages experienced, they’re called shruti.

The rest of the shastras derive their authority from the Vedas. Smritis prescribe codes of conduct, in accordance with a person’s period of life (ashrama) and social group (varna) they belong to. There are many smritis, like Manu Smriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti and so on. Most importantly, smritis (and their dos and don’ts) are related to social circumstances at a given time. As Hindu society changed, new smritis came into existence, in accordance with the time and place. There are smritis for a region, for example, Raghunandana Smriti, which lays down the code for the Hindus in Bengal.

Based on the Vedas, six sages—Jamini, Vyasa, Kapila, Patanjali, Gotama, and Kanada—introduced six schools of thought, called Darshanas: Purva Mimasa, Uttara Mimasa (Vedanta), Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, and Vaisheshika. While Purva Mimasa deals with karma-kanda of the Vedas, Uttara Mimasa deals with the jnana-kanda of the Vedas. The latter, written by Vyasa, is also called Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Darshana. Such is its importance that Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya later wrote commentaries on it.

For the ordinary people there are the puranas, a compilation of popular wisdom in stories. Eighteen in total, they reveal glimpses of ancient history. Then there are Itihasas (histories), which include Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita is a portion of the Mahabharata.

The Upanishads, Brahma sutras, and the Gita constitute prasthanatraya and are the basic scriptures of Hinduism. Advaita, Vishistadvaita, and Dvaita philosophies owe their source to them.

Another group of shastras are tantras, which deal with the worship of the shakti aspect of Brahman (consciousness), embodied in Divine Mother, and 64 of them are well-known. Related to the tantras, there are pancharatra samhita, belonging to the Vaishnavas and Shaiva Agamas, belonging to the Shaivites. There are said to be 215 texts of the former, and 28 texts, with many sub-texts of each, of the latter.

Sharma’s life and scholarship spans the whole gamut. Moreover, the Vedas, he says, give environment and ecology utmost importance, and are full of mantras invoking harmony with the natural world. As in, “May there be peace in heaven...in the sky...on earth...in the water...in the plants...in the trees...”

In a conversation with Fountain Ink he shares the Vedic wisdom on water and other elements, and philosophy. And what the shastras say about dams. In one of the dharma shastras, it is explicitly prohibited.

Nadinaam bandhaha na karyaha—don’t dam up rivers. Don’t obstruct the river flows.


So, what is water (jalam)?

Jarayateeti jalam…That which makes hard things soft.

If water gets into the earth, it becomes soft. It does the same to the rocks. It does the same to even iron, corrodes it. Directly, when your nails are wet with water, they become soft.

Moreover, rocks, stones, mountains try to be away from water. If something like a dead body is in the sea, it comes to the shore, a solid place. It is usually said that waves bring it ashore. The larger fact is water mixes with water, a piece of the earth unites with another piece of earth, light into light, air into air. Each element seeks its own element to unite and merge in. Each element possesses consciousness and a will, an intention.

Everything is endowed with life. That is why there is order, an eternally existing order, an organisation, a self-regulating organisation of life at all levels.

Take the case of our body. Hands, feet—these are material. But the impulse to move, to do, comes from the “I” consciousness. Similarly, the order comes from the Universal being.

Whether we admit it or not, intention is necessary; that alone makes for our order, keeps the universe together. That comes from consciousness.

Water has another name, jeevanam, life. It is a living substance. From that itself, living beings come into existence. It lives and makes other life possible.

What are the qualities of water and other elements?

Air has tiryak gamanam—moves sideways. Agni has urdhva gamanam—goes up. Water flows to low ground. That shows its intention.

Earth—a piece of it always goes to the thing with larger mass. When you throw a stone into the air, it comes down because earth with its larger mass attracted it. Space is everywhere.

Water has another name, jeevanam, life.

It is a living substance. From that itself, living beings come into existence. It lives and makes other life possible.  Living beings are born in water.  Even in polluted waters, living beings are born, new forms come into existence or the ancient life forms come into existence. When there is no water, there is no life.

When you drink pure water, you can feel fresh and rejuvenated for 5 to 6 hours. We need our food stuff mixed with water. For example, we cannot eat paddy. We have to cook it in water. We cannot eat seeds of mango fruit or seeds of dates. We need their juicy pulp and soft skin.

Water creates us, grows us, and dissolves us in the end. It’s said that in Pralaya, everything dissolves in the water. Or in fire as when lava comes.

Layam—dissolution—means things going back to their basic elements. Floods, too, dissolve things.


What is its specific quality? What happens when flows are obstructed?

Water’s specific quality is it knows and determines its own direction, the direction of its flow. It’s always to the low ground, downhill. All we can do is to live without any obstruction to its flow.

We have not made the Godavari now.  It has been flowing from time immemorial. It looks for low ground and it flows there.

When you build a dam, or any obstruction to its flow, it one day pierces it. The river doesn’t remain there, it squeaks out. For lift irrigation, we have to build walls. Water needs pressure to go up the wall. How far up can it be arrested like that?

All the dams and obstructions are only temporary measures, not long-term solutions for our needs, because water intends to flow downhill. It does now or after sometime. Another thing is, how much effort we have to put in to stop the flow of the river.

There is only one other element that helps here: the earth.  Cement, rock—all of that come from the earth, Even to mix cement, we have to use water.

When you scour the earth for the material to build a wall, you are also making a hole somewhere, you’re making low ground. What is better: is it not wise to look for low ground that already exists and catch water there; or, a build a dam to collect water?

In one of the dharma shastras, it is said Nadinam bandhaha nakaryaha—don’t dam up rivers. We should not obstruct their natural flows. Nadinam sagaro gatih—the aim of river is the sea, it ends up in the sea. That means sea is the lowest ground.

In the Srimad Bhagavata, there are verses on how the Cosmic person is worshipped. The mountains are his bones, the trees his hair, the rivers his nerves.

Nadyastu Nadyaha—rivers are His nerves. Their pathways are determined; we haven’t made them. In the Krishna Yajurveda Samhita, the lord of rain himself removes obstacles to the flows of rivers.

(With his thunderbolt, the Lord of Rain, measured the earth, where there was highs and lows, and removed obstacles in the low ground areas, even removing mountains, and cleared long pathways for rivers to flow.)

The implicit message is that we ourselves should not build any obstruction to river flows.

In the Krishna Yajurveda Samhita, there are prayers. “O Water Mothers, with your unobstructed flows, protect our flow of life. Not just us, purify the whole universe. It’s you who are the greatest purifier.”


What’s the way the shastras prescribe?

Shastras prescribe vapikupatataka—step-wells, house wells, and ponds for our needs and for agriculture. The idea is to collect water in naturally occurring low ground. Anyhow, all flows lead to low ground. We can have such water bodies for all our villages. We can utilise it for our needs and for agriculture. If one pond is not enough, we can make ten water ponds.

Irrigation through canals also ends in damage. Let’s say a canal benefits 1,000 acres. How much land is dug for that canal? How much does it cost? We cannot grow crops in the canal. In lift irrigation, how far up we can lift water?

Instead, if we make water bodies in naturally occurring low grounds, all the flows, all the rain flows will eventually go there.


What about places drought-prone places, places in rain shadow areas.

These are natural phenomena. However, due to climate change, that has changed already. Rain will fall over the places, not at select places. By constructing reservoirs and dams, water percolates where it need not or should not, giving rise to imbalance. It should go to the sea and then percolate. It should go up as vapour there.

Our shastras ask us to harvest every drop of water. They call it bindu dharalu, water coming from roofs in rainy season. They also say where there are termite mounds, we can find water. We have to collect water. It’s not that people are not living there. People have been living in those places for ages.


What do shastras say about ecology?

There is mutual connection, mutual cooperation at all levels in nature. Each component of nature takes care of the other component of nature.Vultures and crows take away things revolting to human beings. The fish in the ponds, river and seas keep pollution at bay.

There is always this mutual dependence and cooperation. Every living being is connected with the other living being and the whole universe. Without knowing, one part of prakriti has mutual beneficial relationship with another part of prakriti. Even in conflicts such as between cats and rats, snakes and rat, in the end it helps out human beings. The seeming conflict is to achieve total harmony. They may have conflicts with particular individual species, but not to species as a whole.

Some have organising power and sense of community. Monkeys don’t have conflict with anybody, although they fight among themselves. Likewise, cows don’t have any conflict with anybody. Elephants, only when they are threatened, challenge it by organising themselves.

They have organising power. Those species that have organising power such as elephants and human beings are capable of bringing about order. They can help distribution of resources to all species, not to one particular species to detriment of others. They can see to it that benefits are not going to one particular species.



For example, where monkeys are, there grow fruit and shady tress. They grow because monkeys come in and monkeys come in because they’re growing.  It’s both ways.

Cows and goats eat plants. Plants have life. But they eat what can flourish again, what can rejuvenate again. Mutually protecting, growing and living.

Nature teaches each one of us.  Nature wants to take us to higher realms of the sacred, realms of universal harmony. That’s the secret of nature.


What does ‘Rishi’ stand for?

Rishi is one who thinks about the welfare of all beings. “By me, all beings should be happy, and wholesome”—that intention makes a Rishi. There are scientists—economists and many others—who are working to remove suffering. They are all Rishis. Rishi’s intention is for all beings, not just to humans.

Creation is eternal. Dhata Yadhapurva makalpayata—He creates everything—humans, gods, demons, birds, cattle, insects.

To harmonise all, to create an atmosphere where every creature flourishes is the intention of Rishi. As such, we have Rishis now too.


Our connection to the elements...

We should not pollute any element. We should listen to our ancients. For example, if there are impurities in the soil, in the earth, it can be turned, raked and cleared. We can put new mud in there. Creatures in water should be nurtured. Space should be preserved. Not cluttering our homes and outside.

There should be no sewers. It’s because sewers drain into rivers and waterways that our rivers are polluted and dying.

We should not build for any flow. Water itself will take care of that. We should, rather collect the flows. For example, when water flows down from hills, from various sources when it rains, it all comes down to lower ground where we should collect it in a water body.

In olden times, there were no drains. Even hundred years ago, fifty years ago, even now many villages don’t have any drains. Our shastras say that each house, each one should have percolation tank at the house itself. Once you build a drain, it invariably goes into waterways, polluting them. People are recycling used water for crops and drinking, but at what cost? Taking care of used water is an individual responsibility, not collective responsibility.

Washing clothes, doing dishes, going to toilet—all this should be done on land. The earth can bear all. Water cannot.

The sun vapourises that same impure water and  the air becomes impure. That comes down as rain. That goes into the ground. Then there is change in atmosphere. If water gets polluted, the atmosphere gets polluted, too. Excessive rains and lack of rains are due to this.

We should not build for any flow. Water itself will take care of that. We should, rather collect the flows. For example, when water flows down from hills, from various sources when it rains, it all comes down to lower ground where we should collect it in a water body.

The government should facilitate the place to create a water pond. That should be done before rainy season.


How do you protect air?

We should send sweet aromas into the air by yajnas and yagas. Smoke from cow dung cakes cleanses the air. If we don’t send sweet aromas into the air, smoke from industry will spoil the air.

Agni should be done with mantras. As regards akasha, there should always be free space. Our homes should not be filled with things. Our spaces should be free. Our shastras embedded precepts of environment and ecology in daily practice. One should not defecate, urinate or spit in water.

In olden days, farmers used to bring in elephants, camels, cows, goats into their fields after the crop is harvested. Their manure helped rejuvenate the soil and the earth.

When we do away with drains, everything will be set right. In olden days, there were many species. Where are the elephants now? Horses? Donkeys? No oxen, no cattle. All gone.

They, too, ate food. They drank water. But water was enough. Trees. How much water trees take in. They are padapaihi: padaihi pibamtiti padapaaha—they drink water with their feet (with their roots.) Even if you snap a leaf in the farthest branch, it contains juice, the sap. Their body is full of juice.

Trees are gone. We have water scarcity even when many species are gone. The number of species was more in ancient times. Spices have gone extinct. They exist as subtle beings. Water creates our bodies, through the food we eat, and sustains us. Water gives our us life force. Water itself is life.


Way out of water crisis...


We should think, aspire and look up at the sky and pray for rain, intend that it will rain, then rain comes. Intentional thought has such power.

It’s not just a picture of an old man sitting, despairing, in parched land, all our young people should think of the river. Instead, we teach our children ‘rain, rain go away...’. There is a children’s song in Telugu, “vana, vana, rave vallappa, rave...,” Come, O rain, come, O rain. That should be our aspiration.