It is well known that India is a land of rituals and traditions, and these are reflected in our festivals. There are many festivals which are held throughout the year. And, there are months which have lot of religious and cultural significance, such as the fifth month of the Hindu lunar calendar, which is known as Shravan.
This year, due to adhik mahino or extra month, the Shravan month has extended for almost two months. However, it is the upcoming weeks when all festivals related to Shravan will be held.
ALL ABOUT SHRAVAN
The month of Shravan began on August 17, 2023, and will witness a number of festivals like Nag Panchami, Narali Poornima, Raksha Bandhan and then, Gokulashthami.
Along with these festivals, there are some days like Mondays and even Sundays which have a lot of relevance. The latter is known as Shravan Aaitar, when womenfolk of the Hindu community worship the sun god. This year, the first Sunday of Shravan will be August 20, 2023.
It is worshipped in an interesting way by placing a bunch of leaves and flowers, known as patri, on a wooden paat (low seating/bench). It is believed that married women pray for the health and prosperity of their husbands and family. These leaves are then immersed under the tulsi plant in the evening. This is known as aaitar pavovap.
However, what makes this festival unique is that it is about worshipping of sun god, and thus, it is held every Sunday in Shravan. It could be because, during this month, we experience the weakening of the heavy monsoon season and emergence of sunny days.
There’s literally a dance between the clouds and the sun these days – it may look sunny in the morning, but by afternoon, it starts raining. This, in a way, is an ideal climate for plants, especially flowering ones. And thus, it is time to explore the amazing variety of wild flowers which grow in various green patches.
This is probably the reason for this tradition of worshipping leaves and flowers, as these represent a change in the season and the arrival of sunny days.
WORSHIPPING WILD PLANTS
As mentioned, Shravan Sunday is worshipped with the help of wild plants. These are all leaves and flowers which are predominantly found in people’s backyards. Backyards contain a variety of ferns, wild flowers and some commonly used leaves such as betel leaves, coconut palm fronds, haldi leaves, banana leaves, etc.
Among the wild varieties which are seasonal and have interesting local names, there are sashyache kaan, siteche kajal-kukum, ghodyachi pavala, mhatarechi bondara, tubkadi, ramachi bota (Lygodium flexuosum—a type of fern), kavlyache dole (blue-coloured flower plant — Utricularia malabarica —this species is endemic to the laterite plateaus of the Western Ghats), maad or little tree plant (Biophytum sensitivum), patri or dhobi’s plant (Mussaenda frondosa), lahan terda (Impatiens minor), types of ferns like maiden hair fern, peacock fern, local flowers like roses, blue pea flowers, parijat flowers, etc.
Also, one should keep in mind that these local names change from region to region.
Dr Maryanne Lobo, an ayurvedic doctor, who also conducts medicinal plant walks, states that most of these wild plants are useful for women during Shravan. Some of them are good for hair growth, during menstruation and overall female health.
Along with health benefits, these wild plants are full of beauty and play an important role in our ecology. They attract a variety of butterflies, bees, dragonflies, wasps, etc.
Dr Usha Desai, an expert on plants and trees, she creates awareness about biodiversity through her tree walks, and explains that wildflowers are important since they maintain the biodiversity such as being the host plant of a butterfly. Many of these are also nectar plants, and play a significant role in pollination, and thus, the web of life.
She further asserts that some of them are a genetic pool of cultivated varieties like the wild til (Sesame orientals) that has beautiful bell-shaped pink flowers.
She further suggests, “Wildflowers are also good for the soul.”
This shows how essential these wildflowers are to us, and conserving their habitat is actually helping us in many different ways. But now, due to large scale development, we are cutting our forests and destroying these plateaus since it is assumed that all this is just plain grass. However, all these small plants, grass, shrubs, creepers have a role to play in this complex ecosystem.
And probably, due to this reason, our ancestors decided to worship these plants in the best possible manner.
Festivals, like Shravan Aaitar, are a reminder of the connection between man and nature. It is time to nurture this connection more than ever before.