Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Though not so fancy elements of worship in Jitiya festival, these are healthy and have anti-malarial properties

The Jitiya festival, celebrated with pomp by Tharu and Mithila women in the southern plains of Nepal, is only a few months away.

Read: Jitiya Pawain - the most revered festival among Tharu women

While Jitiya is observed for the welfare of children, the women observing the tedious fast eat a nutritious but neglected tuber, seeds of a plant thought to cause dropsy, offer sponge gourd flower and arrows of sikki grass among others to the deity Jitmahan.

The not so fancy materials sourced from the nature makes the festival more close to the nature. Let’s see why these materials are beneficial besides being used as materials of worship.

Elephant foot yam, commonly known as ol in Nepal.

Elephant foot yam
Elephant foot yam, commonly known as ol in the local language in the southern plains, is a natural medicine for piles and many other illnesses like dysentery, vomiting, stomach ache, and asthma. It can't be eaten without applying lemon, curd or pickles because of the Calcium Oxalate in it. It grows well in fallow land as well and doesn't need much water to grow. Tharu and Maithil women eat it as delicacy during the Jitiya festival.

It still needs to be popularised in main markets like Kathmandu and other urban centres, though people have started knowing its importance. People need to be made aware of its benefits and taught how to cook it.

Argemone mexicana is said to have anti-malarial properties.

The seeds of Argemone Mexicana
There's something mysterious about Argemone mexicana. While its seeds when mixed with rapeseed causes dropsy, the Tharus in Eastern Nepal eat its seeds (called bautara) during the Jitiya festival when fasting women eat the seeds soaked in water over night.

Interestingly, scientists have been experimenting giving Argemone mexicana extracts to people to make them immune against malaria. Tharus have been known for their resistance against malaria since centuries.

Is it also because they have been eating these seeds once a year in the pretext of following ages-old tradition? Well, only a thorough research shall reveal this. While in Mali, tea made from Argemone Mexicana helped 89% of the patients recover from their malaria.

A sponge gourd flower. Image by Flickr user Ton Rulkens. (CC BY-SA 2.0)  

Sponge gourd flowers
While flowers are offered to the gods during worship by the Hindus, sponge gourd flowers are offered to the deity Jitmahan during the Jitiya festival. It reminds us the benefits of the not so cared about vegetable. The sponge gourd is said to be an excellent blood purifier and good for stomach preventing indigestion. It prevents cholesterol and diabetes and cures jaundice.

Vetiver grass (c) Forest and Kim Starr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Sikki grass stalks
The sikki grass (also called vetiver grass) has a special place in the worship rituals during Jitiya. While the grass stalks might have been used in the festival due to their usefulness to make baskets, the new scientific findings lead to a totally different view.

The Nature reports the researchers found that spraying the mosquitoes with vetiver killed the insects. Comparing this to letting the sikki grass grow on the bunds and marshy land and boiling the sikki splinters with natural colours to get the coloured variants – the aroma and oil produced might have driven away the malaria carrying mosquitoes  and helped develop resistance to malaria, albeit in a small way. Well, that's just a figment of imagination and only further research can prove this.

So this year, if you are observing the Jitiya festival, don’t forget to talk about the benefits of these not so fancy elements of worship.