The brightly colored Ayyanar temples cannot be missed as one drives down the highways in Tamilnadu. Every village has colorful deities sheltered by trees of the Sacred grove. Sacred groves are those patches of woodland dedicated to a deity /Guardian /Ancestral Spirit and protected by local community.
“Treating Trees and Woods as Sacred has been an integral part of the social and religious consciousness of old civilizations all over the world. The Institution of Sacred Groves goes back to the pre-agrarian period, before humans started tilling land. It was based on the belief that all Creations of Nature are worthy of respect and preservation.Marking a stand of trees as “Sacred” ensures preservation of the grove as lung space, encouraging bio diversity , maintaining soil fertility , regulating local hydrology and offering refuge to a variety of animal species too. Logging and Poaching , minimised. Reverence for groves/forests influences local community towards sustainable utilization of Natural Resources, as boons granted by The Spirit of The Forest.” Says Ms. Vidya Murali, In her facebook page Traditions.
As I was pondering about the importance of these sacred groves, it so happened that we had our annual Sudarshana homam at my place. During the homam, the priest was raving about the special samithu that was used for Sudarshana Homam, I went on to gather more information on this special twig.
Achyranthes aspera with inset of the twig used for Sudarshana Homam.
Achyrantes aspera is the botanical name of this plant. Achyranthes aspera L. (prickly chaff flower) has occupied a pivotal position in Indian culture and folk medicine. Since ancient times the tribal and rural people of India commonly use this herb in various disorders.This has been effective in treating snake and scorpion bites.The plant has innumerable properties that include antidiabetic, anticancer, Diuretic, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, antiparasitic, Anti-oxidant, antihyperlipidemic, Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, Spermicidal , anti-viral, anti-asthmatic, anti-epileptic, Antinociceptive, Anti-depressant and Anti-obesity. Anti-larvicidial properties of mosquitoes that spread Dengue, Malaria and lymphatic filariasis.
It is believed that by performing Sudarshana Homa one can get best protection from all evils, dosha nivaran, troubles from enemies,black magic,evil eye, fear and persecution by evil sprits and health problems. It is seen from the literature that Achyranthes aspera is a very important plant for its large number of medicinal properties. Thus, Achyranthes aspera is proved to be a multipurpose medicinal agent, thus instrumental in curing large number of ailments.
The study of mythological associations of faith in plants among the folk is a fascinating area with immense possibilities of insight into the causes of these associations. It amazing as to how such a valuable herb has been incorporated in religious practice for the benefit of people who follow it. This herb is a perfect example of how Botany has been weaved into religious beliefs.
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