Religion and Conversation – Haldi and Hindu women in Trinidad

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By Annesha Das Gupta

In the above video, Dr. Kumar Mahabir -an anthropologists and faculty at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, talks about his findings on the link of Hindu women and ecosystems. It may be noted that Trinidad and Tobago is home to a huge Indian diaspora. Out of 1.3 million population of Trinidad, at least 550 thousand (5.5 Lakh) people have their ancestry rooted in East Indians.

One should not be astonished, at such an approach because of the strong connection that has been exhibited by the village women with their surrounding lands, is a common knowledge for centuries in India. For instance, the famous Chipko Movement, will give a proper idea of what is been talked about here. Similarly, Mahabir, wants to explain that how some of the essential medicinal plants has been on the verge of being extinct and a unique formulation of insight by the conservationists can save us much time.

This, he states, can be done by studying the affinity which the Hindu women shares with the ‘scared’ plants like Haldi and Tulsi. Though, Mahabir here specifically concentrates his research on the cultural and religious aspects that the plant of haldi or turmeric (Curcuma domestica), still have its hold on the Indian community. And of course how it can help in sustaining, our floundering biodiversity.

While being on it we can give out some inputs that has been mentioned in Mahabir’s findings about the importance of turmeric –

  • His ethnographical researches suggest that the Hindu families readily grow this common herb in their gardens and also share it among their community.
  • The community holds the item more as an object of religious rites than as a sacred herb.
  • The plant is readily used as an ingredient in cosmetics, medicine and food.
  • In Hindu marriages, a turmeric paste, consisting of grounded stems mixed with coconut oil is applied, covering the whole body of both the bride and the groom, on the day of their marriage. This tradition indicates an aspect of the herb which is believed to have properties to increase a person’s fertility.
  • Among the medicinal benefits, there is the coating of the lower abdomen of a woman who has just given birth. It is to known to have firm the skin. While, the stems are also boiled with milk (Haldi Doodh) and drink to cleanse the stomach.
  • Other than that the mixture is used as a means of gaining a brighter complexion and still is widely popular among the womenfolk of the community.

Dr. Mahabir, wants us to acknowledge the opening of doors in the ecological research by delving into the relationships that the religious groups fosters with different herbs and plants that were used to be found easily in their backyards and thus being an almost indispensible part of their daily lives.

To give out a brief in his own words, he opines that ‘Little research has been done in the Caribbean and elsewhere on the inter-connections between religious practices and environmental protection. It is widely known that many medicinal plants face the imminent threat of extinction, as the world advances towards an ecological crisis. Hindus use hardi/tumeric (Curcuma domestica) more as an object in religious rituals than as a sacred item. They also use the plant as an ingredient in food, cosmetics and medicine. This paper uses ethnographic research to investigate exactly how Hindu women ritualists in Trinidad use, cultivate, and conserve the plants in their gardens for ready use at home and in the community. In their tireless attempts to promote biodiversity, conservationists may have adopt a new approach by working with religious groups, and demonstrate to the public at large how plant protection is related to religious values.’

This article has been prepared by Annesha DasGupta with input from a video produced by Dr. Kumar Mahabir. Follow Annesha on twitter @Dancingbluepen