Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath

Last Sunday, I was very lucky to experience a sacred river festival celebrated by the Hindu organisation Hindu Prachar Kendra called the Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath.
According to Creedopeida The Ganga is personified in Hinduism as a goddess: Maa Ganga (Mother Ganga).When Bhagiratha, one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven. Devout Hindus make pilgrimages to bathe in the Ganga and to meditate on its banks.But we were not in the Ganga, we were deep in the moist forest of the northern range. At the 18.5 mile mark to be exact. This festival has been taking place here for several years now and despite the pouring rain, there was a large crowd that had obviously been there from early in the morning.
In 2004, the Trinidad Guardian published an interesting story on this annual festival. Click here to read whole article.
Ganga Dhaaraa provides an interesting study in religious, social and cultural anthropology. The event is driven by an ancient memory of an event of spiritual value as well as social and ecological relevance.
This memory has been transmitted down several millennia through mantras, kathaas, songs, traditions, the deity Ganga and the event of Ganga Dashara which celebrates the coming of Ganga to earth.
Every morning the recreation of Ganga Avataran—”bringing down Ganga”—is recreated by a Hindu ritual at sunrise, charhaawaying jal. Ganga is invoked at every worship and ceremony of life. After the marriage ceremony, newlyweds pay tribute to Ganga at a river. Why, even at death, a drop of Ganga is placed on the lips of the aspirant for transport to a higher existence.
Offerings are made to the Murti in the form of food, money, or flowers. All along the river, altars have been set up to perform prayers and facilitate sacred offerings. There was a strong sense of peace and goodwill and great concentrated prayer. The Murti is carried up the river to be returned to the water. All the while, little coconut "boats" are being prepared to float down the river carrying fire and offerings of flowers and incense. At all times, powerful chants and invocations are being sung all along the river banks. The skies opened almost on cue.
Once the murti has been returned to the water, flowers and lit "boats" are released to float down the river. The message of environmental consciousness is a very strong theme. There are signs all along the river's edge that have been erected for this festival reminding devotees that the river is not to be polluted and constantly reminding of the importance of water and rebirth. There was an equal mix of men and women with lots of children brought along as well.

But women gathered in little pockets to perform pujas. While watching these women I could feel the strong matriarchal bonds that run thorugh these groups. After some of the pujuas, there was dancing among the women which was especially lovely to see.
The predominant colour was yellow. Saffron coloured clothing, saffron painted coconut shells, and, of course, masses of yellow allamanda.
I have been asked about the significance of the white dot but don't really know what it means so would be happy if anyone would like to comment on this.
This girl was particularly lovely as she made her offering.
There was a tangible sense of euphoria to this day. The power of prayer, chanting, collective gathering for goodwill is always something to celebrate, whatever our religion.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Butterfly Doula

My sister Jennifer is an interior designer, but she has many talents not least of which is the ability to lure monarch butterflies into her garden with delicious milkweed, nurture them to maturity, and even hold an umbrella over them so they are not crushed by their first rainfall. My sister, the butterfly midwife.

This is the email that she sent me about the butterflies -

I intentionally planted Florida Milkweed (Asclepias feayi) to attract Monarch butterflies. They happily arrived, laid their eggs and then the caterpillars feasted. One Saturday morning I was horrified to find they had munched through all of the Milkweed plants and were dropping off the bald stalks. They were supplied with more flowering plants.

About two weeks ago I noticed the caterpillars had disappeared. A friend told me that they spin their pods discreetly on the undersides of leaves...areca palm leaves, green bell pepper leaves, spinach leaves, sage leaves. The pods are light green with delicate markings in gold so they were difficult to find. While searching for the pods, I discovered the hideout for my resident flying frog. Yay.

Saturday morning, I noticed two pods were transparent (the orange and black butterfly folded wings were visible) and I waited. The pod split and the butterfly sort of climbed out with damp, crumpled wings. Then he slowly unfolded his wings out and stayed in the area flexing wings for about two hours before flitting off to a nearby shrub checked Wikipedia...the males have two distinct black markings (called sex scales) over veins on their hindwings and I've noticed they are bigger.

One of these pods split down the side but the transformation wasn't complete. Poor thing, she was half-baked and didn't make it. I wanted so badly to help but thats just nature saying something wasn't right.

This morning, the transparent pod in the picture I sent you this morning had fallen off a leaf so I placed it in the crook of two orchid leaves. The pod split, she wobbled out upside down and wrestled with the shell of her chrysalis before it dropped. I watched her fan her wings out this morning, took some pictures. When I went back an hour later to check, there was a small puddle of orange fluid on the table below her. Apparently while pumping this fluid into their wings to make them stiff, some drips out. And it is most definitely orange.

My yellow butterfly ginger "Hedychium flavum" is also flowering at the moment. It has a spicy gingery scent.
Alright, I will keep you informed and entertained with the Monarchs - I spotted four pods today. Have only just figured out how to take clear pictures with my camera. Don't zoom. Just stick the camera as close as I can.

Birth of a Butterfly

My sister in Coral Gables Miami just sent these (the pictures, not the butterflies) to me. The total email reads "I had to look up the plural of chrysalis...its chrysalides."
She has been rearing (?) monarch butterflies and they are just beginning to emerge from their cocoons.We have lovely monarchs here in Trinidad as well but I have been advised by my friend Courtenay that it would be very unwise to bring in my own butterfly rearing kit. The reason is that our local monarchs have evolved as a non-migratory branch of the family. Monarchs are well known for their spectacular migration shows and if we were to mix the two types, it would probably be an ecological disaster.
So thank you to my sister Jennifer, the butterfly doula.

Monday, 1 June 2009


My new garden is a very different space. It's all about the sunshine. This garden is very sunny and this has proven to be very challenging for propagating. My cuttings and gentle plants like my impatiens burn and quail; but for the first time, I am growing sunflowers. And not by design.These flowers have popped up where we throw out the dregs of the birdseed. All the sunflower seeds that the lovebirds have discarded have magically reincarnated in my garden.
And they are growing their own seeds. Many different varieties have sprung up. Some are daisy-like with many flowers while others are the classic one-headed sunflower. I am curious to see how quickly they will re-seed themselves. It will also be interesting to see if they perform as well in the rainy season which arrived today right on schedule.
One of the most interesting things about sunflowers is the spiralling patterns that flow both clockwise and anti-clockwise from the centre of the flower. Below this lizzy-dizzy pattern lie the immature seeds - a veritable sunflower-seed factory with snazzy packaging.The flowers have not lasted very long - maybe a week before they begin to droop.

I love the fact that this flower was once a seed in a bird cage.