Silent philanthropy

The Spiritual and Service Fair highlights the importance Hinduism gives to ecology.

July 17, 2014 04:59 pm | Updated 05:02 pm IST

A view of Sanatana Dharma tree at the sixth edition of Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair. Photo: M. SRINATH

A view of Sanatana Dharma tree at the sixth edition of Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair. Photo: M. SRINATH

A Malayalam proverb says that when jasmine blooms in our backyard we never appreciate its fragrance, the implication being that we tend to devalue anything that is ours. And so it has been when it comes to evaluating Indian philanthropy. The accusation against Hinduism is that its focus is on the other worldly, and that therefore charity remains low priority. Not so, argues Chennai-based chartered accountant S. Gurumurthy, one of the moving forces behind the sixth Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair.

An NGO called PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) conducted a survey in 2003, and found that in 1999-2000, Indians donated 42433 million rupees in cash and kind to charitable causes. Eighty seven per cent of this came from people who earned less than Rs. 8,000 a month, and 26 per cent from those who had not gone beyond primary education. “Philanthropy is ingrained in Indian society. It’s just that it was considered wrong to talk about one’s charity. Even an organisation like Ramakrishna Mission, hesitated to give figures about the number of educational institutions they ran and the number of people who benefited from their charitable institutions, because they felt it was improper to talk of one’s giving!” says Gurumurthy.

But people like Gurumurthy, Swami Mitrananda and Swami Gautamananda felt there was a need to highlight the contributions of Hindu spiritual organisations to social causes, and thus was born the idea of an annual spiritual and service fair. The first such fair was organised in Chennai in 2009. Last year the fair attracted seven lakh people.

This year’s fair that ended on July 14, highlighted the importance that traditional works gave to the environment and ecology. The Rig Veda says that trees are not to be cut, because trees remove pollution. A verse in the Virata Parva of the Mahabharata says that forests need tigers for their survival and vice versa.

Paddy and health

Among the most interesting stalls at the fair were the ones on traditional varieties of paddy and herbal plants. One hundred and fifty traditional varieties of paddy are cultivated on lands belonging to the Sarada Ashram, Ulundurpet, which houses women ascetics. These traditional varieties have unique properties. For example, Neelachamba and Kuzhiyadichaan help increase lactation in nursing mothers. Diabetics who take Maapillai Samba are able to reduce their insulin dose. If you thought that grains that can be harvested quickly are a recent phenomenon, think again. Arubataamkuruvai and Kaattuyaanam can be harvested in 60 and 180 days respectively. Kalarpaalai can be grown where water is scarce and the soil is bad. Vaadansamba does well where the soil is good, but water is scarce. Madumuzhangi is for areas prone to flooding. Hundred and fifty villages have been adopted by the ashram, and seeds are given free of cost to the farmers. (Contact phones: 9487475432 / 9487481452)

Kalyanaraman of Siva Mooligai Trust of Thiruvengadu, has been trekking up hills in search of medicinal plants. “Kanchi Paramacharya’s brother, Sivan sir, had studied Siddha texts and with his guidance I was able to identify many herbal plants, which we now grow in Thiruvengadu,” he said. The yellow flower of the Palvalipoondu, when squeezed against an aching tooth, relieves pain; Sarkkarai vilvam helps relieve stomach cramps; Sarkkaraikkolli is good for diabetics. Despite the fact that many of these plants grow in the hills, Kalyanaraman has successfully grown them in the plains. He said many of them could be grown in pots in apartments. (Phone: 9788181555).

Other stalls included Ekal, which concentrates on providing education to children in remote, hilly areas, and Akhila Bharatiya Graahak Panchayat, which takes up consumer issues. This year 47, 000 school children participated in various contests, including traditional games such as silambam, kabaddi and ammaanaikkazhakkodi.

Patriotically unique

"This unprecedented unity amongst various Hindu spiritual organisations and the scale of events around thematic clusters reinforcing the existing synergy between spiritualism, environment and human relations and through it national development make this edition of HSSF patriotically unique.” – Dr. S. Vaidhyasubramaniam of SASTRA University, Thanjavur. 

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