Frankincense – the Offering to the Gods, from Ancient Times


Update for week ended 28 September 2012

The street had been cordoned off for vehicular traffic. It was the Elephant God Festival (Ganesha Festival) week and the temple was thronging with devotees. I had parked my car a distance away from the temple as usual, and was walking down the street to the temple entrance. What caught my attention was the smell of fresh frankincense. It was not common for the street vendors of flowers, garlands, sweetmeats to burn frankincense – at best they would lit an incense stick or joss sticks. And my roving eyes found the source of the smoky intense fragrance of the offering to Gods known from ancient times. It was a thin wiry man with a white skull cap. His shiny upper garment was embroidered around the collar and the shoulder and he was wearing a green (shiny again) wraparound (lungi). He had a sling bag slung over his left shoulder and his arm was stretched out towards the flower sellers’ stall as he offered the smoky “blessings” to the stall. The stall owner was a plump matron with green bangles and a large red spot on her forehead (bindi), a colourful sari and with flowers arranged around her neat hair bun. She picked up a few coins from her purse and dropped them into the plate on which the frankincense bowl was smoking. It was perhaps her gratitude to the blessings from the sufi mendicant. I was intrigued by this cross-cultural and cross-religious interplay. A green wraparound wearing Muslim man was offering blessings to a flower stall owners goods which largely comprised white lilies strung with green grass (Durva grass) and jewelled with red hibiscus that would be bought by a devotee to finally land up around the neck of the Hindu God – Ganesha.

The D Street Boyz were also intrigued by the mix of red and green in their territorial D Street. The Ganesha Festival had pervaded into their work life as well, as the street was festooned with marigold and mango leaves. The red hibiscus was present on every garland and many had some grass as well. The D Boyz were aware that there was always some symbolism in their offerings, so while they spent the beginning of the week offering little bouquets of hibiscus tied to the deity, their SENSEX also seemed to take on the crimson hue form the flower offerings. And so on Friday, when they offered the 18 foot long durva grass garland to the deity before its departure, they were sure that they would be blessed with green tidings and their wish was fulfilled. The weak and red SENSEX of the week turned green and returned 10 times stronger than the 18 foot long grass garland to end the week …..

Legend has it that the green durva grass is sacred to Ganesha and if a devotee offered a tied bunch of even 8 shoots of the grass, their prosperity is assured. Pluck a blade of grass and it sprouts back, and this attribute makes it a powerful symbol of regeneration, renewal, rebirth, fertility, and hence prosperity. There are various other legends associated with this grass, but it is strange that though this grass is native to East Africa, Asia, Australia and Southern Europe, it is commonly referred to in English as Bermuda Grass.

The farewell to the Elephant Headed God, Ganesha, has been said, and his statues have been submerged in ponds, lakes, rivers and the sea. And just like the resilience of the Durva grass to regenerate, so will Ganesha whose return next year will be eagerly awaited.

Cheers … and Have a great week ahead

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