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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cultural, Religious and Medicinal Importance of Doob Ghas (Cynodon dactylon)

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Cynodon dactlyon

According to an estimation of the World Health Organization, about 80 percent of the world’s population relies on herbs for its Primary Healthcare needs. Ayurveda and Siddha in India, the Chinese medicines in China, the Unani medicines in Islamic countries are Traditional Knowledge Systems that use herbs or plant products for therapeutics on large scales.

More than 35,000 plant species are being used around the world for the medicinal purposes in traditional and ethnomedicinal practices.

Among numerous species of plants growing in the wild in India, Doob Ghas, or Durva or taxonomically the Cynodon dactylon sp. occupies its unique place in the traditions, religions and cultures of different societies inhabiting the land of this country(Mishra,2006).

The Grass Cynodon dactylon sp. is also known as the Bermuda grass, Grama, Handjes Grass and the Italian Ayrigi. It taxonomically belongs to the family Graminae. Boob is its Hindi name whereas Durva is its name in Sanskrit. The natural population of Cynodon dactylon has considerable genetic variation for growth traits that include erect versus prostrate stems, penetration potential of roots and the tolerance of soil temperature. This plant prefers light sandy, medium loamy and heavy clay soils (Mishra, 2006). It also prefers acid, neutral, and alkaline soils and can grow in very acidic, very alkaline and even saline soils. However, it cannot grow in shady places. It requires moisture in soil.

The plant Cynodon dactylon sp. is native to South Africa. It was introduced through out warm temperate and the sub-tropical world primarily for the use as a lawn grass or as a forage grass, especially in the Saline habitats, as reported by a number of scholars. The grass is generally distributed on sandy and saline soils of open places like- along road sides, in agriculture fields- mostly on the demarcation lines, along irrigation canals, in orchards, and waste places.

The plant Cynodon dactylon grows in a warm and sunny position in a well drained soil. It can grow in very diverse conditions of soil, moisture, and temperature. It can withstand drought conditions and has a tendency to dominate other plants that grow besides it (Duke, 1983).

Cynodon dactylon occupies a key position in ethnomedicinal practices and Traditional Medical (Ayurvedic, Unani, Nepalese, and Chinese) knowledge systems. In India and in some other countries herbal preparations of this grass are being used on folklore and traditional wisdom.

In ethnomedicinal practices, the juice of the plant is used as astringent and is applied to fresh cuts and wounds. It is used internally in the treatment of chronic diarrhea and dysentery. It is also useful in the treatment of Catarrhal Ophthalmia. The leaves of Cynodon dactylon are also used in the treatment of Hysteria, epilepsy and insanity.
The plant Cynodon dactylon is also a fresh remedy for anasaraca, calculus, cancer, carbuncles, convulsions, cough, cramps, cystitis, diarrhea, dysentery, headache, hemorrhage, hypertension, kidneys, laxative, measles, rubella, sores, stones, tumours, urino-genital disorders, warts, wounds etc.(Duke, 1983).

In the Hindu religion, Puranas reveal that Durva (doob = Cynodon dactylon sp.) was extracted out of Kshir Sagar at the time of Samudra – Manthan by Gods and Devils. Thus it is regarded as the younger sister of the Goddess Laxmi.

Durva is used at the time of worship of Goddess Gauri and Ganesh for “Achman” purpose.. God Ganesh loves Durva very much. Hence, the terminal leaf-buds of this grass are offered to Him during his worship. In Balmiki Ramayana, the body colour of Lord Rama has been compared to the colour of this sacred grass.Goswami Tulasi das in his Ram Charit Manas has accepted Durva along with other materials of worship. In the Hindu religion, this grass is regarded as sacred since it is beloved of gods, human being, and also of animals.

The grass Cynodon dactylon has been taken as a symbol of birth and reproduction. Hence, Durva leaves are offered to newly wed daughters at the time of their departure for their husband’s homes. Its green colour is taken as a symbol of welfare. Thus, Hindus regard this plant as sacred and use it during various ceremonies they perform the whole life from birth till death.

In Sarna religion of tribes of Jharkhand, the plant Cynodon dactylon has been accepted as a most sacred plant. Since Sarna tribes are worshippers of nature, they worship trees and plants. But this grass species has been given greater importance than other things of nature by them. In the tribal culture of Sarna, infants are subjected to a sacred bath with the pure water mixed with the leaves of this plant. At the time of the nomenclature of the young children, the buds of doob grass are used along with turmeric, akshat( rice grains), water and cups of leaves of this grass(Mishra, 2006). These tribal people use doob in every ceremony at the time of wedding of young girls. Also, no worship is ever completed without the application of this grass in the Sarna religion. Even when, these people return after the cremation/ burning of dead bodies , they make themselves Sacred or “Pavitra”( free from all impurities and germs) use doob during post- cremation ceremonies. The tribal houses are made Pavitra or pure by spraying or sprinkling water with the help of doob- branches in all the corners.

The traditional, religious and cultural practices detailed above may or may not have science and technology behind them, these are most essential for the conservation and management of ecosystems and environment. These were just a few examples. The grass Cynodon dactylon is regarded as a sacred plant also I the other religions and sects. Since this plant has been included in Dharma or the religions, there should not be a question against the scientific validity of these practices. Khosoo reports (1999) -

“Dharma embodies all that is universally and eternally true, and without dharma nothing can make sense. Since we can not raise the carrying capacity of the earth systems, we should conserve all our resources and the biodiversity with all means, traditions and religious practices… To save our planet with all its living and non-living manifestations and to ensure the biodiversity that has been its strength, there is an urgent need to adopt a code, which may be called - The Dharma of Ecology” (Khosoo, 1999).

It has been reported that the grass species Cynodon dactylon is photosensitizing in animals to cause contact dermetitis and Hay fever(Duke, 1983). This grass is also considered a noxious weed in agriculture on global level.It has been considered to be a most difficullt grass weed in the Southern United States.

Duke,J. Handbook of Energy Crops.(1983). Internet Publication- Friends of Plants for future.Species Database, 1997-2000.
Khosoo,T.N.(1999).Dharma of Ecology.Current Science.Vol.77 No. 9:1147-1153
Mishra,M.P.(2006).Succession of fungi and their eco-microbial involvement in the decay of Cynodon dactylon Pers., Ph.D. Thesis:14-21.

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