Generally durva is associated with Lord Ganesha. Use of durva in Hindu rituals can be traced back to Vedic times. There is a similar species called kusha grass and scholars and priets. There is a mention of durva grass in Verse 138 of the Guru Gita referring to different types of asanas and effects. Verse 139 states that durva mat should be covered by a white blanket as it may become uncomfortable after some time. The one usually identified as durva has a botanical name ‘cynodon dactylon’. This is referred to as Bermuda grass in the western world.
Durva grows wild and commonly cultivated in Hindu homes. It is a perennial fast growing, dark green, creeping grass. It has roots at the node and forms matted tufts. It sprouts back soon enough after being plucked and thus is a powerful symbol of regeneration, renewal, rebirth and fertility. This is the reason it is offered to householder Gods like Ganesha and not to ‘hermit Gods’ like Siva. The roots also have a tendency to grow deep in search of water symbolizing perserverance. The tender shoots of durva have highest capacity to absorb principles of deities present in the dew drops fallen on their leaves.These tender shoots of durva are used in puja ritual of a deity.
DURVARCHANAI: Durva is used for all kinds of puja, be it domestic, Satynarayana puja or the elaborate Durga puja. It is indispensable during any sacrifice. Whenever water has to be offered in prayer, it is done by dipping a bunch of durva into water and sprinkling it on the deity. Durva here is considered the purifier.
Offering durva in prayers is called ‘durvarchanai’. This practice varies from place to place. Durvankur is the offer of three or five leaflets to Sri Ganeshji. The middle leaflet of durvankur attracts the Principle of Primal Ganesh and the other two leaflets attract Primal Shiva and Primal Shakti Principles.
The minimum number of Durva to be offered to Sri Ganesh is 21. This is tied together and offered to Sri Ganesh after dipping into water. The entire deity of Sri Ganesh excluding the face should be covered with Durva. Thus the fragrance of Durva spreads around the deity. Sri Ganesh is ritualistically worshipped by offering a Durva and chanting or the utterance of the one thousand Names of Lord Ganesha. This is called ‘durvarchan’ or ‘durvarchanai’. “The Principle of a Deity is emitted in higher proportion through the Holy Feet of the idol. So the Durva offered in the beginning attracts Ganesh Principle in higher proportion. This Principle is then transferred to the Durva offered later on. This Principle is spread up to the top by the Durva offered in sequence. Due to this the Chaitanya frequencies are emitted from the idol in higher proportion.
Sometimes three leaflets of the tri-foliate Durva is offered to Sri Ganesha. This denotes the three gunas. The tri-foliate gives the benefit at spiritual level. The sole aim of life of a person on a path of spirituality is to contribute to the divine mission by going beyond the trigunas. The symbolism here is for one to be in a state beyond the trigunas and continue with the spiritual mission.
As a result of the durvarchanai done in this manner, the Ganesh Principle is attracted to the venue of the worship in higher proportion. The Nirguna frequencies of Principles of Deities are attracted in the idol. These frequencies are transformed into Saguna frequencies in Sri Ganesh idol and they are then emitted through the idol because of which the worshipper gets more benefit. What is the symbolism here? First the nirguna principles are attracted to the deity. These frequencies are transformed into saguna frequencies in the Ganesha deity and they are then emitted through the idol. Durva emits chaitanya in higher proportions. It is also emitted as a subtle frequency as it is of sattvic frequency. In Hinduism, despite duality, the ultimate aim is to see and be blessed by nirguna aspects of God. It is for convenience that one worships the saguna deities.
It is thus clear that due to the emission of the Deity’s Principle through the Durva, the adverse influence of the raja-tama-predominant Principles in the environment is reduced. This is the reason why a person suffering from negative energies feels distressed when he comes in contact with the Durva”.
In South India and in many Ganesha temples, Arugampul or durva is made as garlands to be offered to Ganesha and this is called ‘arugampul malai’. ‘Malai’ or mala here means garland. Lord Ganesha is the Remover of Obstacles. Hence he is also known as Vigneshwara or vignarara. Vignam means obstacles or hindrances. Puja is conducted for Ganesha before any other deity.
In the South there is a practice of making a cone shapped ‘manjal paste’ on which durva grass is planted. This ritual starts off the puja at hand. This is not thrown away after the prayer and is left in some place where the grass dries and becomes dust to be blown away. It is said that if earth is mixed with the paste, then arugampul regenerates as if it is growing in the soil. This has a symbolic meaning that life goes on. It also symbolizes the inherent power of nature.
Durva is also an important aspect in spiritual and religious rituals. Participants in rituals, such as homa, a sacrifice to fire, often wear rings made from durva grass.
AKSHATA: In the absence of durva, it may be substituted by ‘Akshata’ which is unbroken rice grains smeared with kumkum offered to the deity. By tradition akshata is all-encompasing. Akshata implies that it can be used as substitute of substances offered in rituals’.
MYTHOLOGY: There are various legends and myths about Durva. One relates to an Asura-demon named Analasura. He scared everyone, including the Gods and was such a terror that the earth would tremble by his voice and his eyes used to emit fire. The Gods prayed to Ganesha for rescue from Analasura. Ganesha took a child form and commenced the “Sarvkasha” war.
Fireballs oozing out from Analasura’s eyes destroyed surroundings of Ganesha. He tried to guld Ganesha. This led to Ganesha showing his real roopa. However due to heat Ganesha was restless. The heat was unbearable despite applying sandal paste all over his body. Seeing this predicament all Gods decided to make a foundation of the moon on his head and Ganesha is also known as “Bhalachandra.
Lord Vishnu gave his lotus therefore Ganesha is also known as “Padmapani”. Lord Shankara removed a cobra from his neck and tied it to Ganesha’s hip. Lord Varuna, Rain God showered plenty of water, heat was not subsided. It is said that 88,000 sages came with a small bunch of twenty one durvas. It was placed on Ganesha’s head and miraculously the heat subsided. In appreciation He announced that “whoever with devotion offer me Durva would be pious and get punya”. Punya among other meanings indicate good karma.
The second legend has it that there was a most beautiful Apsara who was devoted and loved Ganesha. She chanted and prayed so that she could marry Ganesha. Ganesha too liked her. However Ghanesha’s mother, Parvathi was not keen in this alliance. She cursed Apsara to become a simple grass form on the earth where nobody would look at her. But Apasara begged for pardon. Parvati did forgive her but later blessed her that even as a grass she would be durva and adored by Ganesha.
Thirdly the story of is of Sage Kaundinya. He was relating the importance of Durva and Ganesha to his wife Ashraya who had doubts about this grass. Sage Kaundinya gave her bunch of 21 Durva and told her to get the gold equivalent from Lord Indra who is God of all other Gods. Ashraya approached Lord Indra and asked about gold but he in turn sent her to “Kubera” who is the Treasurer of Gods. However the scales were not balanced. Even all the other Gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Siva arrived and sat on top of the gold. The scales were in favour of durva. This perplexed everyone and all Gods approached sage Kaundinya at his ashram to address this. Kaudinya said that Ganesha being the King of all states, there could be no one superior.
Then there are mythologies linked to Vishnu, Sita and even a reference to Amrit which fell on durva grass to make it sacred. The Bhavishnya Purana states that durva originated from the hair on Vishnu’s hand and thighs while he supported the Mandara mountain during Samudra manthan. Hair fell and touched by amrita to become durva. One more says that durva represents the hair of Brahma or even Sita.
Durva is also referred as Goroma. ‘Go’ indicates ‘mother earth’ and roma means hair. Thus it is considered the hair of Mother Earth. According to Vamana Purana, durva is produced from Vasuki’s tail. Myths are myths but it is the symbolism behind these stories that one is takes into account.
MEDICINAL VALUE: Durva has a medicinal value. ‘Internally durva is used in various diseases. The plant is beneficial in the treatment of epilepsy and hysteria and in conditions associated with pain, due to vitation of vata dosa. As a potent styptic, it effectively arrests the bleeding in dysentery, piles, haematuria, epistaxis, menorrhagia, diarrhea, raktapitta etc. It checks the uterine bleeding, strengthens the uterus, averts the abortion and augments the foetal growth. The plant juice given along with rice water and rock candy, curbs the vomiting. Duva is useful as a general tonic as well as an aphrodisiac’.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Grass: Trees, Plants and Nature)
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi