Wasteful practices in Hindu society – Showering of Akshatas

The history of India i.e. Hindustan is riddled with people who took the innocent Hindus for a long ride in the name of ‘God’ and / or  ‘God’s Wrath’. Hindus got attracted towards other religions and ultimately resulted in the trifurcation of our once-upon-a-time great county.

The priests and the Brahmins took advantage of illiteracy of the general public and spread superstition, ignorance and wasteful ideas for personal gains. Like for instance, even at the beginning of the 20th century, traveling across the seas was considered an ‘anti-Hindu act’ and people were excommunicated.  As a result, a once great country remained backward while the other countries progressed. Untouchability, Sati, disrespect to women, particularly the widows, child-marriages and ‘chatur varna’, were just  few more of the iniquities pervading in Hindu society. Besides, Hindu society indulged in a lot of other wasteful activities like pouring milk on the images of Gods, not caring for so many infants who went without milk.

One more wasteful activity which continues even today is the use of ‘akshatas’.

Unbroken rice grains when smeared with kumkum / sindoor (vermillion) constitutes the red akshata. Since the principal constituent of kumkum is red lead (Pb3O4), zinc or other synthetic dyes, this process of converting rice grains to akshata renders the rice grains inedible.Some manufacturers of kumkum use Rhodamine B dye, which can induce hereditary disorders.Red is also being derived from mercury sulphite, which can cause skin cancer. On the other hand, the Brahmins said that the red akshatas are symbolic of spiritual practice done with expectation of fulfilling the desires (sic).

Akshata is used as offering to the 330 million Gods during a wedding ceremony.  The  use of akshata is rampant during an Indian wedding. It is utilized symbolically for the newlyweds to literally shower them with good wishes and future prosperity. After the mangalsutra ceremony, the couple exchanges garlands. Those present at the wedding shower their blessings on the couple by sprinkling flowers and akshatas on them. Or akshata is thrown into the sacred fire around which the couple takes their pheras. During the entry of the bride to her in-laws home, she has to knock over a pot of rice with her foot, never to use that rice again for food. Some also paste akshatas on their wedding invitation cards.

On basant panchami day this January 2012, I attended a marriage ceremony of a Gujarati Hindu Brahmin. I casually asked the bride’s mother how much rice she had used for conversion into akshatas. Two kilos she said. The next day I read in the newspapers that on Basant Panchami day, 10000 marriages were solemnized in Ahmedabad alone. In other words at least 20000 kg of rice was converted to akshatas, just in Ahmedabad.

I am trying to figure out how much rice was ‘consumed’ all across the country on that day for conversion to akshatas and how much in a year? The 20000 kg of rice used in Ahmedabad for akshatas could have fed an orphanage of a 100 children or an old age home for 100 people for at least a year!

People of the enlightened and the highly educated Chitrapur Saraswat community (to which I belong), after the Dharma Sabha conducted by their Mathadhipati, wait eagerly for the akshatas (PHALMANTRAKSHATA) to be handed over by their Mathadhipati.

I weighed the packet of ‘phalmantrakshat’ a friend recently received from our Mathadhipati. It weighed 18 gms. Assuming that 150 bhaktas receive  ‘phalmantrakshat’ on every occasion, and there are 300 days on which phalmantrakshat  is distributed, we Chitrapur Saraswats utilize 810 kg of rice every year for this purpose. Change this ‘phalmantrakshat’ to ‘phalmantrakshat in form petals’ and we would be saving this Dev Dhanya (i.e. the gift of the gods) for the poor.Can a poor country like India really afford this luxury of wasting rice?

Add to this the similar practices in other Saraswat Maths or other Maths and the akshatas used during other Hindu ceremonies and imagine the savings of food-grains every year.

Rice, the almost perfect food, epitomizes the earth’s generosity. Rice is therefore rightly called Deva Dhanya . Is this the way to literally ‘throw away’ or ‘shower’ ‘Deva Dhanya’ when millions of people across the world are starving do not even get two square meals a day?

Can this practise of wasting rice be stopped? Can the same rice be donated to orphanages and old age homes?

Akshaya Tritya is fast approaching (24th April 2012). Lakhs of marriages would be solemnized on this auspicious day. Can we spread the message to save food grains urgently. Let us shower the newly weds with only petals and avoid the use of rice or other food grain.

Can we Chitrapur Saraswats show the way to the rest of the Hindus on how to do away with this wasteful practice? Our Chitrapur Saraswat Math, Shirali, North Kannada, Karnataka,  has always been positive in bringing about social reforms and shown resilience and buoyancy. If this message reaches our Mathadhipati, I am sure His Holiness will certainly bring about this change and offer ‘petal phalmantrakshat’.  Chitrapur Saraswats, can certainly show the way to the rest of the Hindus.

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42 responses to this post.

  1. This is the malaise of every religion. The priests because they cram and learn all the incantations / psalms / suras / shlokas / etc by rote (and frequently neither understanding the meaning nor the context) start practices which are neither prescribed by religious texts nor very practical.

    Case in point: the practice of having a widower marry within a year of the demise of his wife, while prohibiting the marriage in the family of a widow (like her son’s marriage) within a year of the demise of the husband. Why should the widower be prescribed marriage within a year? Can he not grieve? Or is a woman just a receptacle?

    On the other hand why not allow the son to marry? At least will not the widow have someone to talk to? Someone new? Someone who as a woman will understand the grief the widow is going through?

    There are many many practices in Hinduism alone which I abhor very much. But because I follow my own brand of Hinduism, adjusting the practice to what suits me or what I personally feel is right, I feel like I am much better human being than what my religion prescribes me to do.

    If a priest or any other busybody expresses shock at my attitude, I ascribe it as an issue between me and the God I pray to and none of that priest’s business. After all, the priest is a priest by virtue of his having gone to priests’ school while I am a professional because I attended a professional college.

    ’nuff said!

    Reply

    • YOU HAVE MADE SOME VERY USEFUL POINTS, I HAVE SIMPLY LOVED YOUR REMARK “THERE ARE MANY PRACTICES IN HINDUISM WHICH I ABHOR”. THANKS A LOT

      Reply

    • Posted by Dayanand on April 15, 2012 at 3:09 am

      I am with you not only in this but generally priests and poojaris putting on the garb of guru and fooling the simple public by incessant lectures.At least the catholic swamis remove their frocks after they talk from the pulpit and behave
      Like normal human beings not so in Hinduism. here the guru does not allow reasonable questioning and I have noticed a fear and terrible and useless importance to externals which I am sure does not impress any God and there are hundreds of such Mutts and Mathafipathis..the most prominent Shankarcharya Jayendra and Co who have to repeatedly appear in court in saffron clothes

      It is mostly sham.I am sorry but truth is always bitter

      Reply

  2. Posted by Shailendra Pratap Singh on April 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Sir issue is not the wastage of rice as Akshata but to collect it and ensuring its proper distribution to poor only. BPL (Below Poverty Level) Card holders>if you analyse more than 50 % BPL Card holders are people who are able to run their personal and family expenditure without any sort of outsourcing. But………………….

    Reply

    • Unfortunately, once you apply kimkum (vermillion) on the rice grain it becomes unfit for human consumption as kum has very high lead contents.

      We need to find out alternate methods to ‘shower blessings’

      Reply

  3. Posted by Svengali on April 15, 2012 at 12:55 am

    You get red color (used for Holi) identical to Kumkum that is non toxic and washable. Much ado about nothing….

    Reply

    • Washable? Yes, but consumable? Doubtful!

      Reply

    • Thanks for your comments.

      a. The preference for darker and more longer-lasting colors during Holi led people to use synthetic colors. Oxidized metals or industrial dyes mixed with engine oil or other solvents were often used in such colors and ultimately lead to a number of illnesses and skin-diseases, and were harmful to the skin and eyes

      b. With Holi round the corner, the markets are a profusion of colour, dotted with piles and piles of red, yellow and green. But few buyers are aware that the colours, which manufacturers claim are 100% natural and environment-friendly, can cause serious skin problems. What is being marketed as herbal gulaal is only a mixture of araroot, cement and mud in varying proportions. (Times of India report, 17 March 2011)

      c. Bittu, a trader in Khari Baoli, says, “We normally buy packets of gulaal from Sadar Bazaar and have no idea what goes into making the colours. Normally, pure araroot is used with added colours but there are several people who are also selling adulterated colours that are made of cement, etc, and crushed really fine to produce a smooth powder.” There are some traders who claim to be manufacturing herbal colours using dried flowers or sandalwood powder. However, they say that there is no system of quality control or verification by any government agency. “I don’t even know if any such process exists,” said the owner of Yadgaar, a shop in Khari Baoli.(Times of India Report 17 March 2011)

      d. Has anyone ever taken pains to sweep the floors after a ceremony to separate rice grains from the other waste material and use it?

      Reply

  4. Posted by Gurudutt Mundkur on April 15, 2012 at 3:25 am

    Vivek, I appreciate the way your thoughts are flowing. I agree with you on this one.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Sarita Panemangalore on April 15, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Yes you are absolutely right. This practice of showering rice as Akshat has been done blindly by following tradition and I don’t think it has ever entered anybody’s mind that rice is being wasted. Change is always a very slow process but there is always a start and as realized people start to stop this practice- and use flowers instead of rice, slowly the change will take place

    Reply

  6. Posted by Pradeep Ullal on April 15, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Dear Sir,
    Is your headline misleading?
    “Evil” has a straight forward meaning whether used as a noun or an adjective.
    The message that I get after reading the article is that the practice is wasteful.
    To that extent I am in agreement with you and would go further that weddings on both counts of cost & scale, these days are indeed wasteful in a hundred ways.

    The example of 2 kilos that you refer is perhaps negligible when compared to the amount of food, beverages and water that is wasted in every wedding. What about the time spent to get a wedding going?

    It being an “Evil practice in Hindu Society….”. is a bit over the top!

    Wonder if you will or anyone else would take offense if it is said that Religion, simply put, was born out of man’s ignorance and evolved over thousands of years as a body of knowledge for humankind and in the last two hundred years it is being challenged by Science, its practices, beliefs and its assumptions. Any religion!
    Thank you,
    Pradeep Ullal

    Reply

  7. Posted by dr srinivas mallya on April 15, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Dear vivek ,i do agree with most of what u hav written..but this is applicable to most religions..because customs and rituals come to practice not in one day but over years,get carried on by word of mouth ,get distorted . And in hindu religion at least most of the rituals,customs do have some scientific reasons.but brahmins nd pundits who were supposed to b the caretakers of the religion found it easier to just pass on the ritual than explaining the reason for that ritual to the common man.like even now we have many rules nd laws which we blindly follow..so i think as far as possible we shud think scientifically nd try to figure out the reason behind the ritual…i am not saying what u said is wrong..but in every ritual and function there are so many ways to avoid wasteful expenditure…hope i hav not offended anybody..

    Reply

    • I appreciate your views.

      Probably showering the couple with flowers or offering flowers as ‘phalmantrakshat’ can serve the same religious purpose – but wastage of food grains? May be we can have thermocol in the shape of rice for this practice.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Mahesh Kalyanpur on April 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Dear Vivekmam,
    Article on this topic had appeared earlier in September 2010 in Mid-day. Shri Chitrapur Math has published a book ‘Padaprakshalan to Phalamantrakshat’ written by Dharmapracharak Shri V Rajgopal Bhat who has explained in detail importance of rice in Hindu rituals. The chapter on Phalmantrakshat explains how the mantrakshat is to be used. Request you and all readers to read this book to clarify your doubts. Regards Mahesh

    Reply

    • Hello Mahesh!

      Thanks a lit for your mail.

      Where can I get the soft copy / hard copy?

      Would love to read it and modify my views if necessary.

      Reply

      • Posted by Mahesh Kalyanpur on April 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

        Dear Vivekmam, book is available at all Math Publication hubs. You may refer to Math website for locating nearest hub. Regards Mahesh

      • Sure! Thank you. I shall definitely do that. Vivek 

        ll  ॐ नमोः भगवते श्री परिज्ञानअश्रमाय ll  

      • Sure Mahesh! I shall definitely do that.

        Vivek

      • Thank you so much Nandumam for your kind comments.

        It is a paradox that the more enlightened and educated we become, the more superstitious we become.

        None of 330 million Gods the Hindus have will ever approve of this practice keeping millions of children, the aged and the underprivileged hungry.

        If ever there is such a God who would like to see His subjects starve, I shall prefer to become an atheist.

        I shall then renounce not only our Math but even Hinduism.

        The real saints like Shirdi ke Sai Baba never indulged in any luxury. His only luxury was a hard bed and an equally hard pillow.

  9. Posted by Nandakumar Hattiangadi on April 16, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Dear Vivek, Your article on the wasteful practices being followed in Hindu rituals is an eye opener for those who are willing to open their eyes to reality and turn a blind eye to practices handed down in the family/society over centuries. The subject matter is a two sided coin – a head and a tail. Despite our claims that our Chitrapur Saraswat community is educated and very much ahead in terms of thoughts and practices, yet one cannot discount the fact that all of us are bogged down by certain rituals and practices which we have been following blindly without realising its true purport and meaning to our lives. It is not a win-win situation for our community, or should I say “Heads I win, Tails you lose?” confrontation with reality. The practice of blessing the laity with ‘ Mantrakshat ‘ by the Mathadipati at the time of “Phalamantrakshat” ceremony has been carried on for over 300 years in our community and has been considered to be a ritual which one would not like to put an end to, unless the present Mathadipati deems it otherwise and comes up with an alternative. More than the scientific ill effects, which you have pointed out in the article, our community members repose more faith and trust in the act of receiving “Phalamantrakshat” from our Guru in the form of a direct blessing from Him. It may take another century or so to alter or change this practice. However, we can certainly avoid using the colored rice during marriages, which is certainly not warranted in the present context of food shortages. The parents of the bride/bridegroom can certainly weed out this practice during the marriage ritual by mutual understanding. Besides this practice there are more rituals being followed in marriages which can be done away with to save time and money. My suggestion would be to invite only close relations/friends for lunch during marriages and do away with the practice of a reception. The amount of money or material saved on food can be donated to any Seva Ashram to feed hungry human beings. We can cut down expenditure on the invitation cards too – this being the age of faster communications like mobiles/internet etc the details of the wedding could be communicated through any one of these channels. Similarly, the wedding hall can be hired only for half a day and share the venue with other like minded individuals. There are several avenues to save wasteful expenditure which can be put into practice only by individuals who are more broad minded.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Nandakumar Hattiangadi on April 16, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Dear Vivek, Shirdi Sai Baba was a Saint, an Avataar of Lord Dattatreya, and an embodiment of humanity. He was always concerned for the under privileged, the hungry human beings, the poor and helpless people, Sai Baba never cared for worldly possessions and was always doling out whatever He received from devotees without even worrying about his needs. He wore a torn dress and walked in and around Shirdi blessing all His devotees and giving them solace from their daily lives. He gave Udi (vibhuti) as His Blessing – not colored rice ! – to the devotees who thronged around Him to seek His Grace and Blessings. His personal requirement was negligible. He begged in the streets of Shirdi for food and shared everything that he received with those who did not have anything to eat. He loved animals. He was humility personified. Mind you, He hardly left Shirdi, although His presence was felt and experienced by His devotees all over the country. There is no parallel to Sai Baba and there will never be in the ages to come by. No comparison to the modern saints/religious leaders.
    I appreciate your feelings of renouncing the Math and even Hinduism. As far as I am concerned, I have not given much thought to this aspect. One thing for sure, I devote and concentrate all my faith and trust (Shraddha and Saburi) towards Sai Baba, who is everything and everybody to me. I have lost faith and trust in other Gods and saints/gurus.
    OM SRI SAI RAM.

    Reply

  11. I am glad you brought up this subject of wasteful practices in this blogpost. Such wasteful practices ought to be changed as we face scarcity of resources for our growing population like milk, coconuts and rice! Ironically, i wonder if, when rice, wheat and grain rotting in godowns all over our country cannot be distributed to the needy, whether stopping this misuse would be enough at all? The quantum of rotting grains in govt godowns must be multiple times of what we offer as “akshata”. That does not mean we must continue our wasteful practices, but simply that more needs to be done to feed the hungry and starving for sure!

    Reply

    • Yes, not only the rotting grains but even over-indulgence.

      I know of one community who feel that if food is not left over in their plates, the hosts may feel offended and literally throw the left-over food into the garbage cans. This is how we Hindus treat Annapoornadevi.

      In marriages, it is very common to waste food.

      Fortunately, amongst the Chitrapur Saraswats, people rarely waste food.

      During the Prabhas Teerth Somnath Saraswati Yatra in January 2009, the locals of Gujarat were just amazed to see the discipline and were particularly happy to see that not a single grain of food was wasted.

      Here we, the Chitrapur Saraswats have an opportunity to show to the rest of the Hindus the value of food and foodgrains.

      Reply

      • This reminds me of an incident that happened during the first revived Rathotsava in 1973. During the Vokkaliga oota or the “feeding of the village”, as a volunteer, I was frequently asked by the diners to fill up the leaf on which the meal was served and a pile of rice would be left for us to discard.

        Obviously, we were all appalled at the waste – remember 1972 was a year in which the monsoon had failed and in a time when food was scarce, here was criminal wastage going on.

        When we asked the elders of the Vokkaligas, they explained that the tradition was that when one was invited to a meal, one was expected to leave food on the plate as an expression of, “you have fed us so much that we cannot eat any more.”

        Our Parijnanashram Swamiji, Himself met them and explained the situation in the country and the shortage etc told them that they could follow the practice but instead of a full leaf of food, they could instead leave much smaller amounts so that wastage was reduced as much as possible.

        To which the elders, readily agreed and all through the Vokkaliga oota, the elders themselves addressed the villagers through the PA system, explaining the appropriateness of the change in the practice for the Oota.

        So, yes, we are progressive and save wherever we can.

      • Posted by Shyla Murthy on April 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

        That was great of His Holiness Parijnanashram Swamiji! Let us all follow His preachings. .

  12. Posted by Shyla Murthy on April 16, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Dear Mr. Vivek Hattangadi,

    Congratulations on this lovely article in your blog.I wonder why you call it ‘anti-social’? Yes, we must stop all the wasteful practices, including wasting water and food in restaurants. I am recommending this blog to all my friends to read.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Rahul.K on April 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Vivek mam has indeed evinced a lot of response with this topic, especially the part of “phalamantrakshata” has raised many eyebrows. Obviously!! But, I’d defend our Chitrapur Saraswaths for being environmental consious in many ways among the vast Hindu communities. Even with the practice of receiving this “akshata” it is often adviced by Math people themselves for only one member of a family to recieve it not all members, also personally I feel receiving once in a while is ideal than on every occasion/visit to the Math. In addition, among some good environmentally friendly projects started by Math was to discontinue giving prasadam in plastic bags and now is given in paper/cloth bags started way back. In fact, the recently opened hand-made paper factory at Kembre, Chitrapur, Shirali is trying to achieve as much environmental friendly practices as possible. Further, the village of Chitrapur, Shirali and its poorer/backward people have benefited a lot from sociologically progressive ideas put in practice by Chitrapur Saraswaths and its present Mathadhipati, be it education/health/basic needs like water etc. Maybe Vivek mam should first look deeper into these projects, before making hasty comments on wastage of rice through “phalamantrakshata”, etc. which attaches itself a lot of devotional/religious significance.

    Reply

    • Thank you so much Rahul for sharing your views.

      The last paragraph of my blog, captures the essence of my thoughts.

      “Can we Chitrapur Saraswats show the way to the rest of the Hindus on how to do away with this wasteful practice? Our Chitrapur Saraswat Math, Shirali, North Kannada, Karnataka, has always been positive in bringing about social reforms and shown resilience and buoyancy. If this message reaches our Mathadhipati, I am sure His Holiness will certainly bring about this change and offer ‘petal phalmantrakshat’. Chitrapur Saraswats, can certainly show the way to the rest of the Hindus.”

      My only submission is that the ‘phalmantrakshat’ can be in the form of petals or fruits which one can consume, therefore, not wasteful.

      I am aware of our Maths concern for conserving the eco-system and have been a part of it. During the Prabhas Teerth Somnath Saraswati Yatra organized by the Ahmedabad Sabha in January 2009 [and in which I actively participated as a member of the Ahmedabad Sabha], we shunned the use of plastic and other eco-destructive material. We ordered special plates for food to be served (from Kodial) during the Yatra. These plates were made from dried cashew and jack-fruit tree leaves . (later the Mangalore Sabha did not even charge us and said it as a gift to Yatris) We saved not only water for washing but were disposed of without disturbing the environment

      If this is level of awareness in our community, we can certainly show the way to the our Hindu brethren by avoiding the use of food-grains as akshatas during marriage ceremonies or any other religious function.

      Reply

  14. Posted by Satishchandra on April 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    This blog is truly an eye-opener. Never could imagine the amount of edible grains which are getting wasted because of this old-age practice in our country. We should find out some alternatives like say rice-grain look-alike material made from biodegradable material like saw, wood pieces, barks of dead trees etc.

    Satishchandra K.

    Reply

  15. An excellent write-up. here we are wasting foodgrains while millions are not getting enough food. Let us stop this and help the needy. There are many orphanages in Mumbai where if every person geting married send one to two kg of rice, it will have enough food

    Reply

  16. very true. Totally agree!

    Reply

  17. Posted by Gautam Hosangadi on April 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Compared to the tonnes of food grain rotting at FCI godowns and eaten / destroyed by rodents due to improper storage, the quantity of rice used as ‘Akshata’ is insignificant. If you feel so strongly on the subject, just take one grain as a token to complete the formality or better still don’t take the akshata. You will not be penalised for it!
    The use of “evil” is insulting and in bad taste.
    Regards
    Gautam Hosangadi.

    Reply

    • Thank you Gautam for your views.

      I respect them.

      When I was a child, I remember my elders used to discuss, how our ancestors of the previous century reacted when Chitrapur Saraswats crossed the seven seas. Many were exterminated by our Math. After extermination many went on to embrace Arya Samaj because they wanted a Spiritual Guru.

      But our Math has always been progressive and is very positive to change.

      Surely a day will come when my views on ‘phalmantrakshat’ will get accepted – and I don’t think that day is vary far off, seeing the response to my blog, and also the foresightedness of our Mathadipati.

      Yes, I did use the word ‘evil’ in the original post but immediately changed it to ‘wasteful’ when it was pointed out.

      With great reverence and respect, I shall accept phalmantrakshat in the form of flower-petals or fruits.

      I will not encourage (rather strongly oppose) the use of food-grains to shower blessings or consign it to agni. I have also made this very clear to my family members.

      Nor will I ever waste milk to bathe the images of gods / goddesess. when so many infants go without milk.

      Thank-you Gautam for taking out your precious time to convey your views.

      I encourage and will continue to respect all contrary views.

      Vivek Hattangadi

      Reply

  18. Posted by usha on November 5, 2013 at 7:42 am

    kudos to all the thinking people. I look forward to more such discussions to stimulate our minds and hopefully change age old practices, which might have very well made perfect sense at that time. like rightly pointed out by Vivek mam about the sacrilage of crossing of the seven seas I am sure many other rituals need to be examined with a rational and practical viewpoint.

    Reply

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