Cow dung is something people can usually see on the streets of India’s cities and it is something people think is useless, but that is far from the case. Nature provides us with many resources, and Adivasis have incredible knowledge about how each of these resources can be put to use.
Let’s take the case of cow dung. In my Ho Adivasi community in Jharkhand, cow dung is culturally considered very holy. In our language, the word for Cow dung is Gurrih – pronounced Guri-eeh. During festivals or on other special occasions, Adivasis clean their house and apply cow dung on the earthen floors as a conditioner.
There is also a separate Gurrih festival, celebrated the day before we celebrate the Baha festival. The Gurrih festival is as important as any other festival in the Adivasi community. This festival is a symbol and a reminder of how important cow dung is to the Adivasi community.
The reason why cow dung is used is to give a refreshing look to the house floors and Adivasis believe that cow dung surrounds the family with positive energy and invites good fortune. It is also believed that the Gods and the spirit of the ancestors reside in the Adivasi homes and it becomes the duty of the Adivasis to clean the house with cow dung because cleanliness is said to be next to Godliness.
There is also a custom that when anyone in the family has a good dream, early the next morning the courtyard is cleaned with cow dung. This helps the positive vibes and happiness flow within the person for a longer time. It is also believed that it brings rain on time and is a good omen for the family.
There is a saying in my community which goes “The shepherd who sleeps in the cowshed never gets ill.” The elders of the community also tell us that it has something to do with ancient scientific knowledge.
There is also some research around the benefits of cow dung, which says that cow dung repels mosquitoes, makes a stable foundation against natural disasters, acts as a thermal insulator and is the best natural disinfectant. It is also one of the most sustainable ways to build a house.
In earlier times, when every Adivasi communities practised traditional farming, it was mandatory to keep a pair of cows at home which provided cow dung every day. With that amount of cow dung, the families possibly cleaned their houses every day and cow dung was kept in stock for natural manure which was later used in the fields for farming.
Nowadays, cleaning the house with cow dung so often is not possible. A lot of Adivasis who live near urban areas are adopting modern farming methods and many families do not keep cows anymore. During festivals, the families who have no cows collect cow dung from fields or get it from families who have cows.
However, Adivasis who live far from urban areas have still maintained their traditional ways and continue to follow the customs laid down by their ancestors.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.