|The Sita Devi Festival
Our purpose in re-interpreting the Sita Devi festival is to show that fervent veneration of Sita Devi is connected to a fervent practice of agriculture that is sustainable.
Discovered in a furrow in the earth by King Janaka, Sita Devi lived in the forest and was an exemplary mother.
The Sita Devi temple at Fireflies was a result of long interactions and discussions with farmers, women and youth. Now we have a place to celebrate Sita Devi as Bhoomi Thai and respect the Earth along with Her.
Today’s farmers are seduced by the promise of profit through hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and industrial agriculture where the earth is simply seen as a commodity that can produce other commodities.
So, along with calling for a celebration of Sita Devi, there is also a calling to return to the commitment of practicing sustainable agriculture. This includes an overall larger goal of moving towards forms of development with zero carbon emissions. It is also an acknowledgement that Sita Devi is indeed the Earth, that our earth is therefore sacred and that we cannot continue to despoil Her soil, water, air, trees, mountains and glaciers.
Each year Sita Devi is celebrated here at Fireflies on April 22nd, World Earth Day.
The Ganesh Festival
Ganesh, the elephant headed God, is the remover of obstacles and the lord of knowledge. He is the God that is called on before beginning a new business or venture. He protects the threshold of the house, keeping away evil influences. He is also popular among businessmen as the deity who bestows material riches and worldly succes
Each September, for the past eight years, Fireflies has a weeklong celebration of Ganesh.
However, the presumptions surrounding Ganesh are troubled. Some believe that Ganesh is a God used by the Hindu nationalist bigots to preach hatred against the Muslims. After a communal riot took place in Thilaknagar in Bangalore, we decided to invite Hindu and Muslim youth from that area and began a discussion that concluded that when there is conflict and lives are lost and people are jailed, both sides are losers.
This served as the beginning of a slow reconciliation process. A turning point came when the Hindu youth were inspired to invite Muslim notables to a Ganesh celebration and seated them on the dais, alongside the statue.
At Fireflies, we also see the Ganesh celebration as an opportunity to make connections, but with the environment. With the help of the villagers, we formulated questions for them to discuss in their homes. They ran as follows:
(1) If Ganesh is the God of knowledge, and since true knowledge is synonymous with vision, what is the kind of vision we wish for our family, for the village, for the country, for the world? Are kindness, compassion and openness part of this vision?
(2) If Ganesh is the remover of obstacles what are the difficulties and obstacles in our villages and how can we be co-responsible with Ganesh to remove them. What is our own responsibility as citizens to overcome these social obstacles? What is the role of the panchayat, our legislative assembly?
(3) If Ganesh is half-nature and half-human, he represents the bond between the natural world and the human world. So, what are we doing to preserve our environment? Instead of nurturing our environment are we polluting and destroying it? What is the role of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in polluting our water-table? Are we growing more trees instead of cutting them heedlessly? Are we protecting our lakes?
These questions prompted the villagers to take an active interest in not only celebrating Ganesh, but also protecting the environment.
On the first day of the festival, we bring out a six-foot unpainted Ganesh statue. The statue is unpainted because the toxicity in today’s paints would contaminate the lake that we immerse Ganesh into after several days of carting the statue through neighbouring villages.
This has also prompted many people to get an unpainted Ganesh, and if they like, an artist at Fireflies will use natural dyes to paint the statues.