Gondia: For the upcoming 'Rakshabandhan' festival on August 3, there will be a new, eco-friendly and healthy option for sisters and brothers in Maharashtra – rakhis made of the dung of the pure Indian breed of Gir cow.
The brainchild of a former banker-turned-academician, Priti R Tembhare, who runs a 'gaushala' (cow-shelter) with 200 Gir cows and another 150 abandoned or handicapped cows, oxen or bulls, the attractive, sturdy and cheap cowdung rakhis have proved to be popular and in demand this year.
“I started on an experimental basis with around 500 pieces... I personally went for marketing it in Gondia and Nagpur, convincing the distributors and retailers on the benefits of these cowdung rakhis. Initially, they were sceptical, but gradually they seem to have embraced it," an elated Priti Tembhare told IANS from her workshop in Gondia. It was last year that some women in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh started making cowdung rakhis which caught the eyes of people, prompting Tembhare to start a similar initiative in Maharashtra this year.
"During the lockdown, many women were rendered jobless in this region... I wanted to do something to make them 'atmanirbhar' with a product that was indigenous, natural and in tune with our age-old traditions... I decided to introduce cowdung rakhis," she said.
The small sample resulted in big orders of over 5,000 cowdung rakhis, the last of which are currently being packaged for dispatch, with the rakhis costing between Rs 15 and Rs 50 a piece.
These humble cowdung rakhis will vie for attention among other rakhis in Mumbai where some affluent 'sisters' spend lakhs of rupees for buying platinum, gold, silver, diamond-studded and other high-end rakhis.
Tembhare explained that making cowdung rakhis or other long-lasting objects is time-consuming, undergoing several processes like drying the cowdung, converting it into fine powder, using neem tree or other natural gums plus seeds of tamarind as binding agent to make the rakhis strong.
After Rakshabandhan, she suggests these rakhis can be taped on mobiles, tablets, laptops or other objects emanating harmful rays, which the cowdung reportedly nullifies.
A former banker and then an academician, Tembhare was encouraged in the venture by her automobile engineer husband, Rishikumar Tembhare, who has diverted his skills to train villagers in organic farming, watershed management techniques and supplying free water tankers to problem villages in the area.
"Through our NGO, Laxmi Gaushala Charitable Trust (LGCT) and an orchard, we earn by selling Gir cow milk and other products, plus different types of fruits... But it was insufficient to take care of the workers, especially the womenfolk during the lockdown. The cowdung rakhis seem to be a promising venture which can help supplement our income," she smiled.
Simultaneously, Tembhare plans to launch cowdung idols of Lord Ganesha for the ensuing Ganeshotsav - Maharashtra's biggest public festival - which will be celebrated on a modest scale this year owing to the pandemic.
"These small idols of Lord Ganesha are embedded with seeds of certain plants like 'tulsi'... After immersions, they will mix with the earth and new tulsi plants will start sprouting," Tembhare said.
On the popularity of the cowdung rakhis, a social media message caught the attention of Mumbai diamond merchant Girish Shah, who runs an NGO Samast Mahajan, and he forwarded it to some persons, and it spread like wildfire, culminating in the large orders.
"We toiled hard for three months... It takes around a week to produce one final batch of around 1,000 rakhis... We had several orders from abroad, but we declined as it proved unviable to send by air cargo in view of the Covid-19 flight disruptions," said Tembhare.
However, there are many big orders which have been promised for Rakshabandhan 2021, which she will take up immediately after Diwali, and continue ahead the new, healthy and eco-friendly trend of cowdung rakhis.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)