This elementary educator explains how the Patri Puja ritual on Ganesh Chaturthi is a lesson in experiential learning

Posted By: Mrs. Manjusha Gadamsetty, September 25, 2021

shree ganesh

Ganesha Chaturthi has a special place in the hearts of the Hindu community across the globe. This festival excites people of all age groups and brings us together to take part in this as a community.

The distinct rituals performed during the Ganesh Chaturthi puja and the preparations for the festival make it stand out among all the other festivals. A very distinct ritual performed during the puja is the “Ekavimsati Patra Puja”.

Ekavimsati stands for 21 in Sanaskrit. Ekavimsati Patra puja, popularly called “Patri puja”, is done by offering 21 varieties of leaves to Ganesha. As mythology goes, the story goes that since Ganesha is an elephant, loves Patri (leaves) and we should do puja with a variety of leaves to make him happy. But, the reasons for this puja are much deeper than pleasing Ganesha. However, over the years, the ritual on Ganesh Chaturthi has morphed due to lifestyle changes/ habits and gone off-course compromising the original intent of the ritual.

This article is a humble attempt to help us pause and try to realign ourselves with the original intention of this puja.

The original Patri Puja ritual On Ganesh Chaturthi:

Ekavimsati Patra puja, also known as “Patri puja” by Telugu folks, is performed using 21 different varieties of leaves as we read each mantra related to offering a kind of leaf to Ganesha.

The Patri used for puja is later immersed into a local water body like a river or a pond that is used for our daily water needs such as drinking and bathing. The medicinal properties of these leaves are supposed to cure some of the common ailments during the rainy season.

How the Ganesh Chaturthi Patri Puja is related to our well-being:

All 21 leaves contain immense medicinal value. They can cure several chronic as well as acute ailments that are both internal and external. They can treat a range of diseases like the common cold, cough, bleeding disorders, infertility, wounds, skin diseases like leprosy, digestive disorders, psychological disorders etc.  They boost our immunity and work proactively in keeping our bodies healthy and away from all sorts of sickness. 


How the Ganesh Chaturthi Patri Puja ritual can be used for a great experiential learning opportunity:

To use these leaves for the puja, we need to procure them. To procure them, we need to be able to locate these plants/trees and be able to precisely identify/distinguish one plant from the other. Isn’t this a Botany 101 course? In fact, it isn’t just a Botany 101 course, it is an Ayurveda 101 course. It isn’t just about the leaves. Other parts of the plants such as fruits, bark, roots, etc. also offer several medicinal benefits. 

Experiential learning:  Procuring these leaves has a deeper motive. This ritual was used as a means to educate the younger generation about the medicinal benefits of these plants. Children go along with the adults to procure these leaves. Consider this as experiential learning where the children are picking the leaves and waiting for approval from the adults to discern one leaf over the other. The deeper engaging conversations that happen in the process are a lot more important. They could be talking about not just the leaves but the other parts of the plants and the children are guided. The knowledge is passed down to the next generation. The bonding that happens during this process is of course priceless. 

Social interaction: These 21 leaves are not readily available in one place. Some come from herbs and plants found in the home garden. But, some are found in the wild. Some come from trees in a temple or nearby forest. So, going around to get all these leaves is an enriching experience. Isn’t this experience probably more enriching than the modern-day “Girl Scout cookie sale” program that promotes social interaction? Kids will get involved in bartering the leaves they may have in return for leaves in their neighbor’s garden. It is Community Living 101.

Physical fitness: Some of these leaves are found in the wild. Some are high up on a tree. Some are thorny. So, getting these leaves needs some physical skills as well as problem-solving skills. Climbing trees, figuring out how to pull a branch down to reach the leaves, etc. offer complex and spontaneous problem-solving skills. Being cautious about the thorny plants, insects, snakes, etc. develops their senses, observation skills. Isn’t this equivalent to modern-day forest schools or camping expeditions?  

Patri puja is a lovely integrated learning experience for all children. It encompasses all domains of learning.  No wonder, Ganesha is the god of intelligence. Our ancestors brilliantly incorporated rock-solid learning into these puja rituals. Our ancestors hoped that we would grow these plants and continue passing down the knowledge about these plants to our next generations. 

The true intention of the Ganesha Puja is to make us connect with, respect, and honor our nature and appreciate the diverse plants that mother nature gave us. 

Dilution of the Ganesh Chaturthi ritual in the modern day:

We now live in concrete jungles with space constraints. So, we have stopped growing the herbs in our non-existent home gardens. 

  • We don’t have time with our busy schedules. So, we want to buy these leaves from the grocery store or some street vendors. 
  • We don’t have the knowledge to identify the leaves. We won’t be able to pass it down to generations.
  • We don’t have the patience. So, we may not make an attempt to even teach about this to our children.

What have we lost in the process?

  • Authenticity: Our lifestyle and habits have changed. We now go to buy these leaves. Since we can’t properly identify them, we take whatever leaves are given by the street vendors. These leaves may not have medicinal benefits and in some cases, they may be dangerous to consume.
  • Cleanliness: Back in the day, Puja is performed with a lot more stringent rules laid out as puja protocols. So, these leaves are properly washed and kept for puja. Now-a-days, some of us may not even be washing them properly. We may sprinkle just a drop of water as we say “Puja dravyani samprokshayami”. 
  • Overdosage: If we take one sleeping pill we may get goodnight’s sleep. If we consume a bottle of the same, we may sleep forever. Overdosage of medicine can be unhealthy/lethal. The population has grown significantly. So, a lot more of Patri makes its way into the local water bodies compared to olden-days when fewer people were mixing the Patri into water. It has become an exercise of “polluting” local water sources than enhancing the quality of the water. 
  • Lost wisdom: To effectively teach someone requires a lot of clarity in one’s own knowledge.  If we don’t have enough knowledge about these plants, we won’t be able to give them concrete information. So, the brilliant ancient wisdom is lost, undocumented, until someone from the western world rediscovers it and patents it as their own discovery. Eg: turmeric and neem patents. 

What can we do in the modern-day to keep up the benefits of these rituals?

  • We may not have our own home gardens. But, we will have some space for plants in our gated communities. We can proactively allocate some space to grow some of these herbs such as Maachi, Maruvaka, Tulsi instead of Crotons. We can allocate some space to grow flowering plants like Jaji, Vishnukranta, Karaveera. We can plant trees like mango, pomegranate, etc. 
  • We can consider mixing limited quantities of washed Patri in water to extract the medicinal benefits and then add this water to our water tanks. The remaining Patri can be made into compost for the community garden. 
  • We can organize a camping trip where we can go and collect the remaining leaves that are available in the wild. I distinctly remember that we used to have “half-day school” when I was a kid to help us make arrangements for the puja the next day.  Schools can definitely consider reinstatement of this to aid in preserving the essence. 
  • We can explore just a few leaves each year and learn extensively about those plants in that year. E.g.: we can explore all the herbs for one year. We can explore the wild grass/shrubs for one year, etc. 
  • We can explore and learn more about these plants in schools.

We can learn to be mindful of our practices, respect our nature and mother earth. We can make a sincere attempt to live up to the deeper intentions of our ancestors and try to pass down the ancient wisdom as we continue to enjoy the Ganesha Chaturthi festival with the same fervor and fun.

Ganapathi bappa moriya!

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