The Magical Methods Of Days Of Yore

Traditionally built houses were not only aesthetically appealing but also outclassed the modern-day tactics of dealing with the forces of nature. Radha Prathi elaborates on the advantages of using natural ingredients to evade disease and disaster.
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If building your lovely dream home is one part of the story, maintaining the same is the never-ending latter half. The sudden setbacks in electricity, plumbing, sanitary lines, the occasional seepage, fungal coverage and cracks can be set right with timely professional help. But the real challenge lies in keeping your home pest free for a long, long time to come.

Today, if you find unwanted insects and rodents infesting your home, you can simply reach out for an insecticide or a pesticide in the form of powder, paste or a spray available off the shelves in most shops to get rid of the pests. Though the exercise has been simplified to a large extent, the inherent danger of keeping a powerful pesticide at home, especially when there are children around, can be a tricky issue as they come. Here is where a little peek into the past will help us figure out how exactly people belonging to another era, dealt with these problems without causing any dire consequences or awful side effects to human life.

Eternal problems

People of the ancient past, did not live in Pucca houses, hence there were a lot of crevices in the walls, flooring and the roofing which let in the ‘creepy-crawlies’ without a pang of consciousness. In those circumstances the walls were treated with a coat of lime and the earthen floor was plastered with a coat of cow-dung which actually kept the insects at bay. People with a strong sense of beauty also decorated their homes with beautiful Rangoli patterns which not only protected them from insects but also helped them live in harmony with nature.

Natural pesticides

For instance, Rangoli patterns that were drawn on the walls, were made of calcium treated with turmeric. This gave it a bright maroon colour, while rice or wheat flour was used for drawing Rangoli patterns on earthen floors sanitised with cow dung just outside the homes. This arrangement ensured that insects got their fair share of food without really encroaching into the territory of man. Man also ensured that the insects did not gain entrance to his home by applying another antiseptic herb, the turmeric powder and vermillion on the doorways in a striking design. This measure helped him to lead a tension free life within his home without checking his floor for insects burrowing out from his sanitised flooring or his medicated walls.

There was no electricity in those days; hence people used oil lamps and lanterns to provide them with light in the absence of sunlight. The warm glow of the flame attracted innumerable insects into the home creating a nuisance of sorts to man. Sometimes, these insects spread diseases too. There was little or no technological aid so the early Indian crafted an innovative idea of keeping some pestilential flying insects at bay by tying a Thoran made of mango leaves along the hallway or the entrance of his home.

The long scented leaves trapped the insects and discouraged them from entering the homes, thereby avoiding a lot of nuisance and disease. When contagious diseases like small pox, chicken pox or measles troubled a family member, Indians made it a point to tie a bunch of neem leaves at the doorstep. These leaves not only indicated that somebody at home was not keeping well, but also acted as an antiseptic which contains the ailment.

The Thoran or the Rangoli that adorns an Indian home has a lot of ecological, psychological and traditional significance attached to it. They symbolise prosperity and happiness and to this day, we use it in this context although we have replicas of them made synthetically in several aesthetically acceptable materials.

Besides aesthetic value, nature’s resources were also used to keep weevils and worms that infested food grains, at bay. Neem leaves with their proven anti-bacterial and antiseptic value, were sun-dried and the fragments were sewn into tiny cotton cloth bags and inserted into the containers and bags that contained food grains. Silk and woollen clothing, were also taken care of in the same manner when not in use. The stuffing in beds, pillows and quilts were sunned and beaten from time to time to keep away dust, lice, mites and bed bugs that can prove detrimental to human health.

These are but a few instances of how our ancestors used eco-friendly methods to maintain their homes besides living in harmony with nature. Today we have the facility of treating our building material with chemicals to keep them strong and clean. Once the initial power of the insecticides wane, we can follow some traditional methods to keep our homes clean and pest-free. The Neem trees are in a mode of shedding leaves around this time of the year, so that they are ready for Ugadi—the lunar new year, with their new sprouts. All we have to do is pick up these fallen leaves, clean them and store them so that they can be put to use later. The fragments of these leaves can be burnt near breeding areas of mosquitoes like marshy areas and open sewers, for they can expel the pests away effectively.

We could incorporate several other conventional ways to make our hearths and homes healthy and clean. Perhaps in this way we can pay our tribute to our ancestors who blended their common sense with a sense of beauty all the time, in tune with the environment around them.

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