Goa is a part of the Konkan region of India, where the termitorium or anthill is worshipped as the representation of the formless goddess Sateri, known also as Kelbai, Mahamai, Tulzai, Mirabi. The name of the goddess is itself derived from the word ‘sater’ that is also called the ‘roinn’. The male termite, Odentus obesus, or ‘rawlu’ is worshipped as Rawalnath and is given a free run of the land in the Dev Rai or sacred groves. The use of insecticides to kill the termites is, obviously, not a part of the culture and tradition of the Konkan, including Goa. In return, the region is blessed with the Termitomyces species of mushrooms during the month of Shravan, which occurs twice this year because of the ‘adhik mas’ or extra month for correction of the lunar Saka calendar that has pushed Ganesh Chaturhi to mid-September. It looks like we are headed to get an extra dose of mushrooms, too.
Scientists have worked for more than four decades to mimic the conditions and obtain the Termitomyces mushrooms under laboratory conditions. They have even tasted success and had laboratory-grown mushrooms. However, replication of success in getting mushrooms in the laboratory has eluded mycologists and the proposed ‘domestication’ of mushrooms by humans has remained a tantalizing mirage.
The temperature and light conditions during the period of intermittent showers, normally in the end of July, are known as the ‘ollmeacho paus’ or mushroom rains, as the mushrooms appear soon thereafter. Fortunately for us, oyster mushrooms or dhingri can be grown under ambient conditions almost through the year, with a little difficulty during the warm months of October, April and May. They are easy to grow in the monsoons when the temperature and humidity are just right. In fact, the students of Don Bosco College of Agriculture, Sulcorna, led by Vrundan Parab in Neturlim village have demonstrated to the villagers how to grow oyster mushrooms. Deepashree Naik, M Sc in Biotechnology who has opted to work as a laboratory assistant at DBCA-Sulcorna, produces not only Rhizobium biofertilizer but also multiple Pleurotus sajor caju mushroom spawn, sourced from my former student, Prathama Rane Vernekar at the ‘Mushroom Laboratory’, Ela Farm. The students stationed at Pirla, Rivona and Malcornem for three months under the compulsory Rural Agriculture Work Experience Program or RAWEP, are sure to do likewise.
From just eating wild mushrooms, to growing Dhingri mushrooms since the early 1980s to producing almost twelve tones of Button mushrooms per day, Goa has come a long way. Sangam Kurade is now all set to work on mushroom plus shredded jackfruit patties for a real treat in the form of a vegan burger. Everything appears impossible till someone does it the first time. Who had thought Desmond Nazareth would come with such a terrific challenge to tequila right here in Goa? Mahua was always a tribal brew till he saw an opportunity. We have to find our own right conditions to bloom, like mushroom rains!