One wonders how many people stop to think about why certain rituals are followed or certain dishes are prepared or even what is the purpose behind the festivals themselves. Usually, the reasons are- It’s always been done, it’s fun so we do it, it’s tradition, to please the Gods, someone else (role model/family member) does it so we do it too, it looks cool on television, and so ad infinitum.
It’s amazing how we’ve ceased to think at all! As an ardent devotee of Ayurveda, I looked up some rituals and dug up some health facts associated with it which is tacit knowledge to some but unknown to many others.
The basic thing to understand is that our body and the seasons/climate outside have a very intimate relationship. After all, our body is a miniature of the Universe but, more on that some other time. We’ll understand how festival rituals work by taking a season and a festival celebrated during the time. Since there are too many festivals to cover, let’s start with a few. We’ll first learn a little about the season and then the rituals.
- VASANT RITU/ SPRING: It is considered as the first season and includes the Hindu months of chaitra and vaishakh. It is a time when kapha* manifests itself the maximum because the warmth of the sun, as the season moves towards the summer, loosens up (“melts” if you will) the kapha that had accumulated in your body in winter. The warmth also irritates the pitta* in the body, although on a lesser scale than the kapha and so vitiates blood causing disorders like asthma, allergic reactions, common cold, conjunctivitis, etc. Pollen grains help the doshas* (read; vata, pitta, kapha)* to a great extent as well.
FESTIVALS CELEBRATED: Hindu New Year. It is welcomed by eating Neem leaves and Jaggery.
SCIENTIFIC REASON: Neem is a known blood purifier and has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. It is also a known immunity booster. It tastes bitter. Now, bitterness, sweetness, etc. are all key points here as Ayurvedic drugs actions can also be understood by the taste more often than not. Bitter has the property of reducing both kapha and pitta, killing worms, improving appetite and purifying blood.
Jaggery on the other hand is sweet. Sweet nourishes, fortifies the body and reduces pitta (and yes, it effectively counters the bitterness of the neem).
- VARSHA RITU/RAINY SEASON: It spans the month of shravan and bhadrapada. Oh yes! Shravan! That got your attention. Yes, we fast. In the rainy season, there is a lot of moisture in our surroundings and stagnated water can be found everywhere. Germs, microbes, parasites, insects of every description thrive during this season. Water pollution hits its peak and all the dampness dampens our Agni* (our digestive capacity).
Indigestion and decreased immunity are this season’s effects on your body and result in diarrhoea, cold and cough, etc. Fevers are a common acquaintance.
RITUALS FOLLOWED: Fasting is done.
SCIENTIFIC REASON: Meats, eggs, milk products, etc. are very heavy to digest and hence it is best not to eat them. Garlic is a digestive and carminative but it is a bulb and it absorbs a lot of moisture in the rainy season which isn’t healthy in a weakened digestion. The same theory applies for onions and other root, tuber and bulb vegetables. Fasting is the best way to improve digestion and appetite, which will help you during Chaturthi, Dussehra and Diwali. It also digests Aam* (No, I do not mean mangoes. I mean undigested/partially digested macro and micro food molecules specifically fats and proteins which cause obesity as they cannot be used by the body in a partially digested state).
- SHARAD RITU/ AUTUMN: This season stretches over the months of ashwin and karthik and is popularly known in India as the “October heat”. This season sees the full- fledged fury of pitta and vitiated blood while it also sees a number of delectable dishes. Pitta manifests as acidity, migraines, urticaria, chicken pox, and the like during this season. Also, this season sees increased development (anabolism) in the body and gradually increasing immunity. Increased nourishment is a implied in this season. So, let’s take a look at two scientifically important rituals for this season.
RITUALS/ FESTIVALS: Kojagiri Poornima and Diwali.
SCIENTIFIC REASONS: Kojagiri poornima is celebrated by drinking milk at night while looking at the full moon. This translates to cooling the body. Milk is an excellent coolant and reduces the effects of vitiated pitta. It also provides nourishment and improves immunity. It moisturizes skin and other tissues protecting them from the dryness of the season and the upcoming winter.
Similarly, during Diwali we have sweets and oily foods. They serve a similar purpose as milk taken on Kojagiri Poornima. The ritual of ghata pooja or filling of water indicates that ground water; well waters have been purified by time and season and are fit for human consumption. The oiling indicates the commencement of regular oiling of the body to prevent dryness and improve skin quality and bathing again highlights the purification of the body. It also removes any remnant debris of microbes, germs, etc.
These are just a few things that can spread a scientific understanding to many things that have been long forgotten by most.
The * mark indicates Ayurvedic scientific terms that can be understood through reliable Ayurvedic books and sites. If you have any questions related to ayurveda please feel free to ask. I’ll be only too glad to answer.