Navaratra and fasting: a transition from absolute denial to low-carb foods of yore, and finally, a high-carb party
On a food trail this festive season, which involves types of fasting and feasting
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'Our light, wake up!
The sight of you drains the tiredness from our limbs!'
The light is being roused from six months of slumber. Gently, as one would a sleeping child, she is reminded of the lovely time she had ‘the previous day’, the games she played and won, and her lovely face that we have missed seeing through the ‘night’.
The followers of Maa Durga, who regard her as the Kul-Devi (goddess of the lineage), are up and about, looking forward to ten days of pure gastronomical bliss.
Ushering in the Mother. (Photo: Twitter)
The followers of Lord Krishna, however, will be fasting during this period, from October 9th to 19th — the bright phase of the lunar cycle this year.
Diverse religions and streams of thought have, over the centuries, evolved their own way of marking special occasions and festive cycles. Fasting practices in Hindu texts, designed in the ancient days, have been elucidated in the Vedas and are according to the Laws of Manu that are meant to govern all mankind. To ‘fast’ was to allow not a morsel, nor a drop of water to pass one’s lips. Some fasts, however, allowed the drinking of water alone.
As time blurred the rules, some versions of the Vedas tried to make way into the light through the fog — manmade produce of the fields was off-limits. And various restrictions were introduced.
This allowed the consumption of wild grains and leafy vegetables, roots and fruits collected from the wilderness. Veritably, a reminder of the food eaten in Paleolithic times, before nature and science had the chance to interfere for the sake of man’s comfort.
A meeting with the past! A meeting with our caveman ancestors!
‘Children, its Passover! You shall meet Elijah here. Find the leaven.’
On the special occasion of Passover in the Jewish tradition, a Jewish mother would have hidden bits of leavened bread (the product of man’s interventions for the comfort of the palate) about her house. Children would poke and prod about in her favourite corners, and announce, ‘Mother! I have found some leaven you overlooked.’ And the mother, overcome by embarrassment, as if she were a careless housewife, will burn the leavened bread in the fire as the Torah commands.
A seder plate on Jewish Passover. (Photo: Twitter / HydroponicLife1)
Having purified the house, she will lay the table for her family and guests — bitter herbs, unleavened bread, meat, and the beet soup that symbolises the Red Sea. They will then tighten their belts, wear their sandals, pick up staves and wrap bits of unleavened bread in small parcels to be slung over their backs as if they were fugitives once more, waiting for the Lord’s command to flee Egypt. On the youngest child’s demand, the parents would ritually recount the story of the flight — and the food that helped them survive.
Starch-laden staples eaten at fasts. (Photo: Screenshot)
Rice, wheat, barley, and lentils, all raised by the plough are ‘anna’ or ‘kristapachya,’ and are to be avoided during the Navaratras. Produce that grows without cultivation is ‘akristapachya,’ that includes fruit (phala) gathered from the wild like the ber, jamun, water chestnut (mula), roots of wild carrots, and (kanda), the starchy tubers of the coclocasia (arbi) collected from forest floors and swamps; milk and ghee (clarified butter) remain ritually pure and are allowed during fasts.
The last transcribers of the Vedas listed the indigenous plant produce that was cultivated. They, however, failed to predict the colonisation by plant produce from far and distant shores. Since these did not make it to the Vedic lists of foods to be avoided, these high-starch plant products have become staples of fasts in modern India.
To the followers of Lord Krishna, try eating the listed Vedic foods this Navaratra. And best wishes to you all.
A sumptuous Navaratri thali. (Photo: Twitter / AnnaMaya)
For the clan of the mother goddess, the daughter has fasted for six long months. She is coming home now. The maternal family is duty-bound to feed her and make sure she has enough protein supplementation to keep her going until the next vacation.