Mango is the king of all fruits, yet we only see it during the summer. Berry picking is an activity that everyone looks forward to in the winter. Nature has its own way of making sure we enjoy all its offerings equally and not indulge in only one item throughout. Here, we will understand why eating seasonally is important.
According to the English calendar, we have four seasons- spring, summer, fall, and winter. But according to the traditional Indian calendar, there are six seasons or Ritus: Vasantha (spring), Grishma (summer), Varsha (monsoon), Sharad (autumn), Hemantha (early winter), and Shishira (winter). The Indian calendar is carefully planned and designed according to the movement of the sun. The sun moves northward for the six months known as Uttarayana. Six months later, the sun moves southward and this period is known as Dakshinayana.
Uttarayana is also known as Aadana Kala which means to take away. During these months, the sun and wind are very strong and tend to take away the cooling content or Saumyata of the Earth. This makes most of the beings weak and drained out with a weakened digestive system.
Dakshinayana is also known as Visarga Kala which means to give. Here, the moon is dominant and provides coolness to Earth. During this period, strength is restored to the living beings. This is why Acharya Charaka has mentioned that Bala or strength in all is maximum at the end of Visarga Kala and the beginning of Aadana Kala, while it is weak at the end of Aadana Kala and the beginning of Visarga Kala. Ayurveda has a set of guidelines for each of the six seasons to make sure that overall health in all is well-maintained and free of disease. This is known as Ritucharya. Ritu in Sanskrit means season and achara means routine. Ayurveda has set guidelines to follow during the day and night, popularly known as Dinacharya and Ratricharya. Following the guidelines set by our vaidyas will provide one with good physical and mental health.
Ritucharya not only speaks of dietary management but also includes lifestyle habits, yoga, and meditation practices that will provide the maximum benefits during that season. Each of these six seasons lasts for two months.
When we speak of Ritucharya, it is imperative to mention the relationship between the tridoshas and the seasons. Each dosha is responsible for a set of functions in the body and they each predominate a particular season. A change of season gives rise to a change in the conditions of the doshas. In my previous article on epigenetics and Ayurveda, the influence of environmental factors on the body is highlighted.
Summer and its raging temperatures cause the body to regenerate itself and, in this process, lead to an increase in Pitta. In the winter, the body goes into hibernation mode which in excess can lead to Kapha. Due to this, it is clear why Ritucharya is vital to follow to make sure the doshas are in balance and working in harmony.
India is a land of vibrant festivals celebrated all year round. It is interesting to note that festivals are celebrated based on the specific season/Ritu. The delicacies prepared and lifestyle routines followed during this festive time are based on the season. This is to make sure there is no hindrance to the maintenance of homeostasis in terms of the tridoshas.
During spring, India celebrates festivals such as Ugadi, Vasanta Navaratri, Rama Navami. For Rama Navami, Panaka (lemonade with jaggery), Neer-Mor (spiced buttermilk), and Kosambari (lentils with cucumber) are prepared to help one combat the heat. On Ugadi, neem leaves and jaggery are consumed to purify the blood and increase immunity. Mangoes are in season by then, and raw mango pachadi is a favourite among the people of South India.
In this way, each season and its festivals follow Ritucharya. We are currently going through Grishma Ritu that usually falls between mid-May and mid-July, following which we will experience Varsha Ritu or monsoons that will last until mid-September. In this article, let us focus on the upcoming “Chai and Pakode” season: Varsha Ritu.
Most of us love the monsoons, especially our dear farmers. It is the most awaited time of the year for them. Monsoons are marked by cloudy skies, rivers overflowing with water with lush green lands everywhere. During this season, Vata dosha is aggravated with reduced digestive Agni leading to a weakened digestive system. Sweet (Madhura), sour (Amla), salty (Lavana), and unctuous/oily (Sneha) is preferred to counteract the aggravated Vata dosha. Appeasing Vata dosha with warmth and oiliness will keep it less vitiated. Garnishing your food with ghee, thick creamy soups, grains such as rice and wheat, a warm cup of ginger tea will make sure the digestive fire remains strong.
Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated during Varsha Ritu. Bhagwan Shri Krishna was born during heavy rains and it is well known to many how Vasudeva carried the newborn to Gokula wading through the furiously raging river Yamuna. On Janmashtami, several delicacies are prepared in most households that range from Kheer, Jalebi, Chakli, Seedai, Chila, Papad, and more such salty and sweet foods. Not to forget, these are all enjoyed with a huge dollop of butter.
Another fun fanfare-filled festival celebrated with grandeur is Ganesha Chaturthi, the day that celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha. Modakas, his favourite, are prepared with either a sweet or savoury filling.
As per Ritucharya, these food items follow the guidelines set by Ayurveda. As mentioned before, Ritucharya is not just about following the right diet but it is also important to focus on physical practices to make sure one has a fit body and mind. It is said that during Grishma and Varsha Ritu, the strength or Bala in a person is weak and hence Ayurveda recommends minimal exertion during these months. Gentle yoga practices that do not overheat the body are preferred. Bhramari Pranayama, Chandra Namaskar, and other gentle practices that feel good without tiring one out are excellent.
Ayurveda runs deep and everything mentioned above is only a bird’s eye view. Ayurveda reminds us that our bodies do not exist separately from nature but actually are one. This monsoon, make sure you are one with the season, and don’t forget your hot cup of masala chai and pakodas!
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.