Can adjectives like delicious, delectable or appetizing define foods pertaining to religious fasts? Does the term “mouth-watering fasting food” make any sense or does it stand out like an oxymoron? May be it’s time to chew upon the first by omitting the latter.
The Hindu religious calendar is dotted with a multitude of festivals. Beginning with Sankranti in January to Holi, Dussehra, Diwali and Navratri to name but a few, the year’s hectic religious schedule is pre-determined. One of the features that connects most, (if not all) festivals, is the concept of “fasting,” a ritual where a disciple/devotee/believer, abstains from food and alcohol along with a few more rules, in obeisance to a particular god or goddess. One such festival is Ram Navami or Navratra.
Legend has it, that Rama, king of Ayodhya and an avatar of Lord Vishnu, was born on the ninth day of the Hindu month of Chaitra which falls between March and April. It is to commemorate the glorious birth of Rama, a king whose reign brought in peace and prosperity, (also referred to as Ram Rajya), that Ram Navami is celebrated, over a period of nine days, hence the term navratras or nine nights. Apart from celebrating Rama, this festival also includes the worship of a number of goddesses who embody the principle of shakti. A similar festival bearing the same name is celebrated during Dussehra, marking the home coming of Rama from exile and his victory over Ravana as well as nine different devis or goddesses.
While the period of fast may differ, (one need not fast for nine days), the rules remain the same. Followers are to have only one meal a day, consume only rock salt as opposed to the iodized variant, must abstain from meat and poultry, onions, garlic, alcohol and the list is exhaustive. In brief, observers must follow a sattvik diet which means food that is “pure” and generates clean thoughts and feelings. But let not the stringent rules tire you out. Fasting food is not only nutritious but could be enjoyed as well.
One of first items to be noticed in the fasting menu is sendha namak or unprocessed rock salt. This is salt in its purest and natural form as compared to the commercially processed iodized salt. Next is the omission of grains like wheat, rice and millet. Or rather, let us see what all can be consumed. Buckwheat (Kuttu atta), Tapioca pearls (sabudaana), Water Caltrop (singaada) and Amaranth (ramdana) are the available options. Not only are these grains rich in fiber but are also gluten free, especially Amaranth which is considered almost a super food for its multiple nutritional benefits. Moreover, these grains are a valuable source of vitamin B, proteins and minerals like magnesium and phosphorous. And to top it all, these are easy to digest, thereby giving your system a much needed rest. And the root vegetables available on the fast platter, offer a nutritious supply of healthy calorie and energy to pull you through the day. So “one meal a day” of light grains, natural condiments, vegetables rich in energy and an abstinence from alcohol, meat and poultry is a perfect way to get you that much needed detox.
Interestingly, both the navratras coincide with seasonal changes, spring and autumn. And seasonal changes are harbingers of ill-health since immunity tends to be low. So the fast which advocates foods that are easy on the stomach yet supply calories that are healthy could be a great way to insulate against the side-effects of seasonal change. Now, if you are wondering that while the food may be good for the body, can it satiate the taste buds?
Yes, certainly. From flat breads to poories, laddoos to cakes, (all made from the grains stated above) and not to mention the endless glasses of fruit juices and smoothies, you surely have a lot to choose from. And if dining options are your concern, then you’re in for a surprise. Most vegetarian restaurants in Delhi, serve a host of vrat or fasting foods. Apart from the regular poories and vegetable, cottage cheese curries, there are buckwheat cookies, tarts, spicy chaats made of tapioca pearls and pomegranate, halwas made of apple and papaya; and not to forget the lavish thali carrying an assortment of foods, from starters to desserts, ready to spoil you with choices.
Fasting foods do sound delicious, delectable and appetizing. So, lay the table and begin the feast, the fasting way of course!
Written byAnasuya Shreedhar
Anasuya Shreedhar is a PhD scholar from India, working in the discipline of Women and Gender Studies. Her research looks at the relationship of food and gender in the urban Indian space through the lens of Feminist Food Studies. She had been a copy writer for a number of television channels in India before returning to academics.