New Age Festival Greetings!
Exactly a year back, I wrote one of my first blogs on Naturopathyoga.org about Ugadi. We’ve come such a long way through Manmatha Samvathsara (The Year of Love that has just passed, 2015-2016) and have just entered the Durmukhi Samvathsara, literally meaning the ‘Year of the Ugly Face’. (another blog on this coming up soon! Subscribe to our newsletter below to be the first to receive it!)
What is Ugadi?
For those unfamiliar with the festival, Yugadi is the Deccan festival that celebrates beginning (Adi) of the new age (Yuga). Why April, and not January? Because this is the first New Moon after the Sun appears to cross the equator (on Spring Equinox) and move towards India. For the next 21 days be prepared to face the brightest, hottest 3 weeks of the entire year. Different Indian cultures have a slightly different date for celebrating the new year depending on whether they follow the lunar or solar calendar, all of which fall in mid April.
Every newspaper, every magazine has articles on how to beat the heat this summer. In Bangalore, we have sweating through one of the hottest summers yet! Let’s take a look how our grandparents cooled off, with the traditions of Ugadi.
Ugadi celebrations begin early in the morning, with a ritual cleaning of the house and the body. An oil bath is mandatory today, to ‘cool down’ the body. I hope you had one! It really does cool you down. 🙂
The hallmark preparation of Ugadi, one that most of us know, is Bevu Bella, or Maanga Pacchadi.
Why do we make Bevu Bella or Ugadi Pacchadi or Maanga Pachadi?
Any Kannadiga would split into a smile of recognition when he hears the phrase ‘Bevu Bella‘, or Ugadi Pacchadi in Telugu. At the peak of the Spring season, there are some important trees that burst into bloom and bear fruit. Important among these are the neem tree and the mango tree. Also, this is the time when a fresh season of sugarcane crop is harvested. To ensure that these trees and crops are protected through the ages, the custom of preparing and eating Bevu Bella was introduced. Cleverly, a special significance was attached to it, as a story to aid people to remember the custom. The word rasa means two things: taste and emotion. Bevu Bella is a preparation of the six rasas. It is made from:
- Neem buds or flowers for bitterness, signifying Sadness
- Jaggery and ripe banana for sweetness, signifying Happiness
- Green chili or pepper for the pungent or hot taste (I cant say hotness, now, can I? Hehe), signifying Anger
- Salt for saltiness, signifying Fear
- Tamarind for sourness, signifying Disgust
- Raw, unripe mango for its tang, signifying Surprise
(Image courtesy: LadiesLounge)
Eating Bevu Bella with the six tastes equally mixed together is a resolution to face every situation in your life with equanimity, and to overcome to individual emotions of sadness, happiness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise.
What a wonderful custom! In one shot, it ensures the protection of species of trees and plants that are very important to the survival of our race, and transforms that custom into a beautiful mental exercise that helps you evolve into a better human being!
Unfortunately, the bevu bella most people make today aren’t necessarily doing either of these. The jaggery used is highly refined, and it is eaten only as a tradition, forgetting the lesson we can learn from it.
Jaggery is made by boiling sugarcane juice for many hours in large, 12-foot wide vessels. By the end of this process, the tastiest and best jaggery one can eat is ‘Joni Bella‘, or liquid jaggery. It is boiled further and some natural substances are added to it to make it harden. Without these additions, it would not become a powder.
Then, it goes to the refinery and is split into two parts:
- White sugar, which only contains sucrose, the sugar from the sugarcane
- Molasses, which contains all the actual nutrition the sugarcane
Do you know what happens to the molasses? It is the raw material for most of the commercial alcohol produced worldwide. Bacteria feast and grow abundantly on all the nutrition from our sugarcane, while we are deprived of the nutrition and think we are feasting on sugar – ending up with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, cancers… the list goes on and on.
Have you noticed, white sugar is much cheaper than jaggery? Even though you have to put jaggery through a lot of processing to extract sugar from it? The secret behind this is the high profitability of molasses – as alcohol.
Molasses isn’t a by product of sugar manufacturing. Molasses is the main product. White sugar – the by product – is what many of us are eating. Let’s not put waste into our bodies, otherwise they will only end up becoming a diseased dumping yard. Let’s put only the highest quality ingredients for our bodies to stay at its healthiest for the rest of our life. Sugar at one third the price of jaggery will cost us lakhs in medical treatment – and less years of life that no amount of money can extend. Paying 50 rupees or so extra once a week can save all of this trouble.
Let us prepare for a Healthier Year Ahead!
This Ugadi, let us take one simple step towards a healthier year ahead. Visit an organic store near your home and buy a packet of unrefined jaggery. Liquid jaggery is the best. If you don’t find this, you could get a packet of the least refined jaggery block or powder that is available. It is much better than the refined jaggery you find in most provision stores.
The bevu bella or the pacchadi you make from this unrefined jaggery will be much tastier than one made with refined jaggery, and will be a great start to a happier, healthier year ahead 🙂
Let’s Get Started!
The simplest form of Bevu Bella is powdered neem leaves mixed with powdered jaggery. Our favourite version is a recipe with all six tastes. Click on this button to get started:
Happy Ugadi once again, to you and your family. May the traditions and customs you follow during this festival, along with the power of the festival bless you and your family with good health, long life, enough wealth, peace, wisdom and fame.
“The last week has been bad. I’ve had a terrible stomach upset after Diwali and all my symptoms have returned. What do I do?” said the email on my screen.
It wasn’t the first email like this. Every since Deepavali came and went, nearly all patients have been on a downward slope. People who were a living example of a healthy lifestyle less than a fortnight ago were now hiding junk in their kitchens, unable to overcome their cravings.
I have two questions to ask.
- Why does a festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, leave all of us with terrible health?
- Why does a single day of bad food give us cravings we can’t overcome for more than a week?
Let’s talk about the second question first.
One day of bad food = how many days of craving?
“I don’t have any motivation to eat healthy anymore. I didn’t want to touch anything oily or sugary when November began, but after Diwali I just can’t stop eating junk”
How long do the effects of One Bad Meal actually last? In our experience, five days on average!
Here’s what happens when you eat two Gulab Jamuns (because, admit it, who eats just one?). In 10 minutes, about 40 grams of sugar hits your digestive system and gets into your bloodstream.
In 20 minutes, your pancreas respond by pumping insulin into the bloodstream. The liver goes intro overdrive, converting all the sugar it can lay its hands on, into fat.
In 40 minutes, your brain is on a sugar high. You feel great. You feel happy. You feel excited. You eat some more.
In an hour, your body’s hard work has paid off and all the sugar is cleared off from your blood. But, many of your organs are still in overdrive because of the overstimulation, and continue sucking up sugar from the blood. Blood sugar levels drop. You feel hungry again. You eat some more.
And the cycle continues.
Oh, and by the way, the excess sugar and all the chemicals it contains are now leaching calcium from your bones and filtering it off into your pee. I’m not making this up. The more processed food you eat, the more acidic your blood gets. Calcium from bones is a buffer system for bringing the blood pH closer to alkalinity. It gets leached from your bones and is excreted in urine.
Why does sugar make me crave for more?
“I was doing fine till Diwali, but after the festival I’m too tempted to eat. I’m unable to control my cravings now.”
So what’s the issue? Why does some sugar make you crave more and more of it? The logic is quite easy to understand. How long does it take to eat your way through one sugarcane stalk? About 30 minutes.
Do you know how many gulab jamuns you can cook from the sugar in a single stalk? Just FIVE!
And, how many minutes does it take to eat 5 gulab jamuns? Two to three minutes.
When the huge load of 30 minutes’ worth sugar hits the blood in less than 5 minutes, every cell in your body has to go into overdrive. And when this happens, the cells make mistakes. Toxic by-products are released, machinery gets damaged, precious enzymes are used up. This causes a lot of damage.
Sugar is addictive too. Nature designed our brains to love sweet food, because anything sweet in nature means we’re getting amped up on calories to work and survive. It only makes sense that the more sugar there is, the more your brain will love it! See the video below to know more about why sugar is addictive.
Processing causes pain
Any sweet you find in nature – fruits, nuts, stems and roots – will have plenty of protective chemicals too. Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients – antioxidants. These chemicals are used by our cells to make sure the sugar is burnt in the right way, and whatever damage is caused to the cell is repaired immediately. Our sweets cannot do this, because they’ve been stripped of everything except the sugar!
“My spondylosis stiffness and pain have come back and it’s terrible”
You would have read countless articles and blogs about how processed food causes inflammation and pain. Most of our patients can tell you how true this is. Refined sugar is inflammatory – and addictive. Here’s a video that explains all the problems associated with refined sugar.
What do I do?
An important root cause of our problems is that we are disconnected from our instincts. How do you get back to your instincts?
The answer is simple.
First, start enjoying your food. Nature has designed food to be tasty. Try eating a gulab jamun with closed eyes. Keep all your work aside for a couple of minutes. Completely concentrate on the taste of the gulab jamun as you eat it. Chew it slowly, chew it completely to a paste in your mouth. Keep it in your mouth for as long as you can without swallowing it, to enjoy the taste of the sweet. You can try this with any sweet. But please try it.
How does it taste? How much are you able to enjoy it? Do you feel like eating more? If you do, go ahead, pop another one in your mouth and thoroughly enjoy it.
Now, repeat the same experiment with a fruit – any fruit. Do you feel a difference? What do you feel? Sign up for our free online course to understand your relationship with food better, right below:
Something interesting has been happening at home for the last few days.
It started off with my sister (who was down with a fever) developing loose motion with a lot of gas, which we attributed to food poisoning. It is Diwali season, after all!
For Deepavali, my mother and my other sister Janani planning a feast for lunch, with dishes ranging from steamed chepankizhangu (colocasia tubers) to baked potatoes to golden baby corn to stuffed chillies to stuffed tomatoes, apart from a range of sambar-rasam-kootu-chutney varieties. We even had a steamed vada, flavoured with dill! All of us enjoyed the Deepavali feast more than we ever had before.
Look what happened after the feast:
The next morning, however, my grandmother complained of severe chest pain and difficulty in breathing. We were a little worried, but in the end it turned out to be a substantial amount of gas formation.
Once I got to the clinic and started the routine consultations, I noticed feeling really sleepy and finding it difficult to focus on what the patients were telling me. This was unusual, because I had slept well the previous night. In the evening, we had our regular group meditation session at the office, I was unable to concentrate and kept falling asleep.
This morning, my parents complained of gas too. It was too much of a coincidence. I sent a message to all my friends asking if they were experiencing the same thing too, and most of them replied saying “Yes, we haven’t been able to eat much, but we’re hogging food nevertheless and walking around gassing the place”. Not my words. Theirs.
Why is this happening?
Diwali is a time of feasting, unlike most other Indian festivals. You would have heard of the Narathri fast, Ramanavami fast, Gokulashtami fast, Vaikunta Ekadashi fast, Lent fast, Ramadan fast… Have you ever heard of the Diwali fast? My mentor, Dr. Shakthi Vijayan, says that feasting during Diwali was probably meant to be a preparation for the coming winter months.
You see, digestion isn’t easy. This is something most of us don’t think about on a daily basis – we plan extensively for our meals, gobble food up in a few minutes but never think about what happens to it once we swallow it. Our stomach, intestines and digestive organs have a LOT of work to do, to digest the food we eat correctly and completely.
Did you know there is a medical term for it?!
How do you feel after a heavy meal? Dull and sleepy? Or fresh and alert? The sleepiness even has a name in medical jargon – postprandial somnolence. The body requires a lot of energy to digest food, and when you’ve more than what your hunger demands, it draws energy away from other functions to concentrate on cooking.
A few days back, weather suddenly changed here in Bangalore. A straw mat and bed spread are no longer enough to sleep comfortably. We have been waking up shivering at night and putting on three more layers of bed sheets to cover ourselves, and shivering inside. Our sweaters have all come out of the cupboards, with all the paraphernalia of socks, gloves and caps being sported – a winter parade!
Just read this part if you are in a hurry:
In cold weather, a lot of the body’s energy goes towards keeping the metabolism up. Your appetite reduces. You’ll find yourself unable to eat as much as you did in the summer months. If you eat more than what your hunger demands, you’ll feel sleepy because your body is forced to put your digestive system into overdrive, compromising other functions. You’ll also end up with gas formation because your stomach and intestines are overloaded. You’ll also tend to feel hungry sooner after a meal, but unable to eat much. This is false hunger, not true hunger.
This is usually a slow, gradual process and take a few weeks as the weather gradually shifts into winter, but because of the sudden cold weather this time, we’re able to sense these changes immediately.
What do we do?
The answer’s simple – increase the amount of natural, easy-to-digest foods – fruits and nuts. Reduce the amount of animal foods, hard-to-digest foods and processed foods proportionately – packaged foods, meat, eggs, milk, cereals and pulses.
Another important thing to do is encourage your body to keep up internal heat, by taking a cold water bath in the morning and exercising daily.
While many people around us are shivering in spite of wearing sweaters, those of us on a raw diet, exercising and taking cold baths, are walking around wearing thin shirts, because our bodies are hot! 😀
Check out ten yummy healing recipes for Deepavali without oil, refined flours, sugar, milk, ghee or butter:
Today is Rama Navami, the ninth day and the culmination of the nine-day Festival of Spring celebrations of Shri Rama’s birth in India.
My grandfather, Dr. P Desikan, a scholar who has taught me most of what I know about the Hindu Dharma, spoke to me about Rama Navami today. Here are a few gems from the conversation that I learnt:
Traditionally, you are encouraged to read Rama Charitha Manas or a version of the Ramayana during the nine days leading up to Rama Navami. I have been fascinated each time I read them. The Ramayana has 24,000 slokas. “I have counted them.”, thatha says. “It takes thirty hours to just read the original script itself. Imagine writing that, at a time when it would have been nearly impossible to do that! Writing on a dried palm leaf with a sharp nail. Phew!”
Sri Rama: Divine or Human? Or perhaps both?
Valmiki has described Rama as the Utthama Purusha, the perfect being, of his time. He fully followed the Dharma of his time. Only God can very carefully avoid being, well, not mistaken for God. That is why he did not show himself to the people. But when Sages Vyasa and Tulsidas wrote the Adhyathma Ramayan and the Rama Charitha Manas, they decided, ‘No, this is too much! He is God, he knows what he was doing.’
Well, the specialty of Rama Charitha Manas and Adhyathma Ramayana is that, in this version of the Ramayana, Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and others are portrayed as beings who have taken a birth on Earth and lead their lives fully as fully enlightened beings, being aware of what is going to happen next and therefore planning every action in advance. He also says that these two versions are written having been narrated by Lord Shiva to Mother Parvathi. Whereas, in other version, they are portrayed as normal people, who go through life full of difficulties, react to situations with surprise, etc. (Dr. P Desikan has previously written a detailed article about it, entitled Rama Rama, Siva Siva.)
Dasharatha gets his name from his ability to drive his chariot in all the ten directions. Just like him, you can also drive your chariot, namely your body, in different directions using the ten Indriyas – five Jnanendriyas and the five Karmendriyas. But you cannot achieve peace, unless you are able to get the Satputhras that he had. Whether you have sons or not, what needs to be born in your life is Sathyam, Dharmam, Premam and Shanthi.
Asthi sada, Sathyam. Sath yasya bhaavaha, Sathyam. All that which is good, is Rama.
Bharatha is a synonym for Dharma. He always knew what was the right thing to do. Sometimes, he fought for it, and at other times, he bowed down before Sathyam.
Lakshmana is Prema. He is full of Bhakthi for Sathyam. He worshiped Rama as a God.
Beyond all of these, there is saintly, detached character, Shathrughna. Shathrugno Nithya Shatrughnaha. Shathrughna is called so because he had totally conquered all the six Nithya Shatrus – Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, Matsarya. Desire, Anger, Greed, Delusion, Arrogance and Jealousy. He is Shanthi.
How Will Your Ramayana Unravel?
In your travels in life, when you find the divine foursome, your Ramayana is over. Not otherwise. Otherwise, Ravana will come and kidnap some possession of yours. You will have to settle scores between brothers. Vibheeshana and Kumbhakarna and Vali and Sugreeva and many other characters will become a part of your life!
Dasharatha had the tremendous good luck of having these four illustrious sons, but also the bad luck of parting with them. But his story was completed only by them, not before that. Search for Sathyam, Dharmam, Premam and Shanthi in your life, in your mind to complete your Ramayana. 🙂
Panaka and Neer Mor
On another note, Rama Navami is famous for Panagam and Neer Mor. Panagam, or panaka, is a simple dish made from jaggery dissolved in water, spiced with elaichi and ginger, sometimes pepper. Neer Mor or Buttermilk can be made from any nut mylk, like our coconut milk thambulli.
The real significance goes beyond these two signature Rama Navami dishes – Rama Navami is a day of fasting, and you are allowed to drink only these two drinks. In some places and cultures, Panakam is the only drink allowed.
Fasting is one of the best, and most important, therapies in Naturopathy. Scientific research has backed the claims the Vedas have made on fasting, even finding out that fasting influences your genes themselves to lengthen your lifespan! Fasting is an integral part of each and every religion that exists. There is no religion without fasting. Think about it.
In a Nutshell
From a very practical point of view, Rama Navami is a beautiful festival designed by our sages to help us instill the virtues of Lord Rama in our own minds, and strive to become the Utthama Purusha, or Perfect Being, that he was, and at the same time, undergo a fast that will keep us healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally, and also protect the farmers who harvest the sugarcane crop at this time of the year by prescribing Panakam, a jaggery drink, to be taken while fasting. Beautiful, isn’t it?
Wish you a virtuous Rama Navami. May the Almighty Force bless you and your family with good health, long life, enough wealth, peace and wisdom.
Whole Food Plant Based Rama Navami Recipes