As Tamilians, Deepavali began as an early morning festival for my family. I remember how, as a kid, I would be woken upas early as 4am to take a bath, and I would eagerly look forward to the many fried sweets and savoury dishes prepared by my mother. But before diving into a day full of heavy eating, it remains a tradition to eat the ‘Deepavali Marundu’, or the Deepavali medicine.
The food that we eat during the many festivals that we celebrate in India have a strong rationale behind them. Festivals are in sync with the climate cycle, and our bodies’ internal environment changes along with the weather. Which is why, the celebratory dishes and foods of these festivals are often locked in with a touch of wellness. Either they are based on what our body can take during that season, or have medicine built into them.
The food we eat on these days also aims to balance the Doshas present in our body. There are three types of bio-elements or Doshas present in our body according to Ayurveda – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata refers to movement, and is dry, cold, light and minute in nature. Pitta is characterised by heat, moistness, liquidity, and sharpness and sourness, and is a marker of metabolism. Kapha is responsible for anabolism, and is characterised by heaviness, coldness, tenderness, softness, slowness, lubrication.It is interesting to see how our festival diet is aimed to keep them in a balance.
Here is a quick look at a few Indian festivals and the food we eat on those days.
Gudi Padwa or Ugadi
The springtime festival marks the beginning of the traditional New Year for Marathis, Konkanis and Telugus. This festival falls between mid-March and mid-April, which is Vasanta (Spring), the Kapha doshais increased and should be balanced in the body. That explains why a mixture of neem and jaggery is had during this festival. It acts like a medicine to balance out the Kapha in our body. While Neem is bitter, astringent in taste, and cooling in thermal property, and therefore helps in reducing Kapha in this weather, Jaggery is sweet and mildly astringent, which increases Kapha, but it is not very cold in thermal property.
The festival of lights is celebrated during the season of Sharad (Autumn). During this time, Pitta is high in our body, therefore, sweets made in ghee are advisable. But it is the ‘Marundu’ – the Tamil word for ‘medicine’ – which has wellness locked into it. Made from spices like ajwain, pippali, dry ginger, pepper, coriander and jeera, it also has palm jaggery and honey in it. It improves digestion as well as cools the body down.
Celebrated in mid-January, which is the season of Shishira (Late winter), the harvest festival of Pongal in Tamil Nadu corresponds with Makara Sankranti celebrated in other parts of the country. During this time, the sun is changing directions, hence digestion is a bit unpredictable. This explains why spices like clove, jeera, pepper are used in moderation with rice and moong dal, which is the easiest food on digestion. Milk is added in the preparation as well as jaggery which is suitable for the season.
On this day, the birth of Lord Rama is celebrated in homes across India. Celebrated in the latter part of Vasanta (Spring) when the temperatures begin to soar. To cool the body down, many South Indian homes make Panagam and Neer Mor. Panagam is a sweet and watery drink made with cardamom, jaggery and lemon. It is cooling for the body and easy to digest. Neer mor is made out of buttermilk, made with churned curd and removing the butter, asafoetida, curry leaves, mustard and ghee. Neer mor also cools the body down. The rest of India makes something similar called Chaas.
Over the years, we have significantly changed the way we celebrate our festivals. We do not light fireworks for Deepavali like we used to, and most of the sweets are now store-bought and not homemade. While some of these changes are good, we should try to retain some old practices. Ask elders in your family about the festival foods of the olden days, get the original recipes, buy organic food products and try to make them yourself. Share some of your favourite traditional festive recipes in the comments below.
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