Along with the beloved monsoon season comes the season of festivals in India.These festivities are associated with colour, fun and scrumptious food. But something that almost always precedes these festive celebrations are periods of abstinence from some of our favourite foods and drinks...... something we all know better as a "FAST".The practice of fasting has been passed on from one generation to the next as a form of penance to "PLEASE THE GODS" and get your wishes fulfilled at the earliest!!! But I am sure, most of us might be oblivious to the fact that there is a very sound scientific ground on which these practices are based.
Different religions have different practices, but almost all do follow fasting in some form or the other. So, here I would like to throw some light on the science behind some of the fasting practices....
1. CHATURMASA : Chaturmasa is an auspicious four-month period in the Hindu calendar.The Hindu months of Shravan, Bhadrapad, Ashvin And Kartik fall under this period. Mythologically, it is believed that this is the time when Lord Vishnu rests. It is characterized by specific food restrictions during each month.
a. Shakavrata : During this period, most vegetables, green leafy vegetables, fruits, chillies(all kinds), coconut and even mustard are restricted.The science behind this practice states that at the beginning of monsoon, the earth is heated up due to the preceding summer season.The rain water dissipates the heat, which then forms a very good medium for the growth of various kinds of bacteria and fungi which infect the plants and fruits that grow during this period.Furthermore, most insects which dwell in the ground, like bugs,earthworms,etc. come out after rains and feed on these fruits & vegetables.As per ancient Indian medicine(AYURVEDA) the fruits and vegetables consumed during this period cause hyper acidity due to excessive heat absorbed through the earth during growth.
b. Dadhivrata : During this month, use of curds in any form is restricted. Scientifically, this is the breeding period for cattle.Hence the quality of milk available during this time is not suitable for forming curds.Also, over-fermentation may cause the curds to become sour.
c. Ksheeravrata : There is restriction of milk consumption during this period.It is observed that during this period, most of the cattle have conceived and it would only be justified not to consume the milk which is necessary for the nourishment of the offspring. The fat content in this milk is also higher, which is not good for consumption.
d. Dwidalavrata : Dwidala refers to any seed or vegetables which split into two halves when broken. Eg : dals, green peas, tamarind,etc. Also fruits that contain multiple seeds are avoided. The reason for avoiding these foods might be the fact that the crop of these dals and vegetables is just fresh after the monsoon and requires some time to be harvested and stored prior to their consumption.
Hence, it is evident from these facts that there is a very good reason why our ancestors used to follow these traditions.This four month long fast is observed by most Brahmans in south India.
2. SHRAVAN : Many communities among Hindus also follow the abstinence from consuming non vegetarian food during the month of shravan. The reason for this might be , that the seas are very rough during this season and hence it is next to impossible to procure seafood.It is also breeding season for most species during this month.Hence, the fast restricting the consumption of these foods.
3. ROZA(RAMADAN) : Roza is the month long fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of RAMADAN. During this month, Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking or performing any acts of self-indulgence during the period of the day from dawn to dusk. It is believed to help one achieve a lot of control over one's desires and passions. As it involves abstaining from one's bodily pleasures, it helps to attain more spirituality. It helps one experience the state in which the poor and needy live, thereby promoting the sense of caring and sharing with the lower strata of society. In addition to fasting, followers are expected to maintain purity of thoughts, words and good behaviour, without which the fast is considered incomplete.The aim is to gain self control and propagate human values through one's behaviour and service.
4. PARYUSHANA : Paryushana is the spiritual festival celebrated by the Jain community. This festival also falls during the Chaturmasa period.The word Paryushana means "coming closer" or "coming together". This festival is celebrated for 8 days by the Swetambara sect, who call it Paryushana. On the other hand, it is celebrated for 10 days by the Digambara sect, who call it Das-Lakshan. Fasting, Meditation and Asking for forgiveness( by uttering "Micchami Dukkadam" or "Uttama Kshama") are the three main practices followed in this period. Digambaras do not take food or boiled water more than once in a day during this period.Swetambaras on the other hand consume only boiled water througout the fasting period, which is consumed only after sunrise and before sunset.
POSITIVE EFFECTS OF FASTING :
1. It helps burn the stored fat in the body to make up for the inadequate calories consumed. This in turn translates into weight loss.
2. It improves insulin sensitivity in the body.
3. It speeds up metabolism & regulates digestion.
4. It improves hunger and regulates the hormones associated with it.
5. It improves eating patterns.
6. It improves the immune system by reducing free radical damage
7. Most important of all, it helps in maintaining self control over ones mind.
To conclude, its not such a bad idea to go on a fast once in a while. Although do keep your state of health in mind before trying it....HAPPY FASTING!!!!!!