Coming to festivals, our culture promotes fasting in order to welcome them. Fasting has always been a fascinating subject…and also the most interesting topic of discussion because it has many different variations in different religions. Whatever be the following, fasting essentially means abstaining from solid food, with some liquids being permitted by certain sections.
The practice of fasting certainly calls for will power. It is looked upon as a method of purification and as a means of freeing the mind. Some Tibetan Buddhist monks fast to aid yogic feats, like generating inner heat. Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Two small meals and one regular meal are allowed. Catholics abstain from meat on all Fridays in Lent. For many centuries, Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on all Fridays, but since the mid-1960s, abstaining from meat on Fridays outside of Lent has been a matter of local discretion. The Lenten fast prepares the soul for a great feast by practicing austerity. The Good Friday fast commemorates the day Christ suffered.
In Hindus, fasting is commonly practiced on New Moon days and during festivals such as Shivratri, Saraswati Puja, Janmashtami, Vat Savitri and Navratri. Women in North India also fast on the day of Karva Chauth and women in Maharashtra fast on Hartalika, which is observed just before Ganesh Chaturthi.
The mode of fasting depends on the individual. Fasting may involve twenty four hours of complete abstinence from any food or drink, but is more often an elimination of solid foods, with an occasional drink of milk or water. Hindus look upon fasting as a way to enhance concentration during meditation or worship, facilitate purification for the system and sometimes, fasting is considered a sacrifice.
For followers of Islam, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a mandatory fasting period that commemorates the period when the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Various Muslim customs recommend days and periods of fasting in addition to Ramadan.
The Jain festival of Paryushan and fasting is probably the most intense. Jain festivals can mainly be divided into five categories but most are the periodical ones like poshadha (days of fasting and confinement) and ayambil oli, the days which fall twice in a year. During these days people who observe ayambil eat food, which is devoid of butter, salt, sugar etc, and eat a strict Jain diet prescribed for these days. Paryushan are the days of religious activities. During these days Jains observe fasts or take some vows. They voluntarily impose some regulations and hardships on themselves to keep their minds firmly fixed on religion. People go to temples, worship Tirthankaras, hear the religious discourses and do Samayika and/or Pratikraman. The essence of Jain philosophy lies in the removal of all karmas and attaining nirvana at the end.
As regards fasting one can do ‘semi-fast’, whole day’s fast or go without food for a longer period. In semi fast one can eat one meal or two meals a day. This may not sound much but one has to remember that except for this (one or two meals) he (she) may not consume anything and is allowed to drink boiled water only. The food is to be consumed after sunrise and before sunset only. Restrictions as regards drinking boiled water has to be observed in all types of fasting, at all times. In whole day’s fast one naturally does not eat anything for a whole day. No drink other then boiled water is allowed. Some devout Jains go without food for two days (chhath), for three days (attham), eight days (atthai) or a longer time – even a whole month (mas-khaman). This is very difficult but the whole body system gets rid of all toxins and makes the person mentally and physically more pure and ultimately more strong. People usually do parna (finish their fast and start taking normal food and drink) after the Paryushan festival.
Among the non Jains too during the fasting period, people make various dishes which follow the strictures laid down as to what kind of foods can be consumed and what not. The food taken during mid-day consists of non-cereal preparations made without using onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric powder. Instead ingredients such as cumin seeds, rock salt and chillies are used. Puris are made using kootoo ka atta or rajgire ka atta. The sweets can be of milk without the use of lentils.
As there is so much to fasting, there is bound to be much more to the feasting part. In fact, the feast after the fast is what makes every festival anywhere in India so special. Delicacies that are essentially traditional recipes make their mark and due to time constraints I will have to take on the ‘feasting’ some other time!
Right now, let us look at some simple dishes that can be made on a lazy Sunday…
Grilled Salt and Pepper Tofu
Till I write again