India is a country with a rich historical and cultural background of festivals and celebration. Like other festivals of India, Navaratri also has a significance and meaning attached to it. The nine day sadhana of Navaratri is not simply an age-old practice of worshipping the cosmic nature but also the rituals, practices and celebrations associated with it has the disciplines of health wisely interwoven into it. Every year the beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence as the whole of Creation goes through a kind of transformation with each changing season. These are called ritu sandhis meaning seasonal junctions(Transition from extreme seasons of summer and winter to more moderate seasons like spring and autumn). Due to the changes in the nature, the bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change. These two periods or junctions are taken as opportunities for detoxification of body, mind and soul which in turn helps to maintain our physical and mental balance.
The beginning of autumn is celebrated as the festival of Navaratri, the nine day period which commences on the first day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin. "Nava-ratri" literally means "nine nights."The Navaratri festival is observed by cleansing one's self of all the impurities to experience the Divinity within. This observance is called upvaas, which literally means ‘residing close to oneself’.Fasting is one of the techniques which is part of upvas. Navaratri is the time when people fast for cleansing, detoxifying and getting their bodies rested. Fasts are a means of internal cleansing, physically and spiritually. The basic cause of many diseases is the accumulation of toxic materials in the digestive system.
When one fasts, the load on the digestive system reduces and meanwhile the body is able to carry out the cleansing needed in the system. It supports in adapting to the bodily changes during ritu sandhi. Fasting also helps to build up self-control and discipline and bring more awareness & control over senses which ultimately elevate the state of consciousness.
The world is a manifestation of three Gunas(qualities) namely Satva, Rajas and Tamas. These three qualities exist in varying levels within one's mind.-Satva is the quality comprising of clarity, purity and peace of mind which makes one dynamic, creative and harmonious.
-Rajas is activity or movement which in excess results in pleasure seeking activities, anger, arrogance and destructiveness.
-Tamas is inertia which in excess leads one to dullness & lethargy.
We contain all of these gunas in varying degrees and they are in constant interplay with each other. Excessive rajas and tamas has a disturbing influence upon the mind and does not allow one to go deep within oneself.So during Navaratri, the aim is to reduce these disturbing influences and increase sattva, allowing the sattvic qualities to prevail leading to the highest condition of the mind.On the first three days of Navaratri, Tamo guna prevails, then during the next three days, Rajo guna prevails and during the last three days, Satva guna prevails.
Diet & lifestyle has a deep influence on the state of one's mind and can therefore manipulate the levels of satva, rajas and tamas in one’s being. Fasting in a disciplined way brings harmony between Satva, Rajas and Tamas.
How to fast during Navaratri:
On the First three days, we can follow a fruit fast: Sweet fruits like: Apple, Banana, Chikku, Papaya, Watermelon, Sweet grapes and Juices like Amla juice, Lauki juice and tender Coconut water can be had.
On the Next three days, we can have a one time meal of the traditional Navaratri diet & during the rest of the day, we could have fruit juices, buttermilk & milk. During the last three days, we could follow a traditional Navaratri diet.
Caution: The above diet is for a healthy person. If you have any health concerns, you could fast with minor changes in the prescribed diet, with the guidance of your vaidya.
Traditional Navaratri diet :The diets followed during Navaratri are pitta pacifying as during this season there is a possibility of pitta being increased in the body.Grains are avoided for the first few days.
- Traditionally prescribed foods are: Kuttu(buckwheat) roti and fasting rice (shiamak rice).· Dosa from the shamak rice, Dishes made of sago (sabudana), singhara atta (water chestnut flour), rajgira, potatoes, yam(suran), colocasia (arbi) sweet potatoes (shakarkand), kachalu etc.
- Use ghee, milk and buttermilk. All these are cooling and pacifies pitta(raita of bottle gourd(lauki), raita of pumpkin (kaddu).
- Drink lot of fluids like tender coconut water, juices, vegetable soups, etc. Besides providing energy, they also maintain the fluid levels and cleanse the toxins in your body.
- Fruit chat made with papaya, pear(nashpati), apple.
- Use Sandhav namak (rock salt) instead of common salt, for cooking.
- Avoid fried foods (Replace fried potato with boiled potato).
- Use healthy cooking methods like roasting, boiling, steaming and grilling.
- Delicacies like sabudana vada, sprouted gram sandals, kuttu pakora, Singhara burfee and Kheer can be had from the 8th day onwards.
- Be strictly vegetarian.
- Avoid onion and garlic. Those who cannot go for a fast can do upvas by abstaining from non-vegetarian food, alcohol, onion, garlic, too spicy food, and replacing common salt with rock salt.
Navaratri is celebrated with a wide variety of special dishes, with each region having its own specialty!