This post was updated on January 16th, 2021
It was peak summer. Me & my wife hopped into the Mumbai Metro in Versova one evening. The girl in the opposite seat got out her small tiffin box even before the train started moving. It was filled with walnuts. She religiously finished it, right to the last walnut. Healthy evening snack? After we got down at Ghatkopar, we debated over this question while gobbling some boiled eggs at a street side vendor. She looked like a ‘vata’ or ‘vayu’ type as Charaka would say. Walnuts straight out from the box? Not for her. Even modern science limits you to a fistful of what it calls a superfood. Having so much of it in peak summer? Not good. Our discussion was interrupted by the vendor, “yellow nikal du?”. “No!” we both screamed in unison.
Setting Reminders For Seasonal Food
The way Sanatana dharma enforced discipline among its followers is a case study in itself. Modern science would educate you on what is good & what is bad & expect you to take decisions based on the knowledge. Take the case of cigarettes. After prolonged legal battles, smoking was finally proved to be bad for health. In spite of all the newspaper & TV coverage, smokers did not slow down. Cigarette packs were stamped with health warnings. It is mandatory to show ads on the ill effects of cigarettes in movie theaters & TV. Smoking was banned in public places. In terms of absolute number of cigarettes smoked, the number is still rising . Today, half the world’s population is connected to the Internet. There are 30 million blogs like these, filled with amazing information. You might know that processed food is bad. However, would you remember what to eat in which season? Nope! Not today, not 4000 years back. The learned seers created an amazing system. They linked some of the seasonal superfoods to festivals.
Makar Sankranti on 14th January is linked to sesame (til) & jaggery (gud). Both are ushna (hot) in nature and are superfoods in the winter season. Sesame not only moisturizes your skin in winters, it lubricates and protects tissues, something your high end moisturizing cream cannot achieve. Both til and gud balance vata and increases pitta and kapha. Similarly, Ganesh Puja (Vinayaka Chaturthi) is synonymous with modak, which balances the aggravated vata & pitta & increases kapha. Wherever there were none, festivals were specifically created with the food name. One such festival is the Amla Navami  It is unique among food-festival pairs as amla is one of the foods that can be eaten everyday according to Ayurveda. Reminding people to eat it during the Kartika month, when they can reap the highest benefits is the kind of perfection that Ayurveda is known for.
The curse of perennial farming
While driving in Gujarat, I could see long stretches of cauliflower farms. Well formed and large, they looked inviting. The only problem was that it was the peak of summer in May, with temperatures in the Surat belt hovering at 42 degrees. Cauliflowers mature last in March. 10 – 25 ºC is the optimum temperature for its cultivation. These cauliflowers in Gujarat were sweating it out in the hot sun. Off season farming is a costly affair. Pesticide use increases by 56% , increasing overall cost by 48%. The farmer makes a good profit for his efforts, but at a cost. The high concentration of pesticides takes a toll on his health, even killing him in some cases. He’s not literate like us, but he knows that the crop is unnatural. Nothing is kept back for consumption at home. The cauliflower travels all the way to Mumbai, which is where people willingly pay double the amount of other seasonal vegetables to buy it. The workaround? Cheap is healthy! Don’t buy any vegetable or fruit that costs more than Rs.100/kilo (As per the cost of living in Mumbai, 2018), eat chicken instead 🙂
The 6 seasons in Ayurveda
Ayurveda details out 6 distinct seasons in India; Shishira (winter), Vasanta (spring), Grishma (summer), Varsha (monsoon), Sharata (early autumn/fall), and Hemanta (late autumn/fall). Unfortunately, the ancient Indian lunisolar panchanga agrees with the current Gregorian calendar only on 2 counts; the number of months in a year and the number of days in a week. I did write in the beginning of this blog that Makara Sankranti falls on January 14th every year, but that is not the absolute truth and will hold good for a couple of centuries, before moving further to Jan 15th, 16th & so on. Lord Rama was born in January, but Rama Navami is celebrated in April in today’s age. Therefore, the dates listed here are not sacrosanct, but holds good for your lifetime (unless you are one of the immortal beings, in which case, I’m really flattered):
Grishma: 20th May to 19th July
Varsha: 20th July to 19th September
Sharata: 20th September to 19th November
Hemanta: 20th November to 19th January
Shishira: 20th January to 19th March
Vasanta: 20th March to 19th May
If you are finding it difficult to stick to the Ayurveda prescribed lifestyle, try to stay true to your routine atleast in the season when the chances of your dosha imbalance is the highest according to this chart:
The same goes for the tastes or rasas. If you can’t include all the six tastes in your diet all the time, atleast include the most important taste for the season.
The Charaka Samahita gives detailed descriptions of the climate during each season, right up to the direction of the winds. The winds should not be too much of a concern as we travel in AC cars and live in AC rooms, but are we stuck perpetually in the Shishira season? We also find details of the flora of each season (from which we we have derived what to eat during each season) and the mating season of animals & humans. Vasanta rutu is the mating season for humans, if that helps you in any way.
Food & The Modern Calendar