By Naini Setalvad
No other community is as conscientious about the food they eat as the Jains. Naini Setalvad outlines the health, ecological and spiritual benefits of following this highly sattvic regimen
Jainism, a highly evolved philosophy and a very gentle religion, dates back to the 6th century B.C. It is also known for its very selective eating which is considered quite austere by non-Jains. But contrary to popular opinion, Jains eat according to nature’s cycle. Even though not a Jain by birth, I resonate with its amazing ideals and practise them as much as I can. The principle of non-violence (ahimsa) is one of Jainism’s core philosophies. Every action that directly or indirectly supports injury or killing is seen as violence (himsa), which creates harmful karma. The main aim of ahimsa is to prevent the growth of such karma. This philosophy influenced Mahatma Gandhi, and helped him to envision his non-violent stance that has so powerfully influenced the world, including reformists like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
In keeping with their philosophy, Jains are pure vegetarians. And the extent to which this lifestyle is practised ensures the realisation of their ultimate goal which is liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. If one studies the principles of food in Jain philosophy, one will understand how much it contributes to preserving the environment. Eating the Jain way makes you eat organic, regional and seasonal foods which promote a sattvic (evolved) diet, automatically encouraging a calm and peaceful state of being. A lot of their principles are derived from Hinduism which believes that sattvic eating is essential to keep the mind clean and calm. These principles are important as they are a source of physical, mental and spiritual energy. It’s amazing that whole religious communities like Hinduism and Jainism, have rejected tamasic (gross) and rajasic (violent) foods because they are said to promote lethargy and anger.
What we eat not only affects our body but also our nature and behaviour. Jaisa aahar vaisa vichaar (your food determines you thoughts) is a mantra that is eternally true.
The Jain ideology is very simple and worth following: To eat after sunrise and before sunset because there is a deep-founded connection between the sun and our digestive system. According to it, the digestive system becomes slow and weak at night, and therefore cannot effectively digest, or assimilate the food ingested after sunset.
Since ancient times, fasting once a week or periodically, was a common practice encouraged in both Hinduism and Jainism. Astrological research has discovered that full moon days have a direct impact on the human body as it is 70 per cent water. Fasting helps the water balance, indirectly impacting the mental state of humans. It’s interesting to note that a lot of studies have pointed out that a number of crimes have been committed on full moon nights and plenty of people have tremendous mood swings on no-moon and full-moon nights. Added benefits of fasting are that it gives the digestive system a much-needed break. Fasting only on water is the most beneficial.
Consumption of food which has been stored overnight is discouraged as this food possesses a higher concentration of micro-organisms. Non-vegetarian food, onion and garlic are also shunned as they produce heat in the body, agitate the system, and increase sexual desire.
Roots like potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, radish, ginger, yams and sweet potatoes or leaves such as spinach are not consumed because of their belief in non-violence and the desire to preserve the ecological balance. When a root is pulled out from the soil, lots of tiny life forms are destroyed, plus a potato stored over a long period sprouts, indicating the presence of life in it and eating it is tantamount to consuming a living being. For the same reason Jains do not sprout pulses, grains, seeds, or nuts. Fermented foods too are not eaten since they aim to avoid killing a large number of microorganisms associated with the fermenting process. Therefore, curd is made just a few hours before consumption in order to restrict the number of life forms being destroyed. The same policy is followed for fermented batters of idli, dosa, and dhokla.
During the four months of chaumasa (chaturmas; the rainy season), they abjure vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens like spinach, fenugreek, and coriander, as they grow close to the soil, and could be prey to insects and worms emerging from the soil. Mushrooms, fungus and yeasts too are avoided because they are parasites, growing in unhygienic environments and may be harbouring other life forms. This principle is also followed in Hinduism and health practitioners around the world are realising its importance.
What, you may wonder, do Jains eat? They eat lots of vegetables which includes raw banana, lady finger, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, pointed gourd, ridge gourd, snake gourd, drumsticks, broad beans, french beans, flat beans, cluster beans, water chestnuts, bell peppers, raw papaya, and cucumber, to name a few. All pulses, peas, grains, corn, nuts and seeds, and jaggery are also consumed. Cauliflower, cabbage and other leafy greens are also eaten once chaumasa is over. Innovative as they are, Jains adapt many recipes to their specifications and enjoy a rich and varied diet. They make an amazing pav bhaji despite the absence of onion, garlic, or potato. Talented gastronomes do the same with Mexican, Thai, or Punjabi food.
Most fruits are permissible though fresh and dry figs are not consumed because they have a huge amount of insects which you can’t see with the naked eye. Today figs do not have these insects because they are pumped with pesticides, which again makes them very harmful to consume.
Purists will not eat tomatoes and brinjals as they contain a lot of seeds. According to science these plants belong to the nightshade family. Seeds of such plants are high in nicotine which aggravates joint pains. Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old traditional Hindu system of medicine, claims the same and advocates eliminating them from daily food.
Honey too is not a part of their diet because the method of procuring it involves burning the beehive to drive away the bees, which is considered highly violent. Many Jain dietary principles can easily and naturally be assimilated into India’s culinary culture since it follows the laws of nature perfectly.
You are what you eat and eating is an art. Every bite must cleanse, nourish, and beautify you from inside and outside. In the Jain way of life, the principle of non-violence towards every living form is encouraged. This attitude is worth following as the food we eat directly affects our mental, physical and spiritual stability ultimately changing the destiny and direction of our life.
Ingredients for pattice
600 gm raw bananas
150 gm capsicum, finely chopped
150 gm french beans, finely chopped
1/2 tsp green chilli paste
1/2 cup coriander, chopped
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and lemon juice to taste
Ingredients for ragda
150 gm safed matar, raw (white peas),
150 gm tomato, finely chopped
1/4 tsp haldi (turmeric powder)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
1/4 tsp dhania-jeeru powder (jeera and coriander powder)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Method for pattice layer
o Boil the raw bananas, peel and mash them.
o Boil the french beans.
o Add extra virgin olive oil to a kadai (wok) and saute the capsicum. Add boiled French beans to it
o Mix the sauteed capsicum and french beans into the mashed banana to make a thick batter
o Add salt, green chilli paste, lemon and coriander
o Roll into balls, flatten and roast on a pan with a little oil
Method for Ragda
o Soak the dried peas for 6-8 hours
o Cook them in a pressure cooker for 20-25 minutes (about four whistles)
o In a wok, sauté the hing and chopped tomatoes using oil
o Add haldi, red chilli powder and salt
o Cook it for 7-8 minutes.
o Strain the excess water from the cooked peas and add it to the kadai (wok)
o Cook it for 5 minutes or till it is of a thick consistency.
Method for arranging
o Method for arranging
o Place the pattice in a broad plate
o Pour ragda over it.
o Spread both sweet chutney and green chutney over it
o Sprinkle some finely chopped tomatoes and corriander
o Serve hot.
About the author : Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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