There is a whole philosophy behind the concept of fasting. It is not just about self-restraint, as a means to impose discipline on oneself in matters of observance of a ritual. Nor is it only about overhauling one’s body and mind—-a sort of periodic maintenance shut-down to enable the body to rid itself of all the toxins that we have been collecting over a period of time from the dining table. In fact, it is all of these and much much more.
In the good old days, my grandmother used to observe the ‘Ekadasi’ ( 11th phase from the new moon) fast strictly without a morsel of food or water inside her. It was tough on her, as she had to continue performing her usual duties of cooking and serving a large joint family while her body craved for food. It was a testing time for other members of the family too, for my grandmother was not exactly a picture of patience and contenment on such days. As the day wore on, her hunger peaked along with anger and found expression in the form of a stream of choice expletives directed towards others if they happened to rub her on the wrong side. Since others could not dissuade her from her mission’ of fasting, they could only take care to keep out of her way. Well, at the end of the day, she went to bed hungry and angry. On a normal non-fasting day, she would have immersed herself in chants and prayers to God. Ironically, on ‘Ekadasi’, she hardly rememered Him in whose name the entire exercise was undertaken.
With the passing away of her generation, the idea of fasting took on a new dimension during my mother’s time. It assumed the status of ‘Phal Ahar’ or fruit diet. Seasonal fruits and fruit-juices were brought to the table and consumed to fulfill the vow of fasting. It definitely helped keep hunger pangs at bay, besides promoting health and happiness. Sometimes, when an entire family observed this mode of fasting it paved the way for amity and bonhomie amongst members. It was, at best a middle path adopted by people who wanted to be off cooked food now and then without undergoing the rigours of stringent fasting.
By the time our generation came on the picture, even the practice of ‘Phal Ahaar’ got considerably diluted , with the introduction of light tiffin varieties like idlis, poha etc., and other snacks. It is permissible, people told themselves, as it is not heavy like rice or chapattis. Other violations also happened side by side. Generally, those who avoided onion and garlic (being tamasic food) helped themselves only to the gravy that might contain such pieces. After all, they didnt directly consume such foods which seemed quite okay for them. No doubt, it is a tendency of the human mind to engage in self-deception and find excuses in order to justify its actions.
Be that as it may, this takes us back to the original question. Actually, what is this fasting all about? For whose sake is it undertaken? What was the original intent and resolve behind this very idea that was envisaged by our elders? Well, this is where science has an important role to play.
Enter now the era of ‘health vacation’ where fasting is both an art and a science, besides being a grand commercial venture for those who have showcased it for the benefit of a growing stressed-out population. The why and how of fasting is right here to silence all critics and cynics alike. From a compulsive ritual it has now become a pleasurable activity no matter even if it costs you a bomb. And why not? When there is a sound scientific evidence for an age-old theory, who can resist it ?No wonder you have here a ‘hot’ proposition or a ‘cool’ idea depending on which age-group is going for it as it has opened up for both the old and the young.
Like all other age-old traditions that have come back through the back door in an upgraded version with many variations, for example yoga, fasting is also back. But it is only in a health farm or spa, you learn about scientific fasting and to do it right by understanding the difference between fasting and starving . Fasting in these spots would mean intermittent fasting along with a diet regimen comprising organic food and juices, massages, colon therapy, yoga-kriyas and pranayama. All of these combine to form a sound health package which one would like to gift oneself these days. Those who have benefited from this reportedly find the advantages immeasurable. Better physical health, greater mental clarity,enhanced energy levels and self-esteem, relief from psychological blocks and stuffy thought patterns are just a few of them. One significant fallout, they say, has been heightened spiritual awareness as the body sheds its tamasic influences wrought by modern-day stress and wrong eating habits.
Call that ‘old wine in a new bottle’ if you will, but present-day fasting has proved itself to be a re-discovery and re-modelling of ancient wisdom for modern times.
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