I was asked - what can we do to acclimatise to the changing seasons? It inspired me to share what I do during a special period called Navrātri.
Navrātri means nine nights and is a period which occurs at least twice in a year; when winter transitions to summer (Spring Navrātri) and when summer transitions to winter (Autumn Navrātri). The dates are not fixed as they rely on the lunar cycle.
The Spring Navrātri is called the Vasanta/Chaitra Navarātra and occurs in the lunar month of Caitra (March-April) and starts on the 1st day of the bright fortnight and ends on or after the 9th night. The autumn Navrātri , called Sarvan Navarātra, occurs in the lunar month of Aasvina (Sept-Oct). It starts on the 1st day of the bright fortnight and ends on or after the 9th night.
Tremendous change occurs in nature during these transitioning periods. As we all know - from summer to winter, it gets colder, evenings and mornings are darker and the earth and plants begin their period of conservation. A period of abundance, growth gives way to a period of hibernation and restoration. Nature starts to wrap itself to bed.
From winter to Summer; the days become longer and warmer, nature begins its dance again with birds proudly singing their dawn chorus and plants breaking through the inertia of the winter months' malaise. Hibernation makes way for abundance.
These transitions in the seasons are said to be at their peak during these 9 days and nights of Navratri and are celebrated throughout the sub-continent. It is a spiritually charged period and a time to replenish energies, recommit to Meditative practices and a wonderful time to give attention to the Body, Mind, Spirit matrix.
In fact, If there is no change in our habits to accommodate for the new season then it is no surprise that illness, colds and flu manifest during and soon after this period. Our inherent intelligence knows of the change occurring in the fabric of nature but our senses hold onto the habits that got us through the last season. We need to attune and adapt to this time of change.
I was introduced to Navrātri by my wife's family in or around 1997. Although my family celebrated Vijaydasaami (also known as Dussehra), the day after the Navrārti period, the celebrations through out the Navrārti period were new to me. My in-laws would commit to a Vrat (a fast) and eat one sattvic meal (a gentle balanced meal designed to promote stillness) a day and recite an esoteric hymn called the “Durga Saptashati, otherwise called the Devi Mahātmyam” the "700 verses to the divine female force in the form of Durga- a hymn to the divine female force". This is common to those from the hills of Garhwal, a region of India lying on the footsteps to the Himalayas.
Other parts of India celebrate this period in their own unique way. For example, in Bengal elaborate rituals are invoked to different facets of the female energy and in Gujarat region, it is celebrated by dressing up and dancing throughout the night using sticks. This dance is called Navrātri Gharba.
For whatever reason, I followed the example of my in-laws and started to discipline my diet for these 9 days. I allowed myself one meal a day but drinking significant amounts of fluid. I have now been doing this practice since 1997 and for at least one Navrātri period a year. In this time I have experimented with the practice and developed a routine designed to detoxify myself and in the process have a glimpse into what makes this period so special.
The Navrātri period is infused with change. The attribute of this change, the latency of the change, the causal connection through which change occurs is a power, a force, an energy known as Shakti. The literal translation of Shakti is power, force or energy. Shakti has vibrancy but also possesses a nurturing quality and is thus regarded as feminine in nature. In India, Shakti is commonly embodied as a female divinity. By attuning into this change we gain a glimpse into this nurturing force, to its latent power and to its vibrancy.
During these nine days and nights, I give myself a mental and physical break. I juice throughout the day using in particular, organic seasonal green vegetables, eat nuts and eat one meal consisting of Kichadi using a recipe made up of split green mung lentils boiled with rice and seasonal vegetables, all gently spiced. If I do a lot of breathing (pranayāma) practices then I also allow myself to have a glass of milk with ghee and honey. The diet is vegetarian, simple and gives my digestive tract a well-deserved break from its previous season's excess. I recommit to my morning and evening meditative practices and pay emphasis to being gentle, forgiving and understanding with myself - like a nurturing, loving mother.
I recommit to my practice with increased vigour and light a ghee lamp for the whole period of Navrātri. The ghee lamp reminds me of the light of my own intelligence and its unwavering nature. I actively become conscious to what is happening in nature, which includes simply observing shrubs, flowers, birds, the clouds, the blueness of the sky and so on. Nature is singing a hymn giving praise to this power effecting change which restores, nourishes and shares its abundance. It is a hymn whose rhythm is captured in the Durga Sapthasathi.
Navrātri is characterised by the benign force of change which is at its peak during this period. By moderating habits that may promote dullness in the mind and promoting habits that heighten the sense of awarenes, then one opens the door into this female force. Meditative experiences also deepen, which in turn helps one to become even more present to what is happening within and around. And so the cycle develops and perpetuates itself.
And to be clear, if we do not eat anything then the mind is only aware of the ensuing hunger pangs, so this is not advised.
The Durga Saptashati is an esoteric text multi layered with meaning. It is dedicated to this feminine force of nurturance. I now understand the tradition of reading this text during the Navrātri period. It reminds me and allows me to attune to this force of change, to Mother Nature who is characterised by generosity and benevolence. This can be seen all around. Her inherent characteristic is benevolence; clouds provide rain, rain feeds and thus give to the earth, the earth gives abundance by way of fruits and vegetables which in turn sacrifice themselves and give to animals and humans. This generosity of Nature perpetuates the cycle of life and this force is most active during the changing season.
Navrātri is a great time to give the physical body a break and allow the body, mind and spirit to align and to rejuvenate. Commit to a Meditative practice during this period and become aware of what is happening around; to the leaves, the changing colours of nature, how plants cease their external growth or begin to break through and bud, to animals changing habits, to the skies, the wind and to your own energies.
Following a practice during this period gives an insight into the practical applications of Ayurveda, Tantra, Yoga and develops intuition. It allows one to be in touch to the esoteric healing force. It’s a profound period. Benevolence, nurturance, love is the sustenance for life and its characteristic is that of a mother, hence nature is the Divine Mother.
I repeat an abridged translated verse from my favourite portion of the Durga Saptashati.
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as wisdom, I welcome and give homage and respect,
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as abundance, I welcome and give homage and respect,
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as strength, I welcome and give homage and respect,
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as faith, I welcome and give homage and respect,
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as compassion, I welcome and give homage and respect,
To that divine feminine force that manifests itself as peace, I welcome and give homage and respect,
Peace, Peace, Peace
In the autumn of 2015, Navrātri begins on the 13 October and continues until the 22 October 2015.
Kichadi recipes is available on www.malvernbhavan.com.
Kichadi recipe for Navrātri
My staple dish throughout the Navrātri period is Kitchadi. Kichadi forms the core of Ayurvedic nutritional healing as the food is easily digested and also draws out impurities from the body.
As a child, I recall my grandmother would always make either a dish called sondh (a sabzi made up of ginger) or what I now know to be Kichadi. The sondh recipe I use is a panacea for cold or flu but Kichadi is an all-round gentle dish ideal for promoting healing and to help with any detoxification programme.
Rice and Daal slowly cooked together with gentle spices forms the basic kitchadi dish. The range of spices used differ depending on the desired result. You can have kichadis, for example, that improves digestion, lung function, liver function, those that cool and so on. This Kichadi recipe is designed to aid digestion.
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds 2 teaspoons ghee or sunflower oil