We, as a generation, have developed a default cynical attitude towards our traditions and practices. But, what we fail to understand is that reason is rooted deep into our scriptures. Before the scientific community calculated the accurate distance between the sun and earth, the Hanuman Chalisa had the exact number integrated into its verses two centuries in advance.
On the usage of silver in cutlery: Do you know why your aunts and grannies guard their Silver Dinnerware like a pirate does his plunder? And your uncles flash their silver-filled tooth so unabashedly? Silver has intrinsic germicidal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and fortifies your food. More than a sign of economic status, being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth is an indication of a well-nourished upbringing. In the days of yore, when pasteurization was nothing more than a word to be invented yet, silver coins were immersed in milk to prolong its shelf-life and preserve it.
On the concept of wishing wells: Ever wonder why is the practice of wishing in wells and rivers so common? It wasn’t just a clever ploy for priests to make a quick buck. Coins in ancient India were fashioned out of copper. And, wells and rivers were the main source of the town’s or villages daily water needs. Copper is a vital micro-nutrient in processes like RCB synthesis, enzyme activity and nervous well-being. It also considerably slows down ageing and mitigates the painful effects of arthritis. To ensure that the population of the village remained physically and mentally healthy, the Brahmins disguised the scientific reason under the guise of a superstition (Basically, Indians in a sentence!). The water in these rivers and wells was now enriched with copper and the greater good was achieved. Don’t go eating electrical copper wires now, that won’t help at all.
On making rangolis: The practice of drawing rangoli is common in urban India even now. Although, it is not just an ornamental design you draw outside your house. The primary objective may have been aesthetic but it doesn’t stop there. Rangoli used to be designed using coarse rice flour coloured with natural pigments, as opposed to the asthma-attack-causing death powder it is now. It was a pest-control ploy; a method to ensure that pests and birds remain occupied; don’t enter your house and are satisfied by the feast you lay out for them in the veranda. Other than this, early-morning rangoli designing promoted social and learning skills among women and created a cheerful atmosphere in the morning.
On the piercing of earlobes: Piercing the earlobes of a girl child is a common spectacle in India. More than defining our femininity, this practice has its roots in acupuncture. Piercings on the nose and earlobes has been known to bring spiritual calmness and serenity to the wearer. But beware against illogically placed piercings!
Toran or the floral buntings we use to decorate our door panes during Diwali and Dusshehra isn’t just a decoration. Tradition says the neem and mango leaves used in the toran have anti-bacterial properties. On days and occasions when the house is frequented by guests and people requesting alms, the torans provided a preventive effect against infections and viruses.
On the Indian eating practices: The sight of a person sprinkling water in a circular fashion around their plate of food thrice is a sight not unheard of. While some say it is a method of paying obeisance to deities and seeking blessings, it is also a way of preventing insects and pests from entering your plate. Indians are the poster people for consumption of food using fingers. This is because it helps us judge the temperature of the morsel and rules out the possibility of an ulcer or a scalded tongue. Sitting on the floor and eating rather than a dining table is recommended because the repeated bending of the spine improves blood circulation and digestion and prevents the morsel falling onto your clothes.
On the vilification of Ghee: Ghee isn’t the moustache-twirling, gold-teeth-twinkling villain it is portrayed to be. It is one of the most healthiest fats there is. Ghee is a saturated fat. In layman terms, ghee doesn’t morph into harmful substances (like peroxides and free radicals) on being heated. Ghee actually helps in reducing cholesterol levels in the body. From coating the passageways of your digestive tract to reducing the possibility of cancer, ghee has numerous dietary and Ayurvedic benefits that you may have never expected. So, the next time a fat neighbourhood aunty tries to shove a boondi ka laddoo made with ghee, let her.
On Mitahar: The concept of Mitahar (‘Mit’ meaning frugal and ‘Aahaar’ meaning diet) is a philosophy that advocates simplicity in nutrition and complete engrossment in your meal. Switch off the Idiot Box, tablets and Cell phones. Look at your food, sense the textures and tastes. Over-indulgence is frowned upon because it affects the body in a negative way. Eat what grows closest to you. The next time you decide to splurge a few hundred rupees on a kiwi from New Zealand, make sure you think about the 20-rupees-worth oranges from Nasik. They’ll do you a lot more good than an exotic fruit your body has never encountered before.
This is because the nutrients used in growing local foods are the same that your body is acclimatised to. This eases the process of assimilating the foods into your blood stream. Processed foods contradict this practise. The inclusion of chemicals, preservatives, colouring agents and artificial flavours pollute the intrinsic nutritional value of the food product.
On the rewards of fasting: Considering that India is a land of contrast, we shouldn’t be amazed that the concepts of Thali and Fasting come from the same culture. While the Thali boasts of providing a complete and holistic meal consisting of a variety of nutrients, fasts advocate starving yourself on specific days of the year. But, fasts are a way of giving your body a break and detoxifying. The month of Shravan is notorious among carnivores for its meat-prohibition rules. But seeing as Shravan falls around the monsoon period, it made sense to abstain from meat in those times. Monsoon is the time when meat tends to rot quickly than summer or winter; and refrigerators weren’t a handy tool then. Sea-storms are common and there used to be a possibility of death among fishermen who went out to sea to fish. Fasts were commonly pursued to prevent catching various water-borne diseases. Again, a reason disguised under a superstition.
To summarise, the traditions in Indian culture may at times seem subversive and orthodox, but our interpretation of them makes a difference too. The next time you see a wishing well or a group of people eating from a banana leaf for a plate, with their hands, try to take off your cynic-glasses and look at it from an open mind. Reason won’t be far away.