Considered one of the most significant festivals, Navratri celebrations have always been grand and much-awaited. The festival marks special days for everyone alike. While devotees fast for seven to nine days, children receive gifts, special delicacies and some times even money But, why do people fast for 9 days straight? Well, let us try to understand the history behind fasting:
Fasting is a time-tested and ancient tradition. It has been used not only for weight loss, but to improve concentration, extend life, prevent Alzheimers, prevent insulin resistance, and even reverse your aging process.
“There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten," once said Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the French revolution.
So the forgotten question of weight loss is “when should we eat?” We don’t ignore the question of frequency anywhere else. Falling from a building 1,000 feet off the ground once will likely kill us. But is this the same as falling from a 1-foot wall 1,000 times? Absolutely not. Yet the total distance fallen is still 1,000 feet.
All foods will increase insulin levels to some degree. The key to the prevention of resistance is to periodically sustain very low levels of insulin. If all foods raise insulin, then the only answer is the complete voluntary abstinence of food. The answer we are looking for is, in a word, fasting.
Fasting is believed to be one of the most ancient healing traditions in human history. This solution has been practiced by virtually every culture and religion.
Whenever fasting is mentioned, there is always the same eye-rolling response. Starvation? That’s the answer? No. Fasting is a completely different beast. Starvation is the involuntary absence of food. It is neither deliberate nor controlled. Starving people have no idea when and where their next meal will come from. Fasting, on the other hand, is the voluntary withholding of food for spiritual, health, or other reasons. The two terms should never be confused with each other.
Fasting may be done for any period of time, from a few hours to months on end. In a sense, fasting is part of everyday life. The term ‘break fast’ is the meal that breaks the fast – which is done daily.
Fasting in India
The Sanskrit word for fasting is ‘vrata’, which means a vow. Hindus and Jains undertake a fast for many reasons; it can be a mandatory part of a religious festival, a form of worship, gratitude for a blessing, a petition to a god for a favour, an instrument of self-discipline, or a method of physical cleansing.
Amongst Hindus, fasting usually does not imply total absenteeism from food but rather a restricted way of eating. The dishes are always vegetarian. Prohibited foods generally include onion, turmeric, garlic, ginger, sea salt, and urad dal (perhaps because it is black and resembles meat and spices.)
At its least rigorous, it may mean cooking dishes in pure ghee instead of oil or replacing sea salt with rock salt. Sometimes, only kaccha (e.g., boiled) foods are permitted. Meals might be only taken once a day in the morning. At the most rigorous, no food at all is eaten and only sips of water are allowed.
Hindus practice fasting for various purposes. It may be done to achieve material or spiritual rewards, to please a deity, to fulfil a desire, to overcome adversity, to cultivate virtue, to earn merit (punya), to help ancestors, to appease wrathful gods, to seek forgiveness, to punish oneself for sinful conduct, or to perform an expiation for past sins.
The celebration at the beginning of the year, in honour of Shiva, is another important occasion when people fast. During the months of July and August, many Hindus adopt a vegetarian diet and fast on Mondays and Saturdays until the evening. Many Hindu women fast on Mondays in order to find a good husband. It may be done as a religious or spiritual practice in itself or as a part of ritual worship or sacrificial ceremony. Fasting on certain dates or at a certain time is considered more beneficial.
Fasting may be done on its own accord or as part of social obligation in association with others. According to karma yoga, fasting is done without expectations and desire for its fruit, and offering to God is the best.