Sharad rtu starts with the onset of the month of Ashwina. Beginning with this month, the rain-laden clouds and waters of Monsoon give way to the season of clarity and beauty in the subcontinent. After two season of extremes - the heat of summer and the dominance of water in monsoons, this month ushers in Sharad rtu - the season of balance and grace.
In the Vedic and Shastric literature Sharad rtu has been described as the season of beauty and clarity; the water is clear and pure and filled with fragrant lotus blooms. The skies are clear and cloudless and the Sun offers mellow warmth. Trees are laden with ripe fruit, the fields are filled with grain ready for harvesting, birdcall fills the air and scores of aquatic birds throngs the marshes and lakes. And above it all, shimmering in splendour, is the fabled Moon of Sharad rtu. The silver shimmer of the Moon seems tinged with a hint of Gold in this season. And each phase of Sharad rtu’s Moon has unto it a special beauty. Ashwina mas also ushers in the season of festivities and fragrant nights dedicated to the goddess.
In one legend Sharad rtu is thought to be named after Sharada, the goddess who presides over the power of Vac or speech and learning and fine arts. The Dakshinayana Navratri or the nine nights of the Goddess also fall in the month of Ashwina. Today we celebrate these as the nine nights of Durga. But many legends also posit these nine days and nights as the time of Earth’s fertile regeneration in the legends and iconography of Shakambari Devi. The story goes that there was a terrible drought across the Earth. All the vegetation shrivelled up and dried out. In distress the gods and mortals alike prayed to the Devi for help and relief. In response to the prayers the Devi came to Earth as Shakambari Devi. And for nine days and nine nights her body became a fertile source of vegetation and green growth, with which she seeded the Earth anew, making it bountiful. This is perhaps why in the ancient world this month was known as Isha, which means fertility.
Traditionally, the deeply sensuous and fragrant Champaka Michelia champaca were favoured in this month. Along with these the twigs of Khadira Acacia catechu were offered to the gods.
Hamsodaka: The tumultuous beauty of the rainy season is also accompanied by an imbalance in the body. But in Sharad rtu balance begins to be restored. The energies of the Sun and the Moon come together in beauty. The warmth of the Sun in this season is gently warming and the Moon offers its cooling equally gently. In the Charakha Samhita it is recommended that in this season we consume water which has been first heated by the rays of the Sun and then cooled overnight under the moonlight. This water, called Haṃsodaka, is considered nectar for the body and the senses.
Jiva Nirlekhana: According to Ayurveda the onset of Sharad rtu facilitates the return to a balance for the three doshas in the body. In Varsha rtu our doshas tend to be aggravated and our metabolism also slows down, meaning a weakening of the digestive fire. Some gentle practices in Sharad rtu can encourage the body to return to balance. The first is Jiva Nirlekhana or tongue cleaning, which ideally is an integral daily hygiene practice according to Ayurveda. But particularly beneficial at this time of the year. Using a pure Copper or Silver tongue scraper, clean your tongue every morning to rid it of the coating of toxins or Ama.
Beauty & Balance: Another gentle practice recommended during this season to facilitate the body and mind’s return to balance is the wearing of garlands of fragrant flowers of the season like Champaka, Jasmine and desi Gulab. The garlands of these fragrant flowers delight the senses, calms the mind and subtly grounds us in our bodies.
This year the month of Ashwina in the Indian calendar is unusual because it has the addition of an intercalary month, i.e., extra days are counted in this month in order to maintain harmony with the solar year. This addition is known as Adhik Mas. So Ashwina mas runs for 59 days. This means that we have two Ashwina Full Moons and New Moons this year.
In the Gregorian calendar, which is purely Solar, the only intercalary day needed for the calendar to remain synchronous with the Solar cycle is the extra day added to February every fourth year, which is then known as the leap year. In the Luni-Solar calendar, which is the traditional Panchang calendar, the difference of approximately 10 days between the Solar calendar (365.2 days) and the Lunar calender (354.3 days) is reconciled by the addition of an extra month – Adhik Mas every third year.
The month of Ashwina ends with the much-mythologised Full Moon on October 31, also known as Sharad Purnima, thought to be the most radiant Purnima of all. This is the night of the Lover’s Moon, the night of the Raas Leela - when Radha and Krishna danced in fragrant groves in Vrindavan, this is a night of a radiant celebration of love and happiness. The Sharad Purnima is also a Moon of spiritual illumination, known as the Kojagiri Purnima. Literally it asks, ‘who is awake?’. And those who are awake are blessed by the goddess Lakshmi, who is also the goddess who bestows the wisdom to see beyond material abundance.