Vasanta is also the season when cuckoos sing in indistinct notes; the bees hum intoxicating sweet sounds; and, the travellers separated from their lovers lament. Kama the god of love who wages a war, as it were, on those in love, fashions his arrows from the mango blossom; his bow from the kimsuka flower; the bowstring from a row of bees. His parasol is the moon; and, he wafts the gentle breeze from the Malaya mountain whose bards are the cuckoos.
Chaitra mas ushers in Basant rtu, the season of renewal and beauty. Spring signals the start of a fresh annual cycle of seasons or Rtu Chakra in the traditional calendar. Spring is ushered in across the subcontinent with festivities, the most famous of which is Holi, but which include countless tribal and regional festivals such as Shigmo in the Goa region or Pankuni (Panguni Uthiram) in Tamil Naidu.
Spring or Basant has been called the King of the six seasons. In the Bhagvad Gita, Krishna reveals his attributes thus: “I am the Soul in the body, the Mind in the senses… and of the seasons, I am Spring”.
After the two seasons of winter and still quietude, Basanta bustles in with its fragrant breezes amid a riot of colour. It brings with it a change in the very quality of light and a gaiety of spirit. Blue skies, fresh green leaves, blooming flowers and above all, movement characterise the season; bees buzz as they flit from flower to flower, the leaves rustle and dance in the spring breeze, forest meadows come to life with a carpet of wildflowers, the streams and rivers rush with renewed exuberance as snow melts in the mountains filling them up, and surrounding us is the sound of life. It is a time of vigour and energy, of new beginnings and above all, beauty.
Dr Vasant Lad, Ayurvedic doctor and practitioner, lists the qualities of Basanta rtu as “warm, moist, gentle and unctuous.” Just as the winter snow begins to thaw in this season, similarly the winter accumulation of Kapha in the body starts to liquefy. This can cause many people to experience spring colds. For those prone to them, the abundance of pollen and fragrance and dust in the air also causes flare-ups of allergy and hay fever. In Ayurvedic practice the first month of Spring is a good time to cleanse and detoxify the body and to bring it into balance. Here are some gentle practices recommended for the season.
- Avoid foods that are Sour, Sweet and Salty in taste as they provoke Kapha.
- Include Bitter, Astringent and Pungent tasting foods.
- As the Neem flowers it is traditional in many parts of India to eat a few tender leaves of Neem every morning. However, if you are on medication it is advisable to discuss taking Neem leaves with your doctor.
- Dr Lad recommends drinking a tisane of Ginger, Black Pepper & Cinnamon after each meal in this season.
- Cumin, Coriander & Fennel Tea: Steep 1/3 teaspoon of each in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes and then strain and drink. This is a gentle but effective decoction that supports digestive health and enhances gut health.
- Spring is also the time to embrace activity and exercise with vigour.
Basant is also a time of harvest festivals, which acknowledge and celebrate the abundance of the Earth. In Punjab the colourful festival of Baisakhi is celebrated on April 13. Poila Boishaak or Nobo Borsho celebrations on April 15 inaugurate the new year in the traditional Bengal calendar. In Tamil Naidu the festival of Puthandu on April 14 ushers in the new year as in the Tamil calendar. A beautiful tradition of this festival is Kanni or the ritual of ‘auspicious sight’. Seeing abundance first thing in the morning on the day of Puthandu is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. As per tradition a tray laden with fruits, jewellery, flowers, betel leaves, and a mirror is prepared the night before, meant to be viewed by the family members the next morning.
The Malyali festival of Vishu, with a similar ritual of ‘auspicious sight’ or Vishukanni, will also be celebrated on April 14. In Assam Bohag Bihu celebrations will also start on the same day. In this seven-day long festival the earth is honoured, and the cattle are given ritual baths. And there are feasts and community celebrations – including the very beautiful and famous Bihu dance. It is believed that all the movements of this dance celebrate the season of fertility for both the body and the land.
In Maharashtra and amongst the Konkani community it is the festivities of Gudi Padwa that usher in the new year and celebrate the season of spring. In North India the first of the year’s two Navratri also start on the same day – April 13. Traditionally these are observed as nine days of fasting and or at least a restricted diet. But perhaps the most delicious of all the spring rituals is the tradition of serving Ugadi Pachadi in parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, as a part of the harvest celebrations that also usher in the new year. This is a dish made with Jaggery, raw Mango, Tamarind, Neem flowers, salt and green chilli; comprising all the six flavours; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent, mentioned in Ayurveda. It is thought that this dish with all the six flavours of food signifies the different seasons and phases of life.
Chaitra was once known by another name – Madhu, mentioned in the Taittirīya Samhita. According to a Sanskrit scholar the names of the two months of Spring – Madhu and Madhava, in this context mean the ‘season most esteemed or best known’. The name Madhu also has connotations of sweetness, especially that of Honey, which is also known as Madhu. In this month of fragrant flowers and drowsing bees, the balmy beauty of Basant rtu gladdens every heart.