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Isheeta Sharma

But—a lake covered with lotus blooms,
pleasant bathing in its waters,
the lovely scent of trumpet flowers,
moonlight spreading a web enjoyable,
and, at night, some music sweet
with beautiful and charming maidens
on the terrace of a mansion:
thus happily, may your summer pass.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

The scorching days of Grishma rtu seem never ending in their ferocity. And while this is the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season; piercingly sweet Mangoes and tart Aam Panna, juicy watermelon and long shaded afternoons, the cool beauty of moonlit nights and the delight of water; we are all longing for the arrival of Monsoons. The season of heat will reach its apotheosis with the Summer Solstice – when we will experience the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The Summer Solstice will be on June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the day when the Northern pole of the Earth has its maximum tilt towards the Sun, making it the longest day and the shortest night of the year. In the Southern hemisphere, however, the opposite is experienced. 

If we were to track the movement of the Sun through the year, like our ancestors, we would see it slowly move upwards in the sky every day until it reaches the highest point on the day of the Solstice and then starts its downward descent. Perhaps it is this observation that led to the word Solstice being derived from the Latin root words ‘Sol’ which means Sun and ‘Stitium’ which means standing still or stopped. So, Summer Solstice literally translates into ‘the Summer day when the Sun stands still’. Across the world, the Summer Solstice has been celebrated and acknowledged by many names such as Midsommar, Gathering Day, Sonnwend, among others.

With the Summer Solstice we begin to visibly see the transition towards the second half of the year, Dakshinayana (which traditionally begins with Karka Sankranti on July 16). It is believed that while the first half of the year, Uttarayana is for giving and fulfilling our needs, Dakshinayana is a time for receptivity. Dakshinayana is also a time of feminine energy and the festivals that celebrate Shakti or the divine feminine occur during Dakshinayana. 

We see this association between the period from the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice and feminine energy in other cultures and their rituals as well. For example, Romans celebrated goddess Vesta in the days leading up to the Summer Solstice and in China the Solstice marks the beginning of the period in which ‘yin’ which is the feminine force is celebrated.

Amavasya also falls on June 21 bringing Krishna Paksh - the waning lunar phase - to a close. Globally June 21 is also now celebrated as the International Yoga Day.

One of the most famous festivals in India also takes place now. The Jagannath Yatra begins on June 23 at Puri in Odisha. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay weaves an interesting thread of connection between this festival and the Solstice. For him the movement of the chariot of the deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra - from one temple to another and then back to the main temple mimics the journey of the Sun on the day of the Solstice. The chariot of the Sun, as depicted in Hindu mythology, is represented on Earth as the chariot of the three deities and is made to conform to the Sun’s motion in the heavens.

Post the Solstice, in the last week of June, the transition from Grishma Rtu to Varsha Rtu and from Uttarayana to Dakshinayana is palpable. The days now slowly begin to get shorter and the nights longer. And the breeze becomes cool and pleasant. As per Ayurveda, the last week of every season and the first week of the next season is Ritusandhi - the seasonal junction.

This is the time when we must allow ourselves to transition from one season to another. The Ritusandhi for Grishma and Varsha lasts from 29 June - 12 July. This is the time to slowly let go of the practices and rituals of the previous season and adopt the practices appropriate for the next season. This seasonal shift is also the time when many of us might succumb to common illnesses and seasonal flus. Thus, we must learn to align our bodies to this seasonal transition and this process should be gradual, changing slowly everyday - just like Nature’s shift. Since our digestive fire weakens during Varsha rtu, beginning the day with a cup of warm water with a dash of honey or a bit of lemon juice is a good way to help our bodies transition to the next season. Gradually, our meals should shift from being cooling to being hot and yet, light and easy to digest, consisting of broths or pulses with a generous helping of desi ghee. Most importantly we should take the time to listen to our bodies in this time of shifting seasons and see where we need to adapt our practices to ensure that we strengthen our immune system by supporting it.

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