Jyeshtha month ushers in Grishma rtu, the season of heat and sunlight so bright that it dazzles. Grishma is the last season of Uttarayana (the first half of two divisions of the year). This six-months-long phase of Uttarayana is the time of Agneya or Sun, where the power of the Sun and its heat steadily increase, reaching their pinnacle in Grishma Rtu. Then the heat of the Sun gives way to the coolness of Dakshinayana. Heat is the defining characteristic of both the months of summer - Jyeshtha and Ashadha. There is a quality of stillness to the world – as the Sun rises ever higher in the sky and the heat increases, we seek the mercy of shade.
And yet, to this dry and sere season there is the beauty of small pleasures: the indescribable perfection of a ripe mango’s taste; the sheer comfort of wearing the finest of Mulmul (handwoven Muslin) clothes; the peace offered by the colour white; the call of the Koel on long, still afternoons; the charm of silver jewellery; of the subtle cooling and peace that the dusk brings with it… Grishma is the time of deeply felt delights.
Rtucharya & Jyeshtha
The qualities and impact of each of the six seasons upon the human body and mind has been addressed in detail in Ayurveda. This is the prescribed Rtucharya – the recommendations for food to avoid and eat, physical activity, selfcare and even behaviour that will keep us in optimal physical and mental health by aligning us with the rtu.
In this month of heat the brilliance of the Sun saps our energy. Ruska or dryness is the dominant characteristic of Grishma rtu– there is a dearth of moisture in the environment and this in turn leads to a depletion of energy in our bodies.
Dehydration, exhaustion and a lack of energy are common during this season. The heat of this Pitta dominant season also weakens our digestive agni. We need to consume foods that are light on digestion and are cooling and hydrating to counter the drying heat that surrounds us. Cucumbers, Coconut water, Watermelon, Jamun, Mint, Fennel seeds, Gourds, Jackfruit, Nimbu paani (Lemonade), Aam Panna (made from raw green mangoes), Yoghurt… the list of traditional summer foods, fruits and spices is a familiar one. But we often forget a humble vegetable that folklore and traditional wisdom recommends as a must have - the oft overlooked Onion.
Onions offer a high concentration of vitamins A, B & C, antioxidants and iron. The pungent Onion can help with digestive issues by stimulating the release of digestive juices. Eating onions can also promote good bacteria in the gut. Onions also offer potassium and sodium, which can help maintain the right electrolyte balance in the body. But most of all Onions contain volatile oils which can help in regulating body temperature, keeping us cool as the heat rises. For best results it should be consumed raw or very lightly cooked. But if its pungent taste is too strong for you, try a traditional summer raita.
Onion Raita: 1 Onion, finely chopped + 1 Tbsp fresh Coriander, finely chopped + 1 cup of Yoghurt + 2 to 3 Green Chillies, deseeded and finely chopped + Salt, Pepper & roasted Cumin seeds as per taste. Mix and enjoy as a delicious accompaniment to meals.
Scents for Summer
In this season of relentless heat when we all long for coolness, scents can often provide relief and delight. Jasmine, Sandalwood and Vetiver are the scents that make an Indian summer such an olfactory delight. All three fragrances help our bodies and minds keep calm. Among other benefits, Sandalwood also has a relaxing effect on our nervous system.
The deep, earthy fragrance of Vetiver sings to us of dark and damp earth at a time when our senses are feeling parched. Once our homes were perfumed with Vetiver during hot summer months. The sensuous sweetness of Jasmine is the scent of summer evenings. Once it was traditional to wear garlands of Jasmine around the hair or the wrist or neck come summer evenings. But it is Sandalwood that offers the perfect blend of delight and cooling relief. There is something magical in the fragrance of true Sandalwood. It speaks of patience and peace, of the contentment that comes from experiencing the richness of all the seasons of life.
Traditionally Sandalwood oil was only produced from a tree that was at least 60 years old. First a tree was uprooted during varsha rtu or monsoon, because that is when the tree is richest in oil. Then the tree would be left where it was in the forest till white ants ate away the odourless sapwood or outer layer, revealing the inner part which is known as heartwood. From this came Sandalwood oil. No wonder then that its oil is equal parts mystical and delightful and often known as the scent of the gods.
Summer is the season to indulge our senses with the beauty and delight of these fragrances.
More than any other season, it is Grishma that offers pleasure and pain in equal measure. And in its offering teaches us the importance and meaning of balance.