It is the trees that mark the month of Phalguna, which is also the last month of the year in the traditional luni-solar calendar of the subcontinent. The Peepul tree sheds every single one of its leaves and stands bare branched. The red flowers of Semal or the Malabar Silk Cotton carpet the ground. And the Palash tree comes to life with a blaze. Rabindranath Tagore compared the bright orange flame-like Palash flowers to fire. In the tribal traditions of the Jharkhand region, the blooming of the Dhak flowers is described as the forest fire.
Kama & The Festival of Colour
With the blooms of Palash, the arrival of Holi, the festival of colours is imminent. Palash in Sanskrit literature was known as Kimsukha – comparing the distinctively shaped blossoms to the curve of a parrot’s beak. The Palash flowers are used metaphorically in classical literature to announce the imminence of the Basant rtu and the time of love.
Associated with Kama, the arrival of Kimsukha flowers takes us to the legends of Kama and his festival – Holi. In his desire to help Parvati attract the attentions of the ascetic-god Shiva, Kama prepares to shoot his arrows of desire at the heart of Shiva, who is deep in a meditative trance. As Kama gets ready to arouse love in Shiva’s heart, the first stirrings of Basant rtu make themselves apparent because Basant is the friend and companion of Kama. This day is celebrated as Basant Panchami – the precursor of Basant rtu. But Shiva, in his anger at his meditation being disturbed, opens his third eye and burns Kama to ashes. After 40 days of laments by Rati – Kama’s wife and the prayers and appeals of other gods and goddesses, Shiva relents and Kama is reborn. And that day of his rebirth is celebrated on the Full Moon of Phalguna as the festival of colours and love – Holi.
Tryambakaṃ - The Three Eyed God
Shiva too is worshipped in the month of Phalguna – Mahashivratri or the night of Shiva is celebrated with many prayers and ritual fasts across the subcontinent. The leaves of Bael are especially used in the ritual adoration of Shiva on this day. While some legends posit this as the day of the union of Shiva and his consort – Parvati, others say that on this day the complementary energies of Shiva and Shakti converge. It is traditional to chant the Mahamritunjaya mantra on this day. Literally the name translates as ‘the great death-conquering chant’. The Mahamritunjaya mantra appears in the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. It is also known as Rudra mantra, referring to Shiva in the form of Rudra, and Tryambakam mantra, addressed to the three-eyed one, that is, Shiva.
ॐ त्र्य॑म्बकं यजामहे सु॒गन्धिं॑ पुष्टि॒वर्ध॑नम् ।
उ॒र्वा॒रु॒कमि॑व॒ बन्ध॑नान् मृ॒त्योर्मुक्षीय॒ मा ऽमृता॑त् ।
oṃ tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyor mukṣīya mā 'mṛtāt
Loosely translated it means: ‘We worship the Three-eyed Lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As a vine ripened fragrant fruit (with the intervention of the gardener) is freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may he liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.’
Ayurveda & Phalguna
Phalguna, which is considered a deeply auspicious month, also brings to a close the annual rtu chakra or cycle of seasons. The day after Holi, which is always celebrated on the Full Moon of Phalguna, a new season and a fresh year-long cycle of seasons begins. In this month of transition, as we slowly change from a Kapha dominant environment to a Vata dominant environment, many of us experience congestion and feel slightly under the weather. It is important to follow the traditional ayurvedic self-care and food practices that allow our bodies and minds to transition. Spring or Basant rtu is associated with a slowing down of the digestive fire so it is vital to nurture and nourish our digestive system.
- The eating of foods with a sour taste, such as Amla and Lemon, is highly recommended. Nimbupaani or Lemon juice with water is a traditionally popular beverage.
- Ginger – with its ability to aid digestion and to stimulate the digestive agni is also recommended. Try having Ginger tea once a day – steep half a teaspoon of freshly grated Ginger in a cup of hot water for a few minutes. Stir in half a teaspoon of Honey and drink at tepid temperature.
- To prevent Kapha accumulation in the body, practice Abhyanga – self massage with gently warmed medicated oil – regularly. Follow with a tepid water bath using a traditional grain and clay cleanser.
- Regular exercise and Jal Neti – the Yogic practice of irrigating the nasal passages with saline water, are also highly beneficial at this time.