The passing of the Indian monsoon also marks one of the holiest periods of the year for Hindus. Shravan is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar and usually commences in the middle of July and ends in the middle of August.
This is an auspicious time for Hindus because there is believed to be a divine energy contained in the cosmos that makes it an opportune time for worship and reflection. The story goes that during Shravan, the Gods and Demons were churning the ocean to see which group was stronger and would therefore earn the blessings Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. From the churning of the ocean came 14 powers, one of which was a poison so lethal, it could destroy the entire universe if it fell into the wrong hands. Lord Shiva did not want the poison’s devastation to ever be unleashed, and so he swallowed it, causing his throat to be stained with the colour blue. Lord Shiva’s actions saved the universe from its own destruction. This is why he is worshipped especially during this month, when Hindus remember his courage, self-sacrifice and wisdom.
In return for their devotion, Lord Shiva grants blessings to his devotees during this month because it is the very month that coincides with his birth star (nakshatra).
Somvar (Monday) is said to be Lord Shiva’s favourite day, and so many devotees of Lord Shiva observe a special fast on this particular day of the week during Shravan. Lord Shiva grants prosperity and happiness to those devotees who observe the rituals of Shravan.
Eating During Shravan
Apart from acts like bathing and praying at the temple before sunrise, offering a mixture of milk and water to Lord Shiva and chanting certain mantras, just to name a few rituals, Hindus will often observe a particular fast (vrat) where they avoid consuming certain foods during the month (or especially on Mondays).
Fruits, juice, milk, buckwheat and chestnut flours are allowed during fasting, whilst spice is kept to a minimum. A popular ingredient permitted during this fast is sabudana (sago) because it is lightweight in comparison to rice or atta (the wheat used in rotis).
Click here for our Sabudana Khichdi (Sago Risotto) recipe which goes well with a mug of chai. For those who have a sweet-tooth, you might want to try our creamy Sabudana Kheer (Sago Pudding) recipe, which can be made vegan by substituting dairy used in India, with coconut milk instead.
The science behind fasting during this period can be explained in the change of weather; May and June are the hottest months of the year for most parts of India, and the arrival of the monsoon brings a cool change in atmosphere, and much needed rain. It is believed that fasting helps the body to adjust to the dramatic change in climate and also to be cleansed. This is a time of the year that people tend to fall sick because the body immunity is low, so sticking to lighter meals is advised. I remember a colleague explaining to me why it is best to go vegetarian during Shravan. He said that during the monsoons, there is a higher prevalence of water-borne diseases like hepatitis and cholera, therefore the risk of infection is higher when consuming meat. He also mentioned that animals breed during this time, and it is a sin to kill an animal when they are breeding.
Image: Waiting for the rains to pass in rural Telangana
Shravan also marks the start of the festive season, and I like to think that fasting, praying and cleansing is a way of preparing the body for the onslaught of feasts, sweets, treats, dancing and merriment in the months ahead.