Navratri is a Hindu festival dedicated to Goddess Durga and her nine avatars. There are actually four navratris in an year, but only two of them: Chaitra Navratri and Sharad Navratri are celebrated widely across the country. Chaitra Navratri is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaitra that falls at cusp of spring and summer (usually around March and April), while Sharad navratri is celebrated with full fervor in autumn around the months of October-November.
This year, Chaitra Navratri will be celebrated from 22nd March to 30th March 2023. These nine days are considered very auspicious and everyone seeks to please Goddess Durga with their devotion and piety. People wake up and bathe early morning and pray to the Goddess. They perform special poojas and havans to welcome Goddess Durga to take shelter in their homes. Devotees also observe fasts as a mark of showing their devotion to the goddess. While some observe the fasts for all nine days, some keep them in jodas (couple) – the first two or the last two. Apart from religious reasons, there are is a strong scientific logic linked to these fasts. Both the Navratris start when the season is on the verge of a change. Chaitra Navratri marks the transition from spring to summer, while Sharad Navratra falls around October-November marking the beginning of winter. During such a period, your immunity tends to be low and your body is more prone to sickness in these intervals. By fasting or following a light and clean diet you can help fortify yourself from within.
Those of us who are familiar with the Navratri fasts know how popular delicious preparations like Kuttu Ki Puri, Singhade Ka Halwa, Singhare Ke Pakore, Sabudana Vada and Sabudana Khichdi are during these days. Restaurants and supermarkets offer a fasting special meal or also known as Vrat ka Khaana. Some people tend to follow a fruit-only diet, some prefer light meals while others have fruits throughout the day and a full meal for dinner. The way these fasts are observed may differ from family to family, but there are a few fasting rules that are common to all.
Before you decide to keep these fasts this year, here’s a guide to all the fasting rules you should be following and also what you can eat or what you need to avoid.
1. Flours and Grains
You cannot consume grains like wheat and rice during these fasts but there are alternatives like Kuttu ka Atta (buckwheat flour) or Singhare ka Atta (water chestnut flour) that can be consumed. You can even have Rajgira ka Atta (amaranth flour). Instead of rice, you can have Samai Ke Chawal or Samvat Ke Chwaal (barnyard millet) that can be used to make khichdi, dhoklas or kheer. Another star ingredient that you’ll find in most kitchen during Navratris isSabudana. It is often use to prepare papads, kheer or vadas.
3. Spices and Herbs
If you are observing the Navratri fasts, you need to refrain from using the normal table salt and use an alternative rock salt or sendha namak. Sendha namak is a highly crystalline salt which is made by evaporating sea water and does not contain high amounts of sodium chloride (unlike table salt).In Ayurveda, rock salt is considered as the superior salt as it is pure and not subjected to processing.
As far as spices are concerned, you can use cumin or cumin powder, black pepper powder, green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ajwain, black peppercorns, dry pomegranate seeds, kokum, tamarind and nutmeg. Some people also use fresh coriander leaves, red chilly powder, dry mango pwder, chaat masala (especially with fruits) while some may not use them. A lot depends on the devotees beliefs and home traditions. Spices like turmeric (haldi), asafoetida (hing), mustard (sarson or rai), fenugreek seeds (methi dana), garam masala and dhania powder (coriander powder) are avoided they are known to produce generate heat in the body.
Those who are observing the fasts and also members of the family who are not turning to a vegetarian diet for these nine days. Some vegetables are given more preference while fasting like potatoes, sweet potato, arbi, kachalu, suran or yam, lemons, raw or semi-ripe pumpkin and raw pumpkin. Spinach, tomatoes, bottle gourd, cucumber and carrots can also be consumed.
5. Milk Products
You can consume milk and dairy products during fasting like curd (which is also highly recommended as it keeps you cool and your gut healthy), paneer or cottage cheese, white butter, ghee, malai, and preparations with milk and khoya. People tend to make cottage cheese at home in order to maintain purity. Buttermilk and Lassi are great drinks to keep you hydrated through the day.
6. Cooking Oil
Avoid cooking in seed-based oils or refined oil. You can cook your food in desi ghee and peanut oil
7. Other Food Options
You can also have makhanas (they make for a great snack), coconut or coconut milk preparations, Sonth ki Chutney (made with tamarind), melon seeds and peanuts.
8. What to avoid
All fast-related food needs to be prepared without onion or garlic. If you are fasting you also have to keep away from legumes, lentils, rice flour, cornflour, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and semolina (rava). Non-vegetarian food, eggs, alcohol, smoking and aerated drinks are also a strict no-no.