Ritu Chakra - Rhythms of the Seasons
BY: SUN STAFF
Todi-Ragini - Bride of Vasanta-raga
Dec 30, CANADA (SUN) Rhythms of the Vedic seasons, foods and fragrances.
Rta, the great order of the cosmos, is born afresh in each Rta, season. In traditional societies, humans do not merely observe the cycle of seasons, equinoxes, solstices; they participate in, and recreate the pulse of rhythm in their daily life. Each season is welcomed with celebrations and festivities, songs, dances and myriad creative expressions.
The coming of the seasons is something more than a phenomenon given in nature. It assumes the form of a convergence of ritual acts, spiritual events, symbolic gestures and creative expressions. If adhered to correctly, the mere participation in them brings the individual into harmony with the annual rhythm of nature. This integral vision is based on the paradigm that humans in order to be complete must recapitulate in their yearly cycles, the larger cosmic flows.
Rituals and festivals are assertions of being and belonging, the reaffirmation of order. It is important to acknowledge and participate in the cycles of seasonal change. In performance and celebration we say: we are glad to be alive, in us and through us, Rta is How do we recognize beauty? By what means do we articulate the joy it brings us?
In the worship of a deity.
In song, in revelry.
In feasting, in fasting.
In explosions of color.
In painstakingly decorating a deity.
In dance, in sport.
In some symbolic activity, like a dip in the river, or a
pilgrimage, or tying a thread, or planting a flag, or
immersing a murti.
In recitation, praise, hymn, chant.
In veils, in garlands of flowers, in masks.
All these are expressions of Sacred Order that we
experience from season to season.
Surya and Candra
The Changya Upanisad contains an exquisite metaphor for the sun's centrality to our world. Surya, it says, is the honey lodged in the honeycomb of the sky that swings from the cross-beam of space. The very essence of life is gathered into the sun, reservoir of light.
From the earliest cave paintings to creative expressions in cultures as diverse as the Inca, the Chinese, the Native American and the Mayan, the solar symbol stands for natural order and cyclical regeneration in human experience. Sometimes it is imaged as a King riding his chariot or royal steed across the firmament, and sometimes as the regal falcon with its all-seeing gaze.
In India, the precise astronnomical mapping of apparent solar movements in a schema of Uttarayan and Dakshinayana, solstices and equinoxes, arose because the sun was understood to be the unwavering point of reference which imparts periodicity and renewal to our planet. Appropriately the wheel Cakra represented the embodiment of Rta in the sun.
The moon on its journey through the sky complements the sun. The lunar rhythms mark the natural unit, called the lunar month. The monthly rhythm of the moon was utilised as a measure of time. The moon not merely measures time, there is also a universal equation with the idea of resurrection and perpetual renewal. Just as spring follows upon winter, flowers blossom after the frosty season, the sun rises after the dark gloom of the night, likewise, the crescent moon grows out of the new moon. The full moon slowly disappears into darkness, to rise again. These phases are analogous to the seasons of the year, and to the ages in the span of a human life. For this reason, the moon's invisible phase correspond to death. Its rising phase to the resurrection of life.
The rhythmic destiny of the moon consists of reabsorbing forms and of recreating them. The moon does not merely measure time and govern the rhythms of the tidal waves, the waters and rain, fertility of women, of animals and of vegetation, but also unifies them through its periodic rhythms. For this reason, a close affinity is drawn with the biological order of life. Both Vedic and Islamic cultures have adopted a lunar calendar based on the moon's rhythms. The month is divided into two parts, the dark fortnight and the light fortnight. Certain days like the full-moon, the moonless night, the eleventh day of the light fortnight, are regarded as auspicious and are celebrated with great fervour.
While the moon charts the monthly rhythms, the sun provides the natural unit for the annual cycle. For the purpose of ordering the agricultural cycle both the solar and lunar calendar were necessary. Therefore to keep the lunar months approximately seasonal to the solar cycle, the lunar month of approximately 29 1/2 days was made to synchronize with the Solar month of 30 days by the practice of intercalation. This method transformed the lunar calendar into a luni-solar calendar.
The luni-solar calendar was adopted by the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans and remains in use by of the Jewish, Hindu and Chinese calendars of today.
Agriculture, the very basis of social existence, inevitably depends on how closely human activity is synchronized to the sun-dependent rhythms of day and night, local and general, cloudy and bright, tropics and poles; repetition and rupture; weather and climate; upsurge and downswing; heat and cold; eclipse and flare; light and dark; stars and moon.
Scientists are now seeking to predict long-term changes that may occur in the composition and temperature of the sun, altering the geological fate of our earth and the genetic make-up of its life-forms. So long as the sun is in its place, upholding a stable and familiar framework of order, we can count on the planet to sustain up and maintain vital processes with its fertile energies.
Some of the loveliest ways in which the sun remind us of its status as the lord of our world, are the flowers in spring, the birds of the summer, the showers in the monsoon, the snows in winter. Festivals are a means to celebrate the sun-related phenomena of reproduction, rebirth, and integration which we experience in the workings of our natural environment. In every culture, rituals are an acknowledgement of our fundamental relationships to all that is around us. In Vedic culture, Ragas have been handed down that establish the seasonal transitions and the mood and content of each distinct season. These are also elaborately described in transcendental literatures narrating Lord Krsna's pastimes in various seasons.
Each gorgeous short-lived butterfly, each symmetrical flight of migrating cranes, each burst of sea-form at high tide, each flash thunder-storm, each swollen river spilling from hill onto plain, each love-lorn peacock in full finery, each meditating forest reassures us that inspite of death, decay and irreversible change all is part of an inextricable rhythm of the world. We may participate in this pervasive harmony as children partake of the mother's bounty.
Relationship between foods and seasons
Foods and Fragrances
Seasonal variations in food habits are both a celebration of the earth's procreative capacities and inexhaustible diversity of produce, as well as a token of our acceptance of the natural cycle of panting, flowering and fruition.
Modifying our eating habits to suit what the soil can naturally offer rather than what we might unreasonably and unseasonably crave, is also a practical response to changes and annual repetitions in our nutritive environment. The rhythm of sowing and reaping crops is yet another echo of Rta that has helped to stabilize human social existence on earth.
Food patterns, like everything else in the biological complex, are linked to the sun-to the time of year on a spinning planet, to temperature and rainfall, to latitude and longitude. In an era of cold storage, synthetic packaging, and year-round availability of all kinds of foods, humankind is in danger of forgetting its vital connection to the luni-solar principle. With artificial fertilisers, genetic engineering, and monoculture, we are not only jeopardizing bio-diversity, but upsetting the fine balance of our own health and longevity.
How to capture in words something as subtle and yet as powerfully evocative as fragrance? The voluptuous but fleeting presence of Jasmine in the ever-changing year whirling by. The monsoon sends its fragrant message sooner than the arrival of the clouds; nights in the chill mountain air weave their magical ambience with the sharp perfume of sap; flowers laden with sweetness remind the birds and insects of that it is and spring time to build their homes and renew their annual contract with life.
By a miracle that is better sensed than stated, fragrances at once clearly demarcate the seasons, and bring to our attention the imperceptible and diffuse nature of transition from one season to the next.
Seasons, Fragrances and Ittars
GULAB - Flavouring for sweets. Good for heart.
SANDAL - Cooling, Healing. Medicine for pimples and prickly heat.
KEWARA - For dispelling heat and headaches. Cooking and flavouring.
CHAMELI - Helpful in hot season. Stops infections of the ear.
KHUS - Guards against sunstroke. Helps in high Blood Pressure.
GULAB - Good for moderate seasons.
HEENA - Warm and heat generating.
MUSK - Warm and heat generating.
Tomorrow we'll continue the Ritu Chakra series with sastric descriptions of the seasonal attributes.
Source: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts