Feasting and Fasting
By Snehalatha Baliga
Imagine the amount of food the world would have had to produce if nature had not imposed night long fasts on us.
A common feature that binds most religions are the innumerable fasts undertaken by its followers. Besides the festivals and feasts, another ‘F’ that has become a part of most religions are the fasts.
For Hindus, fasts are a form and part of prayer and worship and the word ‘Upvas’ means ‘being near God.’ “Saum” or fasts are part and parcel of Islam. Though the concept of “Asan” or fasting takes different forms in Jainism, it is very much present in the religion. Followers of Buddhism too observe fasts on certain days and so do Christians.
Apart from helping one to attain salvation, control one’s senses and give one the feel of bodily needs like hunger and thrist, do fasts have any sceintific significance? Do they do more than what they are intended to do by the religious texts? “Langana” or fasting is a basic concept in Ayurveda, says Dr. B.R. Ramakrishna, an Ayurvedic consultant of Bangalore and adds “fasting is an inherent phenomenon to conserve the energy of our system.”
“ Ancient sciences are based on the theories of natural phenomenon. In nature, loss of energy always goes hand in hand with conservation of energy. The seasons of nature are designed in keeping with the same principle; while some seasons extract more energy from us, others conserve it”, he said.
Eating might be a simple activity for a person, yet the heavy food that we take has to be passed through lengthy, feet-long gastrointestinal tracts, and liquids have to be processed through a million odd filters that the Kidneys have! Even the skin is not spared of the strain when it comes to eliminating wastes by assimilating and digesting food. Man’s march towards civilisation has turned food into more than a physiological need. Developments and modern techniques in food culture have enhanced the taste and quality of food.
Fasting is said to achieve three physiological benefits, burn the dead cells in the body; provide glucose to all the cells stored in the liver and supply energy to all cells by utilising the fat cells.
Fasting was a treatment in itself in Egypt and Greece and was practised among some tribes in the north-western parts of US. It is also reported that some teachers insisted upon their students fasting before they commenced learning. Mental faculties are said to improve with fasting.
Fasting is valued as one of the oldest forms of treatment in ancient civilisations and it is gaining ground with modern nature cure specialists too. Though fasting cannot be claimed as the antidote to all diseases, it helps the body by putting it in a state where all its energy is directed towards getting over its ills, and there lies its worth.
Stressing the role played by fasting as a supportive system of cure, and explaining how energy during a fast gets diverted towards body healing, Dr. Ramakrishna added “during fever, antitoxins are produced in the body due to improper and incomplete digestion and metabolism. These antitoxins block the skin pores and prevent the cooling process of the body through sweating.”
Do fasts reduce the working efficiency of a person?
Replying in the negative, Dr. Ramakrishna said that by fasting enzymes get rejunevated and toxins eaten up by them. Many animals hibernate for months together and sick animals and birds do not touch food, but for man, meals and food area continous routine.
Fasting conserves not only energy but food too. In a country like ours, this function is of vital importance. I have always wondered how much of food the world would have had to produce if nature had not impossed night long fasts on us!
Fasts have another function. Just as eating together binds people, fasting together too brings them closer.
(Courtesy Deccan Herald)