A look into the preventive life style of traditional Kerala during the month “Karkitaka” offers glimpses of a rather pleasantly sedentary routine concentrating on health care. The days evolve round the hearth and the house of god and the average Keralite begins his day by a cold bath or ‘dip’ and a paste of the ‘dasapushpa’ or ten herbs is touched to the forehead. It is the therapeutic value of the herbs that is available in plenty in these lush surroundings that sustains the person through his cold and wet day.
A routine of an oil bath or oil massage is a must and medicated Ayurvedic oils are used. The use of natural fibers dipped in a mix of turmeric and green gram powder as a scrub heals the skins of its irritable tendencies and makes it soft, other than removing the excess grease on the skin. The glow of the skin and its softness after a week’s routine of oil bath is amazing to see.
The diet is carefully watched in ‘Karkitaka’. Taking into consideration the weak digestion in the month the diet is predominantly vegetarian and Keralites consume lots of leaves in different forms in their diet. Examples are spinach and tender colocasia leaves. In fact the stem of colocasia plant is considered a delicacy and prepared into a curry during this season. The leaves are consumed in lightly cooked or sautéed form with lots of coconut scraped in or in the form of a medicated gruel that is a must in the month. This is called “Marunnu kanji” and now kits to prepare medicated gruel are popularly sold in the monsoon months. In the olden days, the leaves were painstakingly crushed and its juice extracted which was then added to rice gruel and boiled along with a sprinkle of Jeera. Coconut milk is added before consumption and this is partaken twice a day as a part of the preventive therapy.
Surprisingly drumstick leaves which are very popular in Kerala are a taboo in this season. Experts say that the waterlogged taste and the subsequent loss in concentration of Vitamin A maybe the reason but Myth presents it differently. Drumstick leaves are believed to be the ‘mangalya sutra’ or ‘thali” of Parvati Devi the consort of Lord Shiva in this month and it is the reverence attached on this count that eliminates drumstick leaves from the diet. Its funny but drumstick has no taboo at all.
Then there are the different types of “lehyams” or Ayurvedic jams prepared exclusively for the season with special ingredients as restoratives. The ulli lehyam (ulli is shallot) and uluva lehyam (uluva is fenugreek) are taken almost religiously in the month, for a healthy year ahead. The special foods, which are no more to be seen, but once enjoyed during the season, are interesting. One such item is the mango kernel.
The mango season precedes the monsoon season in Kerala. The umpteen mango kernels/seeds are usually deposited in a common area, and at leisure the pulp inside the dry kernel is extracted. This is dried in the sun and then bundled into an old cloth and soaked in the local freshwater pond for several days. When this acquires a blue color, the pulp is consumed as a delicacy as well as a medicine, considered the ultimate in aiding digestion.
Excesses of any indulgence, including rich food and prolonged sex are frowned upon in this month since the body is at its nadir of immunity and is believed not able to sustain excesses.
(25 July 2012)
Suneetha is a writer by passion, profession and hobby. She writes fiction in English, poetry in her native tongue Malayalam and journalistic features in both. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org