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Ever wondered why so many our winter-spring and Makar Sankranti/Lohri/Pongal delicacies have ingredients like sesame and jaggery in them? Ayurveda has the answers. Kaushani Desai, Art of Living Ayurvedic cooking expert and author of Sattva The Ayurvedic Cook Book says, We know that our seasons and weather are related to the sun and they change with the changes in the position of the sun. We also know that the nearer the sun is to us, the proximity and the heat affects our body in a certain way versus when the sun is farther away. An increasing amount of atmospheric heat tends to sap our life energy or prana and our body is cooler when the sun is away. From Makar Sankranti, the sun begins to travel northwards. Makar Sankranti signals the end of winter as it were.
From til gul laddoos to nolen gurer and til papdi, in India, food culture has always been intertwined with Ayurvedic wisdom. In many states there is a custom of making a sweet hodgepodge of seven cereals with oil, indicating its nutritive value during this season. In Maharashtra, it is customary for people to offer some sesame seeds and jaggery and til gul laddoos or sweet balls of sesame - jaggery. The idea of gifting these two also takes from the medicinal value and incredible health benefits of the two. We also include carrots, jujubes, sugar cane, sesame, aubergines, tomatoes and similar nutritious foods occurring in nature and a prayer is made to god for the health and nourishment of everyone as the heat in the atmosphere increases after this point in time, Kaushani explains.
In all these preparations, sesame in the form of seed or oil and jaggery have a special pride of place, and all for good reason. Sesame seed has immense medicinal value in Ayurveda and is widely used as a remedy in herbal formulations as well. It is a healthy fat and is highly nutritive. Earlier, cows would be fed sesame oil cakes for improved quality of milk and ghee. This has now been replaced with groundnut oil cakes. The quality of the milk and ghee has suffered for the same reason.
Sesame oil provides nourishment and energy to the body, balances Vata dosha (air element) and destroys excess of Kapha (earth and water element), purifies and brightens the skin and improves fertility. It is most beneficial for the treatment of diabetes and allied disorders. Similarly, the use of Til oil-soaked cotton swab for any local pain is an effective analgesic. Sesame oil has known benefits to counter congestion, irregular menstruation, and illnesses pertaining to the reproductive organs. This is why sesame seeds have been indicated as one of the chief ingredients in winter in classical Ayurvedic texts and Shat-tila Ekadashi has come to be celebrated since then. Jaggery, that is had with sesame supplies heat and energy to the body. We know that anything needs heat to ripen. Similarly, the body also needs fuel in order to further process the food consumed, to convert it into energy. Jaggery acts as this fuel of healthy carbohydrate.
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