There are subtle hints of Hemanta Ritucharya practices given in the Srimad Valmiki Ramayana.
In the Aranya Kanda, Sarga 16, Lakshmana gives a rich, poetic description of Hemanta Ritu as seen in the forests on the banks of the Godavari river to mother Sita & Lord Rama in about 25 shlokas
He begins the description with the following verse :
वसतस्तस्य तु सुखं राघवस्य महात्मनः।
शरद्व्यपाये हेमन्तऋतुरिष्टः प्रवर्तत
As the great souled Sri Rama lived happily there (near the Godavari), autumn passed by and his favorite season of Hemanta set in.
While every season has its own charm, it is very nice to know that Lord Rama had a special place in his heart for Hemanta Ritu
What is Hemantu Ritu ?
The Indian Calendar is very unique in that it identifies six different seasons of two months each that constitute one full year. Of these 12 months, the winter season of 4 months, is split into two parts :
- Hemanta Ritu ( Early Winter) from mid-November till mid- January
- Shishira Ritu ( Late Winter) from mid-January till mid-March
Ayurvedic texts too recognize the same calendar. Due to the different characteristics of each season (Ritu) they give us specific rules (achara) to follow in that season. This concept of seasonal regimen is known as Ritucharya. When it is applied specifically to the early winter season, it is known as Hemanta Ritucharya.
The ayurvedic texts additionally explain one more concept based on the movement of the Sun relative to the earth, which we also know as Dakshinayana & Uttarayana. They call the 6 months period of Dakshinayana as Visarga Kala or a period that enhances the strength of the human body progressively.
In particular it is important to note that the two months of Hemanta Ritu is when our body is at its strongest in the whole year.
This has fascinating implications for us in terms of Hemanta Ritucharya habits
Impact of Hemanta Ritu on our bodies
The harsh , cold winds of the winter season has two primary effects on our bodies, which in turn determines the habits that we need to adopt in the season
1. The harsh cold drives all our body heat into the koshta (gut). As a result , it sharply increases our appetite and also our ability to digest food
2. It also leaves the extremities of the body & the skin very dry and subject to the external cold. This results in a sharp increase in Vata dosha in our extremities.
As a result of the strong digestive fire in our gut, we need to eat really well in Hemanta and feed this fire. Otherwise the digestive fire when unattended , eats up the internal tissues.
A clear indication of the extreme cold in Hemanta is seen in the following Shloka, wherein Lakshmana is describing various scenes of Hemanta as seen near the banks of the Godavari river
स्पृशंस्तु विमलं शीतमुदकं द्विरदस्सुखम्।
अत्यन्ततृषितो वन्यः प्रतिसंहरते करम्।।3.16.21।।
The wild tusker, extremely thirsty, touches the clean, cold water joyfully, but immediately withdraws its trunk unable to bear the cold.
Hemanta Ritucharya Habits to follow
As the skin and extremities are strongly impacted by Vata aggravation, oil application is highly important in the winter season. It is strongly recommended to apply suitable oils on the head and body also known as Abhyanaga in the mornings itself. After applying oil on the body, vigorous exercise is also recommended. For the post oil massage Snana, ubtans with herbs of kashaya rasa (astringent taste) are recommended to remove all the excess oil from the skin.
As per the Ashtanga Hridaya text, the 3 primary tastes to consume in our foods in Hemanta are Madhura (sweet) Amla (sour) & Lavana (salty)
Meats and meat soups prepared with oils/fats, salty and sour juices of healthy aquatic and marshy animals are specifically recommended in the Caraka Samhita text.
Further it is said that in Hemanta we should regularly eat preparations of cow’s milk, sugarcane juice, fats, oils (like sesame oil), beverages made with molasses & rice flour, pastries made with wheat or rice flour or black gram, New rice (from fresh paddy). We should also regularly drink warm water throughout the day in winter. By eating these foods our lifespan is increased.
The following shlokas from the Sri Ramayana describing the features of Hemanta ritu also mention the use of new rice & cow’s milk, especially in the season
कृताग्रयणकाः काले सन्तो विगतकल्मषाः
Pious men offer their libations of the first crop (new rice) at Agnistoma sacrifices and thereby please their ancestors (pitrus) and get rid of their sins.
विचरन्ति महीपाला यात्रास्था विजिगीषवः।।3.16.7।।
People in the countryside have had their desires satisfied by obtaining abundant cow’s milk at this time (hemanta)
And Rulers of the earth are out on their expedition with a desire for victory.
In Hemanta Ritu, the texts also mention that we can indulge well in sexual intercourse. Moreove the sex helps balance aggravated kapha-dosha and brings about strength in the body.
Preventive Measures in Hemanta Ritu
The texts strongly exhort us to stay away from the cold winds of winter and to stay in well-heated inner parts of the buildings. Moreover, all our beddings and seats should be well wrapped with thick, winter-appropriate materials and we should also wear heavy warm clothes.
Further, Acharya Charka also says that in Hemanta, we should avoid foods and drinks that are very light & tend to aggravate vata-dosha. We should also avoid fasting in winters.
Krya Products that are suitable for Hemanta Ritu:
- Abhyanga Snana Products
- Snana Choornams
- Baby Oils
- Face Cleansers
- Face Serums
- Jal Krya (Herbs to add to water in Hemanta Ritu)
To sum up : Hemanta Ritucharya habits
The Ayurvedic texts clearly mention that following Hemanta Ritucharya helps to increase our body’s strength also extends our lifespan. This is subject to us understanding and following the specified guidelines for Hemanta sincerely and correctly. Due to the peculiar nature of Hemanta, the following 5 habits are key Ritucharya pillars:
- 1 . Apply oil on the head and body regularly. This is Abhyanga Snana
- 2. Exercise vigorously
- 3. Eat really well. Sweet , heavy to digest foods are suitable for Hemanta
- 4. Drink warm water regularly
- 5. Ensure you are well covered, wear suitably arm clothing and protct yourself from the cold air that can aggravate vata dosha
When we follow the Ritucharya guidelines advised for Winter, we can take full advantage of our body’s increase in strength and stability. We can make a significant change to our health, harmony, and immunity by simply following some basic Ayurvedic seasonal guidelines.
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