The lesser-spoken aspect about Karwa Chauth is in fact a lesson on how to detox through fasting better.
By Madhulika Dash; Pictures: Sheer Korma by Lite Bite Foods; Sagu Kesari by The Leela Palace and Hotel, Bengaluru; Pitha Thali by Alka Jena
Sargi. The meal that daughters-in-law across North of India have before they begin the day-long fasting for Karwa Chauth, a festival that they keep for the sake of their husband’s long life, is a rather sparsely explored subject. Little is thought/known about this power meal that allows women to stay off food and water for an entire day while continuing about their daily (exhaustive) chores of being a homemaker, a mother, wife, daughter and so on.
Yet, for most newlyweds, the just-before-sunrise meal isn’t just about following just an age-old tradition, it is also their first lessons in understanding the art of fasting – a manner of helping the body calm down and detox of all the negative energy without causing any form of depletion in energy. Recalls Itishree Mishra, whose first experience of Sargi was both a lesson in learning tradition and bonding with her mother-in-law, “Even though I had come from a family where fasting was part of life, but not one that was nirjala (no water). The first meal which I had thanks to my mother-in-law was one of those little cultural-culinary treat of understanding why only a certain group of food is had, and how that delicious combination of sweets, fried food and vegetable helps you wade through the day without pangs of hunger or uneasiness gnawing at you.”
Mishra’s favourite was the paratha served with a potato-cauliflower curry and feni – a kind of seviyan kheer. “It kept me full and calm during the day as I went along with my day, even cooking a good meal for the family.”
Concurs culinary custodian Pratima Seth, who has been documenting the essence of traditional meals for some time now. Contrary to the movie inspired elaborate Sargi thalis that we see these days, continues Seth, “the traditional one – or at least the one I was introduced to in Amritsar – is a rather science based one, and is rich in fat, carbohydrate and protein - nourishment we would need to continue working the day without the ‘starvation’ or ‘weakness’ feeling setting it.”
A customary thali, adds homemaker and Sindhi food expert Jasmine Tejwani, “is made of four or five fruits, with coconut and watermelon as the main stay because of the sweetness and water content in both of them, there is either paratha with a minimally spiced curried vegetable like aloo gobhi or any of the gourd, two kinds of matari or matti – sweet and savoury – feni and a few dry fruits to crank up the fat protein content that would slowly release these energy booster to help you continue with the day.”
In fact, adds Seth, “the meethi (sweet) matti and the feni, which is a lightly tossed vermicelli style noodles made of maida, are the mainstay of every Sargi thali as they provide you the original burst of energy when the day begins. Some people also add yogurt to the thali as it not only cools the body, builds your gut but also keeps you from feeling thirsty for a long time once the hydration from watermelon is over.”
Fascinatingly, says nutritional therapist, “the make of the traditional Sargi thali followed much of the dictums that nutritionists practice today when we suggest intermittent fasting. Both the food composition as well as the timing of having Sargi, which is at least half an hour before sunrise, is based on the concept of fasting with minimum damage to the body, especially the stress level that can affect the brain most when not supplied with enough energy to process information and make decisions.
“In fact, the very reason to having Sargi pre-dawn is that before sunrise our growth hormones are active and can quickly take on the goodness of food; after sunrise (especially the period between 7-8AM) is when our stress level is at its highest and in need of a lot of energy. The coconut, which is rich in Medium chain triglycerides), watermelon in potassium, sweet matti and the milk in feni come to the rescue by helping the brain and the stress level calm down. This is followed by the fat and protein from the nuts and the potatoes which give the second spurt of energy, while the complex carbohydrate in parathas – especially stuffed paratha – along with vegetables like spine gourd, cauliflower and such work at keeping us satiated for a long time while the vitamins and minerals work towards keeping the gut, especially the liver well oiled.”
This, adds Bhassin, “is important because when the body doesn’t get food on a regular, habitual interval, it tends to pull its energy by breaking into the muscles, which puts extra impetus on the liver. That’s when the vegetable and curd help keep the balance. The result, you feel this certain sense of lightness but not deprivation.”
And by the time the food had in Sargi, which lasts a good seven to eight hours depending on the level of activity, is all diminished, it’s time for a carb-protein reload, which happens with the thali made in the evening that has, adds Seth, “at least one big bowl of chana or dal.”
Little wonder, Sargi has remained an important part of this tradition of Karwa Chauth – and can be a lesson in food choices for those looking at practicing ‘intermittent fasting or OMAD (one meal a day)’ ritual for better health.