Nilakshi Sharma

The night, the moon, dark waters with somewhere in them a wondrous fountain, the coolth of sandal paste and gems: all of these, my love, are ways for people to enjoy the summer.
by Kalidasa

The blistering, burning intensity of the Sun peaks in the month of Ashadha, the second and last month of Grishma rtu.

Scorched, parched, enervated is how the land and most living beings feel by the time the second month of Summer starts. As the effects of mass deforestation and climate change begin to make themselves felt, this year has been one of the hottest summers for many of us. More than ever we need to turn to our traditional wisdom and practices not only to deal with the brunt of the season but to also adopt a lifestyle that helps us and our surroundings heal.

As the intensity of the Sun increases to unbearable levels in this month, water and all things cooling is what we long for. The wait of the arrival of monsoons and the blessed relief it brings is at the heart of the longing that characterises Grishma rtu.

Cooling Rituals

Grishma is the season of heat and fire and it is the Pitta element in Ayurvedic terms that is dominant in this season. It is imperative to adopt cooling rituals that offer relief to our bodies and minds. Our digestive systems and our nervous systems are both impacted by this heat. Our traditional habits and routines offer us most welcome solutions in this season of intensity.

Fragrant Relief: Cooling scents such as Sandalwood and Vetiver are the ones that benefit us the most in this month. Chandan (Sandalwood) has the incredible gift of helping our nervous systems remain calm. Put a Chandan tilak on your forehead to help your nervous system. And if, instead of using Chandan powder, you take a few minutes to grind a Sandalwood stick to create a fresh paste, it can also be a beautiful routine that centres and grounds you.

Vetiver (khus) blinds on balconies offer fragrant shade if you spray a little water on them and Vetiver mats in the coolers offer the delight of moisture laden air that is also fragrant with the earthy scent of Vetiver. Many of us however, now rely on air conditioning rather than old fashioned coolers. But you can still enjoy the cooling benefits of Vetiver by making Vetiver water. Place some clean Vetiver roots in a terracotta pot and fill with water. Let steep for a few hours before drinking. The subtle tang and scent of the deep, loamy earth with delight your senses and offer cooling relief to your mind and digestive system.

Mogra malas around your neck or hair are another way of keeping your nervous system calm.

Cooling Practices: Here are some simple and yet effective practices that can help you in your quest to find cool relief:

  • Keep a Silver glass filled with water by your bedside at night. Drink that water when you awaken. Silver has subtle cooling properties that are beneficial to us in this season.
  • Stock your refrigerator with a bottle of pure Rose Water. Spritz your face and neck with this Rose Water when you awaken in the morning and then throughout the day. It will hydrate and refresh your skin and senses.
  • Please do keep out terracotta bowls filled with water on your terraces and balconies and even by your gate. This summer heat is brutal for all living beings and birds, bees, dogs and cats are all desperate for water in this season.

Eye care for Summer

In the Ayurvedic understanding of the body the eyes are one of the seats of Pitta element in the body. Thus the fiery qualities of the environment, which can cause Pitta dosha in our body to go out of balance more readily, is easily felt in our eyes in this season. The intensity of the heat along with long hours spent looking at screens of one kind or another can manifest as dry, irritated or even achy eyes. Here are some traditional practices that can help soothe the eyes in this month.

  • Cooling Eye Pack: The simplest remedy for refreshing tired eyes is a cold compress. Soak a clean Muslin cloth in ice cold water and place over your eyes for a cooling break. Or you can soak cotton pads in chilled organic Rose Water and place the pads over your eyelids for a few relaxing minutes.
  • Triphala Eye Wash: This is a traditional Ayurvedic practice. Add ½ teaspoon of Triphala powder to one cup of boiling hot water. Cover and set aside overnight. In the morning strain the water through three layers of clean Muslin cloth. Repeat as needed to ensure that you have clear, sediment free water. Now fill an eye wash cup and wash the eye with it. If you don’t have an eye wash cup, fill a clean palm with Triphala water and cup the eye. Blink into the water, letting the water bathe the eye fully. This is a wonderful way to soothe and refresh the eyes. Please ensure the use of good quality Triphala powder. For overnight soaking of the water a glass container is best as it is non-reactive.
  • Trataka: This is one of the six recommended cleansing practices or Shat Kriyas in classical Yoga. It is commonly understood as candle or flame gazing. The practice of Trataka aims to focus your awareness on a single point – the flame, in order to promote awareness, concentration, still the mind and simultaneously soothe and strengthen the eyes. Trataka should only be practiced with a flame generated from a Diya or candle using pure Ghee (clarified butter) made from Cow milk. Ideally practice this in a place where the flame does not flicker due to a draft of air. As you stare at the still flame unblinking your eyes may begin to water. This is normal. Start with a small practice of maybe a minute. Increase the time only when it is comfortable to do so. This practice is also thought to balance the excess exposure to blue light that our eyes are inundated with from screens of all kinds.

As Grishma rtu ripens into its unbearable fullness, so does the sweetness of Mango and the delight that water offers us. Even as we deal with the intensity of the season, it is important to enjoy the small shaded delights this season offers. It is equally important to take note of how are new lifestyle habits are impacting the earth and its natural cycles for the worse. The one simple thing we can all do to offset some of it is to help protect existing trees and plant some ourselves as soon as the monsoon arrives. Pick a spot near your home and plant a sapling this year. Nurture it, nourish it, protect it and may be in the next few years you can bear witness to the relief its shade will provide to so many living beings.

“A flock of panting birds is perched on the tree with withered leaves; a family of apes, fatigued, searches for some hillside grove; a herd of wild oxen wanders - all wishing for water; and some brash young elephants drink it straight out of wells.” Ritusamharam by Kalidasa

May the intense heat of this season remind us to plant more trees in the season of water.