Nilakshi Sharma

Pausha is the month of memories and memories are governed by the Moon.

Pausha, the tenth month in the traditional lunisolar calendar of the subcontinent, is a month that is dedicated to our ancestors – pitri, as they are called. They are to be remembered and invoked, good deeds and charity is to be done in their name and finally on Pausha Amavasya, pitri puja is done after a bath in a holy river like the Ganges.

Typically, all Amavasyas or New Moon nights are considered sacred for offering prayers and honouring ancestors in traditional Sanatan Dharma practices. But New Moons have been considered significant across cultures and across time. The fascination with the Moon across human civilisation rests upon a simple fact – it is the Moon that gives us our first sense of Time. As our ancestors gazed up at the dark sky, it was the Moon and its cycle of growth and death that gave us a finite unit of time – the approximately 30-day cycle during which the Moon would first wane or decrease into darkness and then start growing into luminous fullness. This was the most visible cycle of nature and in calibrating with this lunar cycle we located ourselves in harmony with nature. And slowly realised that 12 lunar cycles constituted an annual solar cycle or a year.

Even today our calendars reflect this basic natural rhythm – even the Gregorian calendar consists of twelve months or twelve lunar cycles. The two balancing points of each lunar cycle are the Full Moon and the New Moon, which we in the subcontinent call Purnima and Amavasya. While lushness, fecundity and fulfilment rest in the luminosity of Purnima; rebirth, renewal and our memories rest in the New Moon.

We have forgotten just how deeply intertwined all life is with these natural rhythms and cycles. As the Moon wanes and withdraws in the dark phase and grows smaller each night, our energies naturally turn inwards. Like the Moon, we should let go during this fourteen-day phase – inch by inch this is the time to release, to shed, to reduce, to cleanse. Detoxification of the body and the mind at this time is supported by the energy of the natural world. Today we think of detoxification only in the physical sense – fasting, sweating out toxins, eating food that is not heavy for our digestive system, flushing out or cleansing our body. And it is all of that. Fasting or any other detox measures taken during the waning phase of the Moon – Krishna Paksh in our calendar will offer rich dividends and generate better results than if the same process and procedures were repeated during Shukla Paksh or the waxing phase of the Moon.

But when the Moon wanes its impact is more than physical. It is also a time of mental and emotional withdrawal. We have forgotten this connection and more importantly how to honour it. We will often talk of days that make us feel melancholy or more energetic for no immediately discernible reason. That is until we look at the Moon phase. When we do so, we realise that our days of feeling energetic or even giddy, when our emotions tend to run closer to the surface, tend to align with the Full Moon. Whereas the broody spells, when we tend to remember our past, to be lost within our own thoughts, tend to align with the New Moon.

The dark phase of the decreasing Moon is a subtle reminder to turn inwards, to look within ourselves, to examine our foundations. And that is meant to be a time of introversion, of a certain kind of withdrawal. This melancholy mood of the Moon is one that we have been taught to shun in modern culture, which exhorts us to be happy all the time. But the truth is that we need the moody-time because that is when we can examine, acknowledge and then release the emotions that are weighing us down. Grief over our disappointments and losses, of any kind, but especially of our loved ones, does not usually lessen with time. But when we consciously acknowledge the things we grieve over, the things that we have loved and lost, wanted but not found, then we allow ourselves to heal, to strengthen ourselves. To fortify ourselves, to go on.

The emotional culmination of the dark phase of the Moon is the Amavasya or New Moon. When the starlit sky is that much dimmer, that much emptier because the Moon is missing. It is an emotional release. But it is also a time of renewal. On this dark night we have the potential, like the Moon, to be born anew. To start afresh, not because we have wiped the slate clean and forgotten that which makes our heart ache but because we have allowed ourselves to remember and acknowledge and to grieve. Each act of remembrance is also an act of release. But to acknowledge the past is also to acknowledge that we are alive in the present and that we move inexorably, continuously towards the future. This is the wisdom encoded in the cycles of the Moon who is the holder of our memories.

Tonight is the night of the New Moon. The time to remember and renew ourselves. May you emerge into the light of the crescent Moon tomorrow refreshed and energised.