This post was last updated on December 14, 2023 by srinivas krishnaswamy
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 SriRama had a special place in his heart for Hemanta Ritu
What is Hemantu Ritu in english ? Is it different from Winter?
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 early ayurvedic winter or Hemanta Ritu in english 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
Shiro Abhyanga and Body Abhyanga for Hemanta Ritu
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 Abhyanga 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. A well-formulated ubtan should provide the desired astringency, and remove excess oil from the skin WITHOUT drying skin.
What Abyanga oil should you use?
Krya Intense Abhyanga oil for Vata balance – suggested for those of lean to medium build, heavy exercisers, high stress and anxiety, insomnia
Krya Classic Abhyanga oil for Pitta balance – suggested for those of medium to heavy build, who work long hours on screens, have eye fatigue and stress
Krya Pushti – Ayurvedic Baby Massage oil – suggested for infants, toddlers and kids ; Also for lean built teens
For Post partum Moms – Combination of Krya Intense Abhyanga Oil + Krya Pushti Baby Massage oil – Combination suggested to nourish, improve strength and relieve fatigue . And then Cleanse with Krya Intense Women’s Ubtan
Diet for Hemanta Ritu
The Ashtanga Hridaya text tells us that the 3 primary tastes we must eat in Hemanta Ritu 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.
Shlokas from the Sri Ramayana on diet for Hemanta Ritu
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.
Lakshmana says :
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.
Vyayama or Exercise in Hemanta Ritu
Here is an interesting fact. It is a well known statistic that gym memberships and the intent to join an exercise program soar after New Year. This is because many of us follow the Gregorian calendar and have learned to adopt the western method of getting sucked into new year resolutions more out of seasonal guilt rather or past regrets over health. But is a calendar date like the new year an ideal time to start a new exercise routine?
On the other hand, Ayurveda teaches us differently.
Vyayama is a Nityakarma (daily wellness ritual) to be followed across seasons. It should be done everyday. However in certain seasons like Greeshma (summer) when body strength is less and the sun’s intensity is high, we are asked to do very light exercise.
However in Hemanta and Shishira Ritu (early winter and later winter), strong Vyayama of a high intensity is suggested by the acharyas.
The reason for this is three fold:
One : the body’s capacity to exercise strongly is much higher in this season as naturally the strength is high.
Second, the exercise helps the body combat the extenal cold and improves immunity and health by improving circulation across the body.
Third, as we are much more hungry with a strong appeite, strong Vyayama or exercsie is suggested so as to not cause Kapha build up in the body due to excess eating.
So an ideal Ayurvedic guideline if you want to begin an exercise programme, learn a new physical skill or increase the intensity of your workout is to start this in Ayurvedic Winter. This is an important part of the Hemanta ritucharya or seasonal guidelines for hemanta ritu .
Ideally Abhyanga and Vyayama should be paired in our daily regimen. We may do an Abhyanga after Vyayama in the morning. This helps relieve fatigue and also balances any vata build up in the body after the exercise. When we follow Vyayama with Abhyaga and then snana, we have given the body an excellent workout.
This is because Abhyanga itself is considered a workout where we work with the body kneading the body with oil. It is considered equivalent to half a workout when done briskly. So we fulfill the objective of both Hard exercise and Strong abhyanga which is recommended in this season of Ayurvedic winter or Hemanta Ritu .
Other Health Measures in Hemanta Ritu
This is an obvious recommendation if you have come here searching for ayurvedic seasonal guidelines to tackle hemanta ritu in english. 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. Our bed linen and other linen should be with thick, winter-appropriate materials and we should also wear heavy warm clothes. Layering clothing is a particularly good strategy to avoid aggravating cold and vata dosha in the body.
In Hemanta Ritu, the texts also mention that in this season we are permitted to indulge well in sexual intercourse. Maithuna requires strength and can cause depletion of dhatus if over indulged in the wrong time or season. Hence it is suggested in this season when health is naturally strong.
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.
There is a misplaced belief that raw foods and salads and vegetables are healthy for the body and provide the body with more nutrition.
No matter how much nutrition they contain, the body needs suficient Agni (digestive fire) in order to extract this nutrition. When we send cold, raw, uncooked food often inside, the agni in the body is overwhelmed and doused. So these foods could sit undigested, ferment, causing Ama buildup.
In Winter, our Agni is higher. But we are also living in an extremely cold environment. So the acharyas have advised to drink warm water and eat hot , well cooked food that does not douse the digestive fire. Raw foods, and uncooked salads can unfortunately dampen Agni.
Many modern day food principles do not stand the test of Ayurvedic wisdom. The Acharyas wisely teach us that it does not matter if a food is nutrient dense. Our body must be capable of extracting that nutrient and using it efficiently. Unfortunately raw food is difficult to process by our body. So even if it is rich in nutrition, we end up straining the system just to extract a smaller amount of nutrition compared to a simpler , warm cooked food.
Facial Care routine in Hemanta Ritu
In this article we have delived on the general seasonal guidelines for Hemanta ritu in english. We have not delved deep in to the ayurvedic wintercare skin regimen. For this, you may read this previous post.
Seasonal Guidelines for other Ritus
If you enjoyed reading this, here are the Ritucharya guidelines for the other seasons:
- Vasanta Ritucharya (Spring Seasonal living guidelines)
- Greeshma Ritucharya (Summer seasonal living guidelines)
- Varsha Ritucharya (Monsoon seasonal living guidelines)
- Sharad Ritucharya (Autumn seasonal Living Guidelines)
To sum up : Hemanta Ritucharya habits
The Ayurvedic texts clearly mention that following Hemanta Ritucharya helps to increase our body’s strength and also extends our lifespan. In this post we tried to explain in a very simple way, the guidelines taken from the original Ayurvedic texts on the correct ritucharya for Ayurvedic winter or Hemanta ritu in english. 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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