Friday, November 08, 2013

Rishis, GhasPhoos, and Immunities.....


adjective \i-ˈmyün\
: not capable of being affected by a disease
: not influenced or affected by something
: having special protection from something that is required for most people by law

All my life , i have been aware of the two meanings that are associated with the word "immune".

One , a very positive meaning having to do with your state of health.

And two; the other having to do with some folks being treated as special , possibly in a shameless way connected with power. 

While one only has to read the newspaper and watch television to see folks in the shameless category,  I have had the good fortune to be a participant and observer of the first category , almost all my life,  .

Not having lived your early life in the Internet age has its advantages. There was no ad bombardment, misguided statements on television, or  shelves full of things in supermarkets to boggle your mind. And parents in those days, depended a lot on knowledge that was handed down to them through their parents and elders. This was basically about treating food as your medicine, and enjoying it. It was also about not overdoing things. 

It was clear, that the children were the wealth of the nation, and in order that the nation prosper, it was essential that this wealth be nurtured properly keeping in my mind long term usage, and never, short term thrills.

My mother certainly didn't know what endorphins were. Neither did she agonize over glycemic index etc. All she knew , was that exercise was religion. You had to exercise to earn your breakfast.  So suryanamaskars , jumps,  were sometimes substituted with yogaasanas with my father, and sometimes with even a running climb of the Parvati hill temple near our house in Pune. And she had a firm belief that niggling things like coughs , colds, and minor digestive upsets were really about the body engine not running efficiently for lack of decent and correct fuel, and the inability to throw out waste products as exhaust.  Nothing that a decent sweat after a good exercise session couldn't cure. Between you and me, it actually works.

 Fresh hot simple food.  Full creme buffalo milk, good curds, daily fresh buttermilk churned by hand , and fresh white butter. Jowar bhakris at night straight off the griddle. Green leafy veggies eaten by us, unhappily. (We never dared refuse). Sprouts cooked in various ways. Seasonal vegetables having priority.  Festival foods remained festival foods, to be enjoyed on those days.  Hand pounded rice  (the garage had one of those pounding pits), and those days Khadi Emporium would sell  us hand pound rice .  Going to buy fruits in the main market was a weekly thing.  The crux of everything was there was no overdoing of anything. When we had the usual schoolkid's health problems, there was nothing that an infusion of tulsi couldnt solve, or some amazing things like Sitofaladi for coughs, which tasted brilliant with honey;  winter mornings would see a small bowl of pellets of a great mixture of dry ginger,turmeric, ghee and jaggery  nicely mixed, and we would have them along with our hot milk. Bread was totally persona non grata,  unless it was accompanied by a freshly stone ground chutney, and slices of vegetables between the bread pieces.

Somewhere ,  there was a belief, that a good sweaty out pouring  after a decent amount of exercise, would actually  solve a lot of  health issues. I remember running back down the Parvati hill temple as a child,  automatically deep breathing and suddenly getting my systems cleared of all the phlegm. Many decades later, a  daughter who would get frequent coughs and colds, joined an early morning fitness class as a coughing child,and it disappeared a few days later, enabling her to join a swimming beginners class, after which she has never looked back.

One of the things my mother heard about, was Chyawanpraash. 

My mother made Chyawanprash at home, from first principles. We used to know at one time so many of the names of the almost 40 herbs that went into the making along with amlas in season. Not just any amlas, but dongri amlas.  The recipe , courtesy one of my mothers's vaidya-doctor-best-friends.  Slow cooking, and the final product was amazing.  Those were not days of intense competition amongst companies, one tended to actually believe in stuff one personally supervised,  and there was often a feeling that commercial Chyawanprash had a predominantly sugary taste.  In those heady days of the 60's, we never bought commercial Chyawanprash

If Dabur were me, they would agree.

Chyawan Rishi was supposed to have invented , and prepared this and regained his youth.  I am sure that was not the main intention of Chyawanprash, and Chyawan Rishi very smartly used it as a marketing ploy, hitherto unmatched in the annals of advertising. 

But behind it all was an entire spectrum of herbs, designed to strengthen your power of facing all kinds of childhood and other diseases/health upsets. In short, building up your immunity.   

Amla, the magic fruit, with loads of Vitamin C, with a built-in preventive for its oxidation in our bodies; You name it, and the fruit has a solution: lowering cholesterol, inhibiting clumping of platelets, excellent for liver function, cleansing digestive tracts, anti ageing, eyesight , strengthening teeth and bones etc. Ashwagandha for helping you manage stresses, Pippali, for respiratory upsets so common amongst schoolkids ; Kesar, for energy and glowing skin; Guduchi, for strength, and toughening up the nerves ; Karkatshringi, which I remember being used for tough sounding coughs and seasonal colds; Bala Vidarikand for energy , and Shatavarikalp (more about this later) for mental sharpness, stamina, and improving eyesight. 

There were so many other herbs , and one may give an overall total list them here .  Bidrikand, Safed Chandan, Vasaka, Akarkara, Shatavari, Brahmi, Bilva, Choti Harr (Haritaki), Kamal Kesar, Jatamansi, Gokhru, Bel, Kachoor, Nagarmotha, Laung, Pushkarmoola, Kakadsinghi, Dashamoola, Jiwanti, Punarnava, Anjeer, Ashwagandha, Giloya, Tulsi leaves (Basil), Meetha Neem, Saunth, Munakka, Mulethi.  All boiled in a container of water where the amlas were tied in a cloth and dipped in to cook, and absorb the goodness of the herbs. The amlas would turn blackish having cooked and imbibed the herbs, and they were then deseeded and made into a smooth mixture, by pressing the pulp , via a fine white cloth, a procedure my mother used to call "vastragaaL" (वस्त्रगाळ ). The rich herb water was kept for later use, the sugar and other things, certain spices, honey, etc were ground and added. I don't remember too many details, but the whole thing resulted in an amazing Chyawanprash.

The immunity given by this amazing concoction doesnt just cater to physical immunity.  It gives you strength of mind, ability to withstand and tolerate trouble, manage stresses (which includes temper). So many times, a mental upset leads to a physical affliction . This is wellknown, and we have what are called as psychosomatic disorders. Very clearly, a regular measured imbibing of something like Chyawanprash, will, at the end of the day , idiomatically speaking, give you the power to face life , as we know it today.

Today's children face inordinate food additives, air pollution, water pollution,  antibiotic resistance, and newer and newer infections.  Today's parents, are working parents, who have little time for their children, and whatever little they have is spent in kowtowing to the wishes of the kids.  In our time , we had to finish what was served in our lunch plates, regardless of whether the sabji was a hot favourite or not.  Today , you hear indulgent women shake their heads and say things like " My family must have Coca Cola when I make Pav bhaji; they cant do without it" or " They wont eat this unless I fry it in butter " or " My family insists on red meat 3 times a week, they call rest of the vegetables in the meal,  ghaas phoos" .

This is a recipe for messing up the health of the nation's wealth.

And so , Dabur Chyawanprash, with its specially selected herbs, and readymade set of solutions, is a godsend for such parents who are pressed for time (and are not blessed with Mom's who make great Chyawanprash).  Ready to eat, as the current marketing phrase says and full of the goodness of the herbs mentioned above.

(I do have issues with introducing orange and assorted flavors in Chyawanprash. I am sure Chyawan Rishi did not foresee that.   There is something about  teaching folks to appreciate the original. We learned, and I am sure today's kids will surely learn.)  

Chyawanprash is not the sole magic potion for them. It has to be complemented, by a  decent sensible nutritious diet, plenty of exercise.

It is amazing what little kids enjoy .  Chyawanprash tastes wonderful not just when you lick spoonfulls.  It tastes great as a  roll when slathered on a chapati  , sometimes with honey too.  Shatavarikalpa  was something I have used even as a grown up and as a mother, and at one time my kids took great delight in eating shatavari kalpa chapati rolls with a bit of ghee and jaggery. Sitofaladi , always given in coughs, has been another hot favourite.   So many roasted seed chutneys taste amazing today on salads and even toast.  Eaten in decent moderation, this is an amazing way to build up immunity in children. 

 Most ayurvedic herbs, have multiple uses for us.  While ayurveda is all about providing excellent combustion facilities, with enlightened fuel for the machine that our body is,it is also about figuring out that there is some exhaust that needs to be thrown out, and  teaching/encouraging  the body to do so. 

Immunity , of the type described first is what we aspire for.  The ability to withstand disease , and if at all one falls prey to it, then the ability to emerge out of it with minimum collateral damage.

Immunity as described in the second meaning is what happens we are not up to the mark, and someone has to make special provisions for us. Excuse us from all kinds of things, possibly as a quid pro quid. It isnt something that encourages honesty .

I do so wish, there was a special Chyawanprash for the second type .......         

Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger-Dabur " An Immune India "  contest


  1. Amusing, interesting, informative and, above all, stylish.

    I like it here.

  2. I want to share with you two things that were amazing one that when i was writing i did thought of starting with meaning of Immune just like you did. Though I dropped the idea because somehow it was not gelling with post, but it was very good to see it on your post. (loved to see that we were on same page).and second was thinking about Rishi Chyawan and those references and link (again something i was planning but then edited much because of the story format) But this is just so thrilling for me to see something that looks exactly like what I was thinking for most. Only thing where i tend to disagree is that i find it good that they introduced new flavours. I feel rishi chyawan was a scientist, but not God and dabur should try to develop upon always.. loved your post. I welcome you to read mine (not for contest, but for the reason as i said above :)

  3. Beautifully worded post, ma'am! And an amusing way to start the post with another meaning of "immune". Your post scores very high in originality. Keep blogging!

    Would appreciate your candid comments on my post at

  4. Really creative and well-written. I loved the way you started with the meaning of immune. All the best!

    Would love your comments on my post at