By Reya Mehrotra
When summer would ring in in the late 18th century, Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan would relocate to his summer palace located on the banks of the river Cauvery. Interestingly, it was around the same time that Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh of Jaipur built the Hawa Mahal with 953 windows to allow for the passage of air as Rajput women, who followed the purdah system, would look at the city through palace windows without being seen themselves. However, years before the iconic Hawa Mahal was constructed, Mughal architecture embraced its signature feature of jaalis for the same purpose in most of its monument and structures. Every Indian kingdom, in fact, had its own grand way of tackling the heat.
Today, however, it’s a different story, with homes having shrunk and people’s sense of freedom curtailed due to the pandemic. While we may not have the luxury of living in palaces with flowing streams and gardens or travelling to hill stations this year, history has many traditional approaches up its sleeve which one can use to beat the heat. Take, for instance, summer mocktails. No, not virgin mojitos, iced teas or fruit coolers, but recipes rooted in regional traditions like solkadhi and aam panna. You can also hang wet mats on windows to enjoy fresh cool air, eliminating the need for the air conditioner. Here are some traditional and sustainable ways to survive the summer heat…
Yoga for well-being
With Covid chaos, as well as the mercury rising, it is important to take care of both your body and mind. Yoga can help immensely
- Radhika Iyer Talati, philanthropist, mountaineer, yogini and founder of organic beauty brand Beauty By Anahata, says that from an Ayurvedic perspective, summer is governed by pitta dosha—the physiological energy that regulates our body’s temperature system, including skin, sweat glands, blood vessels, as well as agni (digestive fire). She suggests meditating for 20 minutes to an hour every day for governing the mind and body.
- Talati suggests using aroma oils such as jasmine, sandalwood and rose to help calm a hyper-nervous system. These can be applied on the back of hand for post-workout cool-down support or used in a diffuser to spread the aroma across a room.
- Luke Coutinho, holistic lifestyle coach, integrative medicine, shares that sheetali and shitkari pranayama are well-known yogic techniques to cool the body from within. These are called as ‘cooling breaths’ and were earlier recommended to people staying in desert regions, which often face famine and droughts.
- For shitkari pranayama, sit down according to your convenience, keep the back, neck and head straight and leave your body loose. Join your teeth (top and bottom) and keep the lips open. Inhale deeply from your mouth (from between the teeth gap). Hold breath for five seconds, close mouth and exhale from both nostrils. Repeat this five-seven times and gradually increase the duration.
- For sheetali pranayama, sit on the ground in vajrasana position. Roll tongue from both sides to make a tube shape. Inhale deeply through this tongue tube and close mouth. Then exhale from the nostrils. Repeat eight to 10 times.
- Manoj Kutteri, wellness director at Atmantan Wellness Centre, says that since many have been working out indoors these days, one must acclimatise oneself for the weather before doing a complete workout outdoors.
- If unfit or beginning to exercise, take extra precaution while working out in the heat. Work out only when the temperature is low. Morning and evening are ideal for workouts in summer. During the day, you can opt for a swim workout, says Kutteri.
Vessels are key
For keeping the body temperature naturally cool, it is important to choose the vessel or food containers carefully, say experts. Think earthen pots, ironware and copper utensils
- Water stored in earthen pots can cool naturally and is alkaline in nature, says Luke Coutinho. It is better than artificially-cooled refrigerated water.
- Radhika Iyer Talati suggests drinking water from copper utensils for boosting immunity, digestion, decreasing a wound’s healing time, strengthening joints and improving blood circulation. “Ayurveda strongly recommends drinking water stored in copper vessels for balancing all the three doshas—vata, kapha and pitta. Water stored in copper vessels also serves as a natural oxidant,” she adds.
- Cooking in ironware, earthenware or copper can also make the food alkaline, retaining all vital nutrients as it distributes heat evenly. It strengthens bones and muscles, and keeps diseases away, according to Talati.
Indian summer coolers
It’s important to stay hydrated, but that does not only entail drinking plenty of water. traditional and regional Indian summer coolers can be tried at home to not only keep cool, but also boost health
- Bela panna: The summer cooler from Odisha is made from wood apple, or bael, pulp along with ripe mango pulp, grated coconut, sugar, milk curd, pepper, yoghurt and cardamom powder mixed with water and served chilled.
- Kulukki: The summer drink from Kerala is made using sweet basil seeds and unripened lime, and infusing it with green chillies, ginger, sugar and ice.
- Panakam: The traditional drink from Tamil Nadu is made with jaggery, ginger powder, cardamom powder, lemon juice and black pepper.
- Solkadhi: Luke Coutinho shares that solkadhi is a superfood when it comes to tackling body heat and acidity. “Ayurveda too has its mention, as kokum is instrumental in controlling pitta levels in the body. It also helps combat prickly heat, skin rashes, upset stomach and aids digestion. Additional ingredients like hing, curry leaves, ginger and cumin seeds add on to its digestive properties. The summer drink is served with almost every meal in the coastal region of Maharashtra,” Coutinho says.
- Tanka torani: The spicy summer drink from Odisha is made from one-three days’ old fermented rice water. Mint leaves, rock salt, yoghurt, lemon juice, green chillies and lemon leaves are added to the water.
- Jigarthanda: Another Tamil Nadu summer drink, jigarthanda is made from milk, almond gum, sugar, ice cream and sarsaparilla syrup, known for its anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties.
- Buransh: Uttarakhand’s sweet and sour summer drink is made from the petals of rhododendron flower.
- Overnight lemonade: Payal Kothari, integrative nutritionist, gut health coach and founder of GutAvatar (an Ayurvedic health mix brand), and INUEN, an online nutrition school, says that overnight lemonades must be had first thing in the morning, as the fermented drink is good for gut health. It can be prepared using filtered water, organic jaggery or sugar, a pinch of salt and lemon, and has to be kept out overnight—not in the refrigerator.
- Other common summer coolers: Manoj Kutteri says one should have mint, roasted cumin and hing-infused buttermilk or sweet lassis and vegetable raita for good digestion. “Coconut water to foster cell growth and regulate blood pressure, and herbal teas like hibiscus, cinnamon, chamomile, mint juices, amla juices, orange juice, lime juice are very good during this season,” he shares.
- Cucumber mint juice and sugarcane juice in summer are pitta-pacifying drinks, according to Radhika Iyer Talati. Lemon water, jaljeera, aam panna, fresh fruit juices too make for popular summer coolers.
- For keeping the skin free of pimples and glowing, fuller earth or multani mitti packs can be applied along with rosewater. Cucumber juice, aloe vera or tomato pulp can also be applied to keep the skin glowing and healthy.
The way we eat
There is no cuisine more complete than Indian. The beauty of Indian food is the synergy between two or more ingredients, says Luke Coutinho. in fact, all the heat-beating, immunity-boosting ingredients can be found in any Indian kitchen
- Sabja seeds: Also called falooda seeds, they are summer superfoods. They have a cooling effect on the body. For people who have acidity, they play a big role in helping overcome acidity and can be added to water.
- Sattu: Traditional to Kolkata and Bihar, sattu is a ‘cooling’ food that labourers usually eat in their main meals. It not just keeps them full and provides quality protein, but also keeps their body protected from the scorching sun. It is also light on the digestive system.
- Radhika Iyer Talati suggests consuming lighter meals at night to avoid lethargy and get a good night’s sleep. “Ayurveda lays huge emphasis on practising the habit of early dinner. The very reason that so many cases of gastrointestinal cases are occurring nowadays is because we have lost the discipline to eat early and at home. Late-night meals are a huge burden for our bodies to digest. This fact can be understood by noticing how we wake up the next day: puffy, bloated, lethargic and acidic. All of this because the body was unable to finish the process of digestion and assimilate important nutrients.”
- In Bengal, poppy seeds are ground into a paste and mixed with mustard oil, green chillies and salt. This mixture cools down the body. In Telangana, pachi palusu, or cold tamarind water soup, is a another way to cool down. In the south, raw jackfruit is also consumed as a nutrition-packed snack. It’s cooked as a vegetable as well.
- Payal Kothari shares that wheat chapatis can be replaced with ragi, jowar and other millet chapatis, as these are more cooling. She suggests having smaller portions of meals that are plant-based in summer.
- Kothari also suggests replacing ice creams with fruit ice lollies that can be made at home.
Seasonal fruits & vegetables
One doesn’t need to fill their bowl with expensive and exotic summer fruits and vegetables. Cheap and seasonal fruits are enough to take you through the hot days
- Manoj Kutteri shares that watermelon can be a tasty and healthy way to beat the excess body heat due to its high water content and good amount of lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, amino acid and antioxidants. It is also low in sodium and calories. The fruit helps to lower inflammation and reduce oxidative stress. Muskmelons also contain good amount of water and fibre, and act as hydrators.
- Servings of cucumber, beetroot, carrot and tomato in salads before lunch or dinner can cool down the body and detoxify it too.
- Green leafy vegetables like beans, bottle guards, mint, coriander, spinach, wheatgrass, moringa, etc, can be consumed to keep the body cool.
Summer might seem unliveable today without air conditioners, but in the pre-air conditioner era, a number of hacks were used by people to keep homes naturally cool. Here are some that can be incorporated…
- Plant trees in the front yard or backyard for natural shade.
- Use indoor plants like spider plant, aloe vera, snake plant, gerbera daisies, chrysanthemum, bamboo palm and warneck dracaena to purify the air indoors. Use plants near sitting areas and workstations to keep cool.
- If newly constructing a house, ensure thick walls and high ceilings to keep the house cool.
- Luke Coutinho suggests using marble or wood flooring if newly constructing a house to keep it cool. Do away with carpets, he says. You can replace them with mats made of straw (chattais) or cloth (daris).
- Place a bowl of ice in front of a table fan, as it will give out cool air.
- Declutter your space, use minimal furniture and get rid of unwanted things to keep the house airy and light.
- Hang wet mats or sheets on windows/doors during afternoons or at night, so that cool air comes in.
- Avoid bright, yellow lights at home; opt for LEDs or white lights.
- Instead of heavy curtains, opt for light-coloured cotton curtains, bamboo shades or jute screens to let air in.
- Prepare your own sprays and mists by infusing lemongrass, other essential oils or cucumber juice into water.
The sustainable choice
Before the fast fashion era dawned upon us, handmade sustainable textiles were worn by all. Even today, The ultimate summer clothing mantra remains: wear light-coloured, breathable cotton. This has deep traditional and sustainable roots
Indian heritage fabrics are perfect for Indian summer. Pallavi Shantam, founder of sustainable clothing brand Buna, says, “Sooti fabrics like 100% cotton and mulmul have always been used because of their lightweight texture, absorbent quality and breathability. They are back in vogue because Indian designers are now reclaiming Indian heritage fabrics for their unmatched quality… besides these are very comfortable and perfect for Indian summer.”
Emphasising the turn back to the golden age where sustainable fashion was the only choice, Shantam says, “They are also chemical-free and do not come with hidden hazards of synthetic textiles. After excess proliferation of synthetic fibres by fast fashion, consumers are now rediscovering the comfort and homely feeling of humble cotton or linen.”
Radhika Iyer Talati seconds Shantam in choosing natural fibres for summer, as sweat glands are highly active due to the rising temperature. “It’s best if the body temperature is kept in control by wearing thin and non-body-hugging clothes,” she says.
The work-from-home culture has also propagated loungewear styles that dominated a major portion of 2020. Keeping in mind that the lockdowns are back and work-from-home is here to stay, United Colors of Benetton’s Spring-Summer Collection 2021 is all about breathable materials, soft hand-feel fabrics along with anti-viral and bacterial finishes on fabrics. Sundeep Chugh, MD and CEO Benetton India, shares that the collection has incorporated easy lounge styles across men’s, women’s and kids categories. He shares that linen and khadi make for natural, lightweight fabrics for summer and are eco-friendly. “In recent times, khadi has seen a re-emergence in the fashion world with new-age innovations in terms of blends and weaves,” says Chugh.
Common summer myths debunked
- It is commonly believed that mangoes produce heat, but it is the other way round, reveals Luke Coutinho. Mangoes actually detoxify and clean the body of toxins, hence the breakouts on skin
- All cold beverages are not hydrating during summer. One should stay away from sugary drinks and alcoholic beverages as these dehydrate the body
- Iced drinks are cool?
No. These are unhealthy, as they slow down the digestive process. Instead, have beverages at room temperature with natural coolants
- Skipping meals doesn’t keep the body light. It only aggravates bodily heat, impairs digestion and releases toxins
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