Fasting is an inevitable part of penitential observation in every religion. Religious scriptures prescribe certain norms for diet while observing such penitential fasting. They suggest to add certain foods and avoid some. The Hindu scriptures, especially Vaishnavite, suggest avoidance of onion and garlic on fasting days. They state that consumption of onion or garlic aggravates tamo guna, mode of ignorance, which characterizes the nature of the demons and thus is detrimental to any religious observation.
What is religious fasting?
In South Indian languages religious fasting is denoted by the word “Upavasa” which literally means “living with”- living with God. “Vasa” means to live and “upa” means to be with someone. Hence religious fasting “Upavasa” means to be one with God through fasting or neglecting the thoughts of food.
Purana suggestions for diet on fasting days
Hari Bakthi Vilasa in Kurma Purana says, “One should not eat eggplant, banana leaves, sunflower leaves, onions and garlic… If the twice born persons eat these things, they all become fallen.” All garlic varieties are forbidden on these days.
The reason stated for this observation is garlic varieties and rice fill the stomach and induce sleep which is detrimental to a meditative state of the mind. This will also change the mood and distract the thoughts on spirital things. That hinders one from being with God.
There are also citations about this in the Hindu epic Ramayana composed by “Kambar” of Tamil Nadu.
Purana legend about avoiding garlic varieties
Fasting is observed obligatorily on eclipse days, especially on solar eclipse. The legend says that solar eclipse occurs by the intervention of demons called Raghu and Kedhu. They are the outcome of evil spirits that came out when Lord Vishnu took an avatar and cut the demon-incarnation to protect Devas from Asuras. When he cut the throat of the demon in disguise some blood dropped on the ground and became red onion and garlic the white onion, respectively. Hence the garlic varieties are considered to be from demons and they contain the evil characteristics of Asuras in them.
Ayurvedic reasons for avoiding garlic varieties
Ayurveda, India’s ancient classic medical science, classifies foods into three categories according to their modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. They are satvic guna, rajas guna and tamo guna. Ayurveda states that onions and garlic have tamo guna which induce passion and ignorance.
That is the reason why Vaishnavites, followers of Lord Vishnu, avoid tamo guna foods such as garlic and onion in their cooking. They include rather fruits and other vegetables which are satvic.
Dr.Robert E.Svoboda, a well-known authority on Ayurveda, says, “Garlic and onions are both rajasic and tamasic, and are forbidden to yogis because they root the consciousness more firmly in the body”.