Come Karkadakam and it is time to pep up one’s body with Karkadaka kanji. The medicinal gruel is an integral part of the Karkadaka masacharanam — a regimen of food, exercise and medical treatment to keep the body and mind healthy during the monsoon.
The regimen for fitness evolved from the agriculture-based socio-economic system that prevailed in Kerala.
In days of yore, people had time on their hands when the rain poured down and the fields were flooded. The Karkadakam month, which coincided with the monsoon, soon became a time to unwind and move into rejuvenation mode. The rise in monsoon-related diseases also forced people to remain indoors most of the time.
However, the rejuvenation therapies and medicinal gruel soon faded from memory for a major part of the last century till it was revived by an interest in ayurveda that emerged about 15 years ago.
Nowadays, the Karkadakam month is when the ayurveda sector is most active. Ayurvedic centres have come up with three to seven-day packages that meet the modern needs. “In the olden days it was part of tradition for the rich to spend 10 to 15 days for pizhichil (massages); the poor set apart this time for oil baths,” said K. Murali, professor, Kayachikitsa, Government Ayurveda College, Tripunithura. The type of Karkadaka rejuvenation therapy one underwent depended on what one could afford, he said.
“The ideal rejuvenation therapy comprises a 21-day treatment with poorvakarma and panchakarma,” said ayurveda practitioner from Mattancherry G.K. Menon. The therapy would be effective only if a person later followed the nallairuppu or total rest for the same period as that of the treatment, he said.
Ayurveda practitioner from Tripunithura M. Dinesh Kumar said aushada seva was the essence of rejuvenation therapies during the monsoon.
The treatment along with the medicinal gruel worked well for the body. The rest period after the therapy was a must to get the desired effect, he said.
“The Karkadaka kanji is basically a folk medicine whose ingredients depend mainly on the medicinal herbs available in the region,” said Dr. Kumar.
The ingredients used differed from place to place depending on the flora, said Dr. Murali.
“Some may use only fenugreek along with njavara rice, some may use dasapushpam (ten flowers) along with some other herbs.”
The commonly used ingredients are Mukkooti, chathakuppu, spices like cumin, coriander, dried ginger (chukku), cardamom, and caraway seeds (ayamodakam).
People use various combinations to prepare the gruel, some fall back on tradition while others use a mixture that is easily available off the shelf.
According to Dr. Menon there are no fixed ingredients for the gruel and it comes in a number of herbal mixes.
He said the panchakola (including pippali, pippali root, chavya, chitraka and nagara) along with njavara rice energised the digestive system. The medicinal gruel could rejuvenate a body that had undergone a lot of stress, he said.