It’s Gudi Padwa and you are freshly showered and dressed in your finest. The Gudi, a flag made using bamboo and a bright silk scarf and decorated with neem leaves, mango leaves, flowers and an inverted copper vessel, has been hoisted. With optimism abound for the New Year, you are surrounded by family, love and a delicious spread of food. But before you can dig into the feast, you are given a small ball of jaggery coated neem leaves.
Ever wondered why such an auspicious day begins on such a bittersweet note?
Though everything else about the day is entrenched in religious symbolism, the custom of consuming neem leaves and jaggery on an empty stomach was integrated into the celebration keeping health in mind.
Well, ancient Ayurvedic practitioners used each part of the neem tree to treat and prevent an array of diseases. Today, its medicinal properties, from healing digestive issues to fever, blemishes, injuries, preventing cancer, delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, repelling insects and killing them, have all been proven by modern science.
Jaggery not only makes the neem leaves more palatable but also bolsters our health by purifying blood, improving blood circulation, enhancing digestion, relieving joint pain and boosting our immunity. Neem and jaggery work in tandem to detoxify our bodies.
Since their medicinal properties were widely known, our ancestors made eating them into a tradition. This ensured that people started the New Year in the healthiest way.
So next time you are handed a neem and jaggery pellet, wash it down with some water with the knowledge that there is no better food to start the New Year with.