Earlier this week I completed 30 days of fasting during the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadhaan. The response I get when I tell someone “My parents are Hindu Brahmins but I fast during the month of Ramadhaan” ranges from disbelief to quizzical to puzzlement to scorn to amazement to annoyance. The exact response tells me a lot about the person, much like the adage – if you want to know the character of a man, observe how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
I am the elder son of religious but liberal Hindu Brahmin parents and realize that my fasting during the month that Muslims around the world fast is unusual. For those who know of the religious and political undercurrents and tension in the history of the sub-continent, this is definitely puzzling.
It’s not just a fad
I have fasted for the entire 30 days of Ramadhaan every year for the last 23 years. I happen to be quite the typical food loving Bengali, so fasting with no food or water between sunrise and sunset is never a piece of cake [sic]. And, over the years my response to “why do you fast?” hasn’t changed much. I get asked this question by people of all backgrounds, including Muslims.
Intrigue and curiosity
It started off with intrigue and a desire to satisfy my curiosity observing a Malay Muslim friend at the University of Cambridge where I read Engineering and Management Studies. That specific month, around March 1993, was meant to be just experiential – after all what is university campus life for if not for experimenting? But that first month of fasting while preparing for the final year exams ended up being an experience that I know changed the way I approached a lot of things in life.
There are many physical and medical benefits of fasting – and these benefits accrue to anyone who fasts – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist …atheist or agnostic. However, these physical benefits, for me, are only a useful byproduct of secondary importance.
The primary benefit
When I am asked for a single reason – it is very clear answer – because I enjoy the experience – one of God consciousness. If allowed to expand on it, I would add – gratitude to and praise for our creator – through the process of self-restraint and self-awareness. The appreciation for what we have is greatest when we cannot have it – for instance, good health or the sustenance for it. From that appreciation, if you are fortunate, comes greater empathy for those who are equally deserving in life but have less. For the two billion Muslims, fasting during this month is only a small fraction of the recommended duties. Prayer, control of negative emotions (e.g. anger), abstinence during sunlight hours from modes of pleasure (e.g. movies, sex) are all recommended as ways to benefit further from the month.
For most of the last 23 years my fasting has been a mostly private affair, as it probably should be. Only those who have interacted with me regarding meals in this month have been aware. It struck me a few days ago that perhaps I should write and tell more people about why this son of a Hindu Brahmin fasts during the month of Ramadhaan. Hence this short note.
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.
Great blog…you not only think differently but live differently too…fasting in this way needs strong determination and great mind control – not everyone’s cup of tea….
Super note Purnendu
Even I fast during paryushan and enjoy it but was unable to find the reason for its satisfaction and mental peace
But After reading this article I too am able to relate and reason the happiness of fasting ……
Super article. From a physiology perspective, fasting has many benefits. From a spiritual aspect too it invokes a higher level of consciousness.
I liked your by line too, about not thinking is evil.
Love the way you have alluded to ‘experience the have nots’ to understand and empathise with the ‘have-nots’. Makes us more active towards helping others.
So glad that you were able to set your mind to sharing your reasons for fasting during Ramadhaan. It is sure intriguing indeed!! 🙂
Fasting from food & water is great…it’s like a penance with added benefits as you mentioned in the article.
After Jesus was Baptized by his cousin John the Baptist ( of who’s birthday YOU share, June 24th) Jesus went into the dessert to Pray & Fast for 40 days & nights; therefore us Catholics during Lent ( except on Good Friday & Ash Wednesday, where we abstain from food ) “Fast” not literally from food & water but we “Fast” from things that we are so attached to, example not eating meat, chocolates, tea, coffee, smoking alcohol etc for the 40 days or the better thing would be doing acts of charity added with the fasting from certain addictions. It’s not about how much one can deny themselves, even a little act of self denial is plenty for the soul.
Fasting is a humbling act of self denial …keeping us focused on our creator & how intricately each of us are created.
Yes! Fasting is an age old ritual & it’s so awesome to know you take this act seriously crossing all religious barriers.
You are one outlier Purnendu!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts & clearing the curiosity…wishing you continue success & God Conscience moments not just during Ramadhaan but all throughout the year:)
What a man !! And what a human !! And what a writer !!
You touch those corners of my heart that need most love.
” The appreciation for what we have is greatest when we cannot have it – for instance, good health or the sustenance for it. From that appreciation, if you are fortunate, comes greater empathy for those who are equally deserving in life but have less. ”
My God, this is not great writing. This is great understanding of life.
You speak to readers from all walks of life. And touch a chord with each one that is most personal and most intimate.
You are gifted and you are blessed.
And then Shammi Gupta’s picture on the blog !!!
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Dear Mr. Nath,
I am contacting you on behalf of Walk of Hope (http://walkofhope.in/) which is being organized by Manav Ekta Mission (http://manavektamission.org/). Walk of Hope is a padyatra by Sri M from Kanyakumari to Srinagar (approx. 7500 kms) for inter-faith unity and is currently in Maharashtra after completion of more than 2500 kms and 160 days.
Sri M is a sage who was born in a Muslim family but speaks on spiritual precepts of all religions, his favourite subject being Upnishads.
We would like to reproduce your article in our blog and request your permission, a pic. and your profile for the same. Please do let us know if this is possible.
It’ll also be a pleasure if you could join the walk for a few days!
Thanks & Best Regards
Once your body gets rid in the long staying waste or
toxins, it is a lot easier for the body to perform its process in reducing your weight.
Being overweight is deadly situation through which you could
be at the upper chances of developing serious health threats for
example non insulin dependent diabetes,hypertension,stroke and cardio-arterial disease.
Drinking a lot of water will eliminate cravings for food.
With a full fast, no water is drunk either.
Toxins do build up, and do not get washed away as a result of temporary dehydration.
However, the net benefit of sensible fasting are positive.
Thanks for your comments.
Loved your article, and you have inspired me. “From that appreciation, if you are fortunate, comes greater empathy for those who are equally deserving in life but have less.” That I believe is one of the most important attribute of humanity. Thanks for the writeup.
I have read and re read this and I’m amazed for the kind of person you are and happy to have known you. You dint mention that you also end up doing marathons during these fasts.
Not very long distances… The most is 15km so far… but I reckon I will do a half marathon mid-fast one day soon… a lot easier in Europe…despite the 20 hour fasts, the weather is a lot cooler than in India.
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Thanks for the awesome post!!!