It is surprising how some things exist for centuries and are part of our everyday existence, but we only wake up to its full potential when shaken from our slumber. Turmeric or Haldi is one such Indian kitchen/social/religious ingredient that has for years been a vital part of the Indian culture, adding color and flavors into all that it is poured into. The West, however, has adopted its benefits only recently yet in our homes turmeric has always been around, the humble yellow powder used for myriad utilities.
Indian culture many a times throws up surprises that are hard to understand. Though the world at large is recognizing many of our cultural and traditional nuances, these have in fact been the very fabric of our social and individual lives. Yet, it is somewhat astonishing to figure out the history of how a simple inconspicuous turmeric plant could have been woven so intricately into our culture and homes that it has somehow seeped into our subconscious mind, groveling in our being but never superseding or overtly exerting its supremacy, worth and value.
Usage of Turmeric
Turmeric, the word, is a Sanskrit synonym for yellow color and has been cited in many Sanskrit texts dating back to the 4th and 5th century. Used in Ayurveda medicines as well as known to be a household remedy for many ailments, ranging from a simple cough and cold to treating wounds and jaundice, turmeric has many medicinal uses and often works as an anti-infection dose.
Cosmetically haldi is deemed as a perfect product for skin related ailments as well as for beautifying and nourishing the skin. Women over generations have used turmeric paste over their faces and hands and today many cosmetic products incorporate turmeric into toothpastes, face washes and shampoos.
In fact it would not be too far-fetched to say that turmeric can be applied or used for just about everything. Apply it on a burn, on an acne, wound or drink it with water for indigestion, bloating or intestinal troubles. Blend it with milk to curb the nagging throat pain or add it while boiling or cooking your favorite non veg dish to get rid of any infectant.
Besides, turmeric is the most staple spice ingredient that goes into practically all dishes while cooking. Also called the healer’s spice it adds a simple yet essential taste to any platter, always playing the double role of providing the perfect pinch in taste, color as well as giving the food its nutritional and curative touch.
However, culturally the usage of turmeric is far more than a kitchen spice or medicinal plant. It is also deemed auspicious and before weddings the groom and bride across many religions are often smeared with haldi paste. During the wedding a string dyed in turmeric paste, called the mangalsutra is worn around the neck of the bride, an indication of her being married. Robes of the Buddhist monks are also dyed in turmeric, whereas invitation cards from Hindus usually have a mark of haldi when sharing some happy news.
It is also believed that turmeric was first grown to help tribes transitioning into agriculture to use in decorative masks, weaving and drawing deities.
Hence the significance of turmeric in Indian culture has always been attached to its sacredness and good omen and has a huge bearing on the culture and social traditions of society. In fact, besides haldi, there are many other foods and ingredients that are believed to be auspicious and influence the culture of the land – for example, eating curd and sugar before venturing for an exam, interview or any new endeavor, sprinkling saffron or kesar on wedding cards, cracking a coconut while beginning something new and so on. However, out of the many superstitions and beliefs, very few really can be explained to have a practical or pragmatic approach as much as haldi. Turmeric stands out racing ahead of the other foods with a religious or social significance, because its benefits are vastly accepted and to a certain point proven as well. Turmeric is made up of curcumin which has antioxidant properties and is anti- inflammatory. In fact studies have proved that the consumption of turmeric has had positive effects on diseases such as, arthritis, depression, and even cancer.
With more and more awareness being spread about the spice, more people have realized the importance of turmeric. And though turmeric has been a part of our lives since ever, it is good to know that it’s worth and importance is being recognized across the globe. At the same time, turmeric also essentially means much more to an Indian than just a spice that has many benefits, it is in fact as the author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni says in her novel, Mistress of Spices, “Turmeric the auspicious spice, placed on the heads of the newborns for luck, sprinkled over coconuts at pujas, rubbed into the borders of wedding saris.”