Fasting with Water Only – It is a Big Deal and It Isn’t As Well!

A lot has been made about the fast that Anna Hazare and his followers undertook last week. A few news reports have even quoted his doctors saying that Anna Hazare is a “medical miracle”. This seems to be a bit of an over-the-top statement, probably because his doctors in Delhi have never handled people who have fasted for long periods of time.
There is no denying that a 12-day fast calls for tremendous reserves of will-power and motivation and hat’s off to Anna Hazare for pulling this off.
But it is also a fact that there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people who in the last week or so have fasted for 8 days or more and done “athais”. A few thousands have been fasting or will be fasting for even more days, some up to 21 or 30. A few have even done something called a “siddhi-tap”, where you fast for 1 day, then 1 day off, then 2 days, then one day off, until you reach 8 days. None of these are easy, but the vast majority of the people doing these fasts or “upvas'” do reasonably well, health-wise. Some continue to go to work and carry on with their normal activities for up to 5-6 days without any major issue. My wife’s mama used to do “athais” every year for about 30 years or so and never changed his routine or work patterns. And yes, these are all fasts with just water and no food whatsoever.
This is a part of a Jain tradition during “pajosan/paryushan”.
It is a big deal for the person fasting! The second and third days are the toughest. For those who live on caffeine, the first day itself sees intense headaches. But once you are through with the first three -four days, it becomes much easier. The hunger pangs go away and after the fourth day, desire for food vanishes. There is some weakness, but most people are able to continue their daily activities and work as well. Most also start talking less to conserve energy and their voices and tones become softer and seem more caring and empathic. It’s tough to get angry and shout on the 5th day of an 8-day fast.
Jains are reticent and publicity-shy. So, even though some of those who complete “athais” will celebrate with pomp, these are still confined within the community. Most just end their fasts in the presence of family and friends. Most non-Jains don’t have a clue or even understand what all of this means. Since most religions allows some form of food during the day or after sunset during their “fasts”, many people take some time to understand that Jain “fasts” are the purest, simplest and also therefore the toughest. No food, just water.
The mainstream press and media also probably do not understand any of this and so rarely cover this. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing. No one really wants a reality show on who can fast the longest in a Big Boss house.
Therefore, while fasting without any food and only water is a big deal for a single individual and difficult to imagine if you’ve never done one or seen someone else do it, it is also not such a big deal from a larger community perspective! And so, while Anna Hazare and his team members fasted successfully, the fasting itself is not something very extraordinary when seen from the perspective of the Jain community.
Michhami Dukkadam!

9 Comments

  • You are sure to whip up some agitation when you say Jain “fasts” are the purest, especially in the month of Ramadan.
    Moreover, in this season, anything remotely non-alligned with Anna is frowned upon.
    But I appreciate you making the point

  • That is what I also thought, I am not Jain but I know about their fasts. But What was more important about Anna was his courage of conviction. Human body has lots of reserve, it can perform many fits. Like walking on ropes on tall building and climbing on sky scrappers and many more. What stands out is courage to follow your path, your goal to its logical conclusion. Media of course is all about hyperbole so it can be excused. We wouldn’t be discussing this otherwise!

  • Lata Rele wrote:

    Yes, As you say fasting is a big deal & it’s not. But fasting for a cause & for the good of the country is a BIG DEAL. Jains & Muslims do fast but for themselves! The fact that the whole country was mobilsed itsef shows that it was a big deal. In line with your argument even Gandhiji’s fasts meant nothing. But it did bring the whole nation together against the British. It wasn’t the usual fasts done by other individuals for religious reasons that helped us to get independence.

  • Anand Desai wrote:

    Your article on fasting sems to belittle Anna’s effort to faast for the cause of the common man. Whats so great if you fast for your religion. Thats your personal obessesion. Dont try and compare such things on “the face of it”. Religious fasting may be sometimes manic as somepeople force their young children to fast [ poor fellows dont even know or understand the logic].Anna’s fast was for people … Pl realise that people supported him not because he “fasted” but because he is a man who has ” Nothing to Loose and Nothinfg to Offer”.. Selfless. So next time dont jump and write something like this …. think of the intent of the cause … religious fasting is nothing great.

  • Your article is insightful… Never thought of it this way!

  • Yes Athais are common. My neighbour does it all the time and I “feed” her a spoonful of moong water. and yes it is best kept under wraps, it is more pure that way instead of someone sticking a microphone in your face asking “how does it feel on the 4th day of the fast”

  • Vasumathi Sriganesh wrote:

    My interpretation: you had no intention of belittling Anna’s cause. You have sought to highlight a fact that doctors calling it (Anna’s ability to pull through the fast) – a miracle – need to know more about how communities fast. The cause has been highlighted as important

  • Rohit Kumar Sharma wrote:

    Hello, Sir. I am pretty much agree with your point of view. Really, it’s only the media overhype over the fasting of Anna Hazare.

  • Man from Houston wrote:

    Agree with the posters (Rele, Desai) that Anna Hazare’s fast was beyond selfless — it was indeed extraordinary in this day and age. That too in a country where corruption is the primary religion and everything else comes second.

    The comparison with religious fasting for personal reasons is not valid. People like Hazare are rare not just in India but the whole world.

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