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Saturday, January 28 2023

The significance of turmeric in Indian Culture

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India to the westerners is a country full of exotic cuisines, animals, and natural beauty. India often referred to as the Land of the Spices due to the ancient spice trade routes. It holds great significance in the culinary world owing to the aromatic and colorful herbs and spices that grow here. One of these special plants is the golden spice of India known as turmeric.

Turmeric holds great significance in Indian culture for thousands of years now. You may know turmeric as the key ingredient for curry but it holds more cultural worth than just that. From Hindu religious rituals to life-saving medicine, the usage of turmeric in India is diverse. The estimated value of the total area for the growth of turmeric in India is around 100,000 acres. Also, India produces about 100,000 tons of turmeric roots per year.

Turmeric: The Golden Spice of India

What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a flowering plant from the ginger family, its scientific name is Curcuma Longa. It is an herbaceous plant meaning that it is a short plant that has no wood like stalk. Moreover, these plants are perennial which means it lives for more than two years. The turmeric plant is native to the southeast Asian and Indian subcontinent. Additionally, there are about 45 species of Curcuma longa in India alone. Emerging from the ginger family means that it is the roots of this plant that we use. The rhizome’s usage in cooking, coloring, skincare products, and medicine is very common. Commonly, the roots of turmeric get boiled, dried, and then ground up to the bright orange powder that we can find at the supermarkets.

History of Turmeric
Thousands of years ago people started using turmeric in Asia for dying purposes. Later its usage in medicine due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties became popular. Curcuma Longa is widely in use in folk and traditional medicine for thousands of years like the Ayurveda, Siddha, Traditional Chinese, and Unani medicine. The status of turmeric was providential in ancient India among both the Aryan and the Dravidian cultures. And it still holds the same status among most of the Hindu population. Historians speculate that turmeric reached China in about 700 AD. East Africa by the 9th century.And West Africa in the 13th century.

Medicinal Significance of Turmeric:
The medicinal use of turmeric dates to nearly 4000 years ago. Now, modern medicine is also taking notice of its importance as we can find more than 3000 publications on turmeric health benefits in the past 25 years. There are curcuminoids in the roots of Curcuma Longa, these curcuminoids contain many natural antioxidants that are vital for a healthy body. The most important of these curcuminoids is curcumin which is also the main active ingredient. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant and has prevailing anti-inflammatory properties. The fact-based benefits of turmeric include its capabilities to treat inflammation at a molecular level, the antioxidative properties to fight free radicals in the body, and improve DNA health among many others (the list is too long to state here).

Turmeric in Ayurveda and Siddha:
The first noted use of turmeric in Ayurveda is from 250 BCE in Susruta’s Ayurvedic Compendium that recommends a turmeric ointment to relieve the effects of food poisoning. Certainly, Ayurveda recommends the use of turmeric to treat the symptoms of a wide array of disorders and diseases. Currently, the traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine uses turmeric powder against the following diseases and disorders:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anorexia 
  • Biliary disorders 
  • Coryza 
  • Cough 
  • Diabetes and Diabetic wounds 
  • Hepatic disorders 
  • Jaundice 
  • Rheumatic disorders 
  • Sinusitis 
  • Sprains 
  • Swellings.

Most importantly, the application of turmeric powder/ paste on external wounds, insect bites, chickenpox, smallpox, inflammation, ulcers, eczema, scabies, swelling, and pimples is prevalent in both Ayurvedic and Siddha medicinal systems.

The importance of Turmeric in  Hinduism:
Turmeric is an auspicious spice in Hinduism The dark orange color of the root and the bright yellow color of the ground powder holds immense symbolic significance in the Hindu culture. To clarify, the association of the yellow color with the sacred god Vishnu, and yellow’s connotation as the space between chastity and sensuality makes its use extravagant in the Indian population. Similarly, the orange color implies courage, sacrifice, and renunciation. Some uses of turmeric in Hindu culture are as below:

  • Hindus adorn their gods with turmeric paste, sandalwood, and vermilion 
  • The use of turmeric in making of religious arts such as the swastika, om, etc. 
  • On Makar Sankranti Day (celebrated on 14th January every year), people tie the turmeric plant around the vessel used in making of the Sweet Pongal on Harvest Festival.
  • The Haldi (Hindi name for turmeric) ceremony is a Hindu wedding ritual for the beautification of the bride. The turmeric signifies purity, fertility, and sound health in Hindu marriages. 
  • The use of turmeric and vermilion to draw Tilak (a line drawn on the forehead).

And  in Indian Cusine
Indians use turmeric in their cooking liberally, maybe that is why 80% of Indian turmeric growth is consumed in India itself. Indians try to employ the use of turmeric in most dishes, thus giving them that curry-ish flavor and texture. Especially in South Indian foods, turmeric is a foundation spice used in most dishes. Though with modernization, the Indian culinary scene is changing turmeric is still present in the more modern recipes in one form or another. The modern application of turmeric existing in baked products, cakes, dairy products, canned beverages, ice cream, yogurts, biscuits, sweets, cereals, cake icings, sauces, and salad dressings.

To sum up, turmeric originated from India, and Indians love this spice. And there is a good reason for it too. The beneficial health properties and the amazing taste and color of this spice can make anyone fall in love with it. Therefore, the whole world is using turmeric now in one form or another. If you don’t have turmeric in your diet, then make sure to add this wondrous plant to your daily meals.

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