प्राणिनां पुनर्मूलामाहरो बलवर्णौजसां च।। (Su. Sam.Su 46/3)
Food is the cause of strength, complexion, and vitality of all living beings.
Rice has been mentioned in Vedas including Yajurveda and Rigveda. Because of its life-nourishing qualities, rice is an indispensable part of many Indian rituals as it signifies prosperity, fertility, and abundance. Many of the Indian festivals like Onam, Pongal, and Bihu coincide with the harvest season of rice. Offering rice to deities and traditions like throwing rice over married couple signifies good fortune and luck while in annaprashana, the first feed of newborn is prepared by boiling rice in milk, undoubtedly proving the significance of rice in Indian culture.
A monocot, rice is the staple food of almost half of the world population. The cultivation of rice is estimated to have started about 6500 years ago and there are two domesticated and about twenty-two wild varieties available. Found in warm, tropical and aquatic conditions and depending on the variety, rice provides a varied amount of energy, fiber, protein, and minerals and is the most cultivated grain of the world.
Numerous varieties of rice are mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic texts under the category of Suka dhaanya, which is again categorized into Sali and Vrihi. Among Vrihi Dhanyas, Sastika rice, also called as Njavara is considered as the best, as quoted in the revered text Ashtanga hridaya:
“षष्टिको व्रीहिषु श्रेष्ठो ।“ Ashtangahrdayam Sutram Chapter 6.
It is believed that Njavara grown in upland areas is more potent in qualities.
Recently Njavara was granted the geographical indication tag status and has been in cultivation for more than 2000 years for its immense health benefits.
Sashti in Sanskrit means sixty, which indicates the quick maturing span of Sastika rice, which is sixty days. Called Njavara in Dravidian languages, it is truly a medicinal wonder grown especially in Kerala, because of its unique healing properties. Mentioned in Ayurvedic texts as being unctuous, sweet in taste, cold in potency, easily digestible, invigorating, pacifying all three dosas and providing stability, Njavara rice is an unpolished variety and is extensively used in various Ayurvedic treatments. Njavara is considered so exotic, it is often equated to gold by farmers.
स्निग्धो ग्राही गुरुः स्वादुस्त्रिदोशघ्न: स्थिरो हिमः ।
षष्टिको व्रीहिषु श्रेष्ठो गौरश्चासितगौरत: ।। (As. Hri. Su 6/6)
Sastika is mentioned to be of two types, white variety, and blackish white variety; of which white one is considered superior. Used traditionally in many forms because of its proven health benefits, Njavara is acclaimed in the management of neuromuscular diseases and auto-immune disorders. During the Karikadaka season, Ayurveda’s special monsoon therapy to rejuvenate the body, rice gruel made of Njavara rice, fortified with a mixture of herbs, called Karkidaka kanji or Marunnu kanji is used to provide strength and immunity against ailments common during the monsoon. Nourishing and easily digestible, it is an indispensable part of the monsoon therapy as it aids in the cleansing process. Sastika tailam extracted from the bran of Njavara rice is beneficial in neurological conditions and the wasting of muscles.
Njavara rice is comparatively more expensive as it is a low yield crop and is usually cultivated in very restricted areas. It is known as ‘gold with fragrance’ as it can fetch a good price for farmers because of its limited availability and amazing benefits.
Ayurveda uses Njavara rice in two major procedures: Njavara kizhi and Njavara theppu. Njavara rice is cooked in medicinal decoction and cow’s milk and tied into boluses. These boluses are kept on optimal temperature by repeatedly dipping in a hot mixture of herbal decoction and milk and are used to gently massage over the body. Njavara theppu is another modification of Njavara kizhi, for elderly and children who cannot withstand much heat, in which instead of the boluses, rice paste cooked with an herbal decoction is directly applied over the skin and massage is done in a specific manner. Both these procedures are extremely rejuvenating, improve complexion, calm the senses and are helpful in neurological conditions and relieving arthritis.