Most fasting traditions are closely linked to the different religions. Here’s a quick look at some
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. During the holy month of Ramzaan, currently underway, observers abstain from food, water and impure, lustful and base instincts.
Strict fasting is not advised in Buddhism since it does not conform to the Middle Path delineated by Buddha, but some monks skip meals after noon to stay healthy.
Christian and Eastern Orthodox Churchgoers observe Lent, a 40-day period of preparation for Easter during which many fast or give up luxuries as a form of penitence.
Fasting is a key part of the religion; many fast nearly weekly. On Karwa Chauth, romanticised in Hindi movies, women fast for their husband’s wellbeing.
Fasting in Jainism is driven by the ideal of non-violence. There are many different types of fasts. Santhara, which involves self-starvation, could be carried out to voluntary death.
Unlike most religions, Sikkhism does not promote fasting. It discourages this ritual, as it is not believed to bring any spiritual cleansing.
While fasting for medical purposes, like before certain medical procedures, is a common procedure, fasting for weight loss is not recommended unequivocally. Many believe controlled diets are better than going without food for long durations. However, the Anti-Aging Fasting Program in Europe advocates calorie restriction to detox the body and slow ageing. Fasting programmes that cater to the obese are also popular across the world, especially in the US. These programmes help obese people take a step-by-step path towards giving up food and living on water for a specific period in order to burn the stored fat.
As a political tool
Popularised by Mahatama Gandhi during India’s struggle for independence, it remains an effective tool, as seen by the turmoil generated by the Anna Hazare movement last year.
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(This story appears in the 17 August, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)