Rishi Panchami is the last day of this three-day festival. But according to astrology, it doesn’t fall the very next day of Haritalika Teej unless the Chaturthi and Panchami, the fourth and fifth days of Bhadra Shukla Paksha overlap.
On Rishi Panchami, the fifth day of Bhadra Shukla Paksha, women and girls start their day with a long holy bath following very strict rules. These bathing ceremonies are compulsory for all who have undergone the Teej fasting and girls who had their menses. Bathing is followed by almost two hours long puja (worship) to Sapta Rishi and Arundhati. During partial fasting they eat their only meal, Karkalo Bhat, the rice and taro root slash leaves curry after puja.
Traditionally, husbands must take control of the kitchen on this day and prepare karkalo bhat for their wives and women of the family. Also traditionally, girls are forbidden to go into the kitchens, altar, and touching men during their 4 days of the monthly cycle, and Rishi Panchmi is considered as the 4th day of it, hence boys of the family cook on this day.
Hundreds gather nearby rivers like Bagmati and Bishnumati, the confluences, wells, and ponds for holy bathing. Those unable to travel to the holy waters could also bathe in their homes in accordance with the same ceremony.
The bathing process must be done 365 times for the 365 days in a year
- Red mud must be smeared 365 times on many areas of the body; viz head, shoulders, elbows, hands, knees, feet, and private parts.
- Hair must be washed and sprinkled oneself 365 times with 365 leaves of the datiwan, the prickly chaff flower (Achyranthes Aspera).
- Teeth are brushed 365 times with a stalk of the same datiwan.
This purifying bathing ritual is an atonement for the female sins committed during menstruation, like touching men and going to the kitchen or altar, etc. It is believed that undergoing this ritual will absolve women from all such sins.
Rishi Panchami is a day to pay tribute to the Sapta Rishi, the seven great sages, who devoted their lives to the betterment of humankind. The seven sages are Agastya, Atri, Bharadwaja, Gautam, Jamadagni, Vashishta, and Vishwamitra worshipped on this day along with Arundhati, Rishi Vashistha’s wife. So, after the bathing ritual, women gather at Rishi Temple and perform Sapta Rishi Puja. The Risheshwar Temple in Teku, Kathmandu receives the biggest crowd.
Rishi Panchami Story
According to the Legend, there was a Brahmin called Uttank who lived with his wife Sushila and a widowed daughter. The couple one day finding their daughter’s body covered with ants sought help from a learned sage. Sage reasoned the situation saying that their daughter had entered the kitchen during her menstruation. He advised the daughter to take a purifying bath and worship the Sapta Rishi on the Rishi Panchami day to absolve from the sin. It is believed that the rite has been carried out by all Hindu females since then.
Karkala (taro leaves) and Pidalu (taro root) cooked with gedagudi (legumes) is a delicacy devoured with bhat (rice) as the only meal of the day on Rishi Panchami
Cleaning the vegetable is tricky. Always rub salt or oil on your palm before cleaning taro leaves, or simply wear gloves.
Firstly, separate the taro leaves and stalks with a knife and rinse thoroughly. Take only young leaves, roll them into tight cylinder tie the ends together to form loose knots. Break each stem into finger size while carefully peeling off the skin/cover. Rinse the stem and knotted leaves thoroughly again. Di-skin and dice the pidalu. Take legumes soaked overnight, rinse them thoroughly too.
Heat oil or ghee in a pressure cook, add karkala, pidalu, and legumes to it along with spices like turmeric, cumin powder, salt, and chili powder. Stir well, cover, and cook the curry for 3-4 whistles. That is until legumes are cooked
Serve it with freshly cooked rice and ghee. Squeeze few drops of lemon to the curry while serving.
On a separate note, taro despite being super tasty must never be eaten uncooked because it has toxic calcium oxalate crystals which is harmful and many are allergic to its touch too. However, all the impurities are killed when cooked.
On other days than Rishi Panchami, one can also cook the entire curry with onion and garlic. These spices are forbidden to cook ritual foods.