The Sacred Serum

The use of sesame oil dates back to 600 BC when it was considered a luxury among Assyrians. The process of extraction made it expensive, thereby making it a symbol of high status. Legend goes that the sesame oil was the wine of the gods. In India too, the oil has been used since ancient times for healing, cooking and in religious rituals. These reasons afford the oil the status of being sacred.

Just like milk, honey and flowers are offered during prayers and Hindu rituals, sesame oil too finds its place in Vedic ceremonies. The sesame seed was a favourite of Lord Vishnu and sesame oil is associated with his consort Mahalakshmi. Hindus use it to light the votive lamps and also in funerals to usher in light and destroy ignorance. Using the sesame oil signifies a prayer to remove unforeseen dangers and avoid inauspicious events. It signifies faith and the lamp attracts sattvik vibrations. Till date, many believe in the effects of Rahu. People generally don’t start a new venture on a journey during Rahu Kalam because of its negative impact. In order to negate these effects of Rahu, traditions swear by lighting a lamp in a Goddess deity temple with sesame oil.

Taila/Tailam, a.k.a. sesame oil, finds reference in Atharva Veda, while anointing with sesame oil is mentioned in SankhayanaArnyaka. Yajur Veda also mentions the oil in several places. Those who love keeping traditions will know that in South India, an oil bath with sesame oil is considered auspicious, especially on days like Diwali for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to reside in their homes and lives. All the sweets and dishes are also cooked using sesame oil for festivals.

The seed is also used in funeral ceremonies or for ceremonies that are for departed souls and is called TilaTarpanam. The healing properties of the oil, which have been well known for centuries is reflected in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic massages use the oil to detoxify the body and treat several diseases. Regular massages with the sesameoil make the skin soft and luscious, helps lubricate the joints and makes the muscles and tissues strong. It significantly reduces aging by decreasing stress hormones and strengthening the immune system. From birth to death, sesame oil finds a place of significance among those who carry their religious and cultural practices forward.