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Indian New Year: celebrate your heritage!

Hello Foodies,

Hope you are all keeping well! The cold breeze already feels warm and gentle and the sun is shining in all its glory…. SPRING is officially here! And so is the New Year for Indians across the globe. You may wonder why India celebrates so many New Years’? Well, the answer is deep rooted in the diversity of India. A potpourri of religions and regions across India coexist and thrive in spite of many enigmatic aspects. Essentially, they all relate to similar ideas and ideologies, adding more variety and charm to the Indian cultural landscape.

The Georgian calendar is followed for all practical and administrative purposes across India and the festivals and celebrations on it are also acknowledged and celebrated. But most of the religious and regional communities across India follow their own solar and lunar calendars. For them, the festivals or celebrations that are very ethnic and traditional in nature are celebrated on the respective days according to those calendar dates.

Hence, different states in India, celebrate the lunisolar New Year with different regional names.

So, let’s start with the North, where the very first day of the very first month of Hindu colander - Chaitra month announces the beginning of the Hindu New Year. This day is also the first day of Chaitra Navratri or Vasanta Navratri. It is believed that Maa Durga descended on the first day of Chaitra Navratri and Brahma started the work of creation of the universe at the behest of Mother Durga. This is why Hindu New Year begins with Chaitra Shukla Pratipada.

Another belief states that on the third day of Chaitra Navratri, Lord Vishnu took the first incarnation in the form of Matsya and established the earth. Apart from this, Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was also born on the ninth day of Chaitra Navratri, and is celebrated as Ram Navami.

For the agriculturally rich state of Punjab and Haryana, BAISAKHI marks the time for harvest of Rabi (winter) crops and is therefore extremely significant for the farmers as a harvest festival. They celebrate Baisakhi by performing their energetic folk dance- bhangra and gidda and also organize Baisakhi fairs. The festival is of prime importance in Sikhism as a foundation day of Khalsa Panth. The tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa Panth or the Order of Pure Ones and gave a unique identity to Sikhs. On the same day, the guru administered amrut (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples making them Singhs, a martial community. By doing so, he eliminated the differences of high and low and established that all human beings were equal.

It is said that Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj - a reformed sect of Hindus who are devoted to the Vedas for spiritual guidance and have discarded idol worship. Besides, Baisakhi day is of relevance for the Buddhists as Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment and Nirvana on this auspicious day.

Kashmiri Pandits celebrate their New Year's Day on the first day of Chaitra and call it NAVREH. On the eve of Navreh, a platter of unhusked rice with a bread, a cup of curd, a little salt, a little sugar candy, a few walnuts or almonds, a silver coin, a pen, a mirror, some flowers (rose, marigold, crocus, or jasmine) and the new panchanga or almanac is kept and seen as the first thing on waking up in the morning.

For Sindhis, CHETI CHAND symbolizes the start of the New Year. Sindhis revere this festival to celebrate the birthday of Jhulelal, who known to be their patron saint. The reason why Cheti Chand holds extreme significance for Sindhis is the belief that on this day Varun Dev (water God) had come to life as Jhulelal. He had done so to save the Sindhi group of people from the tyranny of a leader who intended on destroying Sindhi culture and Hinduism. This day is also regarded as auspicious for worshipping and offering gratitude to the God of Water.

Now talking about Western part of India, in Maharashtra, Goa and the Konkan region. this spring-time Hindu festival is known as GUDI PADWA and is considered to be very auspicious. Beautiful and vibrant Rangoli can be seen outside every home on this day. But the main feature and attraction of this day is the “gudi”. People display a long bamboo pole surmounted by a silk cloth or unworn silk saree adorned with a wreath of flowers, mango and neem leaves along with a string of crystallized sugar flowers called “gathi” and topped with an inverted silver or brass Iota or vessel. This whole assembly is called gudi and it symbolizes victory over negative forces. It is known as Brahma Dhwaj as per Brahma Purana, as Lord Brahma is believed to have created this material cosmos or universe on this day. Maharashtrians prepare sweet called Shrikhand to be relished along with fried puris. This day is considered a heavenly day for beginning new business or purchasing any kind of assets.

The North-eastern states, especially, Assam celebrates the arrival of New Year as “Bohag Bihu.” This festival of merriment is also known as “RONGALI BIHU” and it reflects the joyful emotions of the farmers. It signifies the beginning of spring season and a new harvest cycle. It purely symbolizes the state’s strong agrarian culture and sentiment where people seek blessings from the god for the sowing season. The traditional food called pitha larus (made of Coconut and Rice) and jolpan, cleaning up, wearing new set of clothes and worshipping the cows and idols of Gods for blessings and prosperity in the year ahead is all a part of this colorful festival. It brings along singing, festivities and feasting. Men and women perform the traditional Bihu dance marking the celebration of the new year.

Coming down to West Bengal, the New Year for Bengalis is called the “BANGLA NABOBARSHO” or Pohela Boishakh. It marks the first day of the month of Baishakh of the Bengali solar calendar. It is celebrated by spending time with family, visiting fairs, cleaning one’s houses and adorning new clothes. Houses are decorated with traditional designs called alpana on the floor. A number of delicacies including ilish maach, dhokar dalna, rice, and chanar dal are prepared to ring in the New Year.

PANA SANKRANTI also known as the Vishuva Sankranti is the new year celebration for the people of Odisha. An interesting feature which I thought I should share here about this celebration is an earthen pot which is filled with a sweet drink known as Pana. The pot is hung over a Basil (Tulsi) plant. A hole is made at the bottom of the pot to allow the sweet water to fall drop by drop. This represents the rainy season. A mixture of horse gram flour, banana and curd is offered to the Basil plant. After that it is consumed by the members of the family. Special offerings are also made to the Gods and Goddesses to begin the new year on a holy note. In some places of Odisha, special fairs like the Charaka Padva and dance known as Danda Nach is also held. A special drink made of the pulp of the wood apple or Bel is consumed on this day and this drink is extremely healthy and helps to keep the body cool for the approaching summer months.

Travelling down south, UGADI is the New Year for Hindus of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is again the first day of the month of Chaitra. Actually, we can say, it derives its name from one of the few names of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu who is tended to as Yugaadikrit, the creator of Yugas. It is also believed that this day denotes the start of the Kaliyuga. All those who celebrate Ugadi, begin their day with the ritual of oil bath and wear new clothes. A few tender neem leaves are eaten before starting the day. The kolamulus or beautiful floor decorations along with mango leaf decors on the doors and windows mark the festivity. A lot of donations are also made to temples and religious institutes on this day. Some of the special dishes prepared are pacchadi, pulihora and bobbatlu.

In Tamil Nadu, or Puthuvarusham. is the first day of the Tamil New Year as per their solar calendar. This day is observed by the Tamil communities as a day when Lord Brahma created the Universe while some believe that Lord Indra, who is known as the ‘Prince of Harmony’, visited Earth on the day of Puthandu to certify contentment and amity. The day is spent with family and special prayers or pujas are also conducted. People wear new clothes and youngsters seek the blessings of the older generation. On the New Year ’s Eve, a festive tray called ‘Kanni’ is prepared with various assortments, such as fruits, betel leaves, jewelry, coins, flowers and a mirror. It is considered auspicious to see this tray as the first thing in the morning of the New Year as it is a belief that seeing this Kanni at the first sight brings happiness and prosperity in the coming New Year.

‘Kolam’ or powdered rice flour is used to beautifully decorate entrances of homes and an oil lamp is placed in the middle of the Kolam which represents the removal of darkness from life. Devotees visit temples to receive divine blessings. Some Tamilian families perform rituals like ‘Tharpanam’ for the salvation of the departed souls of their ancestors. Another significant highlight of this day is the organizing of a car festival at Tiruvidaimarudur and the grand marriage of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar in the famous temple of Madurai.

Celebrated in Kerala, VISHU KANI has many similarities with Puthandu. It marks the first day of the Malayalam calendar. Several mythological tales are related to the celebration of Vishu Kani. Some believe Vishu is the day when Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, killed a demon called Narakasura. Another belief states that the demon King Ravana prevented the Sun God’s rising from the East and on the day of Vishu Kani, Surya Dev or the Sun God returned to the east to rise again!

A Vishu Kani has to be arranged a night before this New Year’s Day. It comprises of cucumber, rice, areca nuts, betel leaves, gold ornaments, new clothes, coins, mangoes, jackfruit, metal mirror, lemon, along with a lit metal lamp. These items are considered to be a good omen for they attract good fortune and prosperity. It is believed that each member of the family has to wake up early, bathe and enter the house temple to get the first glimpse of this Vishu Kani to start the New Year on an auspicious note. Therefore, Vishu Kani is arranged with great care and precision to create a positive aura in the house. A special feast called ‘sadya‘is customarily prepared in every Malayali household. The meal consists sweet, salty, sour, and bitter ingredients. Besides this, Veppam Poo Rasam, a dish prepared out of Neem flowers is served along with Mambazha Pachadi, a delicious combination of sweetness from mango and spiciness from chillies. Vishu Padakkam or bursting crackers is an important part of the festivity. A tradition of exchanging money which

is called Kai neetam is also considered a blessing from the family.

Wow! This seems to be a long read…but I wanted to share these intriguing facts about the regional and religious New year across our Indian subcontinent. No wonder each festival and its celebration are so deeply interwoven in our fascinating beliefs and mythologies!

Wherever you are and from whichever part of India you are, celebrate this New Year hoping and praying for new beginnings, new hopes and aspirations. Let this be the day to pray for the well-being of their loved ones and look forward to a new year of health and prosperity.

Remember, this is the time of the year when the entire nature appears to be drowned in the festive spirit! Like the new leaves, new buds, fresh breeze and bright sunlight, let this festival mark the dawn of a safe and unflinching era!!!

Signing off…. Vandana Oke.

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