Indian Festivals 1 - The Hindu New Year
Hindu New Year
The New Year
The start of spring (Chaitra) is the day the New Year is celebrated. If it is Navreh in Kashmir and Cheti Chand for the Sindhis, the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh celebrate Ugadi while Maharashtrians celebrate Gudhi Padwa. The Punjabis celebrate Baisakhi, while the Bengalis celebrate Poila Baishakh. While it is Bohaag Bihu in Assam and Vishu in Kerala, it is Puthandu Vazthukal in Tamil Nadu.
Navreh in Kashmir
In Kashmir, the day is celebrated with great enthusiasm and sanctity. It is on the eve of Navreh that the Kulguru of a Pandit family gets a new almanac (nachipatra - Sanskrit: Nakshetra-patri) and an illustrated scroll (Kreel Pach) with a sacred picture of Ma Sharika on it and some sacred verses.
Late in the evening, the housewife gets a big Thali (plate) and fills it up with rice or paddy, with dry flowers, fresh flowers, a weed called Wye, newly sprouted grass, curd, walnuts, a pen, an inkpot, salt, a silver and gold coin, a lump of cooked rice, a wheat cake, and a small piece of bread made from rice powder placed aesthetically on the rice or paddy. This Thali is then covered with another metal plate for the night.
Early morning on the this day, a boy or a girl gets up at dawn and after taking the lid off the thali, takes it to all the members of the family as a prayer for food, wealth and knowledge in the coming year. The bearer of the plate gets a rupee or more from every member of family. Every member picks up a few walnuts kept in the thali and drops them in the river, where he goes to take a bath. After a bath and donning new clothes and a new sacred thread, the family visits temples. Later, the head of the family offers turmeric coloured rice prepared in ghee known as Tahri to Ma Sharika, the principal deity of Chakreshwari which is afterwards distributed as Prasad among all the family members.
On Navreh, sumptuous dishes are prepared and friends and relatives who come to offer greetings are also entertained. Newly wedded brides go to their homes donning new clothes, and carry a pot of curd, bread, sweets, etc as these are thought to be auspicious.
Cheti Chand for the Sindhis
The Sindhis celebrate Cheti Chand on the first day of the month of Chaitra, also called 'Cheti' in Sindhi, which coincides with Gudhi Padwa in Maharashtra and Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This day is observed as the birthday of Jhulelal, the patron saint of the Sindhis. On this day, Sindhis worship Varuna, the water god and observe a number of rituals followed by feasts and devotional music.
On this day, many Sindhis take Baharana Sahib to a nearby river or lake. Baharana Sahib consists of oil lamp, Misiri (Crystal Sugar), cardamom, fruits and Akha. A Kalash (Water jar) and a coconut in it, covered with cloth, flowers and leaves is also taken along. There is also an idol of Pujya Jhulelal Devta (Pujya=Worthy of worship, Devta=Deity).
Ugadi (also called Yugadi) in Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka
The word Yugadi can be explained as: Yuga = epoch or era; Adi = beginning in Sanskrit. Literally, Yugadi means the start of a new era.
On this day, people clean and wash their houses. They decorate their houses with mango leaves and elaborate rangolis. Wearing new clothes, they then visit the temples to listen to the yearly calendar - "Panchangasravanam" and pray for a prosperous new year. Ugadi is also an auspicious day to embark on any new endeavor.
On this day, a dish encompassing six different tastes is made and served, to cover the six experiences of life. This is called Pachchadi in Telugu, and Bevu-Bella in Kannada. The mix consists of:
Neem Leaves – Bitter – Sadness
Jaggery – Sweet – Happiness
Green Chili – Spice – Anger
Salt – Salt – Fear
Tamarind – Sour – Disgust
Unripened Mango – Tang – Surprise
In Andhra Pradesh, a dish called Bhakshyalu or Bobbatlu (Polelu) (a paste of cooked gram and jaggery stuffed in dough and rolled out into flat breads) is prepared. In Karnataka, the same dish is called Obbattu or Holige. It is usually eaten hot or cold with ghee (clarified butter) or milk as accompaniment.
Mythologically, it is believed that Lord Brahma began the creation of the universe on this auspicious day of Ugadi.
Gudhi Padwa in Maharashtra & Goa
Gudhi Padwa is a festival that heralds the start of spring. Early in the morning, people finish their ablutions, wear new clothes and decorate their houses with colorful "rangoli" patterns. A silk banner adorned with brocade (zari) is raised on a staff, decorated with mango leaves, neem leaves, flowers and gathi (sugar crystals) with a brass or silver vessel. This Gudhi is placed upright outside a window and worshipped.
Traditionally, families begin the afternoon meal by taking a paste made of neem leaves, jaggery and coriander seeds. The significance of this is that life will be a mix of sweetness and bitterness, and should be experienced in totality. The meal is a big affair, with sweets, especially puran poli (a paste of cooked gram and jaggery stuffed in dough and rolled out into flat breads) and shrikhand (hung yoghurt mixed with sugar to form a smooth sweet) taking centre stage.
Mythologically, the Gudhi is seen as a symbol of victory of the Maratha forces led by Chhatrapati Shivaji, the Maratha king. It is also the symbol of victory of King Shalivahana over the Sakas. The Gudhi is also used to symbolize the Brahmadhvaj (the flag of Brahma, the Creator) mentioned in the Brahma Purana, because this was the day Lord Brahma created the Universe.
Baisakhi in Punjab
"Baisakhi", traditionally a harvest festival, is celebrated on the 13th of April every year, marking the Punjabi New Year. At dawn, Sikh devotees visit the Gurudwara with flowers and offerings. Huge processions are also taken across towns and cities. People celebrate by performing Bhangra and Giddha to the pounding rhythm of the dhol. The Bhangra tells the story of the farmer, beginning with tilling the soil and ending with the harvesting of the crop.
It is believed that on this day thousands of years ago, Goddess Ganga descended to earth. This was also the day that Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, laid down the foundation of the Panth Khalsa (the Order of the Pure Ones). Also, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj on Baisakhi, in 1875.
Poila Baishakh in Bengal
The first day of the Bengali new year called "Poila Baishakh" falls on the 13th or 14th of April every year. To welcome the new year or "Naba Barsha", people clean and decorate their houses and invoke Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.
All new enterprises begin on this auspicious day, as businessmen open their fresh ledgers for the year with "Haal Khata"- a ceremony in which Lord Ganesha is invoked and customers are invited to settle all their old dues and offered free refreshments. People spend the day feasting and participating in cultural activities.
Bohaag Bihu in Assam
The word Bihu is derived from the language of the Dimasa people of Assam who have been agrarian since time immemorial. Their supreme god is Brai Shibrai or Father Shibrai. The first crops of the season are offered to Brai Shibrai while wishing for peace and prosperity. So Bi means "to ask" and Shu means "peace and prosperity" in the world. Hence the word BISHU gradually became Bihu to accommodate linguistic preferences. The other suggestion is that "Bi" means "to ask" and "Hu" means "to give" and so came the name BIHU.
Fairs are organized where people play games and the celebrations go on for days together. Young women in traditional attire sing "Bihugeet" and dance the traditional "Mukoli Bihu". This festival is considered a fertility festival, where the bihu dance with its sensuous movements using the hips, arms, etc.,is performed by the young women to celebrate their fertility. The bihu dance can also be called a mating ritual by the young men and women.
The festive food of this celebration is the "pitha" or rice cakes, larus (made of rice and coconut) and Jolpan. People visit each other's houses, exchange gifts and sweets and greetings.
Vishu in Kerala
"Vishu" is the first day in the first month of Medam in Kerala, the beautiful coastal state in southern India. Vishu in Sanskrit means “to see”. The Malayalees begin the day by visiting the "Vishukkani." This consists of a ritual arrangement of rice, lemon, cucumber, letel leaves, arecanut, a mirror, flowers, a holy text and coins placed in a vessel called Uruli in the temple room. The first sight of the day should be the Vishukkani as this is considered auspicious.
The day is full of the elaborate traditional rituals with tokens called "Vishukaineetam", usually in form of coins, being distributed among family, servants and tenants. People wear new clothes and celebrate by bursting firecrackers and enjoying a variety of delicacies at an elaborate lunch called the "sadhya" with family and friends. The foods consist of equal proportions of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. Feast items include Veppampoorasam(a bitter preparation of neem and Mampazhappulissery (a sour mango soup).
Puthandu Vazthukal in Tamil Nadu
The day starts by the family viewing auspicious things such as gold, silver, jewelry, new clothes, new calendar, mirror, rice, coconuts, fruits, vegetables, betel leaves, and other fresh farm products, believed to bring in good fortune. It is followed by a ritualistic bath and almanac worship called Panchanga Puja. The Tamil Panchangam, a book on New Year predictions, is anointed with sandalwood and turmeric paste, flowers and vermilion powder, and is placed before the deity, later being read or listened to either at home or at the temple.
On the eve of Puthandu, every household is thoroughly cleaned and tastefully decorated - the doorways are garlanded with mango leaves strung together and Vilakku Kolam (decorative patterns) adorn the floors. After wearing new clothes, the family members gather and light a traditional lamp, the kuthu vilakku, and fill niraikudum, a short-necked brass bowl with water and embellish it with mango leaves while chanting prayers. Then they visit neighboring temples to offer prayers to the deity.
A traditional Puthandu meal consists of pachadi (a mixture of jaggery, chillies, salt, neem leaf or flowers, and tamarind), green banana and jackfruit preparation and a variety of sweet 'payasam' dessert.
This was just a start to the festivals of India. In the next series, I will cover the Hindu calendar, and how the festivals are spread across the year, and their significance. There are of course states which I may not have covered, or festivals that I may have not listed. Do feel free to add your comments. This is not a complete or comprehensive list in any way.
Till the next time,
P.S: All images are courtesy Google.