India- the second most populous nation in the world- has become a land synonymous with diversity. Indian heritage is an amalgamation of innumerable cultures, traditions and religions. Thus it should come as no surprise that this mélange of customs would result in equally diverse days and methods of New Year celebrations in the subcontinent. While some of the features of these festivities remain essentially the same- wearing new clothes, exchanging gifts with friends and family, adorning houses with lights and other decorative items, bursting fire crackers and savouring feasts- there are some rituals which are typical to certain regions. Here’s a look at the some of the unique ways in which people welcome the New Year in India.
Celebrations of Different New Year in India:
1. Baisakhi in Punjab: Baisakhi or ‘Vaisakhi’ or ‘Mesha Sankranti’ is the harvest festival, celebrated on the 1st day of the month of Vaisakh as per the Sikh Calendar, on the 13th of April. The 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh laid down the foundation of the Panth Khalsa that is the Order of the Pure Ones on the Baisakhi Day in the year 1699, making it a day of immense importance for Sikhs. This festival observed during the harvesting of the Rabi crop, where the farmers express their gratitude to the almighty for the plentiful harvest and praying for prosperity in the coming year. Sikhs begin the day by rising early and visiting the nearby Gurdwara, where passage recitals from the sacred book of the Sikhs, Guru Granth Sahib, and Kirtans (the singing of religious songs) take place. Kada Prasad is distributed among people, who perform the kar sewa (helping at the everyday duties of the gurdwara) and processions headed by the five religious men or Panj Piaras are taken out. The ceremonies conclude with a special community lunch or the guru-ka-langar where vegetarian meals are served. Events like mock duels, singing, gidda and bhangra performances are accompanied by enthusiastic chants of “Jatta aai Baisakhi”.
2. Bohag Bihu in Assam: Named after the first month of the Assamese calendar, the New Year celebrations take place at the onset of the harvest season in the month of April. As the Assamese people rely heavily on cattle, especially cows, in the cultivation process, they symbolise the wealth of the owner and play a central role in the festivities. New ropes are bought for the cattle, they are cleaned and worshiped and offered special fodder made of aubergine and gourd. A special prayer called ‘Bihu Husori’ is offered to God Brai Shibrai at the Namghar or the prayer hall to commence the celebration of the New Year. The next day sees the preparation of traditional dishes of flattened rice; curd and jaggery in all households which are shared with neighbours and friends. The Assamese wear only the traditional outfits, ‘Mekhla’ for the women and an assortment of vest, dhoti and ‘gamocha’ for the men, during the festivities and several fairs and Bihu dancing competitions are organized. While the New Year celebration was traditionally meant for three days, the revelry continues well over a month.
3. Naba Barsha in Bengal: As per the Bengali calendar, ‘Poila Baisakh’ or the Bengali New Year falls on the 1st day of the Baisakh month. The festival had been introduced by the great Mughal emperor Akbar. Naba Barsha is a time when distinctions such as caste, religion and regional differences are put aside and the entire Bengali populace in India, Bangladesh, Bengal and Assam are united in their celebration of love and hope. Devotees queue up at the Kalighat temple to offer their prayers to the almighty health, longevity and the well-being of the family members. People worship Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi and prayers are also offered to the clouds for water. On the Poila Boishakh morning, as is the custom, people come together to catch a glimpse of the sacred sunrise. The traditional breakfast comprises of panta bhat (soaked rice) along with onion, green chillies and fried Hilsa fish. The Bengalis clear off all the dues and loans and buy and prepare new account books on this day. This custom is known as Haalkhata. The month of Baishakh is considered very auspicious for events like marriages, starting new ventures and businesses.
4. Puthandu in Tamil Nadu: Puthandu, Varusha Pirappuy or Tamil New Year is celebrated during the Chittrai month, usually around 14th April. At the break of dawn, people observe the tradition of watching Kanni or auspicious items such as silver or gold jewellery, coconuts, raw rice, flowers, fruit and vegetables, nuts, betel leaves etc. with the hope that this will usher in good fortune for the members of the family. Tamils begin the year by purging themselves of dirt with a herbal bath. Raw mangoes and neem flowers which are believed to symbolize prosperity and growth are offered to the divinity. The offering of the morning prayers is followed by the reading of the Panchangam. Maanga Pachadi is a traditional festive dish prepared using neem flowers, raw mangoes and jaggery. A very popular Car Festival is organised by the state in lieu of the occasion near Kumbakonam, Tiruvadamarudur. The game of coconut (popularly known as por-thenkai in Tamil Nadu) and cart races are also conducted on New Year’s Eve. Besides completing all monetary transactions, farmers carry out the first ploughing of their fields on this day as it is believed to be an auspicious time with the sun shifting from Meena rashi to Mesh rashi, making it the ideal period to execute new activities.
5. Vishu in Kerela: The Malayalam New Year, Vishu or Bisu is celebrated on the first day of the month of Medam as per the Malayalam Calendar. In the year 2016, Vishu will be celebrated on 14th April. Kerala’s harvest festival is also observed in Tamil Nadu and the Tulu Nadu region in the state of Karnataka. The literal meaning of Vishu is equal, signifying the equinox. Owing to Malayalam belief that if one begins right, the year to come will go rightly, it is customary for the people to open their eyes to Vishukkani or auspicious items such as gold ornaments, Cadian leaf book, one new white cloth, yellow cucumber, raw rice, flowers from the Konna tree, holy grantha, jack fruits and coconut which are placed on a bell metal container known as ‘uruli’ the night before in front of an idol of Lord Krishna. The traditional attire called Kodi Vastram is worn and the womenfolk prepare Sadya, a special feast to honour the special occasion, which comprises of mangoes, jackfruits, pumpkins and gourds, Moru Kutan, a Payassam yoghurt dish (Kheer), Veppampoorasam (a bitter neem preparation) and Mampazhapachadi (a sour soup of mango). The central dish Vishu Kanji is prepared using coconut milk, rice and spices and is accompanied by Thoran. All the preparations for the coming agricultural season commence on the New Year day.
6. Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka: The Ugadi festival is observed on the “Chaitra Shudhdha Paadyami”, the first day of the Chaitra month, which falls between March and April. Legends say that Lord Brahma, the Hindu pantheon created the world on this day. Prayers are offered to the almighty to invoke His blessings to welcome the New Year. Special dishes such as “Ugadi Pachchadi” are prepared with the combination of jaggery, tamarind, neem flowers and raw mango. Andhra dishes include “Bobbatlu”, “Pulihora” and other preparations of raw mango typical to the Ugadi festival while in Karnataka dishes like “Puliogure” and “Holige” are popular and the Maharashtrians savour Sweet Rotis and Puran Polis. Poetry recitation or “Kavi Sammelanam” provides an important literary platform for upcoming poets to share their works. The spirit of this festival is that one must treat all their experiences, be it good or bad with absolute equanimity and it is considered to be the most sacred time to start new ventures.
7. Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra: The Maharashtrian New Year is celebrated on the 1st day of the month of Chaitra, as per the luni-solar Hindu calendar, falling between end of March and the beginning of April and marks the onset of the spring season ‘Vasant’. The traditional preparations include chana usal and soonth panak and people commence the festivities by consuming neem leaves along with tamarind, ajwain and jaggery for it is widely believed that this purifies blood and strengthens the body’s immune system, preventing diseases. One of the most significant rituals of the Gudi Padwa celebrations involve the raising of the Gudi, a pole with a silver or brass pot (‘Kalash’), placed upturned on the top. The Gudi is draped in colourful silks, marigolds, coconuts, and mango leaves, as a token of the bounty of nature. It is critical for the Gudi to be raised right next to the house’s principal entry while the ‘Shiva-Shakti’ mantra is being invoked to represent Lord Rama’s victory over Ravan and the gaiety of his people upon his return. The adults engage themselves in listening to Panchang shravan that is the religious almanac on auspicious occasion and the soil is also taken up for ploughing as the day signifies the end of one harvesting season along with the beginning of another. Various offerings are provided for those in need and stalls of free drinking water are set up with the view to appease the souls of the ancestors.
8. Navreh in Kashmir: The lunar New Year celebrated in Kashmir and other parts of the country coincides with the first day of the Chaitra (spring) Navratras. On the eve of Navreh, the Kulguru of a Pandit family gets a new almanac (nachipatra) and an illustrated scroll (Kreel Pach) with a sacred picture of Ma Sharika on it along with some sacred verses. A day prior to Navreh, Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar visit the sacred spring Vichar Nag to take a holy dip in its waters with the objective of casting off the wintery sloth and impurities. Round pieces of Wye herb are consumed along with homemade rice powder cakes as Prasad before breakfast. Tahri, a turmeric coloured rice prepared in ghee is offered to Ma Sharika, the principal deity and is later shared as Prasad among all the family members. New brides and youngsters are presented with money by their elders. This day marks the commencement of Nav Durga Puja in Kashmir. During the Navratra days, people from all over the country visit Vaishno Devi and other Devi shrines in Jammu and Kashmir. Lord Rama is also worshipped in the state, with the Navmi or 9th day of Navratras being called Ramnavmi, when Hindus greet each other with Navreh Mubarak (a happy new year).
9. Maha Vishuva Sankranti in Orissa: The Oriya New Year is also known as the Pana Sankranti or the Mesha Sankranti is usually celebrated around 14th April as per Sidereal astrology. This day marks the commencement of the Oriya solar month of Mesha. A small pot filled with Pana, a sweet drink of Mishri and water, is hung on a basil (Tulsi) plant with is a hole at the bottom which allows the water to drizzle out, symbolizing rain. The traditional preparation of flour of horse gram chhatua, along with banana curd, offered to the Tulsi plant. Special offerings are made to Shalagram, Shivalinga, Hanuman, and other deities. Devotees throng the devi temples of Chandi, Biraja, and Sarala in large numbers to complete the Jhaamu Yatra. This is termed as the Chadak Parva in Northern Orissa, while in Southern Orissa, New Year’s day is celebrated as the culmination of month-long Danda nata in the final ceremony, the Meru Yatra. This day is also widely celebrated as the birthday of Hanuman.
10. Bestu Varas in Gujarat: The Gujarati New Year falls in the month of Kartik, the first month of the Gujarati calendar. Gujaratis commence the New Year by forgetting all misunderstandings, pains, hardships and bad memories of the year that has passed and starting afresh with positive vibes. Since Diwali happens to fall just a day before, the rituals involving the worship of chaupde or the bahi khata are performed at midnight on Diwali itself. Many traditional dishes such as sarsi puri, shakkarpara, ghugara, mathia and chora sali, a diamond shaped snack are prepared and are shared with relatives and friends. The heavy afternoon meal comprises of undhio and puranpoli along with many other dishes. For the business community, the New Year’s Day is the day to begin new account books and prayers are offered at places of work. As it is one of those rare days when the whole family is at home, afternoon siestas are very common.