Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Hindu New Year: Many Flavours

The pachadi of Ugadi with six flavours, is meant to symbolise ‘that it is only when one goes through grief or anxiety that one can enjoy the sweetness of life. And as one goes through the year, one tastes the flavours of the ugadi pachadi in the sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty and tangy events of everyday life and hopes that like the dish, the sweetness will be there even through the slight touches of all the other experiences.’

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The weather promises to play spoilt sport with the presence of cyclone Imelda around, but this is not likely to dampen the fervour for the celebration of the Hindu new year during the period 11-15 April.

This also coincides with the Vasanta Navaratri or Spring Navaratri (nava + ratri: nine nights), a ritual which is observed twice a year, in spring and in autumn, consisting of nine days of fast and worship, and that also is the period of Ram Navmi, namely 11-19 April this year.

Although the Indian National Calendar is the official calendar for the Hindus, regional variants still prevail. As a result, there are a host of new year festivities that are unique to the particular regions of India, and which are reflected and adapted in the practices of Hindus in different parts of the world, Mauritius also included of course.

As Vasudha Narayanan, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, and Director, Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) at the University of Florida explains:

‘People from many regions of south Asia, including Tamilnadu, Punjab, Assam, Kerala, Bengal and Sindh, as well as residents of Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Laos will be celebrating the beginning of the new year between April 14 and 15 this year.

‘Hindus all over the world do not have a common New Year’s Day. There are at least three popular new year days in the Hindu calendar which, for almost a billion people, is being quite economical. The celebration of the new year has more to do with community, language and region, than with religious affiliation. Apart from Ugadi, there are the mid-April new year celebrations for many Hindu communities. People from the region of Gujarat, on the other hand, celebrate new year’s day soon after Deepavali, the festival of lights which falls on the new moon day between mid-October and mid-November.

‘Hindus generally follow a lunar calendar which is adjusted to the solar (hence: luni-solar calendar) and so, while the dates of many festivals change every year, they will come about the same time. Over the centuries, however, some communities have celebrated new year’s day in conjunction with the solar calendar, and so while the Ugadi and the Festival of Lights (Divali) may change by as much as three to four weeks, the mid-April new year’s day, which is called the “solar new year” does not change except by a day or two.’

According to the Hindu calendar, a lunar year consists of 12 months. A lunar month has two fortnights, and begins with the new moon called amavasya. The lunar days are called tithis. Each month has 30 tithis, which may vary from 20 – 27 hours. During the waxing phases, tithis are called shukla or the bright phase, the auspicious fortnight beginning with the full moon night called purnima. Tithis for the waning phases are called krishna or the dark phase, which is regarded as the inauspicious fortnight.

The first Holy festival which marks the beginning of the New Year, new month and new day for the Hindus falls on Chaitra Shukla Pratipada, 11 April 2013. It is known as Gudhi Padva in Maharashtra, Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In other parts of India it is celebrated as Baisakhi in Punjab, Nabo Barsha in Bengal, Goru Bihu in Assam, Puthandu or Varusha Pirappu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala and Cheti Chand by Sindhis, with the dates varying between 11-15 April as indicated at the beginning.

In all these regions, again as Vasudha Narayanan writes, ‘new year’s day is a time for domestic and temple festivities. Houses are cleaned and decorated with rangolis — beautiful geometric designs made of rice flour and colored powders in mandala formations — in courtyards and thresholds. In temples, the almanac for the new year, along with the dates for major events, is read out loud; the audience is the deity and the devotees.’

Additionally, ‘people from Maharashtra and Konkan may erect a staff of righteousness (dharma dhwaj) outside their houses. This is a bamboo stick with an inverted jar at the end of it which is decorated with flowers and mango leaves. For some, this is a banner of dharma or righteousness; for others, it could be symbolic of a human spine and head, the sensitive areas of yogic energy.’

Just as before Divali, houses are given a thorough cleaning, and old items around the house are replaced by new ones, and new clothes also bought – although this is more symbolical these days: in Mauritius, because of the changed times and habits, and generally more means available, clothes and other items are bought almost continuously throughout the year, especially by the youth! Nevertheless, the spirit is there, and an atmosphere combining piety and gaiety prevails, with special prayers performed both at home and in temples.

All this is accompanied by much rejoicing, and this is much more colourful and boisterous – as well as hugely enjoyable! – in the different regions of India, what with their special dishes and regional song and dance of tremendous variety. And there, ‘when one has friends from different areas, one can celebrate with all of them. If one new year celebration is good, four is even better.’ Variety is indeed the spice of life! Whoever has lived for any period in India would have experienced one or more of these festivals, depending on where one was.

The pachadi of Ugadi with six flavours, is meant to symbolise ‘that it is only when one goes through grief or anxiety that one can enjoy the sweetness of life. And as one goes through the year, one tastes the flavours of the ugadi pachadi in the sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty and tangy events of everyday life and hopes that like the dish, the sweetness will be there even through the slight touches of all the other experiences.’

Nutan varsha abhinandan to all!

RN GOPEE

 

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