Sunday, April 19, 2009

New year Celebrations in India

Puthandu, Vishu, Baisakhi, Bohag Bihu

The Tamil New Year follows the Nirayanam vernal equinox and generally falls on April 14 of the Gregorian year. April 14th marks the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar and this remains a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

Tamil calendar begins with the same date which is observed by most traditional calendars of the rest of India as in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab etc not to mention Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The 60-year cycle is also ancient and is observed by most traditional calendars of India and China, and is related to 5 revolutions of Jupiter according to popular belief, or to 60-year orbit of Nakshatras (stars) as mentioned in Surya Siddhanta.

Tamil New Year Puthandu

The month of Chittrai (April - May) embarks the time of festivities in Tamil Nadu. Tamil's New Year Day " Puthandu" is celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year (according to the Gregorian Calender). People greet each other "Puthandu Vazthukal" which means Happy New Year. This auspicious day is also popular as Varusha Pirappuv. As per the Hindu mthyical legends, Lord Brahma started creation of the universe.

Highlights of the Festival
New Year's day is a gala time for all Tamils. The main focus is on the food eaten on the day. 'Maanga Pachadi' is the pulse of the festival. It is a dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery, neem flowers which tastes sweet, salt, sour and bitter. This entails different colors of life. It depicts that life has to face everything from success to defeat. At the time of New Year festivities, a grand Car Festival also takes place at Tiruvadamarudur near Kumbakonam. At some places, Chitthirai festival is also celebrated. It is said on this day, Goddess Meenakshi got married to Lord Sundareswarar.

Puthandu Rituals
In Tamil Nadu, people follow some strict rituals in a belief to ensure well-being and prosperity of their families. The most popular tradition is to view Kanni at dawn with a hope to bring good luck. People start the day by watching some auspicious items like gold and silver jewelery, betel leaves, nuts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw rice and coconuts. Following the rituals, Tamils take bath, wear fresh clothes and visit the temples to pray for success in life. After this, Panchangam (almanac) is read.

Many people get their houses painted to mark the renewal of life. Ladies adorn their houses with fresh mango leaves and Kolam (rangoli)designs. Sometimes, a decorated lamp kuthuvillakku is placed in the center of colorful Kolam to bring light to the house.

People in the advent of merrymaking and feasting exchange gifts with each other. Children are highly excited at the time of Puthandu as they receive small gifts or cash from their parents and relatives.

Vishu in Kerala
The festival of Vishu is celebrated with joy and mirth on the first day of Malayalese month of Medam. This corresponds to the month of April-May according to Gregorian calendar. The occasion holds a lot of significance for Hindus as Vishu marks the Astronomical New Year Day.

The traditional people of Kerala practice a lot of colorful rituals and customs on Vishu. Most of these traditions are based on a belief that Vishu must be celebrated well as the good things of the first day of the New Year will continue for the rest of the year too.

Rituals and Traditions
Most important ritual of the day is called 'Kani Kanal', the literal translation of this is 'first sight'. In Kani Kanal there is a prescribed list of items, which a person must see first thing on a Vishu morning to bring good luck. This include a cadjan leaf book, gold ornaments, fresh white cloth, a measure of rice or paddy, flowers of the Konna tree (Cussia fistula), halved jack fruits, halved coconuts and yellow cucumber. All these things are kept in a big pot and behind this pot is kept the bell metal mirror and a garlanded deity of Lord Krishna. Two standing oil lamps are also placed before the deity.

Preparations of Kani are done a night before by the lady of the house. Master of the house is the first person to Kani and then the other family members follow. Children are brought blind folded from their rooms to see Kani Kanal, the first thing in the morning. Vishu Kani is later distributed amongst the poor and needy people. Reason behind this ritual is the strong belief of the people that the fortune of the rest of the year depends on the first object they see on the Vishu day. There is also a tradition to give small amounts of cash to children of the family. This tradition is called Vishu Kaineetam. People believe that this custom will ensure prosperity for their children in future.

A large number of people prefer to see Vishu Kani in temples. A huge rush of devotees can be seen in the temples of Guruvayur, Ambalapuzha and Sabarimala where special prayers are organised to mark the day. People stay overnight in the courtyards of these temples a night before Vishu so that they see Kani, first thing on Vishu in the temple. Devotees close their eyes and set their eyes on Kani and deity so that when the doors to the deity opens at 2:30 am, the first thing they see is Kani.

A grand sadya (feast) is prepared by women of the house and the whole family sits together at lunch to relish it. Dishes are usually prepared from jackfruits, mangoes, pumpkins, and gourds besides other vegetables and fruits, which are in plenty at that time of the season. People also wear kodi vastram (new clothes) on this day. Patassu (fire crackers) are burst in the midst of dancing and merry to mark the day.

A group of young men and women dress up as 'chozhi' , wearing a skirt of dried banana leaves and masks on their faces and go from house to house in the village dancing and collecting small amounts of money. On Vishu, these entertainers get good rewards for their performances. The money is spent on the Vishuwela (the New Year Fair).

Punjabi / Sikh (Nanakshahi) New Year

Baisakhi Festival, also called Vaisakhi, holds great importance for the Sikh community and farmers of Punjab. Baisakhi falls on April 13 or 14, the first day of the year according to the Nanakshahi Calender. Sikhs also celebrate this day in honor of their tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Baisakhi commemorates the day when the Sikh Guru eliminated caste differences and founded Khalsa Panth in1689.

For the large farming community of Punjab and Haryana, Baisakhi marks the harvest time. Farmers celebrate it with immense fervor as they are loaded with cash at this time. Men and women run over the fields shouting "Jatta aayi Baisakhi" .

Baisakhi Traditions and Rituals
It is in the blood of every Sikh to follow the tradition of Baisakhi earnestly. They get up early in the morning, visit gurudwaras and offer prayers. Some people prefer to visit Golden Temple or Anandpur Sahib where Khalsa Panth was recognised.

In most of the gurudwaras, the holy books of Sikhs is cleansed with milk and water. The granthi of the gurudwara reads the Sikh holy scripture and the gathering of devotees listen to it seriously. Following the tradition from the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, an amrit is prepared in an iron vessel. The gathering of devotees sip this amrit five times. Later on, ragis sing devotional songs and perform a kirtan which is leaded by an ardas in afternoon. After performing all the religious traditions, the Karah Prasad is distributed amongst the congregation. The religious ceremony accomplishes with a Guru - ka - Langar. This is meal consists of Dal Makhani, any vegetarian dish, curd, salad and a sweet dish like semonila.

Baisakhi Celebrations
Traditional songs and dances boosts the spirit of the Baisakhi festival. After performing rituals in gurudwaras, people of Sikh community take out processions. The holy book of Sikhs is taken out in the processions. It is read in the holy book that the Sikh Guru asked five volunteers to sacrifice their lives, then he took each one of them into a tent and every time came out with a bloody sword but he actually sacrificed a goat. Thus, the procession is headed by five men to honor the Panj Pyaras.

Fervor and vigor of the festival can be seen in these hours long processions passing through various localities of the city. Sikh men and women wearing gaudy clothes perform the famous bhangra and gidda dance. Mock duels are also performed during Baisakhi processions. People carry forward the procession by chanting various hymes like 'Jo Bole So Nihal', 'Deg Teg Fateh' and 'Satnam Shri Wahe Guru'. Vaisakhi celebrations are escalated by dramatizing sword fight, beating drums and bursting crackers. In some places, early morning Prabhat Pheris also take place.

At the end of the day, people express feelings of brotherhood, love, unity and also hope to celebrate the festival with same energy and enthusiasm every year.

Assamese New Year
Bohag Bihu is the national festival of Assamese as it marks the beginning of the New Year. Rituals and customary practices of Bohag Bihu starts from April 13. There are three forms of a Bihu festival namely Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu (in the middle of April), Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu (middle of January) and Kaati Bihu or Kongali Bihu (in October/ November).

Bohag Bihu is the most important day of all the three Bihu festivals. This day begins with the sowing of seeds, Kaati Bihu marks the complete process of sowing and transplanting of paddies, and the Magh Bihu marks the end of the harvesting period.

Bohag Bihu reflects the coming of spring and usually falls on April 15 every year. It is celebrated with distinctive Bihu dances. People are in full form and dance on various Bihu geets called husuris. This festival lasts for several days. People wear new and traditional clothes like dhoti, gamocha and saadar mekhela.

Bohag Bihu Celebrations
The first day of Bohag Bihu is called Goru Bihu or Cow Festival. Cow being the holy Hindu animal is washed, bedecked and worshiped on this day. On the eve of Bohag Bihu, the womenfolk clean clothes and prepare special Bihu delicacies like 'Chira' & 'Pitha' while men collect necessary items like 'Tara Pogha' (ropes for the cattle). This day is followed by Manuh (human) Bihu on April 15, the New Year Day on which homage is paid to elders and relatives. The next day after this is called vGosain Bihu. On this day religious activities take place.

Bohag Bihu is a dance festival. Groups of boys and girls beat drums and perform their traditional dance. Bihu fairs are organised to perform Bihu songs, theatrical performances and dance. Best woman dancer is awarded the title of Bihu Kunwori. Bihu festival has become such a major festival that even books, audio and video cassettes have come up in large numbers narrating the festival events.


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