Why bother with Sanskrit?
Happy New Year: Call it Gudhi Padva or Yugadi, it is Spring's gift to India
There are many reasons for the traditional New Year to coincide with the spring season and with March 21st, the equinox in particular.
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For most major cultures in the northern hemisphere, spring is a time of rejuvenation, of creation and resurrection. A triumph of light over darkness, as days becoming longer than nights. It is a time for melting snows, germinating seeds, blossoming buds and balmy breezes. A time of plenty and hence for young calves and lambs and bunnies to be born. In India, spring is the season for love for all creatures, immortalised in the inseparable friendship between Kamadeva, the god of love and his companion Madana, spring personified. Spring is closely connected with the crop cycle, being the time when the rabi crop is harvested. Many reasons, then, for the traditional New Year to coincide with the spring season and with the equinox in particular.
Spring festivals have an ancient pedigree in India. Says Vedic expert @blog_supplement Manastaramgini T, "Festivals are srutiprokta (spoken of in the sruti texts) and puranokta (spoken of in the puranas). The earliest references are to be found in texts like the parisista (appendices) of the Vedas. "A distinction is made between vaidika (Vedic srauta and grhya rituals) and laukika (worldly) or desya regional festivals," he adds. While vaidika rituals are regimented and more or less uniform, desya, by definition display wide regional variation. This applies even to Diwali, believe it or not, but in no instance is it more apparent than in the new year celebration on the subcontinent.
Depending on which Hindu calendar is followed (solar or lunisolar), the new year may fall mid-April as it does in Punjab (Baisakhi), West Bengal (Pohelaboishakh), Assam (Bohagbihu), Kerala (Vishu), Tamil Nadu (Chaitirai, Varushapirappu), Sri Lanka (Aluthavurudda), Manipur (Sajibunongmapanba), Nepal (Navavarsha), Odisha (Mahavishuva or Panasankranti) and Himachal Pradesh (Basoa, Chaitti). Between the Vindhyas and the Kaveri, a region occupied by the modern states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the new year is celebrated on the first day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra. This falls mostly in March. "The variation results from following either the tropical or the sidereal calendar," says @rmeshswami. So too in Rajasthan (Thapna), Sindh (Chetichand) and Kashmir (Navreh).
March 21st this year marks Yugadi (the beginning of a new yuga) in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, while Maharashtra will celebrate Gudhi Padva. Central to Yugadi in Karnataka is a bittersweet preparation called bevu-belle (neem-jaggery) symbolising joy and sadness. In Andhra, a Yugadi shadruchulupacchadi (pickle with six flavours) is made which also includes salt, tamarind, green chillies and unripe mango, signifying a whole range of emotions that may arise during the year - anger, surprise, happiness, sadness and revulsion even.Bevu-belle, a bittersweet preparation of neem leaves and jaggery central to Yugadi in Karnataka.
@ArunaShenoy Aruna Shenoy Kamath has a ring side view. Her parents lived for five decades in Hyderabad, hail from the Konkan region and now live in rural Karnataka. "It is amazing how much variation there is. Bevu-belle is not a Konkani tradition, we don't have neem trees locally. But family members who live in Bangalore have adopted it." Yugadi is called Samvatsarapadvo in this region. @anuradhagoyal AnuradhaGoyal, a bania Agarwal by birth, married into a Konkani Telang family, is fascinated by how unified the community is despite being so atomised. "Each village has its own devata, its own traditions. Yet they blend so well with their environs. In northern Konkan, Maharashtra has a strong influence. As you move to the south, festival celebrations are influenced by the Tulu and Malayalam cultures."
Common to the entire region is the reading of the almanac, the pancangasravana. Bangalore-based software professional Sudarshan HS, explains, "It is considered auspicious. We begin the day with an oil bath, wear new clothes, wash the entrance to the house and put a rangoli. After a puja, my father reads pancangasravana for the coming year to the whole family". Traditionally in old Mysore including Malnad, the family priest would do this, but the tradition has fractured with modernity. You can hear last year's pancangasravana for the Telugu new year here:
Moving to Maharashtra, we join in Gudhi Padva celebrations. Pune-based IT professional @deshrajeev Rajeev Deshpande walks us through it. "We place a gudhi (bright silk cloth with zari) on a three-four feet stick and place it in a window or gallery such that it is visible to passers-by. The gudhi has an inverted kalasa on it decorated with garlands and neem twigs. We believe it gathers and showers energy and blessings upon us." Neem has a special significance. "We eat neem leaves with a pinch of sugar symbolising our resolve to take the bitter with the sweet with equanimity," he adds. Sydney-based Sneha Deshpande rues the loss of Gudhi Padva celebrations in diaspora. "It was so important when we were kids! We were not allowed to sulk or be cranky. Our mother would tell us to be happy, because whatever we did or felt that day would stay with us through the year. Now we barely remember the date." Sweden-based Haritirumalai refuses to be put off. He will have his full castor-oil bath followed by shikakai even if it entails a major clean up!Celebration of the Maharashtrian New Year, Gudhi Padva.
The erection of the gudhi is said to have been started by Shivaji and is closely associated with the conquests of the Marathas. It is worshipped as a form of devi, and is also symbolic of the brahmadhvaja, because Brahma is said to have created the universe on this day. The gudhi is taken down before sunset after a brief ritual of sprinkling of haldi, kumkum and unbroken rice grains." Gudhi Padva is very auspicious. People start new businesses, open shops, buy cars, houses etc. on this day," continues Rajeev Deshpande. Sudarshan HS, chimes in "It is also very important for newly-weds. We seek the blessings of our elders on our first Yugadi so that our union may ever be joyous, as it in the first new year." Both confirm that the new year is truly laukika (of this world, worldly), celebrated by all castes and all peoples of the region.
Given that it is related to seasons and agriculture, there are good reasons to believe that spring festivals like the new year predate literary tradition. "The history of cultivation and agriculture in India dates back to 7,500 BCE, and predates written history," says MG Chandrakanth of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. SL Malurkar, doyen of the Indian Metrological Department has thrown light in a scholarly article on the determination of seasons, equinoxes and related festivals in ancient India, long before they were documented in the texts of any religion or culture. All said and done, we are heirs to a fabulous historical and various tradition in festivals. Have a happy new year. Heeding Sudarshan HS, I for one shall start to work on my new year resolutions!