Every culture has had a separate understanding of what Time is, with the only true consensus being that the day starts at sunrise and ends at sunset! We, in the West, are familiar with the Gregorian calendar, which marks year zero as the birth of Jesus Christ and counts the completion of one year by the Earth circling its orbit around the Sun once. While the ancient Hindus understood early on that it is the Earth which is in motion (Aitareya Brahmana 3.44 of the Rig Veda), it adopted, like many of their contemporary civilisations, the symbolism of the apparent motion of Surya Deva (सूर्य) along the celestial sphere. This sphere is of infinite radius, concentric with the Earth, and we can project all the objects we see in the sky to its internal surface; these objects include the Nakshatras (stars) and the Rashis (constellations,) on which we describe the relative position of the Sun, as if Surya Deva were being moved by His seven horses, one for each colour of visible light.
If you were to be looking up at the sky, the position of the Sun and the Moon in relation to this background of constellations and stars would appear to be changing.
The Solar calendar is known as the Sauramana, and the Hindu cultures which predominantly use this calendar mark their months on the basis of the apparent transition of Surya Deva into the background of Rashis (constellations). This is in contrast to the Hindu cultures who predominantly use the Lunar calendar, known as the Chandramana, as these cultures will name their months on the basis of the most prominent Nakshatra seen with the Purnima (full Moon) of that month.
As the Sun crosses from one constellation to the next, we call this the Sankramana/Sankranti, meaning the “crossing.” This falls on the same time every month, as per the Gregorian calendar, on the 13th/14th of each month. Consequently, these cultures will tend to name their months on the basis of the Rashi the Sun will appear to transit into – exceptions include the culture of Punjabi and Eastern Hindus, who though use the Sankranti to mark the months, will name them on the basis of the Nakshatras that are seen with the Moon. As this naming follows identically with the Hindu cultures who use the Lunar calendar, you can now see where all the confusion lies!
This apparent confusion only comes to the person who doesn’t wish to appreciate the pluralism. All are as Hindu as one another and as this special time has come with the Lunar and Solar calendars aligning, let us love the unity manifesting as diversity.
Vaisakhi is primarily regarded as a harvest festival for the people of Punjab, and Punjabi Hindus celebrate by marking their New Year. For many Hindu communities, this day is the beginning of the month of Vaishakha, where the name of the festival comes from.
Colours and smiles are in the air with Vaisakhi; with farming being integral to the culture of land of the five rivers, the harvesting is accompanied with huge get-togethers and scrumptious feasts. Women dress up in the colourful salwar kameez and dupattas laden with golden embroidery while men will be seen sporting colourful kurta pyjamas. Punjabi Hindus will decorate their Mandirs and take Snaan (dips) in rivers and Sarovars (sacred lakes).
There are Melas (fairs) in each village, and performances of traditional arts, such as Bhangra and Gidda. The Vaisakhi Mela of the ancient Katas Raj temple, now in modern Punjab province of Pakistan, was known to attract tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over Punjab. With the visual treats of handlooms and handicrafts on the streets, displays of drums and dances against the background of ballads and folk songs, this is a New Year’s celebration not to be missed!
For the Sikh community, this day commemorates the formation of the Khalsa. The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, laid the foundation in 1699 by testing the commitment of thousands of Sikhs. The first five to pass his test were initiated into a new order, called the Khalsa and these five men came to be known as the Panj Pyare (five beloveds). Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi through Nagar Kirtans, where a procession through their town is led by five initiated Sikhs, who symbolically act as the Panj Pyare. Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the sacred text regarded as the current Guru, is on a float as Gurbani (Hymns) is sung. Langar is served at the Gurdwara and there are also displays of Gatka, a Sikh martial art.
ਵਿਸਾਖੀ ਦੀਆਂ ਲੱਖ ਲੱਖ ਵਧਾਈਆਂ
Vaisakhi Diyan Lakh Lakh Vadhaiyaan!
Jur Sheetal जुड़ शीतल
Jur Sheetal, written as জুড় শীতল in the traditional Tirhuta script, is observed as the first day of the Maithil New Year, celebrated by Maithil Hindus in Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal. Badi Kadhi is a traditional meal eaten on this day, alongside other Maithil dishes such as Arikaunch Chakka and Tilkorak Patak Tarua. Mango orchids are watered early in the morning and Bhagavati Devi is worshipped. It is customary to see the flag of Hanuman florn outside and the tales of the legendary Raja Salhesh are fondly remembered and recalled. People of Mithila also celebrate their New Year by playing Holi with mud, serving as a reminder that it is from the Earth that we have come and it is to this Earth we will return, harking back to the life of Sita, who belonged to Mithila.
जुड़ शीतल केर हार्दिक बधाई
Jur Sheetal Ker Hardik Badhai!
Bohag Bihu ব’হাগ বিহু
Bohag Bihu, also known as Rangoli Bihu, is the traditional New Year’s festival of Assamese Hindus, celebrated in the month of Bohag, corresponding to Vaishakha of other Hindu cultures. It is celebrated to mark the start of the harvesting season, reflecting upon the optimism and festive atmosphere felt at the start of spring.
Bihu itself means “excessive joy”, and the synthesis of many ethnic groups is reflected in the beautiful dress and songs of the festival. The spectacular Bihu Naas, the folk dance of Assam, performed by men and women involved brisk steps and rapid hand movements as they wear the red-coloured traditional dress. The slow style with the backdrop of horn-pipes and flutes not only make this a dance sequence romantic and playful in nature, but also serves as a core part of Assamese Hindu identity.
The celebration of Bihu takes place over a span of 7 days during which devotees awake early and bathe, wear new clothes and seek blessings from their elders. This also typically followed by jalpan, a light breakfast of sticky rice along with curd and jaggery. During this Utsav there are seven phases: Raati, Chot, Goru, Manuh, Kutum, Mela and Chera. The first day, Raati Bihu, is usually performed beneath an ancient tree, or in an open field illuminated by burning torches and is celebrated by the playing of a pepa (buffalo hornpipe) and the bholuka baanhor toka (split bamboo). The second day, Chot Bihu is marked by singing and dancing. Goru Bihu is associated with the agricultural roots of Assam, during which household cattle are taken and bathed in a river, and people will pray for the wellbeing and safety of their livestock. Manuh Bihu refers to elders and is a day that involves the tradition of seeking elders’ blessings to start the new season fruitfully. Kutum Bihu is the second day of the Bohag month and involves visiting relatives, friends, and sharing sweet dishes. Mela Bihu is marked with cultural events and competitions while Chera Bihu, also known as Bohagi Bidai, it’s the fourth and final day of Bohag Bihu.
Bodo Hindus of Assam mark their New Year for the highly awaited Bwisagu festival! Bwisagu is a Bodo word coming from “Baisa” which means “year/age”, and “Agu” that means “start”. Bodo Hindus will bathe their cattle on this day, smear their horns with oil and apply ashes and pounded rice flour in patches to the bodies of the cattle. Bodo Hindus will enjoy the day by singing and dancing together, and the young boys and girls will collect alms from door to door to arrange feasts called Mairong Maginai.
Bohaggiyo Bishu is another related New Year celebration of the Deori-Chutia Hindu tribes of Assam, spread over 7 days, full of cheer and merry. The Deodhani dance is a key part of the festivities as well as the Husori Bihu dance.
ব’হাগ বিহুৰ শুভেচ্ছা
Bohag Bihur Shubhechha!
Hindus of Tripura mark the New Year with great pomp and show, celebrating Goria Ter for seven days. The word Ter is translated as festival in the Kokborok language. Goria is identified as an indigenous form of Shiva, also known as Subrai to people of Tripura, and the long history of Shaiva worship in the region dates back to the 7th century rock reliefs of Unakoti, Bhagavan Shiva being Pashupatinath, the caretaker of all animals, is worshipped throughout the days of the Garia Puja. The eve of Buisu, called Hari Buisu, involves Tripuri Hindus bathing their domesticated animals, and decorating them with vermillion, chandan and garlands of flowers – striking similarity to the Bihu customs of Assamese Hindus. The day of New Year, called Maha Buisu, is a day of feast with family and friends. Local speciality includes the variety of cakes and desserts known as Awan-Chuan. Newly wedded couples will start their independent lives from this day, new clothes are always adorned and families will buy new household items, symbolising the transition away from the old.
গড়িয়া পূজার শুভেচ্ছা
Garia Pujar Shubhechha!
Pohela Boishakh পহেলা বৈশাখ
“Esho He Boishakh” (এসো হে বৈশাখ) is the name of Rabindranath Tagore’s most loved songs, and the genre of music dedicated to renditions of his work; Rabindra Sangeet are a speciality of the celebrations for Pohela Boishakh. This is the first day of the Bengali calendar, marked as a public holiday in Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and parts of Assam. The origin of the Bengali calendar is attributed to the reign of 7th century King Shashanka, under whom all of Bengal was unified.
The festival is especially prominent in Bangladesh where it is marked with the Mangal Shobhajatra procession in Dhaka, and it has been marked by UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity. Melas are a hallmark of the festivities. Like with many celebrations, Bengali Hindus will spend the day with family, visiting friends and the temple, cleaning one’s houses and adorning new clothes.
Traditionally, Hindus begin the day with pujas to Lakshmi and Ganesha and new accounting books are marked with a Swastika – important to note, the Bengali Swastika is different from that of the rest of Bharat! Bengali Hindu households are decorated with traditional designs made of rice powder paste known as Alpana. The Panjika is brought into the house, which contains all the important and auspicious dates for the upcoming year.
Customarily, the festival is marked by feasts of vegetables in spicy pastes. Traditional Bengali bhog (food) during this festival includes vegetables fried in spicy pastes (e.g. Aloo Posto, potatoes in poppy paste and Shobji Bhaapaa, vegetables in mustard-seed sauce), riverine foods and Luchi (fried bread) in West Bengal or Panta Bhaat (fermented rice) in Bangladesh. Desserts can comprise traditional sweets such as Rasagulla and Sandesh (a type of Bengali sweet).
Throughout Bengal, panjabis (kurta pyjamas) and red and white sarees are worn and the festival is especially prominent in Bangladesh, revolving around the Mangal Shobhajatras in Dhaka and Chittagong.
বাংলা নববর্ষের একরাশ শুভেচ্ছা
Bangla Noboborsher Ekarash Shubhechha!
Pana Sankranti ପଣା ସଂକ୍ରାନ୍ତି
Known also as Maha Vishuva Sankranti (ମହା ବିଷୁବ ସଂକ୍ରାନ୍ତି), is the celebration of the Odia New Year. Like other Hindus of the East, the Odia people use the solar calendar to mark their months, and so the festivals fall on the same day every year as per the Gregorian calendar. The Sun appears to enter the background of the constellation of Mesha, and this begins the month of Baisakha for Odia Hindus.
The New Year can not be celebrated without a drink of Bela Pana, made of the pulp of the Bael fruit mixed with milk, jaggery, honey, chhena (a regional cottage cheese), banana and Nadia Kora (grated coconut). This delicious beverage, offered to all, is where the festival gets its name from! Regarded for its medicinal properties and being an antidote to sunstrokes, it is placed in an earthen pot and hung over a Tulsi plant. Maa Tulsi is considered a holy plant for all Hindus, and the pot is designed to have a hole at its bottom, so as to allow the Pana to flow down drop by drop over the Tulsi as an offering of cool and shade. This represents the importance of water in sustaining life, and how we must be grateful to nature which gives without asking for anything in return! Maa Tulsi is also offered a traditional dish known as Chhatua, made of horse gram, chhena and bananas.
Pana Sankranti hosts many rituals and tribal performances that attract tourists from all over the world, including the Danda Nata and Uda Jatra to name a few. Ghantapatuas are also a sight to behold in Odisha, who are male folk artists that dress as women and move from place to place dancing and performing in worship of the Devi. Being an acrobatic form of dance, it is becoming rare to find keepers of this tradition.
Many Odia Hindus will visit temples of Shiva and Devi on the New Year, and will celebrate Hanuman Jayanti almost a fortnight before the rest of the Hindu community – it is this diversity which strengthens us!
ନବ ବର୍ଷ ର ହାର୍ଦ୍ଦିକ ଶୁଭେଚ୍ଛା
Naba Barsha Ra Hardik Shubhechha!
Bisu Parba ಬಿಸು ಪರ್ಬ
Bisu Parba is one of the biggest festivals of the Tulu Nadu region, spread along the coasts of Karnataka and Kerala. The word Bisu is derived from the Sanskrit word for the Vernal Equinox, “Vishuvam” (विषुवम्). The Equinox is the moment at which the centre of the visible Sun can be seen directly above the equator. On this day, it is considered that daytime and nighttime are approximately equal in duration all over the planet. For Tuluva Hindus, Bisu is a celebration of their agricultural roots and is seen as a harvest festival, with seeds being sown and new cattle being brought to the farms on that day.
The Bisu Kani is prepared by all families in which a Kalasha is filled with rice and freshly plucked fruits and vegetables, ornaments, cash and a mirror. It is believed the family must see the Kani before the first rays of the Sun, as the word “Kani” means “the first thing one sees” – very similar to traditions of Malayali and Tamil Hindus. Just as with all New Year celebrations of Bharat, people will wear new clothes, exchange money and presents, meet friends and family and visit their local Mandirs. Bonding with elders and touching their feets for blessings is a key part of the celebration, and a joint feast on plantain leaves with the whole family is an anticipated tradition. Moode, which are rice cakes steamed in screw pine leaves, are a treat for the day!
ಬಿಸು ಪರ್ಬೋಡಾ ಎಡ್ಡೆಪ್ಪುಲು
Bisu Parboda Eddeppulu!
Vishu is the New Year of Malayali Hindus, and is a day of family and solemnity. It is observed on the first day of Medam month of the Solar calendar of Kerala, marking the transition of the Sun into the Mesha Rashi.
The hallmark ritual on this day is the Vishukkani. The Malayalam word “kani” means “that which is seen first”, and so “Vishukkani” means “that which is seen first on Vishu”. For this ritual, devotees arrange auspicious articles such as rice grains, fresh fruits, coconuts, betel leaves, Konna Poo (a bright yellow Cassia flower), sacred texts and coins; in front of a metal mirror on the night before with a Nilavilakku (lamp) and a Murti of Vishnu or Krishna placed beside this arrangement. Belief is that one’s future is dependent upon experiences, and as such, the New Year will be better if one views auspicious and joyful things – very similar to the Navreh Thaal tradition of Kashmir. As per the custom, the oldest woman in the house gets up early in the morning and brings each member of the family towards the Kani arrangement with closed eyes, so that the first sight of the New Year belongs to the child of Devaki and His flute.
The day also involves the preparation of a traditional feast called Sadhya, involving a variety of salty, sweet, sour and bitter vegetarian dishes, served on a banana leaf, providing a balanced meal to start the year. Vishu Kanji and Thoran are the two important items served during the Sadhya. The Kanji, which is nourishing and very tasty, is prepared with rice, coconut milk and some select spices. Another custom is the bursting of fireworks, a favourite of children, called the Vishu Padakkam!
Puthandu, also known as ‘Chithirai Tiru-Naall’ and ‘Varusha Pirappu’ is the Tamil New Year. It is celebrated by Hindus in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Reunion Island and Mauritius. This day is mentioned in the Tolkappiyam (oldest text on Tamil grammar) as the beginning of summer. Doorways are decorated with Thoranam (festoon), and Kollam (geometrical designs, popularly known as Rangoli). The Kollam and Puja shrines are decorated with Kuthuvilakku (lamps). A key custom is known as Kanni (auspicious sight) in which a tray of fruits, betel leaves and areca nut, gold/silver jewellery, coins/money, flowers and a mirror, is looked at in the morning to bring good luck.
People celebrate by putting on new clothes in the morning and often visit temples where the Panchangam (Hindu calendar) for the year is read out by a priest, just as is found in many traditions all over Bharat. Some temples such as the Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai are known for their grand celebrations. Other places such as Tiruvidaimarudur are known for their car festivals. At home, some people observe rituals such as Tharpanam Sankalpam, done for the satisfaction of the Pitr, the departed forefathers.
A Virunthu (feast) is also enjoyed. The Virunthu normally consists of Mangai Pachadi, Araithuvitta Sambar, Aviyal, Appalam (poppadoms), Paruppu Vadai, Veppam-poo Rasam, Vazhakkai Podimas, Yellaneer (tender-coconut water), Payasam and Thayir (curd), making a balanced meal. The feast contains the arusuvai (six flavours), namely inippu (sweet), pulippu (sour), oovaruppu (salty), kaarppu (pungent), kasappu (bitter), and thuvarppu (astringent). These are representative of happiness, disgust, fear, anger, sorrow and surprise, respectively. This is a reminder that although the New Year is an auspicious time of hope and renewal, the nature of experiences is that they are inherently transitory. Eating all the flavours in a single meal is a symbolic acknowledgement of the ‘ups and downs’ of life that have to be faced with mental fortitude but have to eventually be transcended.