As Hindus, we are all part of a tradition stemming from our villages, our communities, our regions and our Sampradaya (spiritual lineage). These overlapping and intersecting layers make the real us, and this multitude of Hindu traditions brings with it the many unique ways of celebrating these important moments of our lives. The New Year Utsavs are the best occasion to exemplify that there is no one day for all one billion of us Hindus. Our identity is an umbrella that celebrates pluralism, inclusiveness, and diversity. There is no single Hindu calendar, rather a set of many regional and denominational variations of lunisolar calendars.
Solar calendars are those which mark one year by the time taken for the Earth to orbit the Sun once. Lunar calendars are those which mark their months on the cycles of the Moon’s phases. Across Bharat, people have used both calendars to understand Time, and accordingly celebrate important occasions. Though explaining the complexities of Hindu timekeeping is beyond the purview of this article, the most important thing to take away is that while each Hindu community names its months separately and begins their year zero on different historical events – we all manage to celebrate the Utsavs together! Each variation is as valid and as Hindu as the other, and our beauty only comes in the appreciation of one another’s diversity.
Almost all New Year celebrations fall in the season of Vasanta (Spring), when nature awakens from the slumber of winter and is abundant with blossom and greenery. The etymology of the word Utsav itself is from the root “ut” meaning “removal”, and “sava” meaning “grief.” Many people ask why do Hindus have so many festivals: the answer to it is simple – why not?! Celebrated in many different ways, the New Year brings with it colour and joy, prayer and hope, for the one billion Hindus around the world.
Utsarati Iti Utsavaḥ: The Festival is that which elevates!
2021 will see the Solar and Lunar calendars align to have almost all Hindu communities celebrating their New Year on the same day! We have tried to cover as much as we can in this series of article (click here for part 2), but please do write to us if we have missed your festivity. You will find that regions that are thousands of miles apart, on polar ends of Bharat, will share identical customs, showcasing the true thread of unity that holds our Hindu culture altogether.
On behalf of NHSF (UK), we wish all our students a Happy Hindu New Year.
Chaitra Navratri चैत्र नवरात्रि
Chaitra is the first month of many of the Hindu Calendars, and the New Year for many Hindu communities begins with the nine-day spring festival of Chaitra Navratri. Being the first day after the new moon, this New Year’s day is known as Chaitra Shukla Pratipada (चैत्र शुक्ल प्रतिपदा) for Hindus coming from the states of the Hindi belt.
Varsha means Year, and Pratipada means the first Tithi (loosely translated as day) of the Lunar month. As the first day after the new moon coincides with the Chaitra Navratri, the worship of Maa Durga and Bhagavan Ram marks the New Year. This is celebrated by Hindus of Jammu, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and some Hindu communities of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Most Hindu cultures who mark their months on the basis of the Lunar calendar will name their months depending on the most prominent Nakshatra (star) seen on Purnima (the day of full moon). For example, the month of Chaitra is named after the singly-shining Nakshatra of Chitra, the Spica star; the month of Kartika is named after the Krittika Nakshatra, the star cluster of Pleiades.
Each day of Chaitra Navratri is dedicated to the worship of the nine forms of Shakti. Hindus invoke strength and bliss by focusing on our internal divinity through prayer, meditation and chanting.
Many Hindus from the regions of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, will also practise a custom known as Jaware, where barley seeds are planted in a mud pot and grown over nine days as an offering to the Devi. Traditions hold that barley was the first crop sown, and the growth of the barley seeds will mirror the achievements of the year ahead. The final day of Navratri often sees families carrying the Jaware pots to a local Mandir of Devi. A similar custom is held by Dogra Hindus who call it Saankh, and immerse the shoots into the holy Tawi river of Jammu. According to the Puranas, Chaitra Navratri used to be the most popular celebration of Shakti, until Shri Ramachandra worshipped Maa Durga in the month of Ashvin during the war against Ravana.
Kanjak, or Kanya Puja, is also marked on either Ashtami (day eight) or Ram Navami (day nine) of Chaitra Navratri in Northern India, particularly around the regions of Punjab, Jammu and the states of the Hindi belt. It is celebrated through the worship of young girls and offering them Puri, Chana and Halwa, as well as money and gifts of red chunnis. They are seen as a form of Devi, and will take different roles or forms of Maa Durga in life as they grow. This Puja marks the day Maa Durga killed the demon Kalasura. The Earth was distressed by Kalasura, and so Mahakali was reborn as Durga, taking the form of a little girl. When Kalasura was faced with a child, he let his guard down and Maa Durga pulled out her sword and killed him, saving the Earth of this demon. Rama Navami falls on the ninth day of Chaitra Navratri, celebrated as the birthday of Bhagavan Rama.
नव वर्ष की हार्दिक शुभकामनाएं
Nav Varsh Ki Hardik Shubhkamnayein!
Navreh is the name given to the New Year by the Kashmiri Hindu community, deriving from the Sanskrit words “Nava Varsha”. The Hindus would traditionally take a dip at a sacred spring, known as the ‘Vitchar Nag’, on the eve of the New Year, to symbolise moving away from the winter. The eve also sees Hindus preparing the ‘Navreh Thaal’, a platter filled with rice, bread, a cup of curd, salt, sugar, walnuts, a pen, a silver coin, flowers of rose/marigold/ jasmine, and Nechi Patri, which is the name for their calendar. This is the first thing they see when they wake up on New Year’s day, for these are daily-use items and people hope to have these necessities by their side always.
Navreh commences the worship of Sharika Devi, a form of Maa Durga with 18 arms, who is the presiding deity of Srinagar. Though Yatra to the sacred Hari Parbat has largely come to a halt since the Exodus of 91, Kashmiri Hindus continue to celebrate the nine nights with fervour and devotion. The day of Navreh sees the community prepare sumptuous dishes and exchange of gifts, meeting friends and family that they would have seen after the snowy winter months.
Kashmiris use the oldest calendar of all the Hindu calendars, known as the Saptarishi calendar, and this year marks 5097 years of celebrations!
Cheti Chand چيٽيِ چنڊ
Originating from what is now the Sindh province of Pakistan, the Sindhi Hindu diaspora can be found all over the world. What binds the almost 10 million strong community is their famed reverence of Jhulelal, the patron saint of the Sindhi Hindus, whose Jayanti (birthday) is celebrated as their New Year’s. Considered to be an Avatara of Varuna, the Deva of the Oceans, Sindhi Hindus believe that he helped to restore peace and harmony to Sindh by saving the community during the tyrannical rule of the fanatic Mirkshah. Jhulelal embodies the message of unity and the stories of his miracles lead him to worshipped by many across the lines of religious communities.
Sindhi Hindus will greet each other saying “Jaiko Chawando Jhulelal Thenja Thinde Beda-Paar” meaning “Whoever chants the name of Jhulelal, your boat will safely reach the shore.” The boat is the representation of ourselves, who are navigating through the ocean of the world, trying to find the unending Ananda (bliss), or the state of Moksha, when our boat will reach its destination.
The day begins with a visit to the temple, and many will carry with them a ‘Baharana Sahib’. This is a bronze thali in which there is a Murti of Jhulelal, as well as Kalasha full of water, covered with a red cloth. Atta (flour) is kneaded to give a conical shape, and is decorated with cardamom, dry fruits, vermillion and sugar placed on top. This cone is surrounded by fruits, flowers, incense sticks and diyas. This beautiful arrangement is made by all families, and the community will lead a procession of Baharana Sahibs to the temple, with singing and dancing along the way. This thali is then immersed in a river, the symbol of returning Jhulelal back to Varuna. Prasad made of black chickpeas and sweet rice is distributed on the roads and outside the shops, having a full atmosphere of fervour.
چيتي چند جون لک لک واڌايون
Cheti Chand Joon Lakh Lakh Wadhayun!
Cheiraoba is the New Year’s celebration by the people of Manipur. The name is a combination of two words, namely, “Chahi” or “Year” and “Laoba”, meaning “declaration”. Mounds of rice, currency, fruits, flowers, a candle and an incense stick are all placed upon a plantain leaf, and are ritually offered to the local deity Lainingthou Sanamahi. Manipuri Hindus will pray to Krishna Bhagavan and other Deva/Devis, by climbing hills in a festivity known as Ching Kaba.
Gudi Padwa गुढी पाडवा
Gudi Padwa marks the New Year for Marathi Hindus, and serves as a celebration of the victory of good over evil and the purity and prosperity of the people.
The day is celebrated for multiple reasons. One is for Brahma Deva for recreating the universe, as He does in every cycle. The second is the celebration of Devi and Bhagavan Rama. The third is to mark the onset of spring and reaping of crops.
“Gudi” means “flag”, and this is erected outside all Marathi Hindu houses to represent the flag of Brahma Deva. To make the Gudi, a long bamboo stick is tied with a yellow/red-coloured flag and is garlanded with flowers, mango and Neem leaves, topped with upturned silver/copper Kalasha. It is hoisted outside at the entrance of one’s home which wards off any evil influences, making way for good luck and prosperity. During the sunrise, the Gudi is worshipped because of the divine consciousness emanating during this time. It is believed the festivities of Gudi Padwa began after the triumph of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who is held as an icon for Marathi Hindus, and Hindus all over Bharat.
The day starts with a customary oil bath and eating of Neem leaves that commemorate the start of the festival. On the day, people will wear new colourful attires and celebrate the day with their families. The parades of people in their traditional Marathi turbans, dhotis, and Nauvari Sari are a sight to see! Rangoli patterns are made around the household using coloured powder and flower petals. Patterns include geometric shapes, auspicious symbols such as the Om, and nature. Special dishes are also prepared like Sakkar Bhaat (sweet rice), Shrikhand and Puri, and Puran Poli.
गुढीपाडव्याच्या हार्दिक शुभेच्छा
Gudi Padvachya Hardik Shubhechha!
Ugadi is said to be the day when Brahma Deva created the Universe and is celebrated as the New Year’s for Telugu Hindus. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are worn and special foods are made to celebrate the New Year. Ugadi Pachadi is the special festive delicacy made of raw mango, Neem, tamarind, jaggery, chilli and salt. This food with 6 tastes is specially made for this Utsav and signifies the acceptance and enjoyment of all the experiences to come in the upcoming year including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise.
The day starts with an oil bath ritual with a visit to a Mandir where it is decorated with a variety of fresh flowers and mango leaves. A feast follows which includes the Ugadi Pachadi dish and another dish called Bobbatlu. This is made of gram flour and sugar/jaggery paste filling in a ball made from flour which is then given a circular roti-like shape and is served up hot or cold with ghee, milk or coconut milk. Innovative and colourful designs using rice, chalk and flower petals can be found outside all Telugu homes, known as Muggulu. Gatherings of people occur to listen to the recital of the Panchanga by pandits, for the new year in a custom known as the Panchangam Shravanam.
Samvatsara Padavo संवत्सर पाड़वो
Due to the Portuguese Inquisition and multiple medieval upheavals, the Konkani Hindu community today has spread out far from their native region of Goa across many states of India, and have co-opted the local Marathi, Kannadiga, Tuluva, Kodava or Malayali traditions as part of their own.
”Samvatsara” is the term used for “year”, and “Padavo” derives from the Sanskrit word “Pratipada” meaning “first day”. Paste of the leaves of the holy Neem tree are mixed with tamarind, jaggery and coriander seeds, and the day is started by eating this specially prepared chutney, called the Kadulimba Cha Prasad, after taking a bath! Konkani Hindus also prepare the Kanangachi Kheer for this day, which is a sweet dish made of sweet potato, coconut drain, jaggery, and rice. Families will have pandits visit their homes, who will read the Samvatsara Phala, which are the forecasts and predictions for the forthcoming year, attentively heard by the family members. Many in the community will go for Devadarshanam (gaining the sight of the Murti), and visit the local temple, which becomes the centre of festivities.
नव्या वर्साची परबीं
Navya Varsachi Parbi!
Being part of the Deccan region, Hindus of Karnataka celebrate with similar fervour as do Marathi and Telugu Hindus, and call their New Year ‘Yugadi’ – “Yuga” meaning “year” and “Aadi” meaning “first”. The reason that Marathi, Konkani, Telugu and Kannadiga Hindus all celebrate the New Years with similar festivities and even similar names, is because they all follow the same historical calendar, which marks their year zero as the victory of the legendary King Shalivahana, who is believed to be based off the Satavahana Dynasty.
Yugadi celebrations begin with cleaning, bathing in oil, and decorating the house with flowers, Rangoli patterns and mango leaves, as this is a favourite of Shiva and Parvati! Families will visit their local temples, and bathe their Murtis at home with oil. On praying to Surya Deva, the sweet and sour Vepampoo Pachadi, a pickle made with the Neem flower, jaggery and tamarind, is eaten on an empty stomach. It is also known as Bevu Bella, and as the name implies, this delicacy symbolises the bittersweet nature of life. We should be ready for all the tastes it has to offer!
ಹೊಸ ವರ್ಷದ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು
Hosa Varshada Subhashayagalu!
To read about the other Hindu New Years for communities who use the Sauramana (Solar calendar), do check out our part 2!