Celebrating the New Year in India
The New Year is a very painful time. All the revelry of New Years Eve is over and you are left with resolutions to fulfil or break. If this be the case, head over to India – a country where there are many New Years and thus, many celebrations! India is an incredibly diverse country and each region celebrates its own New Year. The New Years generally revolve around the harvest season and signify the start of a new cycle. Trade and Agriculture see a new start of the cycle. As a result, the Indian Fiscal Year starts on 1st April as well as most harvest happens around this time.
Losar is celebrated in Tibet and the Tibetan regions of India. These include Ladakh and Lahaul and Spiti. It is the Tibetan New Year and celebrates both the harvest and the advent of Buddhism. Offerings are made at the local monasteries. Mask dances are held and chhaang, the local brew, is consumed. Villagers trek long distances to make their way to the monastery and the festival signifies celebration and quiet reflection for the locals. During this festival, the king and the common man comes together to herald in the New Year.
The regions of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana celebrate the harvest festival of Ugadi during the month of March. The festival signifies the coming of a new age and everything is bright and new on the day. Houses are cleaned and beautiful patterns of colour called Kolam are created in front of them. People dress new and in a spirit of benevolence, donate to temples and charities. This is also a time to share with those who have not and people feed the poor. An important part of the festival is the Pachhadi – a symbolic food that contains all the flavours. These include sweet, sour, tangy and bitter. The Pachhadi is a symbol of the fact that life has all flavours.
Around this same time, the festival of Puthandu is held as a celebration of the New Year in Tamil Nadu. Generally held around 14th April, the festival signifies the start of the new calendar and plays an important role in Tamil culture. Like Ugadi, the Pachhadi is made combining flavours of sweet, sour, tangy and bitter. Kolam or patterns from coloured rice powder are also made in front of homes. During this temple, a huge celebration is held at the famed Meenakshi temple in Madurai. In other places, temple cars are built and processions leave the temple in celebration. During this time, a plate consisting of fruits, gold and a mirror are also arranged as a symbolic offering to God.
Navreh is celebrated in Kashmir during this period of March and April as well. Kashmiri Pandits, or the Hindu community of Kashmir, celebrates this festival with great gusto. On the eve of Navreh, a platter consisting of curd, unhusked rice, bread, salt, sugar candy, walnuts, almonds. a silver coin, a pen, a mirror, some flowers and an almanac are kept. This arrangement is made so that it is the first thing to be seen on the day of Navreh. The Saptarshi Era of the Kashmiri Hindu calendar is said to have started 5079 years ago on Navreh.
Diwali is known all over the world as the festival of lights. Oil lamps are lit up in every home to signify purity. Special rituals and prayers are held. Both children and adults celebrate the festival by making Rangoli, bursting crackers and distributing sweets. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil but is also an important date for some business communities. This is the time of celebration of the New Year. If you walk down some of the merchant lanes of a city, you will see shops being opened and prayers offered. Merchants then pray to the new ledger before signing it off and closing the shop for the day.
The Parsis or the Zoroastrians celebrate the New Year during the time of August. Pateti is the last day of the old Year. While the word originally meant that it was a day of penitence and introspection, it is hardly used in that spirit now Parsis celebrate the next day – Navroz – as their New Year. This is a time when people visit the Parsi Temple and the Atash Behram – the traditional Parsi fire of greatest significance. They would then celebrate the New Year with delectable Parsi cuisine that includes Pulao Dal, Sali Boti and a variety of meat and vegetarian flavours.
In most of the agrarian communities of India, the New Year celebrates a new cycle. It generally takes place on the harvest season when the old crop is harvested and preparations are made for the new crop to be planted. The harvest festival in Sikkim is Losoong and is now celebrated as the New Year in Sikkim. The festival takes place in the month of December. The celebrations have a distinct Tibetan Buddhist influence. During this time, the Cham dance is one of the major attractions. Groups wearing masks dance to depict a tale, a moral or a historical event. The New Year is also celebrated by offering a local alcohol to the Gods.
Being a predominantly agrarian economy, the New Year festivals are celebrated according to the time of harvest in India. The festivals have more ritualistic overtones now and these are enjoyed by all. To travel and see celebrations during on of these New Years is one of the best journeys you could undertake. The elaborate preparations even in local temples will inspire you and you will love the festive nature of the place. The spirit is further accentuated when locals where new clothes and decorate their homes. Travelling for such a festival can be easily combined into your journey – considering the number of festivals happening throughout the year. Every New Year gives you the chance to leave the old and embrace the new. So if you feel you’re failing halfway through the year, all you need to do is drop by India.
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