Dr Vinay Nalwa explains the significance of ‘Varsha Pratipada’, the Bharatiya New Year and why it is the celebration of the eternal cosmic song

Varshapratipada , the Bharatiya Nav Varsha (New Year) is celebrated on first day of the month of Chaitra, which according to the Sanskrit calendar (beginning March-April)is the first month. With the blossoming of the new leaves comes the season of new beginning. It is the perfect time to celebrate the New Year along with nature. The first day of spring is also time of celebrating good harvest. Although the celebration during the harvest is universal, it is named and celebrated differently across the nation and in many parts of the world.

The beginning of spring could be celebrated on another day in different part of the country, as people mostly follow their regional calendars (Tamils, Bengalis, Assamese, and others have their own calendars) but the religious fervour centred around gratitude and devotion towards God and nature is similar. This New Year begins on the same day for people in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, Manipur, Mithila (Nepal), Orissa, Punjab, Tripura, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

The common Practice of offering food (prasadam) and organising feasts made from new farm produce to the deity is called sadhya in Kerala , in Karnataka/Andhra Pradesh its Bevubella (in Kannada) or Pachadi (in Tamil). In Maharashtra, its Puran Poli and in Assam its Pitha. In Karnataka and Andhra primary dishes of the day are Holge (Kannada), Bobattu (in Telgu).

It is the time to share and celebrate mother nature’s gifts to mankind. Festive celebrations start at dawn when people clean and decorate their houses. Puja is performed at home or at the temple seeking the blessing of the Almighty.

In Tamil Nadu, the New Year is known as Varsha Pirappu or Puthandu Vazthkal. In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the day starts by viewing the tray containing auspicious things like gold, silver, jewellery, fruits, vegetables, betel leaves, and other fresh farm products during this time. In Kerala new year is called Vishu , the first day in the first month of Medam in Kerala.

In Karnataka/Andhra Pradesh, it is called Ugadi meaning the beginning of new era, derived from words yug (age/era) and adi (beginning). It is considered as the day of a creation of the universe by Lord Brahma.

The New Year is celebrated as Bestu Varas in Gujarat and Thapna in Rajasthan on the first day of Kartik. The homes and temples are decorated with marigold flowers and mango leaves. A few people in Gujarat sell or give raw salt or Sarbes, indicating all tastes of life are acceptable, similar to Ugadi Bev or Pachadi.

Sindhi new year, Cheti-Chand is celebrated on the first day of Chaitra along with saint Jhulelal’s birthday is also day of thanksgiving.

In Punjab, the New Year celebration called Baisakhi is celebrated traditionally as a harvest festival and a thanksgiving Day . Thanking God for abundance in life and praying for a better future. People on this day take a ritual bath in the sacred Ganges River and worship. Baisakhi also marks the founding of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Govind Singh. Sikhs visit Gurudwaras before dawn and offer their prayers.

Bengal’s New Year or Poila Baishakh or Nabo Barsho is the day to worship the Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity in the New Year. Most Bengalis start their New Year with new financial records and accounts. It is marked as a state holiday in West Bengal and national holiday in Bangladesh. Non-Hindus also follow Hindu cultural practices (except worshiping Hindu deities), which are passed on to them for generations.

The north-eastern state of Assam celebrates the New Year as Bohaag Bihu or Rongali Bihu. This is the celebration of spring, of a new harvest with family and friends. Pitha (rice cake) is one of the main cuisines prepared on this occasion. Young girls sing “Bihugeets” and dance in a traditional way. It is also a season of love and finding a suitable match in the traditional way.

Sajibu Nongma Panda or Cheiraoba (stick announcement), the New Year in Manipur is on first day of the lunar Manipuri month of Sajibu (Chaitrya). One ritual after the feast is climbing Cheiraoching, i.e. nearest hilltop, to mark climbing the pinnacle of success in the New Year or the belief that motivates people to achieve greater heights in their real lives.

The Sikkimese New Year is known as Losoong, influenced by the Tibetan New Year (Losar) celebrated in the beginning of harvesting season to pray for better crops for the coming season. It is also popular among people in neighbouring countries (Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet). The main attraction of this festival is – the cham dance (originated in Tibet).

In Kashmir, the New Year is celebrated on first day of Chaitra and it is known as Navreh or Navratras. This day is also sacred for Kashmiri the way Shivratri is considered in rest of India as it was mentioned in Rajtarangini and Nilamat Purana of Kashmir. Kashmiris worship Ma Shikara on this day. One of the rituals is dropping a walnut in the river to mark Thanksgiving. Evenings are filled with havan and other puja in the temple.

In Maharashtra, Gudi Padwa (Maharashtra) is considered as the new beginning by raising Gudi to celebrate Mother Nature’s abundance for every living being. Gudi is a stick placed in small copper or silver jar (upside down) and decorated with a silk material, garlanded with sugar candy and flowers.

Besides this common heritage of customs and traditions across India there is also a historical context attached to it. The Brahma Purana states that Lord Brahma recreated the world from this day. Another popular legend is the return of Lord Rama in Ayodhya. The ‘Brahmadhvaj’ or ‘the flag of Brahma’ (Gudi) is hoisted in memory of the coronation of Lord Rama. The Gudi is hoisted at the entrance of the household in commemoration of the Gudi that was hoisted in Ayodhya as a victory flag. It is believed that Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj started it.

In a nut shell, Bharatiya New Year is a manifestation of the gratitude towards Mother Nature and and a reminder to us that there is a cosmic balance that is at the core of our existence and it shouldn’t be altered. If it has been altered, it is our responsibility to restore it and that is the only way for sustainable development.

(The writer is a senior fellow with Delhi based think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra and has authored the book ‘Ramjanmabhoomi: Truth, Evidence, Faith.’ Views expressed are personal.)