A Happy New Year in India: Part 1

If you thought New Year’s Day was over, you might be surprised to be greeted in India at this time of the year! This year April 4 (the day varies according to the Indian calendar) will be the New Year or “Ugadi” in the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and “Gudi Padwa” in the western state of Maharashtra.

Ugadi is celebrated with decorations (mainly with mango leaves and flowers) new clothes, exchange of greetings and special dishes! People draw colorful “rangoli” (special designs) in front of the door, and tie mango leaves and flowers (called “thorana”) on the main door. An early morning traditional oil bath is followed by prayers and worship when a mixture of neem leaves and jaggery is offered to the deity. This combination is supposed to symbolize the bitter sweet nature of life! The lunch (“holige”) is very elaborate, including various curries and special dishes like the “ugadi chutney” (neem flowers, mango, tamarind and jaggery—again, the same symbolism as the offering)! The rituals in neighboring Andhra Pradesh are similar, and mango rice is essential on this day.

If you are in the western state of Maharashtra, you might be offered jaggery and neem leaves! The other specialities are a mixture of mango and jaggery (“Aam paana” –aam: mango) and sweet dishes (“shrikhand” and “pooran poli”). A new cloth is tied to a bamboo stick (a “gudi”) which is then decorated with a copper pot (“kalash”) and a chain made of sugar crystals and neem leaves. This is kept outside the house till the evening, as a welcome to the Hindu deity Lord Rama (the protagonist of the epic Ramayana).

A trip to Punjab and Haryana (northern states of India) on April 13 will leave you with a memorable experience of “Baisakhi” celebrations. It is a harvest festival, beginning of a new year, and also has some religious and historical significance for the Sikh community of Punjab. The word “Baisakhi” comes from the month of “vaisakha” in the Indian calendar. It is the time when the winter “rabi” crop is ready for harvesting, and the farmer returns home with the fruits of the year’s labor, offering the first ears of ripe wheat to deities.

You will see houses decorated with mango flowers and leaves, and much feasting and merrymaking, with the traditional folk dance “Bhangra”, fairs, competitions, including wrestling matches! The Bhangra enacts the entire agricultural process, from tilling, sowing to reaping and harvesting, and the rhythm changes accordingly. It is accompanied by the beat of the traditional drum, called the “dholak”.

Baisakhi also has a historical significance for the Sikhs. It was on this day in 1689 that one of their chief leaders (known as “gurus”) Guru Govind Singh, founded the distinctive Sikh brotherhood (called Khalsa). This aimed to obliterate differences, and treat all human beings as equal. You might visit the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar, where, as in other temples, special celebrations and worship take place.

The flavor of New year celebrations in India is quite unique!

Festivals of India: National Book Trust
Personal experience