If you are in India on April 14 or 15, you will see New Year celebrations (depending on the year’s calendar) in different states being celebrated in diverse ways, as this time marks the beginning of the Hindu solar year. After celebrations on April 13 in Punjab (north India), it is usually April 14 in Tamil Nadu and Kerala (states in south India), and April 15 in West Bengal (eastern India). This is also the time the harvest is cut and ready to be stored or sold. It is believed that the Goddess Ganga descended to earth on this day, thousands of years ago. Therefore, many traditional Hindus take a ritual bath in the sacred river Ganges/Ganga that flows across north India.
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the New Year is celebrated in the belief that Lord Brahma started creation on this day. The entrance of the house is decorated with designs made with rice flour, and mango leaves are hung on the doorway. You might partake of the typical menu for the day, with traditional dishes representing different aspects of life! “Maanga Pachadi” is made of raw mangoes, jaggery, salt and chillies- to reflect the sweet, hot, sour and salty aspects of life. Another dish is made of neem (Margosa) flowers, (the bitter) while “payasam,” a milk pudding, is a reminder of the sweetness of life.
The Vishu festival in Kerala (south India) includes fireworks and interesting displays called Vishu Kani. These are arrangements of flowers, grains, fruits and cloth. People wear new clothes, and view gold and money early in the morning, to guarantee a year of prosperity!
Travel to the eastern region for a different color and flavor. Bohag Bihu or Rangoli Bihu is the biggest festival of Assam, in the north-east. Interestingly enough, the Assamese celebrate Bihu thrice a year, the other two being Magh Bihu in January, and Kati Bihu in the autumn/mid October! This festival celebrates the spring/fertility, the New Year, and the harvest, all in one. Enjoy the celebrations over a number of days, starting with Gori Bihu, reserved for rites associated with cattle. They are decorated with garlands, and given special food! The next day is Manuh Bihu, a day to pay homage to elders. The third day is Gosain Bihu, devoted to religious rituals. On the seventh and final day, people eat seven types of leafy vegetables, known as “sat sak”. The whole community takes part in feasts, music, sports and folk dances every day.
The New year in West Bengal (eastern India) is called “Poila Baisakh” ( Poila: first, Baisakh: first month of the Hindu year-hence, first day of the first month). It is also called “Naba (new) Barsha (year). The day before is devoted to bidding the old year adieu, so do try the special dishes (mainly sweets, a popular item for Bengalis!) meant for this day! The floor of the house is decorated with special designs (called “alpana”) traced with powdered rice. In the center of the design, mango leaves are kept in water in an earthern pot. This is an auspicious sign, and ensures prosperity throughout the year. It is also the beginning of commercial activities, so businessmen start new accounts books, and worship God Ganesha, considered essential for new beginnings.
Though the dates and modes of celebrations differ, you are sure to experience the essence: ushering in the new, with fun, gaiety and color!
Festivals of India: National Book Trust