By Reya Mehrotra
We are already two months into the New Year, but in India, a land of cultural diversity, each community has its own new year celebrations based on their traditions and calendars. This means, almost every other month, a community celebrates the onset of a new year in India.
Ugadi marks the new year in Karnataka and other states in southern India. It is celebrated on the first day of Chaitra according to the Hindu calendar. The word ‘ugadi’ means ‘new beginning’. It is meant to welcome prosperity, abundance, happiness and marks the onset of spring. It is considered to be an auspicious time for new ventures. People wear traditional clothes, clean their homes and offer prayers. Lord Vishnu is worshipped on this day. A special delicacy called Bevu Bella is prepared and consumed.
This marks the start of the Iranian calendar and is celebrated by the Parsi community that includes Iranians and Zoroastrians around the world. ‘Navroz’ means ‘new day’ and the New Year is celebrated in March every year. In India, it is celebrated in August and Indian Parsis follow the Shahenshahi calendar. Some also celebrate it twice a year—according to the Iranian calendar and the Shahenshahi calendar. The festival gets its name from the Persian king Jamshed, known for creating the Persian or the Shahenshahi calendar. As the legend goes, he saved the world from an apocalyptic winter destined to kill everyone.
Pohela Boishakh, the Bengali new year, is also called Bangla Noboborsho. It is the first day of the Bengali calendar and falls on April 14 or 15. The Drikpanchang suggests that ancient Bengal’s King Shoshangko started the Bengali era around 594 in the Gregorian calendar. Some believe that the Bengali calendar was introduced during emperor Akbar’s reign. Akbar is believed to have asked the royal astronomer to create a calendar using the solar Hindu calendar and the lunar Islamic calendar. Bengalis buy new clothes and traditional delicacies are prepared to celebrate the day. People greet each other with ‘Shubho Noboborsho’, or Happy New Year.
The Islamic New Year marks the beginning of a new lunar year and is observed on the first day of the month of Muharram. Islamic era’s epoch was set as 622 CE, which was the year when Muhammad and his followers travelled from Mecca to Medina. Fasting and prayers in the month of Ramadan and pilgrimages are calculated according to the Hijri calendar. Muslims recite special prayers, Quranic verses and sermons to celebrate the day. It also marks the beginning of Muharram.
Navreh is the Kashmiri New Year. It is celebrated by Kashmiri Hindus and the festival is dedicated to goddess Sharika. It is celebrated during March-April. It is popularly believed that 5,079 years ago, the Saptarishi era of Kashmiri Hindus had started on this day. It is considered to be an auspicious day. People greet each other with ‘Navreh Mubarak’.
Baisakhi marks the onset of spring in India and signifies the end of harvest season. It is a time of festivity for farmers. Celebrations mainly happen around Punjab and Haryana. People take bath in holy rivers and visit gurdwaras. Once the prayers are done, people celebrate a bountiful harvest. Kadha prasad made with wheat, ghee and sugar is prepared and langars are organised at gurdwaras. Grand processions are taken out with devotional songs.
Gudi Padwa is usually celebrated in April and marks the first day of Chaitra, the first month of the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated in Maharashtra. The Konkanis call the festival Samwatsara and it is called Ugadi in parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It marks the crowning of Lord Ram on his return to Ayodhya after his time in exile. Devotees take ritualistic baths and pray and decorate their houses. The entrances are decorated with mango leaves and rangolis. A gudi flag is made with a silk scarf tied on a bamboo stick with leaves of neem. A garland made of sugar candies is hung with the flag to signify the bittersweet journey of life.
Bohag Bihu is also called Rongali Bihu and is the Assamese new year. It is celebrated in the second week of April and signifies the time of harvest. Different Assamese communities unite to promote and celebrate their ethnic diversity. There are three different types of Bihu—Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu, Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu, and Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu. Each one recognises an agricultural cycle of the paddy crops.