How India Celebrates the Traditional New Year

How India Celebrates the Traditional New Year
A Kathakali performance on New Year, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Here’s all you need to know about New Year festivities across the country

OT Staff
April 13 , 2020
07 Min Read

The cultural historian Thomas Berry once said, “The greater the diversity, the greater the perfection.” And with every passing day, we strive towards that perfection. India’s cultural and ethnic diversity comes alive during its festivals. Be it Holi, Diwali, Durga Puja, or even the traditional new year fests, the customs and traditions differ from one state to the other.

With new year (according to Vikram Samvat, the historical Hindu calendar) just around the corner, here’s a glimpse of how the day is celebrated across India.

Baisakhi, Punjab

 
 
 
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Vibrant colours, power-packed giddha and bhangra performances and a feast to remember. For the uninitiated, Baisakhi (aka Vaisakhi) marks the beginning of the new spring in Punjab. Marking the end of the harvest season in India, Baisakhi commemorates the ripening of the rabi harvest. For the Sikh population, the day holds special significance as it was on this day in 1699 that the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa. An integral part of the celebration is the Baisakhi procession or Nagar Kirtan. Passing through the streets and bylanes of the city, gleeful farmers and devotees take part in the processions accompanied by music and holy hymns. Considered one of the biggest festivals for the Sikh community, many even choose to get baptised on this day. 

Bihu, Assam

 
 
 
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The biggest festival of the Assamese, Bihu is associated with the agricultural cycle of the state. Fun fact: there are primarily three Bihu festivals celebrated by the Assamese community. While Rongali or Bohag Bihu is in April, Kongali or Kati Bihu is in October and Bhogali in January. Rongali, arguably the most important of the three, marks the reaping of the harvest and the beginning of the new year. Folk songs and dance play an integral part in the festivities. Though each community has its own rendition, the rhythmic beats and energetic dance performances by young boys and girls is what adds to the charm of the celebrations.

Poila Boishakh, West Bengal

It’s that time of year again when greetings of shubho noboborsho are doing the rounds. Celebrated on April 14th each year, Poila Boishakh marks the beginning of the Bengali New Year. There are several debates revolving around the origins of the Bengali calendar. Legend credits King Shoshangko with the beginning of the Bengali era while others believe it was introduced by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The day also marks the advent of the new financial year. Fairs, cultural performances, and splendid feasts are an intrinsic part of the festivities in both Tripura and West Bengal. Houses are decked up with traditional designs called alpona. But it is the coming together of families on this joyous occasion that completes the celebrations. 

Puthandu, Tamil Nadu

Puthandu, Puthu Varsham or Varsha Parappu, Tamil Nadu rings in the new year with pomp and show. With kolams (rangoli) adorning the doorsteps and rituals reinforcing age-old customs and traditions, the Tamil New Year ushers in hope, good health, peace and prosperity. If you ever find yourself in Madurai around this time, we’d suggest heading to the Meenakshi Amman temple to witness chithirai porutkaatchi, a huge exhibition that attracts visitors from all over the country. Marking the commencement of the Chithirai Masam, Tamilians across the globe start preparing for the festival a day in advance. On the eve of Puthandu, a platter is decorated with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, neem flowers, gold jewellery, cash and other articles that symbolise prosperity, which is then placed next to the deity along with a mirror. The day begins with the viewing of the platter followed by an elaborate feast showcasing an eclectic mix of flavours. Must-havesmangai pachadi (a sweet and sour mango dish) and veppampoo pachadi (a neem flower preparation).

Vishu, Kerala

 
 
 
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Much like the other festivals that fall on this day, Vishu in Kerala symbolises the beginning of spring. An important aspect of Vishu celebrations is the vishukani, an arrangement of articles that symbolise prosperity including vegetables, gold, Hindu holy books, a large circular vessel made of five metals and valkannadi (a mirror). The day begins with the viewing of the vishukani (first sight of Vishu). If you see the offering first thing in the morning, it is believed that you will get an abundance of the contents in the arrangement throughout the year. In some households, children are even led to the vishukani blindfolded. The ritual, called kanikanal, is arranged by the women in the household the previous day. A true Malayali would know that Vishu is not complete without the delectable sadhya. The traditional feast consisting of preparations like mampazha pachadi, jackfruit erissery and unniyappam is one of the highlights of the day. 


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