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Puthandu – The Tamil New Year

Tamil New Year

Puthandu or Chitthirai Vishu is the Tamil New Year, celebrated on April 13th or 14th. It follows the Hindu solar calendar and is celebrated right after the vernal equinox. In astrological terms, the sun enters the sign of Aries on this day, marking the beginning of Chitthirai, the first month of the Tamil calendar.

The new year’s day is considered to be very sacred by the Tamilians. On the eve of Puthandu, houses are cleaned thoroughly, pots and pans get a deep scrub, damaged equipment is fixed or replaced and old/unused things are discarded. This custom is very similar to the concept of Spring cleaning in the western world.

Early in the morning on the festival day, women adorn the entrance of their house with colorful Kolam or Rangoli patterns. A lamp called Kuthuvillakku is placed in the center of the Kolam. People begin the day by looking at auspicious things like gold and silver jewelry, betel leaves, nuts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw rice and coconuts. It is believed that a good start to the New Year will ensure prosperity and happiness in the coming year. This is followed by a bath, visit to the temple and Panchangam (almanac) reading.

Tamil New year is celebrated with all kinds of festive food. Pachchadi is a very traditional preparation on this day. It is a sweet, sour and bitter dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers to signify different aspects of life. Murukkas, vadais and different types of rice are made for the festivities. Payasam or rice kheer is a typical sweet made in Tamilian homes for this day. People visit friends and family to wish them a happy and prosperous New Year. There is also a custom where children receive small gifts from the elders to mark the occasion.

Many other people in South Asia celebrate this day as the New Year’s day, including people from Punjab, Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The festival is referred to by various names such as Baisakhi, Vishu, Naba Barsha and Rongali Bihu.

Baisakhi - The Harvest Festival

Baisakhi, or Vaisakhi, is a harvest festival celebrated mainly in the Punjab region and also in some northern states such as Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It marks the first day of the month of Baisakh and signifies a new harvest season. In many places the day is marked by ritualistic bathing in sacred rivers like the Ganges. This day has importance to both Hindus and Sikhs.

In Sikhism, it commemorates the establishment of the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. For Hindus, it is the first day of the Hindu solar new year.

To mark the celebrations, devotees, irrespective of religion, visit the Gurudwara with flowers and offerings at dawn. Processions through towns are also common. It is believed to be the day on which the Khalsa was born and Sikhs were given a clear identity and a code of conduct to live by. Kirtans and recital of passages from the Granth Sahib are held and people line up to receive the delicious prasad and perform kar sewa, offering help in the daily chores of the Gurdwara.

Baisakhi celebrations include the Bhangra and Gidda dances, both very lively dance forms generating lot of excitement and energy. Joyful cries of “Jatta aai Baisakhi” are heard everywhere as people greet each other. Fairs are organized in various places for the community to gather and celebrate the joyous occasion.

Panchangam – The Hindu Calendar

PanchangamPanchang or Panchangam is a lunisolar Hindu astrological calendar/almanac that presents important astronomical data including days & dates, months, auspicious moments (muhurtas), eclipses, lunar phases, zodiacal occurences etc., Panchangam is typically used to check various Hindu festivals and auspicious times (muhurtas). Very simplistically the months are calculated according to the revolution of moon. There are mainly two types of calendars/almanacs; the Shaka calendar followed in south India and Maharashtra and the Vikrama calendar followed by the rest of India and Nepal. The origins of the Hindu Calendar are in the Rig Veda around 3 BC.

According to the Shaka calendar, the month begins with the first day after new moon. The Vikrama calendar months begin the first day after the full moon. The 15 days as the moon grows and becomes full moon is referred to as “Shuddha or the "Shukla Paksha”. The full moon is the Poornima. The next 15 days as the moon wanes is referred as “Krishna Paksha”. New moon is the Amavasya. A date is called as the “Tithee”.

There are seven days in a week; Ravi-vaar (Sunday or the day of sun), Som-vaar (Monday or the day of the moon), Mangal-vaar (Tuesday or the day of Mars), Budha-vaar (Wednesday or the day of Mercury), Guru-vaar (Thursday or the day of Jupiter), Shukra-vaar (Friday or day of Venus) and Shani-vaar (Saturday or day of Saturn).

The elliptical orbit of the earth is divided into 27 nakshatras or fixed stars. The nakshatra in which the moon lies in at sunrise is the nakshatra for the day. There are 12 zodiacs corresponding to the 27 nakshatras.

They are Mesha (Airies), Vrushabh (Taurus), Mithun (Gemini), Karka (Cancer), Simha (Leo), Tula (Libra), Kanya (Virgo), Vrishchika (Scorpio), Dhanu (Sagittarius), Makar (Capricorn) , Kumbha (Aquarius), Meen (Pisces).

The twelve lunar months correspond to when the Sun transits to each of the 12 zodiacs beginning with Mesha or Aeries.

  1. Chaitra (sun transits into Mesha or Aries)
  2. Vaishākh (sun transits into Vrushabh or Taurus)
  3. Jyaishtha (sun transits into Mithun or Gemini)
  4. Āshādha (sun transits into Karka or Cancer)
  5. Shrāvana (sun transits into Simha or Leo)
  6. Bhaadra or, Bhādrapad (sun transits into Tula or Libra)
  7. Āshwin (sun transits into Kanya or Virgo)
  8. Kārtik (sun transits into Vrushchika or Scorpio)
  9. Agrahayana or, Mārgashīrsha (sun transits into Dhanu or Sagittarius)
  10. Paush (sun transits into Makar or Capricorn)
  11. Māgh (sun transits into Kumbha or Aquarius)
  12. Phālgun(sun transits into Meen or Pisces)

These 12 months account for 356 days. A solar year has 365 or 366 (leap year) days. To compensate for the 9-10 days, there is an extra month called the Adhik Masam every 32.5 months

A typical Panchang tabulates positions of the Sun, the Moon and other planets for every day of the year on a fixed place (longitude, latitude) and time of day (in 24-hour format IST). The users calculate the remaining data using their relative difference from this fixed place and time.

The casting of a Panchang involves elaborate mathematical work involving high level of spherical geometry and sound understanding of astronomical phenomena, including movements of heavenly bodies. In practice, the tabulation is done on the basis of short-cut formulations as propounded by ancient Vedic sages and scholars.

‘Panchanga Sravanam’, listening to the recitation of the almanac is a common custom on the day of Ugadi ie., Kannada & Telugu New Year. It is a social gathering where a priest or an elderly, respected person in the community refers to the calendar and presents a general forecast about the upcoming year.

Significance of Gudhi

GudhiA ‘Gudhi’ is a symbolic high-flying flag signifying victory. It has several mythological and historical connotations. It is believed to ward off evil and invite good fortune into the  house that hoists it on the Gudhi Padwa day (Maharashtrian New Year).

According to Brahma Purana, a Gudhi is a Brahmadhvaj (Brahma’s flag), It is believed that Lord Brahma created the universe on this day. Gudhi also symbolizes Lord Rama’s  victory over Ravana and his coronation as the king of Ayodhya. Maharashtrians view the Gudhi as a symbol of Maratha victory, led by Shivaji Maharaj. It also has significance from the Shalivahana era as a Gudhi was hoisted to represent victory over the Sakas.

In modern India, generally in Maharashtra, a Gudhi is hung out of a window or hoisted in a prominent place in front of the house on the day of Gudhi Pawa. A bright silk and brocade (zari) cloth is tied at the top of a long pole. A small metal pot is placed upside down over it. The Gudhi is adorned with battase or sakhar gathi (sugar cubes), neem and mango leaves and a garland of flowers. In the morning, a small pooja is done at the time of hoisting. The Gudhi is taken down at the end of the day. The silk cloth and pot are stored away for re-use the following year. Some families even have a cloth and a pot passed down from previous generations, a kind of heirloom.

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