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Ugadi – The significance of Indian National Calendar’s New Year.

24 March 2017

According to the widely used civil calendar Gregorian, we are in the twenty first century. But Gregorian is not the only calendar in use. Especially in India, where there are regional calendars for different states! There is the Tamil calendar based on the celestial bodies of solar system – Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The number of days in this calendar varies from 29 to 32 per month. Then, there is the Bengali calendar, a solar calendar which consists 6 seasons. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that begins at midnight, Bengali calendar starts and ends at sunrise. The months in Malayalam calendar, used by people in one of the southern most states Kerala, is based on the signs of Zodiac. The entire year is divided into groups of fourteen days in this calendar. It doesn’t end here. There is the Punjabi calendar, Tulu Calendar, Vikrama Samvat, Saka and so on! So if you are living in India, you are actually living in multiple timelines. 15th Century, 20th Century and even 50 years ahead of the Gregorian! Fascinating, isn’t it?

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Interestingly, when India became independent in 1947, it was not just laws and constitutions that were reformed. Calendars were reformed too! Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, formed a ‘Calendar Reform Committee’ in 1952 to come up with a unified national calendar. Analysing the thirty different calendars that were present during that time, the Committee suggested the Saka calendar be the National Calendar of India. Thus in Gregorian March 22 1957, the Saka era began, with an opening date of Chaitra 1, 1879. This month of Chaitra is since then the first month of the year as per Indian national civil calendar. And this day, known as ‘Ugadi’, is enthusiastically celebrated across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra as New Year.

The Saka calendar is based on the mythology that Lord Brahma started creating the universe in the month of Chaitra. He created days, weeks, months and years in order to count time and then created other elements in the universe. The term Ugadi is derived out of Sanskrit words ‘Yugam’, which means age and ‘Adi’ which means beginning. Thus Ugadi marks the beginning of a new age and this period is considered to be the arrival of spring. The arrival of spring also signifies a period of joy and abundance. Since Saka calendar is based on both moon phase and the time of solar year, Ugadi, arrives on a different day each year. This day marks a change in the Moon’s orbit and Ugadi also falls a day after the first new moon and after sun’s crossing of celestial equator on the spring equinox. In Maharashtra Ugadi is known as Gudi Padwa.

Like every Indian festival there are some unique traditions and rituals connected with Ugadi. In fact, preparations begin a week in advance as people thoroughly wash their households and purchase new clothes and items. On the auspicious day of Ugadi, people wake up before dawn and take a head bath. This early morning bath is supposed to be taken after massaging the entire body using Sesame or Castor Oil. This is followed by applying Rangoli in front of the house after splashing fresh cow dung water on the ground. Rangoli symbolizes good luck and prosperity. This is also considered as a ritual to emphasize the fact that a human being is not a stand alone island. Everything around a person affects his emotional balance and it is important to consider other beings around us. The rice powders using which Rangoli is drawn becomes food to small beings such as ants and birds. When we show gratitude to every life around us, it multiplies our welfare as well. The virtue called sharing is well dissolved in the Indian culture.

After early bath and rangoli, the next custom is to decorate the entrance of house with fresh mango leaves and marigold flowers. The importance of this practice is connected with a legend. It is believed that Subramanya and Ganesha, two sons of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati loved having mangoes. Then, Subramanya urged people to tie fresh mango leaves on the entrance to indicate prosperous yields and general well being. Thus, the mango leaves is a representation of the peaceful and abundant life of the public. The next Ugadi ritual is the special prayers by all the members of the family. At the end of this prayer, ‘Ugadi Pachadi’, a specially made chutney of six tastes is offered to the god and eaten by everyone on empty stomach. The six ingredients are raw mango, tamarind, jaggery, neem, salt and chilly. The six ingredients represent six flavors of life such as happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, fear and bitterness. In other words, the dish signifies the one ultimate truth of existence. Life is a combination of all these elements and we should learn to accept it! Some of the other widely practiced rituals during Ugadi are watching one’s own reflection in a bowl of molten ghee, elder women performing aarti by applying Kumkum in the forehead of younger members and giving oil baths to God idols.

You cannot keep one thing away from any Indian Festival. The delicious foods! In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana special eatables such as ‘pulihora, bobbatlu, New Year Burelu’ are prepared. Pulihora is characterized by sour taste since Tamarind is its main ingredient. It is also given as offering in temple and devotees wait in queue to get it after their prayers. Bobbatlu is a sweet flatbread and Burelu is a sweet dish prepared by stuffing balls of rice flour into coconut, sugar and dried fruits. Similar dishes are prepared in Karnataka and Maharashtra though their names differ. For example, Karnataka names Bobbatlu as Obbattu and in Maharashtra it is called Puran Poli.

In the evening, people visit temples or other public places to listen to ‘Panchanga Sravanam’. ‘Panchangam’ is a religious Hindu almanac which includes the general prediction for the year to come. During this auspicious function, a temple priest or a Vedic Scholar or an Astronomy expert opens the new Panchangam of the coming year, recites it and gives his blessing to everyone present. While reading the almanac, the priest gives predictions regarding various sectors of life and narrates the effect of different constellations and their transitions. It is believed that the reader and listener of Panchangam reaches a state of holiness similar to a dip in the Holy river Ganges. Once the Panchangam reciting is over, people pay their respect to the priest or the scholar by offering him new clothes and seeks his blessing. During the evening, poem recitations, literary discussions, cultural programs and various literary awards are also organized.

Besides Andhra, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra, Ugadi is also celebrated in various other regions in different names. In Rajasthan, the day is called Thapna as it is New Year in Rajasthani calendar too. People from Sindh, celebrate this day as ‘Cheti Chand’ to mark the birthday of their Lord ‘Uderolal’. In Manipur it is celebrated as ‘Sajibu Nongma Panba’ by the followers of Sanamahism religion. It is also celebrated as New Year by the Hindus in Indonesia as ‘Nyepi’.

Indian civilization, spanning across thousands of years have amazing stories to tell. It is near to impossible to find another nation with such diversity. More than 700 districts in the 29 states and 7 union territories will each have their own legacy to tell! To understand the value and significance of every tradition in this vast country, one life might not be enough. But it is that which plays a major rule in empowering a nation that speaks more than 22 languages and follows more than a dozen religions!