The Hindu New Year
Festivals are an integral part of our life and culture and Hindu tradition offers them in plenty. There is a festival for every reason and for every season. Every celebration centers around rituals of prayer, seeking blessings, exchanging goodwill, decorating houses, wearing new clothes, music, dance and feasting. Do you know the most important festival that falls in the month of April? It is Yugadi!
Yugadi is one of the most important festivals that we celebrate. Yugadi means “Beginning of New age” (Yuga=Age and Aadi=beginning). Hindu culture is diverse and Hindus speak many languages. No wonder! This festival is recognized by various names and celebrated in various ways and on different days. Some call it as “Varsha Pratipada”, and some as “Gudi Padva. Some call it as “Naba Barsha” and some as “Goru Bihu”.
Yugadi comes close on the heels of festival Holi every year. While the strong colors of Holi start fading away, the freshness of spring lingers on with sprightliness all around. It is a spring festival when the Goddess of Nature gets bedecked as a divine bride. This season has a characteristic fragrance in the air; fully blossomed neem trees make the air healthy. We listen to chanting of birds and smell fragrance of flowers from distance. The onset of spring also marks a beginning of new life with plants (barren until now) acquiring new life, shoots and leaves. The vibrancy of life and verdant fields, meadows full of colorful blossoms signifies growth, prosperity and well-being.
Yugadi is also a beginning of a new year according to the Hindu Panchang. You must be wondering, “What is Hindu Panchang?” Hindu Panchang is the Hindu Calendar. Just like the Gregorian calendar, Hindus also have their own calendar. They use it for the religious customs and ceremonies. Its time reckoning is based on the apparent motions of the celestial bodies such as the Sun, the moon, and the planets. This astronomical method of the Hindu calendar is very old – the oldest reference is in a text called Vedanga Jyotisha of about 1200 BC whose source was a still far ancient sage called Lagadha. It has been revised by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Bhasakar, etc. By custom and tradition, the New Year is marked when the celestial positions of the Earth and the beginning of the Mesha raashi line up with the Sun or the Moon. The lineup with the Moon is called the chaandra (lunar) Yugadi and that with the Sun is called the saura (solar) Yugadi. Any of us with a little bit of imagination can visualize what is going on in the sky around Yugadi. As an astronomical fact, these two Yugadis occur close by. Also, the chaandra Yugadi day heralds the new ‘samvastara’ in our tradition. Since it is the start of New Year, people launch new projects, start new ventures, open new offices. They purchase jewelry, and gold on this auspicious day. Reading and understanding of the panchang is also an important activity on this day.
Ways of celebrations
Hindus celebrate this festival in various ways. Preparations for the festival begin a week ahead. Houses are given a thorough wash. Shopping for new clothes and buying other items that go with the requirements of the festival are done with a lot of excitement. People wake up before the break of dawn, apply coconut oil on their skin and take a bath after which they decorate the entrance of their houses with fresh mango leaves and intricate rangoli designs reflecting the brightness of the Spring. Wearing new clothes, they offer Pooja for the God and seek his blessings. They pray for their health, wealth and prosperity and success in business too. Some people celebrate this festival by hoisting a gudi – a bamboo pole with a rich and gorgeous cloth of magenta or saffron color and a small branch of neem tree and garland. It symbolizes Shree Rama’s triumphant entry into Ayodhya and is erected in homes as a mark of triumph of good over evil. It also symbolizes the Brahma-dhwaj (flag of the Creator).
Some find a different way of celebrating the festival. Kavi Sammelanam (poetry recitation) is quite famous in southern Bharat (India). Yugadi is also a time when people look forward to a literary feast in the form of Kavi Sammelanam. Many poets come up with new poems written on subjects ranging from Yugadi to politics to modern trends and lifestyles.
As the day starts, they eat the paste of bitter-sweet leaves of Neem tree, tamarind and jaggery. The neem paste is believed to purify blood and build up immunity in the body against diseases. Special dishes such as “pulihora” (like tamarind rice), “bobbatlu” (sweet rotis), “Shrikhand” (like sweet yoghurt) are prepared for the occasion. Yugadi is thus a festival of many shades. It ushers in the New Year, brings a rich bounce of flora and fills the hearts of people with joy and contentment.
Mythological and Historical Importance
It is believed that, on this day, the Universe was created by Sri Brahma. This is the day when Sri Vishnu incarnated himself as Matsya (fish). On this day, Shri Rama killed Vali. The great Mathematician Bhaskaracharya’s calculations proclaimed the Yugadi day from the sunrise on as the beginning of the New Year, new month and new day. This day recalls the inspiring occasion when the king Shalivahana defeated the barbaric forces of Shakas who came from Central Asia and invaded Bharat (India) during the 1st century A.D. The founding of new Era in the name of Shalivahana signifies the supreme importance accorded to them in the Hindu history. And what a happy coincidence! A great patriot, revolutionary and the founder of the organization – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) , Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was also born on this day of Yugadi.
All the major Hindu festivals have their own purpose and significance, i.e., to show their relevance and importance in the context of the eternal world cycle of history. As mentioned earlier, people eat the paste of bitter-sweet leaves of Neem tree, tamarind and jaggery. Apart from its medicinal value the eating of this mixture has an inner significance. Jaggery represents joy and happiness and Neem represents sorrow. Their mixture indicates that life is a mixture of good and bad, joy and sorrow, success and disappointment, and all of them have to be treated alike. Everyone should resolve to face calmly whatever happens in this year, accepting it with good grace. Consider everything is for one’s own good. We should rise above sorrow and happiness, success and failure. Jaggery represents Krutayuga and Tretayuga which is full of purity, prosperity and peace. Neem represents Dwaparyuga and Kaliyuga which consists of sorrow, chaos and impurity. So, it is the time to change ourselves or to purify ourselves by inculcating the divine virtues.
“A great visionary, revolutionary, patriot, true and fearless leader and a founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was born on the day of Yugadi. He sacrificed his whole life for the expansion of the Sangh work.”