Ganesh Krishnan R
“April is the cruelest month”, begins the ‘The Waste Land’ written by literary genius TS Eliot that features the catastrophic aftermath of awful World War—I. Well, April may be the cruellest month for the West and Eliot but Chaitra—the Hindu name for April—is considered very auspicious in Bharat. Chaitra is the first month according to Hindu calendar (Vikram Samvat). It heralds the beginning of the year that is celebrated not only across the country but also in Bali and Thailand, among other nations. Several Hindu festivals that include Shri Ram Navami fall on Chaitra month which underlines the significance of this auspicious month.
As Sun transits into the first Zodiac sign, the Chaitra month also marks the beginning of a new season. It traces its deep roots back to our agrarian tradition. The month is widely being dedicated for Shakti worship as if bearing testimony to our tradition of worshiping the divine feminine as the origin and manifestation of vitality which is the part and parcel of our culture. As popularly known, the Navratri festival in Chaitra month is celebrated in many temples in the Northern part of Bharat, chiefly major Shakthi Peeths like Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu and Kashmir and Taratarini Temple in Odisha and other Devi temples like Jhandewalan Temple in Delhi. Meanwhile, it is equally significant for many temples in the Southern parts of Bharat too as they also observe it as a sacred period of time, obviously in different names and for different reasons.
A widely held misconception of Aryan-Dravidian division, stems from the West’s warped understanding of the History, is reiterated even nowadays to belittle the cultural importance and influence of Bharat, as a whole nation. Along with several other sinister plots, the sterile arguments proposed by two-race theory which was first spawned by the proponents of regionalism and is now nurtured by Red-Jihadists, often mislead our historians and the public at many critical junctures of the political history of Bharat and prompt them to take spiteful stances on the subjects and issues pertaining to the national interest. Akin to this, a sizable population, despite the futile division of south and north, is still made to believe that Chaitra month or Varshapratipada has little to do with other regional Hindu calendars and Hindu population which have unique new years and festivals independent of the national Hindu calendar.
Be it Puthandu in Tamil Nadu or Vishu in Kerala or Ugadi in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, they all share the same spirit and essence of the Hindu New Year as it is celebrated elsewhere in Bharat. It is not a mere coincidence, as the central idea of our calendars is found on the same cultural and scientific principles. Still it is a metaphor of our national unity that the period is devoted to Shakti worship across the country cutting across the narrow divisions of regions and languages. Let us take a virtual tour of different states and the way they celebrate auspicious Chaitra Month.
Since ancient time the people of Tamil Nadu have been celebrating Tamil New year Chitrai (Chaitra) as thanks giving to nature and God after the plentiful harvest. During the 3-day Pongal festival, they worship the nature and cattle that help them in their day-to-day life to express their gratitude. Followed by Tamil New year, after the harvest the people celebrate grand festivals to various gods for days together as a token of thanks giving.
‘Puthandu’ popularly known as ‘Varusha Pirappu’, marks the beginning of the New Year in the State of Tamil Nadu. The focus is on prosperity throughout the year, and a prayer of thanks to the Gods. Tamil New year is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil Month Chithirai. The Tamil Calendar, which has 12 months from Chitthirai (April – May) to Panguni (March – April), has a 60-year cycle. Accordingly this year is Dhunmuki. According to the Hindu mythology, it is believed that on this day the Creation of the world was started by Lord Brahma. The time the Sun enters the “Meda or Mesha Veedu” or Raasi was traditionally taken as the starting point of the New Year by the Tamils.
After the harvest, during the scorching summer days, almost in all the temples, both Shaiva and Vaishnava) 10-day Brahmostavam (grand festival) is celebrated. During the festival, both morning and evenings the prime deity and Goddess are taken out in procession in mystical carriages. It includes the celestial marriage of God and Goddess and pulling chariots or temple cars. In village Amman temples, fire walking ritual is performed.
The Chithirai Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Madurai. It goes on for around two weeks and represents a re-enactment of the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva). The festival takes place on the 5th day of the Chithirai. It commences with flag hoisting and is followed by Pattabhishekam of Goddess Meenakshi (Celestial Wedding of Lord Sundareswarar with Goddess Meenakshi) and car festival.
Another important one is the ‘Azhagar steps’ in Vaigai festival. Lord Kallalagar starts from Alagar Koil and reaches Madurai on Pournami (full Moon Day). Here he steps into Vaigai in his horse vahanam (carriage) Lakhs of devotees flock to river Vaigai to witness this event. According to a legend, the brother of Goddess Meenakshi was unable to attend her marriage in time and turned back from the banks of the Vaigai River. On the Tamil New Year day, a big Car festival is held at Tiruvidaimarudur near Kumbakonam. Festivals are held at Thanjavur, Tiruchi, Kanchipuram and places during this month. During April-month, Vasantha Utsavam ( Spring Festival) is being celebrated in some famous temples.
Talking about the Hindu festivals in Kerala, perhaps Vishu is the most widely celebrated festival after Onam. Vishu signifies the Hindu New Year and falls on the month of Medam (Mesham in Sanskrit) in the Malayalam calendar, usually in the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar. Though decorating lights and bursting of firecrackers are the popular ways of celebration, the ritualistic parts of Vishu are the traditions of giving money by the head of the family to the other members which is called Vishukkaineetam and Vishukkani, which literally means “the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up”. The Vishukkani comprises of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles intended to signify prosperity, including rice, fruits and vegetables, betel leaves, areca nut, metal mirror, yellow flowers called konna (Cassia fistula), holy texts and coins, all set against the backdrop of the idol of Lord Krishna and nilavilakku (traditional oil lamp) in the prayer room of the house.
On Vishu, Hindus in Kerala visit temples in their vicinity. Famous temples like Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple and Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple draw thousands of devotees on the day of Vishu and offer a ‘Vishukkani Kazhcha’ (viewing) to the devotees in the early morning. In Southern Kerala, Sharngakkavu Devi Temple, located in Venmoney village, Alappuzha, celebrates Vishu with great enthusiasm and fervour. Devoid of any conventional architectural extensions or shrines, the abode of Mother Goddess simply situated on the bank of Achankoil River surrounded by sacred grove inhabited by monkeys which are considered as the children of Amma (Mother Goddess). The temple celebrates Vishu day as its main festival. The devotees from the surrounding places gather at the temple premises and offer prayers to their beloved deity. Vishu Kettukazhcha is the main attraction of the day. Kettukazhcha displays skillfully sculpted and decorated forms of temple cars known as ‘Kuthira’ (Horses), Theru’ (Chariots) and icons of Oxen. They are all gigantic in size and are many times larger than the real ones. It is considered as an artistic impression in union, especially during the night in the backdrop of illuminated lights. This unique tradition is also related to the agrarian as well as warrior legacy of the region. Most importantly, the festival is celebrated not only by Hindus but also by Christians and Muslims of the locality that gives the colour of Sarva Dharma Samabhav to this grand event.
The Telugu and the Kannada New Year falls on the first day of the month of Chaitra (March-April). People in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka believe that Lord Brahma started the creation of the universe on this auspicious day of Ugadi. People prepare for the new year by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. On the Ugadi day, they decorate their houses with mango leaves and “rangoli” designs, and pray for a prosperous new year, and visit temples to listen to the yearly calendar— “Panchangasravanam” as priests make predictions for the coming year. Ugadi is also an auspicious day to embark on any new endeavour.
Ugadi pachchadi (a concoction of all) is one such dish that has become synonymous with Ugadi. It is made of new jaggery, raw mango pieces and neem flowers and new tamarind which truly reflect life—a combination of six different tastes sweet, sour, spice, salt, pungent and bitter tastes symbolising happiness, disgust, anger, fear, surprise and sadness. Also, jaggery made with a fresh crop of sugarcane adds a renewed flavour to the typical dishes associated with Ugadi.
The celebration of Ugadi is marked by religious zeal and social merriment. Special dishes are prepared for the occasion. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, eatables such as “pulihora, bobbatlu (Bhakshalu/ polelu/ oligalu) and Pachadi” and preparations made with raw mango go well with the occasion. People traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious Panchangam (almanac) of the new year, and the general forecast of the year to come. This is called the Panchanga Sravanam, an informal social function where an elderly and respected person will read the almanac. Panchamgam also contains astrology based on moon signs. It is state sponsored and leading poets/musicians are felicitated on this occasion.
On Ugadi Day, the renowned Tirupati Temple witnesses festivities on a grand, yet traditional style. The authorities and devotees altogether are said to be aiming at reviving the spirit of traditions which are losing ground to modernity. The day is celebrated by conducting various events like dance ballets, traditional dress competitions and essay-writing and elocution on tradition and Tirupati-specific topics.
In Karnataka, Ugadi is the important festival day for The Shri Kalika Devi Temple which is dedicated to Goddess Kali in a valley in the Shirasangi, Belgaum district in Karnataka. The Palanquin Festival of Kalamma is held at the Bannimantapa during the Ugadi Festival for five days when about 15,000 people assemble. This temple is known for its historical and mythological importance .Ugadi is one of the major festivals celebrated by Vishwakarmas of this region. The Vishwakarma Samaj Vikas Samsthe organises religious and cultural programmes on the Amavasya (no-moon day). Devotees offer wheat grown in their fields to the Goddess. The famous “Butti” ritual is performed during the early hours of the Padyami (Pratipada).
In the era of globalisation, as we are becoming more self-centric and more oblivious of the roots and fundamental ideas of rites, rituals and customary practices, we are drastically deviating from the very notion of integral view of Hindu way of life and confining ourselves into islets of narrow identities. Self-evidently, whatever the names of days and months featured in the regional calendars, they resemble each other as they are basically drawn from Sanskrit. Despite all apparent diversities, an underlying unity runs through all the regional practices that manifests as one culture of the whole nation. What the nationwide observance of Yugadi, Ugadi, Vishu, Bihu etc narrates is the very idea of Sanatana Dharma upon which our nationalism is built, the Vedic Mantra—Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti. Let us relish this idea of unity and the very essence of our integrated view of life on the occasion of New Year, which we knowingly or unknowingly celebrate everywhere across our nation. The beauty and spirit of culture to be celebrated is none other than that.
Again, contrary to the pessimistic beginning, seeking answers for the perplexing and the perennial inner struggles of human being and clashes of civilisation which arise out of duality, TS Eliot embarked on the expedition through Upanishads. He gave a promising end to his epic poem: “Shantih Shantih Shantih”. In this auspicious month of Chaitra, let us celebrate our festivals acknowledging the unifying spirit of Hindutva which pervades the whole nation beyond the bounds of all fragile regional identities by chanting the divine Shanti Mantra.
(With inputs from TS Venkatesan from Chennai and N Nagaraja Rao from Hyderabad)