12 April, 2021
India is a diverse country, and one of the most endearing and confusing aspects about us is this diversity. It is said that not just the dialect, but the food, living style, festivals, and a lot else, changes every few kilometres in this country. Perhaps, this is why for those who would like to know this country well, it is best to go on a road trip. The country is so huge and highly populated that many a time, most Indians are not aware of this wonderful diversity and its beauty. This week happens to be a week of such beautiful diversity when most of India celebrates some festival or partakes in some religious activity.
The holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims across the world look forward to fasting and purify their soul, begins on the 12th or 13th of April, depending on the moon sighting. Followers consider this a sacred month to be spent in introspection, prayers, reading Quran and asking for forgiveness for any past sins.
Overall, this is a month of self-restraint, and people fast from dawn to dusk. At dusk, they say their prayers and break the fast, and then the family eats together. Iftar gets together are common when the community members invite their friends also home to break the fast along with them. It is to be noted that pregnant or nursing women, young children, the sick, and the old or those on long travels are exempted from the fasting ritual.
The people of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana celebrate their New Year as Ugadi on the 13th of April. Maharashtrians call it the Gudi Padwa, while the Sindhis celebrate it as Cheti Chand. Rajasthanis refer to this as Thapna. For Ugadi, people wear new clothes, prepare a feast at home, visit temples and offer prayers to god and then celebrate it with gaiety and fun, with family and friends.
Neem leaves and Jaggery's preparation is eaten in many parts as a remembrance that every year brings with it something sweet and something sour/kadwa. People also decorate their houses with mango leaves and prepares special dishes with raw mangoes and sweets like holige/puran poli/obbatu, chitranna, puliyogare, etc. In many parts, the panchang is also read in the temples, where they indicate/forecast how the year will be. A sweet and spicy drink called panak, prepared using jaggery, lemon, shunti/ginger, pepper and cardamom, is also served in the temples.
On the 14th of April, certain other parts of India also celebrate their New Year. In Kerala, it is the Vishu, while the Tamilians call it Puthandu, and in Punjab, they have the Baisakhi. The Bohag Bihu in Assam is also celebrated around this time. The next day on the 15th is celebrated as Pohela Baisakh in Bengal as their New Year.
For Vishu, the Keralites prepare a Vishu Kani, wherein they arrange a lot of stuff in front of the god to indicate abundance. This also includes yellow colour flowers, gold, yellow coloured cucumber, etc. Every family member sees this collection of abundance after waking up and seeks prayers from god to keep the year in good abundance for all. They also wear new clothes, have a sumptuous family feast, visit temples, and the eldest member of the family gives out money to all the others called Vishu kaineettam. Early morning fireworks are also very much a ritual associated with this festival, much like Diwali in other parts of the country.
Tamilians celebrate Puthandu in much the same way with prayers and a feast. They wear new clothes, visit temples, and offer pongal to god. The house is cleaned the day before, and people gather foods of six different tastes sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy and thuvarpu. The last one refers to the betel nut or the gooseberry taste. People decorate their houses, seek blessings or elders and gods, and an elder of the house reads the panchangam.
Maharashtrians celebrate Gudi Padwa (New Year) by decorating houses, offering prayers, putting up a Gudi flag, a pole decorated with flowers, a piece of colourful silk cloth topped with a silver or copper vessel on top, and mango and neem leaves. Feasts and processions are also part of the common celebrations. For the Sindhis, this is the emergence day of Lord Jhulelaal, celebrated as their New Year, offering prayers and preparing special delicacies.
Baisakhi and Bihu are mostly harvest festivals wherein the community gets together and thanks to the gods for a good harvest. They also prepare and have feasts and celebrate by singing and dancing. The Sikhs arrange for special prayers in Gurudwara as well as special langars on this occasion. For most North Indians, this is also the beginning of the Chaitra Navratri, wherein they observe fast and offer prayers to god.
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