- Culture & Society
New Year's Celebration in India
02 Apr 2022
In India, New Year is not only celebrated on 1st of January. Depending on the region and religious community, there are many different New Year’s celebrations. This is because different calendars are used to determine the new year. The Hindu New Year, for example, follows either the lunar or the solar calendar. Thus, the dates, the names for the festival and the customs vary greatly depending on the region. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle and the Zoroastrians (the Parsis in India) align their New Year with the sun.
In this article, we give you an insight into the different New Year’s celebrations across India. With this, we cover many important holidays in India. Check our articles on the Hindu festivals Diwali and Holi as well!
Lunar calendar celebrations
Indian New Year celebrations, which follow the lunar calendar, usually take place in the spring. In the south in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa as well as in the north of the country in Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Manipur, Sikkim, Ladakh you will find New Year festivals that usually take place at the same time. This year, the festivals will be held on April 2, and in the next few years on the following dates: February 20, 2023; April 9, 2024; March 30, 2025.
In Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra and Goa, the Hindu New Year festival is called Ugadi or Yugadi. The name for this festival is made up of the Sanskrit words Yuga (age) and Adi (new). People celebrate the beginning of a new era. For this purpose, they take an oil bath early in the morning and then go to the temple in new clothes to pray and make offerings. To celebrate the day, a special feast is prepared, which should contain all six flavours. These represent the different emotions within a year. Sweet jaggery or ripe bananas represent joy, while the bitter leaves of the neem tree symbolise sadness. Green chillies represent anger, salt stands for fear, the sour tamarind makes you grimace in disgust and the unripe mango creates surprise with its sour crunchy taste.
In Maharashtra and Goa, the New Year festival is known as Gudi Padwa. The festival gets its name from the gudi, a pot made of silver or copper, which is placed upside down on a bamboo stick. This is decorated with flower garlands, cloths and other ornaments as symbols of growth, prosperity and new beginnings. Houses are cleaned and decorated with rangolis and people celebrate with visits to the temple, special sweets and new clothes. The gudi can stand for different things. Some worship it as a symbol of Shivaji's victory (the national hero of Maharashtra) over the Sakas, others see it as a kind of flag of the gods Brahma and Indra. Still others celebrate Rama's victory over Ravana (from the national epic Ramayana). And again others place the gudi in front of the house to protect it from evil.
The Sindhis, an ethnic group from Sindh (in today’s Pakistan), celebrate the New Year in India as Cheti Chand. On this day, they worship their patron saint Jhulelal. Water, as the giver of life, plays a central role in the rituals. Offerings of rice, flowers, sweets and candles are given to the water. The believers visit rivers or lakes in their vicinity to present the offerings. Cheti Chand is celebrated on the same day as Ugadi and Gudi Padwa.
In Gujarat, the New Year also follows the moon, but the day after Diwali (in October/November) is the most important. Bestu Varas, as the festival is called in the northwestern state, begins in the early morning with fireworks. Here too, houses are festively decorated with flower garlands and rangolis. People take a long bath, dress in their festive robes and visit the temple. Afterwards, they celebrate with family and friends. In the streets, boys sell raw salt called sabras, which is said to be a representation of all flavours, just like in the Ugadi festival.
In Sikkim, in the north-east of the country, the New Year is called Losoong and is celebrated in December according to the Tibetan lunar calendar. The celebrations take place in palaces or monasteries. This is accompanied by impressive dance performances that tell stories from local myths. The dances are also meant to drive away evil spirits and attract good spirits for the new year.
Celebrations according to the solar calendar
Since the Gregorian calendar we use is based on the sun, the Hindu New Year according to the solar calendar always falls on the same dates (13, 14 or 15 April). In southern India, people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu celebrate New Year on one of these days. In northern India, the celebrations can be found in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
In Kerala, the Hindu New Year is called Vishu and is the second most important festival after Onam. A special ritual is the Vishukkani, which means "the things you see first". On the night before the festival, offerings such as rice, vegetables, fruit, coconuts, flowers and leaves are placed in front of a mirror. Next to it is an oil lamp common to Kerala. The next morning, people get up before dawn and go to the arranged offerings with their eyes closed. Only then do they open their eyes so that the first thing they see in the new year is only good. These offerings promise prosperity for the coming year. Afterwards, the people take an oil bath, dress themselves in new clothes and visit the temple. In the evening, people recite from the Ramayana and fireworks are set off.
In Punjab, the Sikh community celebrates the New Year under the name Baisakhi. On this day, the introduction of Khalsa, the aspirational lifestyle of the Sikhs, is commemorated. For this, many people undertake a pilgrimage to important holy sites such as the golden temple in Amritsar or to other Gurudwaras (Sikh temples). For the farmers of this region, the festival has a special meaning as they pray on this day for a good harvest in the coming year.
Check out our article on Punjab, the so called bread-basket of India, here!
Other Indian New Year festivals
It is not only the Hindus who celebrate New Year on days other than 1 January. Other faith communities also have their own festivities to mark the occasion.
The Islamic New Year is celebrated in India as Hijri New Year. It commemorates the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina (which is called Hijri or Hijrah). The festivities always fall on the first day of the Islamic month of Muharram, which will be in July in the coming years. In India, Muslim men gather for parades on this occasion, others pray for themselves and reflect on the past year.
The Zoroastrian New Year is celebrated by the Parsis in India. In Iran and other places with Persian influence, the festival is always celebrated on 21 March, but in India it falls in mid-August. Especially in Mumbai and Kashmir, the Nowroz festival is celebrated because Mumbai has the largest population of Parsis and because Kashmir is historically strongly influenced by Persia. To mark the occasion, people clean their houses, wear new clothes and gather for a feast with family and friends. Special dishes on this day include akoori (a special scrambled egg), falooda (a sweet milk drink) and saffron rice.
There are of course many more regional customs and traditions to ring in the New Year in India. We hope this article has given you a first impression of the variety of festivities. If you have any questions or suggestions, or if you want to tell us about your experiences with Indian New Year celebrations, please write in the comments or directly to [email protected]!
Written by: Tanja Holbe
Cover Photo: Veera Jayanth - Unsplash
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