There’s dressing up and get-togethers with aunts and uncles and cousins. You wear your Nauvari or nine-yard sari and, for the young ones, there’ll be excitement and much fretting about how to drape it. If you have something big planned, this is the day to do it - a new car, a new flat. It’s an auspicious time for new beginnings. This is the stuff you probably know. Here’s what’s really going on, though, as you celebrate this ancient festival.
Gudi Padwa celebrates the beginning of the traditional Hindu year. The festival is also called Chaitra Shukla Pratipada - Sanksrit for the first day of the first month of the new year, that month being Chaitra. It’s also celebrated as Ugadi (Telugu) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and Yugadi (Kannada) in Karnataka.
You may not know it, but you’re celebrating three different things on this day. First, this is believed to be the anniversary of the day that Brahma (the Creator, in the Hindu trinity) created the cosmos. So when you hoist the Gudi, you are calling upon Vishnu (the Preserver, in the Hindu trinity) to protect your little universe, your family.
That bright yellow cloth with which you drape the Gudi, that is the traditional flag of victory - and in that sense, an ultimate sign of faith. You hoist the flag no matter what stage of battle you may be in, because the assumption is that God has achieved victory at the outset.
For some, this victory flag is a reminder of how Rama, the epic hero of the Ramayana, joined forces with Hanuman, the powerful monkey god, and slayed the demon king Ravana, rescued Rama’s wife Sita and finally ended their 14 years in exile. Victory.
For Maharashtrians, it’s a reminder of their good and just emperor, Shivaji, the warrior-king who rode out to battle under a saffron flag himself.
You’re also celebrating the beginning of spring, which is why the leaves on your gudi are traditionally meant to be the first bright green fresh leaves of a mango tree. And the red and yellow flowers are meant to be auspicious symbols of fertility and health. A plea, in a sense, that the sowing and tilling to soon begin will be fruitful, that Nature will be kind, and the harvest plentiful.
The sweets and delicacies? That’s just to give the cousins an excuse to come over. But hidden in the tray should be something that’s equal parts sweet and bitter - a mix of neem and jaggery - as a reminder that all things good for us may not be sweet, and all things bitter are to be taken as best we can.
Happy Gudi Padwa.
Watch: A typical Maharashtrian celebration