Vishu, Puthandu, Poila Boishakh: Here’s what makes India’s harvest festival special
The first day of the month of Vaisakh (April 13, 14 or 15), marks the start of Hindu New Year. Variously called Baisakhi or Vaisakhi (UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab), Puthandu (Tamil Nadu), Vishu (Kerala), Mahabishuva Sankranti (Odisha), Rongali Bihu (Assam) and Poila Boishakh (Bengal), it is also a celebration of spring harvest.art and culture Updated: Apr 14, 2017 15:36 IST
The fourth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar, April is the time for new beginnings and fresh harvest in India.
The first day of the month of Vaisakh, which roughly falls around April 13, 14 or 15, marks the start of Hindu New Year. Variously called Baisakhi or Vaisakhi (UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab), Puthandu (Tamil Nadu), Vishu (Kerala), Mahabishuva Sankranti (Odisha), Rongali Bihu (Assam) and Poila Boishakh (Bengal), it is also a celebration of spring harvest.
Crops have been cut and sold. Farmers have time to relax with some food, music and dance and say a prayer of thanks for a good produce.
Assam celebrates Bihu thrice in a year but Rongali Bihu is the biggest and most popular.
Rongali or the Bohag (spring) Bihu starts on the last day of the Assamese calendar month of Chot, which normally falls on April 13 or 14 annually. The first day is known as Goru Bihu and it is dedicated to the cattle.
People in different parts of the state take their cattle to ponds and rivers and give them a ceremonial bath and rubbed their bodies with ‘dighalati pat’ (leaf of a plant having medicinal value), which ward off the flies and insects.
People also recite traditional hymns while praying for good health of the animal.
The second day, which falls on the first day of new Assamese calendar month of Bohag is known as Manhu Bihu. People put on new clothes along with singing and dancing. It is customary for young people to perform the famous Bihu dance to the beat of drums. At home, special food is cooked.
On this day, youngsters visit their elders and seek blessings. ‘Bihuwan’ (the traditional Assamese towel known as Gamocha) is exchanged as a mark of respect.
Although Rongali Bihu is a week-long festival, celebrations continue for the whole month various cultural programmes and functions.
Vishu in Kerala marks the completion of the spring equinox. But unlike Onam, the other harvest festival, Vishu is a quieter affair, with Lord Vishnu in his Krishna avatar, the presiding deity of the festivities.
Malayalis observe the ritual of ‘Vishukanni’, in which seasonal fruits, vegetables, yellow flowers (Konna, Indian laburnum), rice, gold, clothes, coins and holy texts are arranged on a platter in front of the deity and is the first sight of people when they wake up.
Keeping up the long tradition, elders gift coins to children as part of the custom known as ‘Vishukkaineettam’. A grand ‘sadya’ (feast), comprising various dishes and delicacies, mostly made of seasonal fruits and vegetables, is arranged in the afternoon.
People, especially children, wear new clothes (Puthukodi) and homes cook up a spread – something sweet, sour, salty and bitter, connoting the difference experiences of life.
For the devout, a visit to Sabarimala Ayyappan temple, Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple or Kulathupuzha Sree BaalaShastha temple an early morning darshan is a must.
On the same day, Odisha celebrates Mahabisuha Sankranti, better known as Pana Sankranti. It is also time to prepare the popular local drink Bela Pana. It is made using golden apple or bael (Aegle marmelos) in Hindi, a fruit that grows in abundance in India and Bangladesh. It ripes in peak summer and the drink is known to have a cooling effect.
Puthandu marks the first day of the Tamil New Year.
Puthandu Vazthukkal (New Year greetings) is how friends and relatives greeted one another. The new year is celebrated on the first day of Tamil month Chithirai, which normally falls on April 13 or 14 annually.
The houses are decorated with ‘kolam’ (rangoli) outside the front door. Mango leaf streamers adorn the door frames. At big temples, the almanac for the new year is read. At home, Tamilians feast on dishes like ‘vada’ and ‘payasam’ (sweet dish) and other savouries.
The special dish of the day is the ‘mango pachidi’ made with neem flowers, jaggery, mango, green chilli, salt and tamarind juice representing the six major human emotions.
Shubho Nabobarsho (Happy New Year) is how Bengalis usher in the New Year. Prayers are said to Goddess Lakshmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesha (for wellbeing). Homes are decorated with elaborate rangoli and alpana and special food prepared on the occasion.
These celebrations come within a fortnight of several other parts of India celebrating their New Year. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka (Ugadi/Yugadi), Maharashtra, Goa, Konkan (Gudi Padwa), Manipur (Cheiraoba), Kashmir (Navreh), Sindh (Cheti Chand) welcomed the New Year around March 29-30.
With inputs from agencies
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First Published: Apr 14, 2017 09:45 IST