Ugadi: Hindus in India, worldwide mark spring New Year’s festival

Fancy jars of food, rice, beans, on plants

Ugadi Pacchadi, traditionally eaten on Ugadi/Yugadi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, APRIL 6: The sweet scent of ripe mangoes, aromas of calming jasmine and the Hindu New Year signal spring in regions of India, ushering in Ugadi (also known as Yugadi). In celebrating regions in India and around the world today, devotees gather for Ugadi poetry recitals, dance festivals, sports and youth essay contests. New Year predictions are announced by Brahmin priests, and traditional prayers are offered. Many homes are adorned with mango leaves and women braid fresh jasmine into their hair, toiling over special New Year dishes in anticipation of shared feasts with family and friends.

Did you know? One of the most popular dishes on today’s menu is Ugadi Pacchadi (known also as Bevu Bella), a dish containing several tastes that symbolize the many emotions of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise.

Millions of men and women across India base the start of the Saka, or Indian national calendar, on an ancient system that balances both lunar and solar cycles. Derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age,” the Saka calendar places (Y)ugadi on April 6 this year. Many also believe that Yugadi marks the anniversary of our current era—known as Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world.

 

Ugadi: Hindus in India, worldwide embrace New Year with spring festivals

Metallic tray and bowl, fancy, with candles, flowers and dish of liquid-like food

A tray prepared for Ugadi. Photo by Kalyan Kanuri, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, APRIL 8: Spring in India brings the sweet scent of ripe mangoes, aromas of calming jasmine and the Hindu New Year: Ugadi, also known as Yugadi. Hindus in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka have been cleaning their homes for nearly a week, and in celebrating regions in India and around the world today, devotees gather for Ugadi poetry recitals, dance festivals, sports and youth essay contests. New Year predictions announced by Brahmin priests, and traditional prayers are offered. Across India, many homes are adorned with mango leaves and women braid fresh jasmine into their hair, toiling over special New Year dishes in anticipation of shared feasts with family and friends.

Did you know? One of the most popular dishes on today’s menu is Ugadi Pachadi, a dish containing several tastes that symbolize the many emotions of life. Unfortunately, this dish isn’t easily replicated in the U.S. or outside of India; ingredients such as neem buds and jaggery can be difficult to find.

Millions of men and women across India base the start of the Saka, or Indian national calendar, on an ancient system that balances both lunar and solar cycles. This year, the Saka calendar places Ugadi (literally, “the beginning of an age”) on April 8. Many also believe that Yugadi marks the anniversary of our current era—known as Kali Yuga.

Netherlands celebrates Ugadi: Festivals for Yugadi are popping up worldwide, such as in the Netherlands, where this year the Telugu Association of Netherlands will present cultural performances, an array of authentic foods and more for a Ugadi event on April 9. (The Hindu reported.) The customs and language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana will be brought to Amsterdam as part of the event expected to draw approximately 500 families.

Equinox: Spring brings Nowruz New Year, Hindu Ugadi and Pagan Ostara

Pink flower spring tree buds against blue sky

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, MARCH 20 and SATURDAY, MARCH 21: All across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are longing for spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient cycle fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz. For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For many Hindus, it’s Ugadi.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme is joy in the promises of new life that comes in the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans discussing the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

VERNAL EQUINOX: SPRING IN THE NORTH

On March 20 at 22:45 UTC, the 2015 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of the Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

In Chinese belief, spring is associated with a green dragon and the direction east: the green dragon for the green sprouts of spring, and east as the direction of sunrise and the beginning of each day. This year, a special astronomical event will occur on the equinox: a solar eclipse, estimated to be visible across Northern Africa, Europe and Northern Asia. (The UK’s Mirror reported.) The solar eclipse is expected to be the largest since August 1999.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Table in dark room with lit candles, covered in varied objects such as apples, garlic and golden eggs

A Haft-Sin table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. (Wikipedia has details.) Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year festival, families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

NAW-RUZ: BAHA’I NEW YEAR

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and after sunset on March 19, that fast is broken—for Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz. This year, for the first time, the New Year will begin on the day of the vernal equinox, and not fixed on March 21. (Previously, Naw-Ruz was fixed on March 21 for Baha’is living outside of the Middle East.)

UGADI: RELIGIOUS FORECAST; SIX TASTES

Bunches of green leaves tied unto string, hanging, with Hindu structure in background

Garlands of tied mango leaves are strung for Ugadi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For Hindus and the people of the Deccan region of India, March 21 means (Y)ugadi, derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age.” Names for the festival vary by region, but across India, Ugadi specifically refers to the start of our current age, Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world. On Yugadi, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year—or, in other words, a forecast of the coming year. Hindus used to gather in temples to hear the Ugadi forecast, but today, priest-scholar recitations can be viewed on television or the almanac might be read by an elder in other settings.

On this auspicious day, extended families gather and ritual baths are taken before prayers. Carefully cleaned homes welcome visitors with an entrance draped in fresh mango leaves. (Wikipedia has details.) In many regions, a dish of six tastes is partaken with a symbolism that represents the varied experiences of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise. This year, transportation corporations and railways have announced the necessity of hundreds of extra trains and buses for Ugadi crowds.

OSTARA: PAGANS AND WICCANS CELEBRATE

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

Ugadi in India: Hindus celebrate New Year with stories, special foods

Hand scooping mixture onto rice, atop a large leaf

A lunch served for Ugadi. Most traditional dishes contain sweet spring flavors; alternatively, a symbolic dish contains six separate tastes and represents the varying emotions of life. Photo in public domain

THURSDAY, APRIL 11: The intoxicating fragrance of ripe mangoes complements fresh jasmine across India today, as young and old rejoice in Ugadi, a New Year’s Day tradition that stretches back thousands of years.

Particularly for the Deccan region of India, Yugadi (spellings vary) signifies a new beginning and an auspicious time for ventures. From the Sanskrit words yuga (age) and adi (beginning), Yugadi literally signifies the beginning of a new age. Hindus believe the current age to be Kali Yuga, an era that began the moment Lord Krishna left the world. Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE.

A ritual bath begins the day before sunrise, and prayers give way to the symbolic decoration of houses with mango leaves, a custom often practiced on auspicious days in India. It’s said that green mango leaves on the doorway encourage the well being to those within. (Wikipedia has details.)

After braiding their hair with garlands of jasmine flowers, women prepare the symbolic dish partaken by all on Ugadi: a mixture of six tastes that represents varying experiences of life, all of which should be accepted throughout the new year. Most dishes—though names vary—consist of jiggery (happiness), salt (fear), neem buds (sadness), chili pepper (anger), tamarind juice (disgust) and unripe mango (surprise). (Read more at TajOnline.) Sweet treats often accompany the day’s fare, and in the evening, family and friends gather for chanted mantras and priest-scholar predictions for the new year.

Various legends are associated with Yugadi, but most Hindus hold that Lord Brahma started creation on this day. With the onset of spring, new life breaks out of plants in shoots and leaves.

UGADI GIFT: ‘DIAL 100’

In a similar fashion to America’s “911” emergency service, chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has announced the launch of “Dial 100” in time for Ugadi in Kompally, India. (The Times of India reported.) Once in action, the service will allow citizens across the state—in rural areas as well as urban—to dial “100” for immediate police assistance. Personnel will locate callers using GPS systems, and localized centers will be contacted in less than 60 seconds.