In a culturally diverse India, its New Year all year round

Sunday, 5 January 2014 - 8:05am IST | Agency: DNA
It's another new year but in a culturally diverse India, many more New Years are in the offing, says Yogesh Pawar.

Five days into 2014 already, folks. If you’re one of those who’ve missed out on wishing ‘Happy New Year’ to somebody, worry not. Chances are, you can do so later this month, in March, April, in fact right up till December this year!

After all, isn’t the New Year just another calibration on the calendar for Indians all over? In case you miss the Gregorian New Year on January 1, the next New Year may just be around the corner.
As soon as January 14 occur the first of the two Tamil New Years. Then there is Ugadi, Baisakhi, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Losar and others, each celebrated in a different part of the country and by different communities, underscoring the diversity that is India.  

The various New Years across India are steeped in tradition, and many are modified by the politics of the day.

Take the Tamil New Year, for instance. The Dravidian movement and its demand for things cultural is punctuated off and on (more off than on, but that’s a topic for another day) with a demand for a ‘pure’ Tamil calendar.

Prioritising this over the more mundane roti-kapda-makaan issues, then DMK government in the state legislated the ‘Tamil Nadu, Tamil New Year Declaration Bill’ in 2008. This brought forward the official New Year from April 14 to January 14. The DMK rejected the traditional Tamil calendar and officially adopted the Thiruvalluvar calendar, named after one of Tamil Nadu’s
greatest poets.

The DMK called their decision to change the calendar ‘revolutionary’. Others in Tamil Nadu said it was ‘ridiculous’. Historians challenged Thiruvalluvar’s date of birth. The AIADMK and the MDMK as opposition parties challenged the new date in court, and asked their workers to “aggressively continue to celebrate” the New Year on April 14. The short of it is that Tamilians gave us two New Year days:
January 14 and April 14.

The irony is that even those who celebrate January 14 are really just celebrating Pongal, the harvest festival.

From Tamil Nadu, let’s move up north. The land of the five rivers, Punjab, is where the the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) — the apex religious body of the Sikhs — gave us a New Year on March 21.

Ten years before the DMK’s move, the SGPC played its own calendar politics. A Canada-based software engineer, Pal Singh Purewal, argued that the Sikhs needed their own distinct calendar, not the Vikrami lunar calendar shared with the Hindus. The new solar calendar was named Nanakshahi. In 1999, the SGPC introduced the calendar, triggering controversy and confusion.
The jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, banned the calendar until consensus was built on its use.

Radical Sikhs argued that the calendar would give more power to their cause. Others said that sharing a calendar culturally unites the Hindus and Sikhs. Finally, in 2003, the Nanakshahi calendar was ratified. Today it is used in 90 per cent of the gurudwaras. But critical dates on the Nanakshahi remain the same as the Hindu calendar, ensuring that Sikhs and Hindus celebrate Holi and Diwali together.

Punjab celebrates Baisakhi on April 13 as the mark of a New Year. And, according to the Nanakshahi, the year starts on March 21. Thus, two more New Year days.

The advent of spring and the vernal equinox brings with it a surfeit of New Year days. They may not be as politically contentious but each has its own mythological, religious and agrarian stories.
The Telugu and Kannada New Year, Ugadi or Yugadi, is on March 31 this year, when Maharashtra will celebrate Gudi Padva. Karnataka’s Dakhshin Kannada district, earlier known as South Canara, celebrates with Kerala, marking the beginning of the Malayali New Year with Vishu. Then there is Rongali Bihu in Assam, and Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal also in mid-April.

The next concentration of regional new years, close to the autumn equinox, is linked to Diwali and celebrated by the merchant community — the Gujaratis, Marwaris and Jains.

The monsoon months would have been the only time without a New Year had it not been for the Parsis. They may be the smallest community in the country but they give us three New Year days.
Ancient Zoroastrians used the Achaemenid Calendar, which celebrated the vernal equinox or March 21 as Navroz. The Shehanshahi Parsis follow a 365-day calendar and will celebrate New Year in August this year. The Kadmi Parsis follow a slightly different 12-month timeframe and mark their New Year 30 days before the Shehenshahi.

In 1906, a Bombay Parsi founded the Zarthosti Fasili Sal Mandal, which declared that the ‘original’ calendar was the most logical with some changes. According to this, March 21 was New Year. If it weren’t for the triple excuse of tucking into a Parsi feast, these calculations would be very confusing. Who wouldn’t mind having several more New Years to tuck into saali boti, dhansak or paatra ni machchi?

The synagogues in Kerala and Mumbai will mark a new beginning on Rosh Hashanah in October. Buddhists celebrate Losar in December. And Moharram, the New Year according to the Hijri Islamic calendar, could fall in any season.

So there you go. And all along you felt that Calendar was just Satish Kaushik’s character’s name in Mr India?


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