The Many Different Ways India Celebrates New Year

Many regional New Year festivals are celebrated across India with age-old traditions. Most share common elements such as welcoming spring, marking the harvest season, and festive foods. Here's a look at some
Young women in traditional Mekhela Chador perform Bihu dance in Guwahati, Assam
Young women in traditional Mekhela Chador perform Bihu dance in Guwahati, AssamTalukdar David/Shutterstock

India is home to a diverse array of regional new year festivals, each with unique customs and traditions. From Navreh in the picturesque Kashmir valley to Puthandu in vibrant Tamil Nadu, the festivals are celebrated around this time of the year. They share several common elements, such as welcoming the spring season, marking the harvest season, wearing new clothes, and enjoying delicious food with loved ones. However, each festival has its unique features, including distinct cultural practices. Let's delve deeper into the rich tapestry of India's new year festivals.

Bohag Bihu (Assam)

Bohag Bihu, also known as Rongali Bihu, is a vibrant festival that celebrates the Assamese New Year and the arrival of spring. It is a seven-day festival filled with meaningful rituals and traditions. For instance, the first day of the festival, called Goru Bihu, involves bathing bulls and cows with turmeric paste, a symbol of good health. The second day, known as Manuh Bihu, is a grand celebration where people wear new clothes, and special dishes are prepared in every household. The aroma of various pithas, a type of traditional Assamese sweet, fills the air, adding to the festive spirit of the occasion.

Baisakhi (Punjab And Northern India)

A performance of Punjabi bhangra dance
A performance of Punjabi bhangra dance Abhishek Mittal/Shutterstock

Baisakhi is a festival that celebrates the first crop of harvest and is also considered the first day of the Punjabi New Year. People from all over Punjab gather at Anandpur Sahib to enjoy the festivities, which are full of vibrant colours and energy. It is also the birth anniversary of the Khalsa, founded in 1699. Nagar Kirtan, which involves singing holy hymns and a procession on the streets, is one of the most popular cultural rituals of Baisakhi. The core of the Baisakhi celebrations is the spirit of selfless service, best represented by the tradition of the Sikh langar. Read more about Baisakhi traditions here.

Poila Boishakh (Bengal)

Worshipping Laxmi and Ganesh on the auspicious day of the Bengali new year
Worshipping Laxmi and Ganesh on the auspicious day of the Bengali new yearRudra Narayan Mitra/Shutterstock

Bengali New Year, also known as Poila Boishakh, is celebrated across West Bengal. It marks the beginning of the Bengali calendar, with Boishakh being the first month of the year. The word "Poila" or "Pohela" means "first" in Bengali, and "Boishakh" denotes the onset of the spring season. During this time, people exchange greetings and wish each other a "Shubho Noboborsho," which translates to "Happy New Year" in English. The celebration includes traditional music, dance, and feasting, along with colourful processions. It is a time for new beginnings, and people adorn themselves in new clothes and visit their relatives and friends to seek blessings for the coming year. You can read more about the day and its traditions here.

Puthandu (Tamil Nadu)

The Tamil New Year, known as Puthandu or Varsha Pirappu, marks the beginning of the Tamil month of Chithirai, which signifies the onset of spring. To celebrate this occasion, people decorate their homes with a special "Kani" tray filled with auspicious items such as fruits, vegetables, coins, and betel leaves. The Kani is arranged with great care because people believe that the first thing they see on Puthandu will influence their luck for the rest of the year. In addition, colourful and intricate floor art, called Kolam, is created using rice powder in front of houses to welcome prosperity and good luck. People wear new clothes, visit temples, and enjoy a delicious vegetarian feast to celebrate the day.

Vishu (Kerala)

This festival takes place on the first day of the Malayalam month of "Medam." On this day, families wake up early in the morning to worship the "vishukkanni"—a special arrangement of auspicious items such as seasonal fruits, vegetables, flowers, rice, clothes, coins, gold ornaments, and more. As per custom, elders give money as 'Vishukkaineetam' to the young members of the family. The day also marks the start of the 'Vishu Vilakku' festival season in some parts of the state. Preparing the 'Vishu Sadhya', a delicious feast comprising delicacies made of seasonal produce, is an important part of the celebrations.

Ugadi (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana)

The festival, celebrated in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, "Ugadi" is derived from the words "yug" (era) and "adi" (new). It is believed that Lord Brahma created the world on this day. Ugadi also marks the beginning of a fresh year of agricultural activities, and signifies the start of spring. People celebrate Ugadi by preparing traditional sweets and "pachadi," a sweet syrup made with raw mangoes served with the Ugadi feast.

Gudi Padwa (Maharashtra And Goa)

Women dressed in traditional attire during a procession celebrating Gudi Padwa in Mumbai
Women dressed in traditional attire during a procession celebrating Gudi Padwa in MumbaiSnehal Jeevan Pailkar/Shutterstock

Gudi Padwa is a spring festival that marks the start of the new year for Marathi and Konkani Hindus. On this day, people hoist 'Gudi' flags outside their homes. The term "Gudi Padwa" is made up of two wordsgudi,' which refers to the flag, garlanded with flowers and mango and neem leaves, and topped with an upturned silver or copper vessel. The flag is believed to ward off evil and invite prosperity and good luck into the house. And the word 'padwa' comes from the Sanskrit term 'pratipada,' meaning the first day of a lunar fortnight. The festival of Gudi Padwa is celebrated with colourful rangoli decorations, Gudi flags, street processions, and, of course, feasts.

Pana Sankranti (Odisha)

During Pana Sankranti, people offer prayers to Lord Jagannath, partake in cultural activities, fly kites, and feast on traditional cuisine that promotes unity and brings joy. The festival involves the reading of a newly prepared almanac in front of the sibling deities of Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Jagannath. People observe fasting and offer 'pana' (sweet water) to the deities at various temples. Pana is made by mixing water, jaggery, yoghurt, and spices that have cooling properties.

Navreh (Kashmir)

The Navreh festival is celebrated by Kashmiri Hindus to mark the first day of the Kashmiri new year. During this festival, they pay homage to their Goddess Sharika. It falls on the first day of the Shukla Paksha in the month of Chaitra according to the Kashmiri Hindu calendar.

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