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5 things You Didn’t Know About Tamil New Year

Manges Eravanan | April 11, 2016

Indian Culture  

Its 6am. I’m dragged out of bed and led to the entrance of my prayer room. My half open eyes are now wide open, looking at the the elaborate set up of auspicious items that have been lined up. I’m now released, having fulfilled the yearly tradition of ‘Kanni’ or ‘Auspicious Sight’. It’s the Tamil New Year also known as Puthandu (New Year) or Varusha Pirappu (Birth of the Year) and I’m welcoming it with open arms.

But wait, it’s mid April? The year began 4 months ago didn’t it? What about Thaipusam? Wasn’t that the New Year? Or Pongal? That’s in January, why isn’t that the new year? It must be Deepavali, the most popularly celebrated Indian festival. Indeed, all these excuses for merry making can get very confusing and perplexing. And until recently, I didn’t have much of a clue myself. As with most festivals, I went along with the crowd, enjoyed the yummy food, watched the special TV shows and used the day as an excuse to buy new clothes.

Until I noticed the coincidence. It’s not just the Tamil community that celebrates its new year in the middle of April, many other Indian communities also do! The states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh along with the Northern States celebrate Gudi Padwa. Surely, there was a mystery to be solved and so I started doing more research. Here are 5 unique things about the Indian New Year that I discovered.

1. Tamil New Year – It’s All in the Stars

The minutes, hours, days, months and years for Hindus are calculated with much precision and accuracy. They don’t just help us track time but give insight on when we can start particular tasks like inaugurating a business or moving to a new home. They also mark the seasons which help farmers plan their crops and can even provide guidance on the best time to conceive a child to ensure a smooth delivery! Astronomy and astrology are very tightly intertwined in these calendars which can result in some mind blowing discoveries! These details are all recorded in ‘Panchangs’ or ‘Panchangams’, which mean  5 aspects, referring to the measures of time. These are the Hindu Alamanacs which have been adapted to suit the needs in different regions. The Tamil Calendar is part of this collection.The Tamil New Year is determined astronomically and without fail, takes place on the 14th of April every year. It happens on the day the Sun moves into the first zodiac sign of Aries in the Tamil month of ‘Chithirai’. There are 12 zodiac signs which mark the months of the Tamil year, starting with Mesha Rasi (Aries) and ending with ‘Meena Rasi’ (Pisces). The Sun moves into each sign every 29 to 32 days. However, the Tamil months are not named after the zodiac signs but correspond with the ‘Nakshatras’ or constellations that come under the branch of each zodiac sign.

2. Auspicious Sight – Show me the money!

The Tamil New Year celebration starts with the practice of ‘Kanni’ or ‘Auspicious Sight’. This ritual is closely tied to the Hindu belief that the first thing you see in the day is indicative of the type of day ahead of you. And since it’s the start of the New Year, what better way to kick start the day than to look at items that symbolise wealth and auspiciousness! An area of the house (usually the prayer altar) is decorated with items like jewellery, gold coins, rice, coconuts, fresh fruits, betel leaves and nuts and depending on individual family tradition, a mirror. These items symbolise wealth, prosperity, sustenance, health, bountiful harvests, fertility and happiness collectively. The goal is to see yourself in the mirror surrounded by these items as an auspicious sign of what is to come in the year ahead.This practice is followed by the adorning of new clothes and the decoration of the home with other symbols of auspiciousness. The traditional symbols of auspiciousness such as mango leaf garlands and rice flour ‘Kolams’ decorate the entrance of homes while oil lamps are lit to usher in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

3. Predict my future!

The start of the New Year also indicate the movement of the planets into new zodiac signs and constellations, which traditional belief dictates are believed to have significant impact on our daily lives. Hence, there is a ritual in households to read the Panchagam to find out the yearly astrological predictions on this day. As much as I profess to be past these, I can’t help but peek at the predictions too (Ahem, my Raja charming, I hope you are too!).

4. The lessons learnt from eating

This is the one day in the year where even my usually carnivorous family, will gladly be vegetarian. Being Singaporean, food prepared today is a combination of local twists and traditional fare such as ‘Mulangi Sambar’ (Radish Gravy) and ‘Tahu Sambal’. But one item that will feature in any cooking today is the Sweet and sour Mango gravy known as ‘Manga Pachadi’. No surprises that the star dish holds great meaning too! The dish is made of, jaggery, salt, neem leaves or flowers, tamarind and green mangoes which encompass the 4 tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. It symbolises the different experiences of life and teaches us that it is the combination of success and failures that makes life interesting. And that even your worst moments can be enlivened with some food ;).

5. The one festival to rule them all.

Did you know Baisakhi (Punjabi New Year), Vishu (Malayalee New Year), Poila Baishakh (Bengali New Year), Ugaadi (Telugu New Year) are all celebrated either on the same day or close to the day of Tamil New Year? This is because the day of the Hindu New Year is determined by the regional calendars which all have their origin from the same source, the Panchang or Panchangam. Another interesting fact is that the practice of ‘Auspicious Sight’, decorating the house with auspicious items and the consumption of multi-taste dishes are also common across the different Indian communities.

So here’s the heart-u of the matter-u. Be it Vaarusha Pirappu, Vishu, Baisakhi, Ugaadi or Poila Baishakh,  the goal is the same. We celebrate the day, surrounding ourselves with signs of auspiciousness and engage in positive activities that set the stage for the year ahead. So it’s time to toast to the New Year and spread the banana leaf, as we eat our way to happi. Bon Appetit and Puthandu Valthukkal (Happy New Year)!

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Manges Eravanan

Manges is a passionate people person. She topped her South Asian Studies classes in college, concentrating on the history and traditions of her roots. She also spent a year living in India teaching orphaned children and discovering more about the land of her ancestors. Today, sharing her culture through writing is an important part of her life. Other articles by this author

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