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April 13, 2004 > Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

by Praveena Raman

Happy New Year? Many cultures in the Tri-City area will be celebrating a New Year on April 13th or 14th and as TCV is being published on April 13th, this year we thought it appropriate to wish our readers a Happy New Year and write about the different countries that celebrate New Year in the spring.

The oldest mention of New Year celebration is found in the records of ancient Babylon, a civilization that existed about 4,000 years ago. Around 2,000 BC, the Babylonians ushered in the New Year with the first sighting of the moon after the Vernal Equinox. This was also the beginning of the spring and the celebrations lasted for 11 days. Initially, the Romans also celebrated the New Year in late March, but in 153 BC, the Roman Senate declared January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. However it has only been in the last 400 years that the practice of celebrating the New Year became popular in the western world.

In Iran, New Year's Day, Navruz or Navrus, is celebrated on March 21. The celebration has roots in Zoroastrian tradition, though it predates the existence of formal religion. It is celebrated not only in Iran, but also in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and several of the newly independent Central Asian Republics, including Kazakhstan and parts of Turkey. Iranian people display mirrors in guest rooms. In front of mirrors, they offer grain, yogurt, garlic, eggs, and wheat. Ladies are dressed up beautifully. On the day of Karaji, families go out to the riverside for a picnic. In Nigeria, the Igbo also celebrate New Year in March, with children rushing behind locked doors to avoid being carried away by the old year.

India, being a culturally diverse country, celebrates New Year at different times of the year. Erroneously, many people think that Diwali/Deepavali is the New Year for Indians. However the majority of Indians, Hindus, Sikhs, Iranians, Muslims, Jains and Buddhists, from the North to the South celebrate New Year in the spring (March - April). It is only in the western state of Gujrat that New Year is celebrated during Diwali. In the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, New Year is celebrated in March (March 26th this year) as Gudi Padwa or Ugadhi.

During Gudi Padwa, the people of Maharashtra have the traditional "gudis" hanging out of their windows. The Gudi is a pole with a brass or a silver vessel placed on the top. These poles are covered with silk and flowers like Marigold,. Mango leaves and coconuts are tied to it. The Gudis hanging out of the windows symbolizes nature's bounty. People prepare for Ugadhi by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. When the day dawns, they decorate their houses with mango leaves and rangolis (colorful patterns). Then, they perform ritualistic worship to pray for good health and prosperity in the coming year. It has become a custom to hold Kavi Sammelans (poetry recitals) this day. The Ugadhi day is also considered to be an auspicious time to begin any new ventures.

In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, New Year is celebrated on April 13th and 14th. The Tamil New Year begins on the day the sun enters the zodiacal house Mesham (Aries), in the month of Chithirai. To herald in the New Year, morning worship (puja) is held in temples in honor of Surya, the Sun God, who is the remover of all darkness and gloom. Orthodox Hindus rise early for a ritual bath and elaborate worship at the family shrine. The first meal is then taken at a predetermined auspicious time. Temple visits and visits to relatives and friends follow.

The Hindu Almanac for the New Year is published at this time. It lays down in detail the positions of the planets and the stars at New Year and gives a reading of the significance of these signs, pointing to what is auspicious. Tamils in Sri Lanka and Thailand too celebrate New Year on April 13th/14th. On Vishu (April 14th) in Kerala, mothers put food, flowers, and little gifts on a special tray. On New Year's morning, the children have to keep their eyes closed until they have been led to the tray.

Sikhs, Jains and Hindus in north and eastern India too celebrate the New Year as Baisakhi around April 14th. Baisakhi is the time when the harvest is ready to cut and store or sell. For the Sikh community, Baisakhi has a very special meaning. It was on this day that the last Guru Gobind Singh organized the Sikhs into Khalsa or the pure ones. By doing so, he eliminated the differences of high and low and established that all human beings were equal. In Bangladesh, people celebrate their New Year as Poila Baisakh, in Bengal as Naba Barsha and in Kashmir as Navreh.

The Buddhists in Thailand and Burma celebrate the New Year on April 13th as Sonklan or Water Splash festival. People playfully drench each other by spraying water.

There are many different ways and times New Year is celebrated during the year. If your neighbor is somebody from a different culture, ask them when and how they celebrate New Year. If people would like to share the way they celebrate New Year please contact us at 494-1999 or by email

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