New Year is celebrated with gaiety and pomp around the world wherever Hindus live, but not on January 1. India's ancient faith salutes the annual genesis at the start of spring, when nature comes to life, in mid-April. The festival has a different name in each regional language; Baisakhi, Vishu, Varusha Pirappu, Ugadi, Badi Deepavali and Bestu Varas are just a few. Homes are lit with oil lamps and decorated with flowers to attract blessings.
Why is New Year celebrated in April?
Like most ancient cultures, Hindus traditionally observe the start of each new year with the arrival of spring, which occurs in mid-April in South Asia. That day coincides with the Sun's entrance into the constellation Mesha (Aries), the first sign in Hindu astrology. Following this astrological calculation, the celebration falls on April 14 in most years.
How is the New Year celebrated?
Hindus don new clothes, exchange sweets, gifts and greetings of goodwill. They clean their homes and decorate the entrance and shrine room with beautiful, colorful patterns called kolam or rangoli, symbols of auspiciousness. They visit temples, beseeching God and the Gods for blessings for the year ahead. The Goddess Lakshmi and the elephant-headed God Ganesha are especially venerated on this day. In some communities, elders give money to youth and children as a token of good luck--making the year's first financial act selfless and thus auspicious. Families feast together with great revelry, enjoying elaborate dishes and good company. People gather to listen to interpretations of the star's positions and auguries of things to come, for in this culture the Hindu calendar is closely interwoven with astrology. An elder or a learned astrologer may read the family's fortune for the next 12 months. Predictions are even given on Indian television.
What is the "first seeing" tradition?
In South Indian families, a dazzling arrangement called kani is created in the home on New Year's Eve. It is a display of money, jewels and clothing, plants and flowers, fruits and sweets, in the center of which stands a shrine with Hindu Deities. At dawn on New Year's Day, the matriarch wakes up the family members one by one and blindfolds them. She guides them to the shrine and there removes the blindfold, assuring that their first sight of the year is the auspicious, gleaming kani. One of the beautiful things to see is a mirror, which serves a dual purpose: it symbolically doubles the abundance and reflects the family with all the signs of wealth around them--an elegant catalyst to manifestation!
Is there just one date for the New Year?
Several other dates are observed by various communities. Particularly in North India, many celebrate New Year on the day after Diwali, the September-October festival of lights, which signifies hope and new beginnings. Still, nearly everyone joins in the celebrations in mid-April.