Today, as the sun moves into the Aries constellation and both day and night find themselves equally balanced on the vernal equinox *, Hindus will wake up to an auspicious morning- the first day of the month of Chaitra and of the Hindu New Year.
It is a day full of astrological, mythical and historical significance.
According to the Brahma Purana, this was the day Brahma created the Universe. The River Ganges is said to have first descended onto Earth on this day( one can imagine the snow melting in the Himalayas with the coming of spring and flowing down as the Ganges).
On this day Prince Rama was crowned King after his return to Ayodhya following a fourteen year exile.
And, towards the end of the Fifth Century A.D, King Shailvahan of the Satvahana dynasty defeated the invading Huns on this very day and changed the course of Indian history.
The New Year is known by different names and is celebrated in different ways across the various states of India.
In Marathi it is called Gudhi Padwa. Maharashtrians will welcome the New Year today by decorating the entrances to their houses with rangolis and by hanging garlands of mango leaves and marigold flowers over their doorways.
They will pray to Brahma, the Creator before propping up a gudhi( a wooden stick topped with a metal pot, a new piece of fabric and a garland of flowers) in their balconies and windows. The gudhi is a symbol of victory and represents the flag of Brahma, the flag of Rama and of Shivaji Maharaj, its most famous king.
In the Deccan regions of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is called Ugadi, translated as ‘Beginning of a New Era’.
It is a custom here to start the new year by eating a mixture of neem flowers,jaggery,pepper,salt, tamarind juice and unripened mango. The bitter, sweet, salty, spicy, sour and tangy flavours represent the six experiences of sadness, happiness,anger,fear, disgust and surprise. A sombre reminder to accept with equanimity everything the year brings.
Known as Vishu in Kerala it means ‘equal’ denoting the vernal equinox. The highlight of Vishu is the Vishukani, a spread of fruits, vegetables, coconuts, flowers and money to be viewed first thing on waking up, before setting eyes on anything else. The oldest person in the family guides the rest of the members to the kani before dawn and here in the light of a lamp they see themselves in a mirror and then look at the spread before them to ensure a fruitful and happy new year.
In Tamil Nadu they call it Puthandu and is celebrated similarly by preparing feasts and visiting temples.
In the Nothern India it is Baisakhi for the Punjabis, Poila Boisakh for Bengalis and Bohaag Bihu for the Asameese. It is marked by thanksgiving for a bountiful spring time harvest and by praying for prosperity. In Assam the celebrations go on for days with a lot of merrymaking. Young girls sing and dance to attract suitors and choose their companions during these celebrations.
This is also an important day for the Sikhs of Punjab. In 1699, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh laid down the foundation of the Panth Khalsa on this day.
* according to the Hindu Calendar this date is generally the 13th or 14th of April but can range over three to four days .