Woven into the rich cultural tapestry of this great country, are a host of customs and traditions. The Hindu New Year too, is no exception. Distinct and unique, every region has its own way of ringing in the New Year.
The Punjabis celebrate Baisakhi. The Bengalis welcome the New Year on Poila Boisakh. Malayalis call it Vishu while the Tamilians, Kannadigas and the Telugu people have New Year celebrations unique to them - Ugadi and Puthaandu.
All these festivities take place usually around mid April. This is the beginning of the Indian Spring. However, what is interesting is that, no matter which part of the country is celebrating, the celebrations always begin with prayers for a happy and prosperous year.
In Bengal, one can see long queues of people, particularly businessmen, at the Kalighat temple with their `halkhatas`, waiting to get the blessings of the Goddess at the beginning of a new accounting year. Elsewhere in the country too, crowds throng the temples.
It is interesting to note that just as Midnight Mass and Services are held to ring in the Western New Year, temples too remain open through the night during Hindu New Year. This is a recent trend.
In Kerala, people keep food, gold, money and other objects that symbolise prosperity in front of the mirror. A bunch of golden yellow `konna` flowers are placed in a vase or traditional `para` - bronze measuring vessel. All these are auspicious and symbolise health, wealth and happiness.
The robust Punjabi`s New Year celebrations are incomplete without the performance of the traditional Bhangra and Gidda.
Special meals are also an important part of the celebrations. In the south, a dish made of the neem flower and jaggery, which is bittersweet, is eaten as a symbol of the life ahead, besides other goodies like Vadai and Payasam. In Bengal, the meal consists of a "Shukto"(a bitter vegetable preparation), fish curry and Payasam.
Wearing new clothes and visiting friends and relatives are also an important part of New Year`s day. The custom of seeking blessings from elders gives the busy younger generation an opportunity to take time off for family and friends.
Every New Year brings with it hopes, which provide the strength to go ahead. So, ring out the old and ring in the new.