Festivals of India: Gudi Padwa

Spring is in the air and this means that various Indian communities will start celebrating their new year. The first is usually Gudi Padwa, a spring-time festival that marks the traditional new year for Marathi and Konkani Hindus. It is celebrated in and near Maharashtra and Goa on the first day of the Chaitra month to mark the beginning of the New year according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar. The word Padwa comes from the Sanskrit word Pratipada, which refers to the first day of a lunar fortnight. The festival is observed with colorful floor decorations or rangoli, a special Gudi flag which is garlanded with flowers, mango and neem leaves and topped with an upturned silver or copper vessel, street processions, dancing and festive foods.

Gudi Padwa marks end of one harvest season and beginning of a new one for farmers and so is also celebrated as a harvest festival in the region. On this day the position of the Sun is above the point of intersection of the equator, which according to the Hindu calendar marks the commencement of the Spring Season.

In India, this day which is the first day of the bright phase of the moon is called Gudi Padwa in Marathi, Ugadi in Telugu, and Yugadi in Kannada. The Sindhi community celebrates this day as Cheti Chand as the new year and observed as the emergence day of Lord Jhulelaal. Prayers are offered to Lord Jhulelaal and the festival is celebrated by making delicacies. However, this is not the universal new year for all Hindus. For some, such as those in and near Gujarat, the new year festivities coincide with the five day Diwali festival. For many others, the new year falls on Vaisakhi between 13 and 15 April, according to the solar cycle part of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, and this is by far the most popular not only among Hindus of the Indian subcontinent but also among Buddhists and Hindus in many parts of southeast Asia.

It’s really fascinating on the day of Gudi Padwa to see many Gudis arrangements in the windows and doors of Maharashtrian and Konkani households. The Gudi is a bright colorful silk scarf-like cloth tied to the top of a long bamboo pole. On the top of the pole, one or more boughs of neem leaves and mango leaves are attached along with a garland of flowers. This arrangement is capped with a silver, bronze or copper pot called handi or kalash in Marathi signifying victory or achievement. The whole arrangement is hoisted outside each household, typically to the right and is visible to everybody. Villages or neighborhoods also come together and host a community Gudi Kavad, which they carry together to the local Shiva temple. Some temples are located on the top of hills, and groups work together to help reach the kavad to the top.

There are many historical legends and beliefs associated with this festival. One of these comes from the Brahma Purana which states that Lord Brahma recreated the world after a raging deluge in which all time had stopped and all the people of the world, destroyed. On Gudi Padva, time restarted and from this day on, the era of truth and justice, known as Satyug began. Therefore, Lord Brahma is worshipped on this day and the Gudi symbolises the Brahmadhvaj.

Another popular legend about the origin of this festival revolves around the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya along with his wife Sita and his brother Laxman from exile. The ‘Brahmadhvaj’ is hoisted in memory of the coronation of Lord Rama. The Gudi is hoisted at the entrance of the household in commemoration of the Gudi that was hoisted in Ayodhya as a victory flag. It is also believed that Lord Rama was victorious over King Bali on this day, marking this occasion.

For the people of Mahrashtra, there is an added significance to this festival. It is believed that Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, celebrated leader of the Maratha clan, led the troops to victory and attained freedom for the kingdom from the dominion of the Mughals in that area. The Gudi then is a symbol of victory and prosperity.

It also symbolizes the victory of King Shalivahana and was hoisted by his people when he returned to Paithan (near current day Aurangabad).

The Gudi is believed to ward off evil, invite prosperity and good luck into the house. Many businessmen inaugurate their ventures on this day as it is considered an auspicious day.

On this day, courtyards in village houses will be swept clean and plastered with fresh cow-dung. Even in urban areas, even if they don’t do it everyday, on this day people take the time out to do some spring cleaning and women work on intricate rangoli designs on their doorsteps, the vibrant colours mirroring the burst of colour associated with spring. Everyone dresses up in new clothes and it is a time for family gatherings. Traditionally, families prepare a special dish that mixes various flavors, particularly the bitter leaves of the neem tree and sweet jaggery. Additional ingredients include sour tamarind and astringent dhane seeds. Most communities prepare something similar which is a reminder of life’s sweet and bitter experiences, as well as a belief that the neem-based mixture has health benefits.

Here’s wishing all those celebrating Gudi Padwa, Ugadi, Cheti Chand and Yugadi a very happy new year and to enjoy your celebrations and the yummy food that follows!

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