They say a name has many hidden meanings. Festivals in India are intricately woven with greater significance than what meets the eye. It is a predominately astronomical and literary romance with stars and planets that eventually got myths and fables attached to it.
Fables were a way to give a form & structure to abstractness. It solidified mathematics, astronomy which was too simple to be remembered or understood per se if not woven as a story.
Wondering what has it got to do with festivals. Well, the mystery will be soon unveiled.
Why is the new year celebrated in April?
It’s a celebration week across India. From the start of Chaitra Navratri, Baisakhi or Vaisakhi in North, Mahabishuva in Odisha, Rongali Bihu in Assam, Poila Boishok in Bengal to Vishu in the south to gudipadwa in the west, yugadi or Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Thapna in Rajasthan and Navreh in Kashmir every part of the nation is on the fervor of welcoming the new year?
But how did the concept of a new year come into existence in India?
Is it the new year? Or are we a month late in celebrating it.
Practically as the per solar calendar, New year starts with the commencement of Chaitra. Astronomically the sun enters the constellation of Aries in this month that is supposed to be the first zodiac and also the marker of the new year.
But in reality, this is no more the truth. The reason why it was declared new year is way left behind while we are merely ended celebrating the dates alone.
So as said, there is a lot in names. To know why these are called new year can be found in their names. So let’s scramble a few.
Spring is celebrated as Baisakhi in Punjab and Vaisakhi in UP which again is rejoicing welcome of spring. As most of India has been an agrarian society since the beginning, the value of sun plays a very great role.
It brings in harvest season and again begins the cycle of new life blooming from the earth.
Bihu is celebrated as the new year in Assam. The word Bihu originates from Bishu which means to ask for prosperity. It is a harvest festival. Spring brings more harvest and thus fills life with prosperity.
Traditionally, it does signify the celebration of the equinox
- Another explanation starts its origination from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’ or ‘Visuvot’ or ‘Visovan’ which in Sanskrit is derived from Vishu, which is also what the new year in Kerala known as Vishu.
But what does Vishu mean? Vishu in Sanskrit means equal. Now, what has it got to do with a new year?
If you are in the northern hemisphere, the onward journey of the sun is no less than a celebration. From uttarayan to equinox the arrival of the sun is awaited waited splendidly.
The vernal equinox is when the day and night are equal. Around 2000 years ago vernal equinox occurred when the sun entered the Aries constellation. Thus, it was chosen as a calendar day to celebrate the new year or commencement of Spring.
On this day, families wake up early and walk to the temple ( in their house) closing their eyes. They see themselves in the mirror that is ornamented, smell juicy fruits and get a treat as Vishu Kanni (some money given by elders also a new addition to drawing kids) one peculiar aspect of Vishu is the flower Kanni poo. Also known as Cassia Fistula.
What is so unique about it?
It is a tropical flower that blooms exactly during the equinox. It is a seasonal flower that temporarily blooms, stays for few days the room equinox, and then sheds off with the start of summer.
If you would have observed, nowadays the flowers bloom near March 21/22 and by the time it reaches April 15 the branches are already replaced by green leaves.
( tried and tested- there is a huge cassis fistula tree outside my window that is already started to fill with green leaves. While during mid-March was dazzling with golden petaled flowers)
In ancient days, this flower was taken as a sign to know that the sun has entered equinox as it blooms exactly closer to the date of the equinox. The day was thus celebrated as New year. Exactly what the name Vishu means that is divided into equal.
The arrangement of gudipadwa has always allured. Look at it closely and it volumes science.
The Kalash is kept upside down on a stick. The stick acts as the axis of the earth that is tilted while the top round of the Kalash slants like the earth’s antiquity in 23.6 degrees. The sun’s rays fall parallel on the Kalash.
Silk has high resistance against the UV rays of the sun and excellently blocks it.
The mango leaves signify the commencement of mango season and the garland about spring again.
Another significance is where it symbolizes victory, like a flag that is hoisted.
In Sanskrit, it again means a new start. While the news of the sun starting its onward journey during winter solstice or uttarayan brings so much happiness, the arrival of the sun to its destination is worth celebrating.
With it comes life, the farms and trees bloom again, flourishing with radiant colorful flowers.
Thus, it is celebrated with great pomp and show. Whether it is navroz or Easter ( Ishtar in pagan) each directly or indirectly celebrate commencement of spring that is festival of nature itself.
Thus new year in India is a celebration of the vernal equinox which even our ancestors knew about.
Why do we celebrate the new year during April?
Now it is something that can be confusing to understand. India or ancient Bharat whatever you call followed a lunisolar calendar.
While most festivals that arrive at different dates each year are calculated based on the moon, two of these are calculated as per the sun.
The solar calendar is designed in a way that the festival arrives on the same day every year. It is particularly to match the day of equinox each year.
Uttarayan or winter solstice or Makarsankranti during January and Devayana or Vernal Equinox or Mesh Sankranti during April are the two most important days in India.
Vernal Equinox is also the commencement of Devayana, the period of six months from the vernal equinox to the autumnal equinox. It is considered very auspicious and thus also termed as the beginning of a new year, with gods returning to their abode. In short with the sun comes life, prosperity, and health.
Shift of dates
Once upon a time back around 2000 years ago, Makarsankranti coincided with the period when the sun entered the constellation of Capricorn and thus got the epithet Makar Sankranti.
Today the winter solstice takes place when the sun enters the constellation of Sagittarius. The calendars are probably not adjusted as per the movement thereby leaving us stuck with the date while the occasion is left far behind.
Out of the 12 Sankranti, Makar and Mesh are considered extremely important, because these were the signs the sun entered during the commencement of Vernal Equinox and Winter Solistice.
Today, the vernal equinox takes place in the Pisces constellation, and during 2597 AD will take place when the Sun enters Aquarius.
Keeping this matter of fact and considering the dates of the equinox, the new year is already over, and it is the commencement of Greeshma Ritu.
Why is New Year Celebrated in April in Equinox falls in March?
Today the calculation of the new year is taken solely concerning the sun’s entry into the Aries constellation. However, no more does equinox happen when the Sun enters Aries. Thus, following the solar calendar, April 13,14,15 are celebrated as the new year.
Whereas the actual reason for celebrating the new year was the equinox. Thus, in real the new year must have been celebrated during actual equinox.
Why does the dates change?
It’s all precession
- What we all know – the earth rotates around itself and revolves around the sun
- What we don’t know, it wobbles at its top to covering a 360-degree circle of the sky.
Ancient seers divided the sky into 12 Aditya or Zodiac which is 30 degrees apart from one another. The wobbling of earth called precession makes it move by 1 degree every 72 years. This causes a slight deflection in the thereby moving the dates of solstices and equinox a day ahead. In total it takes 26000 years to reenter the same starting point.
On the other hand, the sky was further divided into 28 nakshatras ( Abhijeet -28th nakshatra) now 27 which is 13 degrees apart from each other.
Moon takes comparatively lesser time to complete revolution around the sun thus bringing a deficit of 11 days each year, the dates of other festivals tend to differ.
The solar calendar compensates for it by adding adhik maas to it.
How festivals are more than religion or a region?
Festivals have been a way of studying nature and the world beyond this land. Our ancient seers were bond to the universe and stars, they spoke to it in contrast to present-day humans for whom stars are either celebrities or destiny alone.
From the ideation of naming the week to a month, certain rituals and festivals each have an in-depth meaning woven to them. Most importantly it is neither indigenous to any particular region or state.
In the race of patenting states and festivals to one, isn’t it more glorious to look deep within it that blurs all the boundaries that humans have created in name of caste, creed, state, and linguistics?
– Aishwarya R
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