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Isheeta Sharma

Young vines of atimukta jasmine—
their charming blossoms kissed
by bees that are inebriated,
their soft and tender buds
trembling in a gentle breeze—
fill minds of lovers who now see them
with a sudden eagerness.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

With the advent of Basant rtu, the season of renewal and life, the annual cycle begins afresh in the Indian subcontinent as does the harvest season.

Chaitra Navratri (Navratri in the month of Chaitra) begins on 25 March this year, the Pratipada tithi of Shukla Paksh. In several communities this Navratri is associated with the beginning of the traditional New Year as well as the harvest season and is marked by different regional festivals. Ugadi celebrations mark the traditional New Year for the Telugu community and Gudi Padwa celebrations mark the New Year for the Marathi community. But they are also both harvest festivals, where people ritually thank the nature for its bounty and the sustenance it provides.

Fasting is a prominent part of Navratri. Ideally, a fast is observed on all the nine days where only food items which are considered Satvik in nature can be consumed. A Satvik diet includes eating habits which are mindful, and food items which help increase energy. Primarily this includes vegetables, nuts and seeds, and the absence of non-vegetarian food. Maintaining a light diet during this time of transition helps improve the digestive system of the body and hence, keeps the body healthy.

In Maharashtra Gudi Padwa celebrates the first day of the traditional New Year and the harvest on 25 March this year. To celebrate this day special dishes such as Puran Poli, Shrikhand and Shakkar Bhaat are served; rangolis are drawn on the floors of the houses and the Gudhi flag is hoisted. The Gudhi flag is a yellow or red coloured cloth tied to a bamboo stick garlanded with flowers and the leaves of Mango and Neem trees. It is then topped with a copper or bronze pot. Different legends attribute different significance to the flying of the Gudhi flag. One legend associates it with Rama’s victory over Ravana in the epic Ramayana, another links it to King Shalivahana’s return to Paithan while yet another legend describes the Gudhi flag as a symbolic representation of Brahmadvaj the flag of the god Brahma.

On the same day, 25 March, Ugadi is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Karrnataka and Telangana. Mango leaves are strung together to create toranalu or torans which are then hung over the threshold of the house and used to decorate the windows. Intricate Kolamulus (rangolis) are drawn on the floors and a special dish, Ugadi Pachadi is prepared. Perhaps Ugadi Pachadi is integral to the celebration because this dish consists of all the six flavours of an ideal meal – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent – as mentioned in Ayurveda. And it is believed that these tastes are also symbolically representative of the six seasons and phases of life.

Matsya Jayanti, which is always celebrated on the Tritiya or third day of the Chaitra Mas Shukla Paksh, falls on 27 March this year. Matsya was the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Satya Yuga and hence, it is also believed to be the birth anniversary of Lord Vishnu. Fasts are observed in honour of Lord Vishnu starting the night before Matsya Jayanti and till sunrise the day after Matsya Jayanti. Ideally both food and water are avoided. Sri Vedanarayana Temple or Matsya Narayana Temple, in Nagalapuram town in Chittoor District, of Andhra Pradesh,  is one of the few temples in India which are dedicated to the Matsya avatar of Vishnu. A massive celebration takes place on Matsya Jayanti within and around the temple premises which begins in the wee hours of the morning and comes to an end in the late evening.

This temple is also famous for the Surya Pooja Utsavam, which is considered a beautiful coming together of architecture and astronomy. This annual Surya Puja is calculated as per the Tamil calendar. This three-day festival marks the days on which the rays of the Sun will directly fall on the presiding deity Vedanarayaana in the Garbhagriha. On the first day the rays of the Sun with reach only the foot of the Deity. On the second day the rays reach the Navel and on the third day, they reach the Crown of the deity. The dates for the Surya festival celebration given out by the temple for the year 2020 are March 23 to March 27, including a day on either side of the unique three-day Surya Utsav. 

Shukla Panchami of Chaitra mas is known as the Kalpadi Tithi which falls on 29 March this year. This day signifies the beginning of a Kalpa. In traditional scriptures a Kalpa is considered equal to 4.32 billion years or ‘a day of Brahma’ and is used to measure the duration of the world. This tithi is also dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and is popularly known as the Lakshmi Panchami.

The nine days of Navratri end with Navami, which falls on 2 April this year. Chaitra mas Navami is also believed to be the day that Rama was born and thus this day is known as Rama Navami and celebrated as Rama’s birth anniversary. It is believed that Rama was born during Madhyayana or the middle part of the day and the most auspicious time to perform Rama Navami puja is from 11:10 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. this year.

This Navami is also believed to be the birth anniversary of Tara – one of the ten Mahavidyas. The name Tara is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘tr’ which means ‘to cross’; Tara also means ‘Star’. In Hinduism she is seen as the goddess of ultimate knowledge and salvation, one who fulfils wishes. In Mahayana Buddhism, Tara is seen as a female Buddha or Bodhisattva and is also referred to as the ‘mother of liberation’. In Tibet she is known as ‘she who saves’ and it is said that Tara is the ‘leader of the caravans… who showeth the way to those who have lost it.’

Panguni Uthiram is observed by the Tamil Hindu community on 7 April this year. It is believed that on this day the Uthiram Nakshatra (constellation) coincides with the full Moon and many divine marriages such as Shiva-Parvati, Murugan-Deivayanai, Rama-Sita took place on this day. Hence, this day is considered auspicious for weddings.

The next day, on 8 April, Chaitra Purnima arrives bringing the first month of Basant – Chaitra to a close.

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