Waters in the tanks and wells,
Gems set in a woman’s girdle,
Lovely ladies, and the moonlight,
And mango tree groves
Covered with blossoms—
all are blessed by spring.
Even as we grapple with a viral pandemic and practice social distancing, the rhythms of nature continue. Peacocks have been seen dancing in the streets of Mumbai, Elephants are wandering the ghats in Haridwar and everywhere you look, flowers are blooming, trees are shedding their old leaves and tender new growth is pushing through.
Even as our social celebrations of the same are curtailed this year, the rhythms of the season pulsate with life and energy. We can still celebrate some of these festivals and days of ritual significance within our homes with our families. For some others we have to say, “this time, next year”. But in all of them we can see the significance and need of aligning the flow of our daily lives to the rhythms of nature.
Purnima arrives on April 8, bringing Chaitra mas - the first month of Basant rtu to an end. The next day on April 9, the second lunar month of Basant - Vaishakha mas - begins with Pratipada, the first tithi of the 15-day cycle aligned to the waxing and waning of the Moon.
The beginning of Vaishakha mas was traditionally seen as the time when Basant reached its peak. In the ancient text Kathāsaritsāgara, the name Vaishakha is given to a fictional city which is full of splendour and beautiful women. We can see where the author gets his inspiration from because this is the month when the Earth bursts into colour and fragrant flowers. Champaka is in full bloom radiating its golden warmth. The delicate Atimukta creepers wind themselves around tree barks in full blossom. In Aśvaghośa’s Saundarananda, a young Nanda sets out to follow the path laid by Buddha, leaving behind his wife. However, on the way he is tormented by his wife’s memory every time he looks at the beauty of Basant. Once, looking at the Atimukta creeper wrapped around a Mango tree, he gets lost in thought and wonders, “When will Sundarī embrace me like that?” Thus, the beauty of Basant both pleases and torments the lovers.
Good Friday on 10 April begins the Easter weekend for the Christian community. Easter arrives on April 12 this year and it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Solar New Year begins on April 13 this year, which is also known as Mesha Sankranti. On this day the Sun enters Mesha rashi (Aries zodiac) on its celestial path. It is considered to be the first day of the Solar cycle. For several communities this is the beginning of their traditional New Year celebrations which also coincide with the harvest season in the subcontinent.
In Punjab Baisakhi, the spring harvest festival, is celebrated on April 13 with enthusiasm. Baisakhi morning begins with ardas in the Gurudwaras followed by nagarkirtan processions in the daytime and dance and music in the evening.
In Bengal Poila Boishaakh (First Day of Baisakh) or Nobo Borsho (New Year) falls on 14 April this year. This is the beginning of the year as per the traditional Bengali calendar. Houses are cleaned and the floors and courtyards decorated with alpana (rangoli). Usually an earthen pot filled with water from the Ganges, covered by mango leaves and marked by the auspicious sign of swastika is placed in the center of the rangoli.
Puthandu, the Tamil New Year and the harvest festival, will be celebrated on April 14 this year. An integral part of Puthandu celebration is the Kanni or ‘Auspicious Sight’ ritual. Typically, a tray laden with fruits, jewellery, flowers, betel leaves and a mirror is prepared a night before Puthandu. This tray is meant to be the first thing the family members see when they wake up the next morning. This ritual darshan is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
A similar ritual is followed during the Malayali Vishu festival known as Vishukanni and will also take place on April 14 this year. On the same day, in Assam the Solar New Year will also be celebrated with Bohag Bihu. It consists of a seven-day festival where fields are honoured, cattle are bathed and feasts and bonfires prepared every evening. Perhaps one of the most beautiful spectacles of Bohag Bihu is the Bihu dance. It is believed that all the movements of this dance celebrate the season of fertility for both the body and the land.