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Isheeta Sharma

It is a time that people pass
with a fire, or in bright sunlight,
with heavy garments for young ladies,
and windows kept shut in the house

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

Basant Panchami arrives on January 29, offering a small glimpse of the next season - Basant rtu or spring. This day marks the beginning of the 40-day period when preparations to welcome Basant – the season of renewal and desire – begin all across the subcontinent.

In one legend, this is the day on which Parvati in her incarnation as Uma, approached Kama – the god of love – to convince him to wake Shiva up from his state of meditation. Kama agreed to do so and used his heavenly bow and arrow, made of sugarcane and flowers, to awaken Shiva. This is why celebrations of Basant Panchami include lavish flower arrangements, especially made with fresh mango leaves and flowers which have begun to bloom in anticipation of spring. What happens subsequent to Kama’s awakening of Shiva is a part of the legend of Holi.

Another legend associates Basant Panchami with Brahma – the creator – and the origin of goddess Saraswati. It is believed that Brahma, after creating the world set out on a journey to see his creation. But he was disappointed to see how silent everyone was. There was no sound or laughter. To rectify this he sprinkled water from his kamandal (water pot) in the air and an apsara (a celestial beauty) appeared with a veena in her hand. Brahma requested her to sing to break the dreadful silence. The apsara sang and blessed the people with the power of speech. Since then she has been known by many names – Vac (Speech) Devi, Veena Vadini (Veena Player) and goddess Saraswati, among others.

Vibrant colourful kites are flown to celebrate this day especially in North India. But perhaps the most prominent feature of Basant Panchami celebrations is the colour Yellow. It is a tradition to bathe early in the morning and wear Yellow coloured clothes. The food prepared is also Yellow in colour such as khichdi. This is because Yellow is traditionally one of the colours associated with Sattva guna. It signifies purity, prosperity and all that is good.

In the Sun Deo Temple at Aurangabad, Bihar, Basant Panchami is celebrated as the birthday of the Sun god.

Narmada Jayanti is celebrated on February 1. This is believed to be the day that Narmada river descended onto Earth, created by Shiva, to wash away the sins of the Gods. The river originates at Amarkantak and this day is celebrated with much enthusiasm at the Amarkantak temple every year. The river is worshipped with diyas and other ritual offerings and thanked for bringing peace and prosperity to all.

Thaipusam is celebrated on February 8 this year by Tamilians and Malyalis. Legend has it that this festival commemorates the day that Parvati handed Murugan a spear to fight against the asura Soorapadman, whom Murugan eventually defeated. Devotees make a pilgrimage to the Palani Murugan Temple in Tamil Nadu, carrying on their shoulders a decorated canopy known as kavadi.

Magha Purnima arrives on February 9 bringing Magha mas (month) to a close. The second month of Shishir rtu – Phalguna – begins the next day on February 10.

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