Hinduism is known for a lot of festivals, even though over time many of them have lost its festivities, some of them have survived modernization and lack of time. Some of these festivals are my favorites, some because of the way we celebrate them, some for the sweat memories associated, and some for the philosophy behind the festival, today happens to be one such festival. Today is the first day of our new year.
Like Chinese calendar which has 12 years named after animals, Hindu calendar has an year cycle of 60 years, and each of them are called samvatsara, at one point I could name all of them, but aging body has affected my memory ;). Today happens to be the beginning of the sarvadhari samvatsara, and we call the festival “Ugadi”, which literally means a beginning of the new year [era]. You can read some more info about the festival here.
On the day of Ugadi, apart from the normal practice of taking an oil bath, and praying to the god, we have two very unique practices. One is we touch the feet of the oldest in the family, and he/she will provide us with the blessings and hand out a mixture of neem[margosa] and jaggery [unrefined sugar], the other thing is the eldest in the family, generally the male reads the almanac or panchanga [Indian calendar] .
I like the philosophy behind handing out the mixture, as today is the beginning of the new year, this practice is a symbolic way, of the eldest in our family to tell us, life is going to be a mixture of a sweet jaggery and also the highly bitter neem, so the elders bless us with the courage to face both the highs and the lows. As kids I used to hate eating neem, as it is very bitter, especially the flower is much more bitter than the leaf, but then as I began to realize the importance, the bitterness became more symbolic, and at the end it really solved the purpose, you cannot eat just the neem its too bitter, nor can you take just the jaggery its very sweat, so its always good to take life as a mixture.
Reading the almanac, is again a group activity, like many of the other festivities, this again is an attempt to gather the family members, almanac has a lot of predictions for the year, including the months where rains are predicted, days which are considered to be auspicious, days of eclipse and stuff like that, it provides a common platform where the family could really plan the year ahead, and take inputs from each other. Its again a symbolic gesture, we really don’t go through the almanac, and only as a formality my dad generally reads through some paged of it, but good thing is we all get together, discuss what we are planning for the year, and more importantly know a bit about this samvatsara.
Wishing you all a very happy ugadi, and a very prosperous Sarvadhari samvatsara.