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Sunday
, March 3, 2002
Article

A song on the lips and spring in your step
Kunal Khurana

Springtime festivities in India are not restricted to just one occasion
Springtime festivities in India are not restricted to just one occasion

IT is that time of the year when winter recedes and the days begin to lengthen. Woollens are discarded as every morning, the sun is greeted by the chirping of birds and branches of trees are laden with fruit. The aroma of a thousand colourful flowers in bloom pervades the air. Nature is at its resplendent best.

The advent of spiring was celebrated with Vasant Panchami a fortnight (on February 17) ago. Back in the villages, freshly harvested wheat and sunflower from the fields are still being packed and sent in tractors to the weekly markets in nearby towns.

At home, women are preparing the dough for the papads and other seasonal delicacies from wheat and rice that will be dried on cotton sarees laid out on the terraces and farmyards. Little bundles of khus are being put in the water and the bottles, full of kokum and rosewater are stored away for the year.

Indeed, springtime festivities in India are not restricted to just one occasion. For within a week of Vasant Panchami, Muslims celebrated Eid-ul-Zuha and in less than a fortnight, it will Shivaratri to be followed by Jamshedji Navroz, Holi, Easter, Gudi Padwa... and climaxing with Baisakhi, the Hindu New Year.

 


Each festival holds its own cultural rooting a local flavour, fragrance and memories, more so for those who have left behind the open skies, bird songs and the cool breeze of faraway villages and lost childhood. For all of them though, regardless of communal differences and religious beliefs, this is celebration time.

The Parsis would welcome spring by greeting one another and exchanging gifts with words like Afzud, Afzun and Afzayad inscribed on them during Navroz. These words, signifying prosperity, are expressions of good wishes for an auspicious year.

For Maharashtrians along the Konkan coast, Gudi Padwa brings the fragrance of surangi flowers and the pleasant sight of trees laden with mangoes and jack-fruit. Celebrated on the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra, the festival also marks the advent of spring for the Maharashtrian community.

According to the Brahma Purana it was on Gudi Padwa that Lord Brahma created the universe from a cosmic deluge and it is from that day, that man counted time. In fact, the primordial human being is said to have been born on that day!

In traditional Maharashtrian homes, the day begins with the chewing of the bitter-sweet leaves of the neem tree. Homesteads and farmyards are subjected to a spot of spring cleaning, the walls whitewashed or plastered with fresh cow-dung. Bright rangoli designs on the threshold, capture the spirit of the season.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh (where the festival is celebrated as Ugadi), the family astrologer brings along the panchang (almanac) to be worshipped. He then recites from the document on what the year holds out for members of the household.

The highpoint of the celebration is the ugadi pachadi, made from a mixture of jaggery, turmeric, neem flowers, pepper, chilli powder, salt and crushed raw mango. Embellished with banana slices and grapes, the pachadi serves as the traditional repast while listening to the compositions of Thyagaraja.

In Assam, this is the time for Bihu singers and dancers to go from house to house for at least a week, singing husori to the accompaniment of trumpets and drums. Early in the morning, there will be a ritual bath for the men-folk and household cattle. Cows are worshipped in what is known as Goru Puja.

For most of Central and North India though, spring is celebrated as a harvest festival. In Punjab, the wheat crop and mustard flowers cover the fields like a greenish-yellow carpet. The Baisakhi festivities begin at night with the lighting of a community bonfire. Then, all through the night, the air reverberates to the mesmerising beats of bhangra and giddha.

Bengalis celebrate the festival with payesh a sweet dish made of rice, boiled milk and freshly tapped molasses. For the Tamilians too, it is a much quieter celebration the day being devoted to visiting friends and relatives, greeting one another and exchaning sweets. Children seek the blessings of elders.

For the Malayalees in the southernmost tip of India, spring means Vishu. The day begins with children being woken up by their elders and eyes closed, ritually led to the Vishu Kani a mirror reflecting the idol of Lord Krishna, a jack-fruit, a sheaf of paddy, gold and the ubiquitous konna poovu flower.

It is to these auspicious symbols of prosperity and good tidings that the child wakes up to!

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