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Gudi Padwa

Nov 6, 2013, 16:22 PM
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Gudi Padwa
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India is bestowed with rich natural and cultural diversity. Communities in different regions of India have proudly preserved their cultural identity, manifested through the variety of their costumes, food, rites, rituals and festivals. Gudhi Padwa that marks the beginning of the New Year is one of the prominent festivals in India, especially celebrated in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. 

The word Padwa comes from the Prakrit word whose Sanskrit equivalent is Prathama which stands for the first day of the bright phase of the moon called Pratipada in Sanskrit. This day carries special importance for Hindus and people celebrate it with a heightened sense of and joy and abundance.

According to Brahma Purana, an ancient Indian text, this is the day on which Brahma created the universe after the deluge, and time began to tick from this day forth. In mythological terms, this festival is celebrated to commemorate the coronation of Lord Ramachandra on his return to Ayodhya after slaying Ravana. Gudhi Padwa also commemorates the commencement of the Shalivahan calendar named after the emperor Shalivahan who vanquished the Huns, his enemies. Gudhi Padwa is one among the three-and-a-half auspicious days (muhurtas) in the Indian lunar calendar. The special feature is that every moment being auspicious, people can initiate new ventures on this days.

On Gudhi Padwa, a Gudhi which is believed to be Brahma’s flag (Brahmadhwaj), is hoisted outside every house as a symbol of victory and joy. In Maharashtra, it is reminiscent of the valiant Marathas returning home from their successful expeditions of the war. Since the symbol of victory is always held high, so is the Gudhi. Gudhi is a bright green or yellow silk cloth adorned with brocade tied to the tip of a long bamboo pole over which gathi (sugar crystals), neem leaves, a twig of mango leaves and a garland of red flowers is tied. All these things symbolize nature’s bounty in spring. A silver or copper pot is placed on the raised Gudhi in the inverted position. This Gudhi is then hoisted outside the house, in a window, terrace, or a high place so that everybody can see it. Gudhi is also believed to ward off evil, invite prosperity and good luck to the house.

On the festive day, courtyards in village houses are swept clean and plastered with fresh cow dung. Even in the city, people take the time out to do some spring cleaning. Women and girls work on intricate rangoli designs on their doorsteps, the vibrant colours mirroring the burst of happiness and joy associated with the spring. Traditionally, families are supposed to begin the festivities by eating the bitter leaves of the neem tree. Usually, a paste of neem leaves is prepared and mixed with coriander seeds, jaggery and tamarind. All the members of the family consume this paste, which is believed to purify the blood and strengthen the body’s immune system against diseases. There is also a belief behind this tradition that if you start a new year with a bitter taste, the year ahead brings you happiness and sweet success.

India is a predominantly agrarian society. Celebrations and festivals are often linked to the turn of seasons and to the sowing and reaping of the crops. This day marks the end of one agricultural harvest and the beginning of a new one. It is the time when the heat of the sun starts intensifying. Farmers start ploughing the soil on this day. As a result the soil below is churned up. The subtle soil particles get heated in the sun and the ability of the soil to germinate the seeds increases manifold. Towards the first day of the month of Chaitra, the sun assumes a position above the point of intersection of the equator and the meridians and the spring season commences. It is because nature is vibrant with life in the spring. It is for this reason that Gudhi Padwa is also celebrated to welcome the colourful spring which awakens the spirit in each living thing and rejuvenates the beauty of nature. Though mythological and historical references to this festival hold some significance, its close link with the perpetual cycle of seasons is more important. Ancient Indian tradition which always experienced oneness with the nature was aware of the three stages of life - Utpatti, Sthitee and Laya. It means that there is a cycle of birth, state and destruction in the universe. Destruction is not the end of life but just a temporary stage which ultimately leads to new creation.

This ancient Indian philosophy has its roots in the rotation of seasons. After the fall, spring again brings the promise of life. New foliage on the trees, colourful blossom of various flowers, ripening of mangoes and other seasonal fruits, chirping of birds and butterflies let our spirits to soar high. Gudhi Padwa is thus a celebration of life. It is a reminder by nature itself to live and let live in a harmonious relationship.

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