Puthandu – Tamil New Year
Tamil New Year is known as Puthandu (पुथांडू), or Puthuvarusham and is the first day in the Tamil calendar. This auspicious day is also popular as Varusha Pirappuv. Puthandu is one of the biggest festivals in southern India as it marks the beginning of the Tamil New Year. On this occasion, people engage in various cultural activities to welcome the new year.
The date is set according to the Hindu solar cycle calendar, which usually falls on 14th every year. The day is celebrated with feasts in Hindu homes and the entrances to the houses are decorated elaborately with kolams.
The same day Hindus elsewhere celebrate this day with different names like Vishu in Kerala, in Assam as ‘Bihu’, in Orissa as ‘Pana Sankranti’, in West Bengal as ‘Poila Boishak’, and Vaisakhi or Baisakhi in central and northern India which marks the start of Sikh and Hindu New Year. Puthandu does hold special significance to Hindus as it is said to be the day that the Hindu god of creation, Lord Brahma, started creation.
Along with Tamil Nadu, the New Year is observed in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Tripura, Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan and is celebrated with immense enthusiasm, fervor, and joy. It is also celebrated in Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh mostly due to the influence of the common culture in South and Southeast Asia in the 1st millennium.
Tamil Nadu New Year Celebrations
Puthandu is celebrated by the people with immense enthusiasm and joy. Many people get their houses painted to mark the renewal of life. On the eve of Puthandu, a tray is set with various things such as mango, banana, jackfruit, betel leaves, areca nuts, gold or silver jewelry, money, flowers, and a mirror are arranged. The next morning, looking at this tray is important after which they take a bath and offer Pongal to the gods. Viewing this tray in the morning is considered auspicious, and it is known as ‘Kani kanal’.
After viewing the Kanni, it is time for a ritualistic bath. After the bath, it is time to draw the ‘Kolam’ or Rangoli (Tamil New Year Kolams). The ‘kolam’ is believed to bring good fortune to the family members. Then, the doorways are decorated with mango leaves. People also visit temples to start their new year with blessings for growth and prosperity. Sometimes, a decorated lamp Kuthuvillakku is placed in the center of colorful Kolam to bring light to the house.
People start cleaning their homes and decorating them especially the entrance with flowers, mango leaves, and colored rice powder. Rangolis are designed outside their homes which are known as Kolam. After this, the family assembles for prayers. The prayers begin with the lighting of the traditional lamp (Kuthuvilakku). The lamp is placed next to a brass bowl with a short neck, which contains water and is decorated with mango leaves – called the Nirai Kudam.
In some specific families, darpanam (holy prayer in remembrance of departed souls) will be offered. Family members prostrate before the elders and seek their blessings. A grand car festival is held at Tiruvadamarudur near Kumbakonam every year, few festivals are also held at Kanchipuram, Tiruchirapalli, and some other places. Goddess Meenakshi’s grand marriage to Lord Sundareswarar in Madhurai’s popular temple is also held. In some temples, there are festivals, processions, lectures, and music events.
Mangai-Pachadi is a special dish prepared from a number of ingredients and flavors. The main ingredients used are astringent mustard, sour raw mango, red chilies, bitter neem, and sweet jaggery. Later in the day, all family members gather together to enjoy the feast.
Tamil people celebrate this day with full enthusiasm greeting each other Puthāaṇdu vāazhthugal! or Iṉiya puthaandu nalvāazhthugal! which translates to Happy New Year. Children are highly excited at the time of Puthandu as they receive small gifts or cash from their parents and relatives.