New Year celebrations in India: Another example of rich diversity


By Nithin Sridhar

January first is widely celebrated across the world as the beginning of the New Year. This date for the New Year is according to the Gregorian (or English) calendar instituted by Pope Gregory in 1582 CE. Thus, this Gregorian New Year is a Christian observation, which though has been widely adopted in many countries, yet many non-Christian nations and cultures follow their own New Year dates as well.

Chinese celebrate their new year (called as Nian) according to their own Lunar Calendar and it usually falls in February of the English Calendar. The Iranians celebrate Nowruz, according to the ancient Persian calendar, which usually falls on March 20/21. Similarly, the Islamic countries observe Hijri New Year according to Islamic Calendars and Israel observes Rosh Hashanah, both of which fall in the first week of October.

But, perhaps it is in India alone, one can find the largest diversity in the dates observed as the beginning of a New Year as well as the manner in which they are celebrated. Apart from celebrating January 1, Indians celebrate at least six other dates as New Year. These dates are calculated according to different astronomical considerations based on different regional calendars.

The reformulated Saka Calendar, which was adopted as the Indian National Calendar after India’s independence, observes March 22 of the English Calendar as the first day of the year. This calendar is based on the coronation of Shalivahana king in the 78 CE and though it has been adopted as an official civil calendar, it is not used by the people in the observation of their festivals, etc. Instead, people in South India largely use traditional Shalivahana Calendar (which also starts with 78 CE) where the beginning of the year is calculated using astronomical calculations.

Apart from this, different regions have different Calendars. Thus, Odias follow Odia Calendar, Bengalis follow Bengali Calendar, Gujarati’s follow Gujarati Calendar, and people from Tamil Nadu and Kerala follow Tamil and Malayalam calendars. Just as traditional Shalivahana Calendar is widespread in South India, Vikram Samvat Calendar is widespread in North India. This calendar was established by King Vikramaditya in 56 BC after his victory over the Sakas.

The Gujarati New Year, which is observed on the Sukla Pratipada (1st day in the bright fortnight) in the month of Kartika, is according to the beginning of the year in Vikrama Samvat Calendar. The Vikrama Calendar begins in Kartika month that falls in October/November as against traditional Salivahana Calendar or the Indian National Calendar where the year starts in the Chaitra month (i.e. March/April). Thus, the Gujarati New Year is celebrated a day after Diwali and in 2016, it will fall on October 31.

But, in the Kutch region of Gujarat, the New Year is celebrated on the second day of the bright fortnight in the month of Ashada, which in 2016 will fall on July 6.

Apart from Gujarat, most other regions celebrate the first day of the year during the beginning of the month of Chaitra (that falls in March/April), which marks the beginning of spring season. Though, the beginning of Chaitra has been fixed as March 22 in the Indian National Calendar, it is not used for religious purposes. Instead, the beginning of the Chaitra month is calculated based on either traditional Shalivahana Calendar, which is a Luni-Solar calendar, or based on regional Solar calendars.

The Solar Calendar’s rely only on the movements of the Sun for their calculations. On the other hand, Luni-Solar calendars take into account the movements of the Moon along with that of Sun. Thus, there two different dates arrive for the beginning of the month of Chaitra that forms the New Year according to these calendars. In 2016, for example, the Luni-solar New Year begins on April 8 and Solar New Year begins on April 13/14.

Thus, Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, Telangana, and Maharashtra, which follow Luni-Solar calendars celebrate New Year on April 8. The festival associated with the day is called as ‘Ugadi’ in Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, and Telangana, and as ‘Gudi-Padwa’ in Maharashtra. The Sindhis celebrate ‘Cheti Chand’, Rajasthani Marwaris celebrate ‘Thapna’ and Kashmiris observe ‘Navreh’ on the same day as well.

On the other hand, the Tamil ‘Puthandu’ and the Bengali ‘Naba Barsha’ have fallen on April 14; and the Odia ‘Pana Sankranti’ and Punjabi New Year ‘Baisaki’ have fallen on April 13. Kerala celebrates New Year on two days. The traditional New Year according to the Malayalam calendar starts with the month of Chingam, which will fall on August 17. However, many Keralites, especially in Malabar area, observe ‘Vishu’ which falls on April 14 this year as the New Year.

Thus, the presence of a large number of Solar, Lunar, and Luni-Solar calendars and their deep connection with the religious festivals and practices, has resulted in Indians of different regions celebrating New Year on different days. This diversity, along with the diversity in the way various festivals associated with the New Year are celebrated, demonstrates a rich culture and heritage of this nation.