By Purnima Nath
An enormous diversity of India is found in no country in this entire world. Uncovering layers of this land is quite interesting. Although formally obtained independence from the British ruler with a new border in 1947, its multiculturalism and diversity are magnanimous and expansive, and deep-rooted in its heritage and intense history. Its sheer population, massive cultural amalgamation, religious and linguistic variety are unmatched and unequaled to any other nation on earth. The range of heterogeneity is seen in everything, even to the degree of counting days. Imagine a nation with 1.38 billion people, gazillions of religions, and various regions with different date systems? We could easily be celebrating a couple of new year’s days every single month. That’s why the national calendar was implemented in 1957. Interestingly, even though the Hindu calendar year 2077 was yesterday March 25, 2020, different region celebrates it differently, with their flavor of traditions and rituals. However, one common thread that ties everything beautifully is, no matter how or when it is observed, the fundamental meaning is the same – ‘the beginning of the new era’. Fascinating…right?
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BRIEF OF PREHISTORIC ERA:
Of course, India today is nothing like what it was thousands of years ago. However, history is a lens through which we can uncover many mysteries. Historians and archaeologists consistently expressed their surprise and appreciation of the use of the advanced techniques of the prehistoric civilization of the Indus valley. Bronze age (that is, 3000 years older than Hellenistic age when Greek culture triumphed), from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE ancient Indus Valley Civilization flourished in the northwestern region of South Asia by the Sindh river, stretching from northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India. Cities were most noted for sophisticated and technologically advanced urban planning (grids), hygiene and sanitation system, hydraulic engineering, bathing, wastewater management, centralized planning, handicrafts, pottery, and metallurgy work. Sewage and drainage system were far more developed and superior than any found in sites in the middle east and advanced even with the current standard found in the South Asian region. Its advanced architectures were praised by historians. Manejo Daro and Harappa were the two most important cities. Today these are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A handful of realistic statuettes have been found…the archaeologists found it difficult to believe these figures were from the prehistoric era. “When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric; they seemed to completely upset all established ideas about early art and culture. Modeling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to the Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made; that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged … Now, in these statuettes, it is just this anatomical truth which is so startling; that makes us wonder whether, in this all-important matter, Greek artistry could possibly have been anticipated by the sculptors of a far-off age on the banks of the Indus.“ – exclaimed, Sir John Marshall, director of Archaeological Survey of India who oversaw the excavation of Mahenjo Daro and Harappa of Indus Valley Civilization from 1902 to 1928.
Most intriguing of all finding was that this civilization was much different than that of slightly later civilizations of Mesopotamian and ancient Egypt. There was no evidence found of supreme leaders, a mass army of massive tombs built for kings or rulers, nor any massive monuments like you see in ancient Egyptian civilization, for instance, pyramid. It was concluded that everyone enjoyed the equal opportunity in society. No evidence was found for violent religious practices either. Philosophy, religion, and belief system resembles later developed Hindu religion. For instance, Swastika seals found are now in the British Museum. Pashupati seal found shows a seated figure with animals – could be an epithet of Lord Shiva. Life perhaps was much simpler and peaceful.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT FACTOR NOW?
I think there is a deep connection to this with modern-day Hindus. It appears that Hindu people by the Sindh river in the Indus Valley had passed on their peaceful traditions through generations, which still is experienced in the modern era. Hinduism, as a religion did not exist in the prehistoric era. People who lived in the Indus Valley region were called Hindus. Although Hinduism came along as a religion along the way, it never restricted anyone to any strict form of worshiping or even chose not to worship. Hinduism is vast and deep. No one is thrown out of the community if they choose to worship or not worship. In fact, the fundamental of Hinduism is spirituality and the quest for knowledge and truth. Over the past thousands of years, India sewed accumulated foreign religions (Jews, Christianity, Islam), beautifully with its own religions (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism) into a spectacular colorful fabric. Peace, tolerance, acceptance, and diversity of Hindu people are experienced even in this horrific condition of modern-day. The mentality of treating everyone equally regardless of religious bias, faith, beliefs, language is perhaps engraved in the blood of Hindus.
In the year 57 BC, the Hindu calendar started – a system of counting dates based on monthly cycles of moon phases, called Panchang. Therefore, the exact day of the Hindu New Year changes every year, in accordance with the calculations in the lunar calendar. However, celebrations are unique in every Indian state, that follows their customs and traditions exclusive to that particular region.
In the northern Indian region, people celebrate Chaitra Navaratri in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar. Rajasthanis observe through Thapna and Kashmiris with Navreh. Karnataka calls it Ugadi, and Maharastra and Goa call Gudi Pawa. For Manipuris, it is Sajiba Nongma – Panbaa and for the Assamese, it is Rangali Bihu. Orissa honors with Panna Sankranti or Maha Vishuva Sankranti or Mesha Sankranti. Tamilians salute Puthandu and Bengalis named it Pahela Baishakh and Punjabis celebrate Baishakhi in mid-April. For Kerala it is Vishu, for Sindhis, it is Cheti Chand.
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BEGINNING OF A NEW ERA
No matter when the regions decided to celebrate, the fundamental significance is the same – ‘the beginning of a new age. For instance, ‘Ugadi’ is the same as ‘Yugadi’. ‘Yug’ is a Sanskrit word, it means ‘age’ and ‘adi’ means ‘beginning’.
History can be a great lesson. Not only about our strengths and weakness, our bravery, decisions, or mistakes, it can give a glimpse of our traditions, rituals, cultures and shed some light on the lives of our ancestors. India, seemingly chaotic, but an awe-inspiring culture that is deeper than an ocean and wider than the sky. Our history, our heritage, and our culture are our pride.
I wish you a very happy Hindu New Year 2078.