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056: Ugadi - Celebrating the new lunar year

Vendors selling bunches of dark green mango (mangifera indica) leaves and delicate, powdery white neem (azadirachta indica) flowers barely clinging onto their branches, lined the highway on our journey back from the Hide and Teak farmstay yesterday. As we inched closer to Bangalore, garlands of bright orange marigold (Mexican tagetes) and celebratory yellow shevanti (chrysanthemum) flowers lay in mini mountains sold by women. Often the eruption of street vendors in the neighbourhood markets indicates (to the uninitiated like myself) that a festival is just round the corner.

Soon the flower garlands along with the mango and neem leaves will hang from household entrances to welcome the new lunar year of Ugadi. A cooling drink made by crushing bitter neem flowers along with sweet jaggery, sour tamarind and tart grated raw mango will serve as a reminder to take in the unpleasant with the soothing.

Some families will celebrate for nine nights beginning from today, culminating with the festival of Ram Navami. They may arrange for a “nava-graha” pooja today - one comprised of nine grains to honour the nine celestial bodies. Rice for the moon (Chandra), unhusked wheat for the sun (Surya), red gram toor dal for Mars (Mangala), green gram mung dal for Mercury (Budha), small white beans for Venus (Shukra), black gram urad dal for Rahu, black sesame seeds for Saturn (Shani), horse gram for Ketu, and brown channa for Jupiter (Guru). (Source: “Follow the Hindu Moon by Soumya Aravind Sitaraman, p. 280)

Ugadi, the Hindu festival is celebrated today in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and marks the first day of the first Hindu lunar month of Chaitra. Schooled in January, February, March and April rhymes, I still struggle with Chaitra, Vaishaka, and Ashada months. Chaitra is associated with gentle April showers, with delicate blossoms of yellowish-white neem, with new beginnings. How was this month traditionally depicted in poetry and paintings? What fruits and flowers stood as metaphors for the emotions of spring on the subcontinent? Do rituals help keep these metaphors alive? Have layered meanings been erased or forgotten?

At the farm, tart, bright green raw mangoes hang low from the trees bringing with them the promise of orange-yellow juicy pieces of heaven to come. Freshly ploughed fields wait for the Ugadi showers. Farmers prepare to plant the new cycle of seeds and saplings. The seasons speak more loudly here. The rain bathes you gently. The moon changes his shape in the expansive sky. Lunar time becomes visible. The month of Chaitra whispers her secrets and you begin to listen to the festive stories.

Further Reading:

Read Vikram Doctor’s Article on Mexican Marigolds:

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