India is a diverse country with a rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and traditions, and as a result, there are various New Year festivals celebrated across different regions. Read here to learn about the different New Year traditions of India.
The New Year in India is not confined to January 1st which is according to the Gregorian calendar; instead, it is marked by numerous regional and cultural New Year celebrations.
These New Year festivals reflect the cultural diversity of India, and the celebrations often include rituals, feasts, traditional attire, and various cultural performances. People come together to celebrate the spirit of renewal, hope, and the beginning of a new phase in their lives.
New Year across cultures
New Year festivals hold significant cultural, social, and symbolic importance across various cultures around the world. While specific customs, traditions, and dates may vary, the observance of the New Year is a universal phenomenon that often marks the beginning of a new cycle, a fresh start, and the passage of time.
- New Year festivals often have deep cultural roots and are celebrated as per traditional calendars. For example, Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Vishu in Kerala, and Puthandu in Tamil Nadu mark the beginning of the new year based on the respective regional calendars.
- In many regions, New Year celebrations coincide with the harvest season. Festivals such as Baisakhi in Punjab and Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal are associated with agricultural activities and are celebrated as harvest festivals.
India’s cultural and regional diversity is reflected in the variety of New Year celebrations. Each state and community may have its way of marking the occasion, contributing to the rich tapestry of Indian festivals.
Indian New Year festivals
Ugadi: Celebrated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, usually in March or April.
- The name ‘Ugadi’ originated from two Sanskrit words, ‘Yuga’ and ‘Adi’, translating to a new beginning.
- Special foods associated with Ugadi are Pacchadi, Holige or Obattu, and Puliogure.
Vishu: Celebrated in Kerala in mid-April. In Sanskrit language ‘Vishu’ means ‘equal’.
- A unique tradition known as Vishukani is associated with Vishu- a prescribed list of items is collected and people see it the first thing on a Vishu morning.
- The tradition originates from the strong belief of the people celebrating the Vishu festival that good things seen in the New Year act as a lucky charm and bring good luck for the entire year.
Puthandu: Tamil New Year is celebrated in Tamil Nadu in mid-April. There are several references to the festival in the literature during the Sangam period.
- On the eve of Puthandu, a tray is arranged with three fruits (mango, banana, and jack fruit), betel leaves and areca nut, gold/silver jewelry, coins/money, flowers, and a mirror.
- Home entrances are decorated elaborately with colored rice powder, called kolams.
Pohela Boishakh: Bengali New Year celebrated in West Bengal and Bangladesh in mid-April. It is also called ‘Noboborsho’ or ‘Borsho Boron Utshab’.
- The tradition of celebration of the festival dates back to the Mughal era. Folklores says that the occasion came into existence after the tradition was introduced in West Bengal during the period of emperor Akbar in an attempt to come up with a fixed day every year on which the tax on the harvest could be collected.
Baisakhi: Celebrated in Punjab and Haryana in mid-April. It is celebrated to mark the onset of spring in India and also signifies the end of the harvest season.
- Feasts are an integral part of the festival and the traditional Karah Prasad (a semolina concoction prepared with wheat, clarified butter, and sugar) is a special delicacy.
- Bhangra and Gidda performances are also part of the traditions.
Bihu: Celebrated in Assam, usually in mid-April. It marks the Assamese New Year.
- The most important of the three Bihu celebrations in the agriculture-based state (the other two being Kati Bihu and Magh Bihu), Bohag Bihu is a harvest festival celebrated in the first month, Bohag, of the Assamese Calendar.
Navreh or Kashmiri New Year: Celebrated by Kashmiri Pandits in March or April. The day is dedicated to their Goddess Sharika and they pay homage to her on that day.
- On the eve of the Navreh, the priest of the family provides a religious almanac (Nechipatra), a collection of the important events and forecasts for the coming year, and a scroll (Kreel-Pach) of the Goddess. All the dates are mathematically calculated.
Islamic New Year (Hijri New Year): Marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar. Celebrated by Muslims, the date varies each year.
- The first day of the Islamic year is observed by most Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram.
- The epoch (reference date) of the Islamic era was set as the year of the emigration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijrah, which equates to 622 CE in the Gregorian calendar
Sikh New Year (Nanakshahi New Year): Celebrated by Sikhs, typically in March or April.
- The epoch of this calendar is the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Nanak Dev in 1469 and the Nanakshahi year commences on 1 Chet.
Gudi Padwa/Marathi New Year: Celebrated in Maharashtra and parts of Goa, usually in March or April.
- As part of the celebrations, people hoist Gudi dhwaja (a decorated arrangement consisting of a bright cloth tied to one end of a bamboo stick with Kalash inverted on it to symbolize victory) outside their homes.
- Festive dishes like shrikhand and Puran Poli are traditionally made in Maharashtrian homes.
Shigmo or Shishirotsava: Celebrated by Konkani-speaking communities in Goa and parts of Karnataka, typically in March.
- In earlier days, the Sigmo festival was celebrated to honor the homecoming warriors who left their families back home at the end of Dusshera to fight the invaders.
- There are two variants to the Shigmo festival; DhaktoShigmo (small Shigmo) and VhadloShigmo (big Shigmo). The small Shigmo or the DhaktoShigmo is generally celebrated by the farmers, labor class, and the rural population; whereas the VhadloShigmo is celebrated on a major scale and everyone takes part in the same.
Cheti Chand: Celebrated by the Sindhi community, usually in March or April.
- The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in the Sindhi community, it also marks the birth of Uderolal in 1007, after they prayed to the Hindu god Varun Dev on the banks of River Indus to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical Muslim ruler Mirkhshah.
Ashadhi Beej: Celebrated by the Kutchi community in Gujarat, typically in June.
- The festival is associated with the beginning of rains in the Kutch region of Gujarat.
- During Ashadhi Bij, the moisture in the atmosphere is checked to predict which crop would do best in the coming monsoon.
Nepal Sambat: Celebrated by the Nepali community in various parts of India, typically in April.
Jude Sheetal/Jur Sital: Celebrated by the Maithili-speaking community in Bihar, typically in March.
- The Maithili New Year follows the vernal equinox and falls on 14 April (may sometimes vary by a day) in the Gregorian year.
Navroz/Nowruz: Celebrated by the Parsi community, typically in March.
- Nowruz marks the first day of spring and is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on 21 March.
- Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition observed by numerous peoples, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature.
Sajibu Cheiraoba: Celebrated in Manipur, typically in March or April.
- It is celebrated by Meiteis (an ethnic group in Manipur) which is observed on the first day of Manipur lunar month Shajibu, which falls in April every year.
Pana Sankranti: Celebrated in Odisha, typically in April. It is also known as Vishuva Sankranti.
- On the day of the Pana Sankranti, an earthen pot is filled with a sweet drink which is known as Pana and hung over a Basil (Tulsi) tree. A hole is made at the bottom of the pot to allow the sweet water to fall drop by drop which represents the rainy season.
- A mixture of horse gram flour, banana, and curd is offered to the Basil plant. After that, it is consumed by the members of the family.
Chalio/Chaiti Chhath: Celebrated in parts of North India, particularly Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, typically in March or April.
- Chhath Puja is the only occasion where the setting sun is worshipped along with the rising sun.
- Chhath Puja is a four-day-long strict and spiritual observance. The first day of the Chhath Puja includes taking a dip in the holy river/any water body.
Losoong: Losoong also known as Namsoong is the Sikkimese New Year.
- It is mostly celebrated in December every year with traditional gaiety and colors both the Lepchas and Bhutias.
New Year festivals in India are not only occasions for joyous celebrations but also hold cultural, religious, and social significance. They provide an opportunity for individuals and communities to come together, express gratitude, and welcome the promise of a new beginning.
Related article: Harvest festivals of India
-Article by Swathi Satish