If it is Chaitra Navratri in most Hindi speaking regions, it is Sajibu Nongma Panba in Manipur, Thapna in Rajasthan, Navreh in Kashmir, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Baisakhi in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Pahela Baishakh in Odisha, Vishu in Kerala. They all are the reflection of the same culture
I was in Rishikesh sitting on the bank of Ma Ganga. Weather was pleasant and the flowing Ganga was tickling my feet. A flock of birds flying over tweeted goodbye to cold winter. The intoxicating fragrance of mango flowers was thick in the air. Much awaited Vasantha Ruthu stepped in the air with all its grandeur and beauty. The change of the season from Shishira to Vasantha Ruthu proclaimed the start of the new year and the Hindu calendar coincide with nature was all set to celebrate the Ugadi on Chaitra Padya of vasantha ruthu. Everything outside was so pleasant but inside me I was felling gloomy for I could not celebrate the new year as I was away from home. Ever since I remember, I used to start my new year - Ugadi with head bath and wearing new clothes. I never missed eating neem leaves with jaggery with the blessing of “shathayur vajradehaya sarva smampathkarayacha …….” This Shloka was music to my ears and neem was tonic to my body.
The Paramartha Nikethan Ashram where I was staying was all set to celebrate Chaitra navaratri. I was told on account of Chaitra Navaratri there is going to be havan in the morning on the bank of Ganga till Ramanavami” and the ritual will go on for nine days with classical music in the evenings at ashram premises. I saw all rushi kumaras under the guidance of sadhvi Abha mathaji were busy cleaning brass idols with lime juice to remove the rusted coat. After the lime bath, the idols looked bright as though they wore a pair of new dress. Seeing all the happenings in the Ashram, I felt a surge of energy flowing in my body. I saw a fresh life everywhere even within me. I decided to celebrate Ugadi in my own way.
Whether it is east or west, north or south, the new-year for all Hindus fall on the arrival of spring. Similarly, all Hindus irrespective of the states celebrate Sankranthi on the same day. Even the prasad, consisting of sesame, ground nuts with jaggery, we consume across regions proves we are culturally connectedOn Ugadi I got up early to feel the chill in the air. I was singing “asthuru chitra ushasasah purasthan … “(East sky at dawn was lit by Goddess Usha with various colours) while crossing the Ram Jhula and walked further a km to bus stand to catch a bus to Devprayag from where the sacred river Ganga starts flowing. I got into a crowded bus and was hanging on to a railing. Seeing me, a young man stood up to give his seat. I started chatting with a young woman who was sitting next to me. She was carrying her 3-year-old son on her lap. She said she is a teacher at Haridwar was going to Guptakshi to her in-laws' place to celebrate Chaitra Navaratri. I cried, “Oh you celebrate Ugadi”. She smiled to say they do not call it Ugadi but Chaitra Navaratri.
I got down at my destination to be welcomed by the roaring river which was flowing hundreds of feet down the bus stop. I needed to walk more than a km to reach the holy Prayag. A long bridge and steep steps lead me to holy Sangam. To my right side the river Bhagirathi from Gangotri twisting, and turning on the rocks gushed towards the Sangam, whereas river Alkananda from Badrinath was rolling down from the hills to meet Bhagirathi. The confluence of these two rivers is called Devprayag. From here onwards the river becomes Ma Ganga to all Indians. I decided to take a dip as per the ritual. The Purohit chanted a few mantras to take Sankalpa and I prayed Ma Ganga to flow forever to support the Indians and prayed my beloved Mahadeva to bless us all. I took three deep dips to make sure that the tip of my head is immersed in the bone-chilling water. I noticed a change in me and felt so joyous. I saw a group of villagers carrying a palanquin coming to the holy spot. They took the Goddess from the palanquin to perform Abhishek and Pooja. Women were wearing lovely red saris and filled their pot with Ganga jal to carry it on their heads.
They were happy to chat with me. They said as it was Chaitra Navaratri a new year, elders in village write year‘s calendar, do Pooja to Ma Ganga, visit temples and conclude with eating sweets. I was asked to join them to Ma Ganga temple which was situated uphill, and a few kilometres away from the Sangam. Since my last bus to Rishikesh was at 1 pm I decided not to join them. But I joined them to Sri Ragunathaji temple. After climbing steep steps I reached temple which was said to be established by Adi Shankaracharya. After the darshan I stretched my folded hands for Thirtha. Purohit poured out the holy water from a silver cup into my hands. I was about to drink the holy water, noticed something unusual to me. The holy water was green in colour. I was a bit sceptical to drink seeing the colour but I decided to drink in spite of its unpleasant colour for a holy water. To my surprise it was nothing but neem juice. I was excited to drink the neem laced bitter water. Eating neem leaves on Ugadi was an age-old practice without which I would not have felt I started my new year. Someone gave me sweets to eat. I had neem and sweets together. Though I was miles away from home I did not miss my Ugadi rituals. The only difference was a change of place.
On the whole, the Ugadi in the Himalayas was very much like the way that we celebrate down south. Different regions of Bharat call Varsha-Pratipad in different names. If it’s Chitra Navaratri in most Hindi speaking regions, it is Sajibu Nongma Panba in Manipur, Thapna in Rajasthan, Navreh in Kashmir, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Baisakhi in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Pahela Baishakh in Odisha, Vishu in Kerala. They all are the reflection of the same culture.
Whether it is east or west, north or south, the New Year for all Hindus fall on the arrival of spring. Similarly, all Hindus irrespective of the states celebrate Sankranthi on the same day. Even the prasad, consisting of sesame, ground nuts with jaggery, we consume across regions proves we are culturally connected. Though certain festivals and rituals appear to be state specific, it is not so in reality. Whether it is Durga Pooja or Sabarimala, disrespecting of anyone God will hurt all Hindus because we are connected emotionally. We believe that various forms of God are the essence one Sat – “Ekam sadvipra bahudha vadantyagnim yamam matarishvanamahuh” which conveys that we are spiritually connected. We Indians are one, and nobody can separate us for any political reasons. I realised that I will never miss my home as long as I am in the lap of Ma Bharathi. I know she will take care of my emotional, cultural and spiritual needs.
(The writer is the Managing Director of Varenya Nutrition Concepts and a Consultant Dietician and nutritionist)