Aluth Avurudda 2016 will soon be upon us. But few might be aware that Avurudu coincides with the New Years in many other Southern Asian calendars, including: Assamese New Year, or Rongali Bihu (India’s Assam state), Bengali New Year or Pohela, Boishakh (Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal state), Burmese New Year or Thingyan (Burma), Khmer New Year, or Chol Chnam Thmey (Cambodia), Lao New Year, or Songkan/Pi Mai Lao (Laos), Malayali New Year, or Vishu (India’s Kerala state), Odia New Year, or Maha Vishuva Sankranti (India’s Odisha state) Nepali New Year, or Bikram Samwat/Vaishak Ek (Nepal), Vishu (India’s Kerala state), Thai New Year, or Songkran (Thailand), Tuluva New Year, or Bisu (India’s Karnataka state), Maithili New Year, or Jude Shital (Mithila).
In the state of Assam in India, Bohag Bihu (mid-April, also called Rongali Bihu) celebrates the onset of the Assamese New Year (around April 14 to 15) and the coming of Spring. This marks the first day of the Hindu solar calendar and is also observed in Mithila, Bengal, Manipur, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu though called by different names. It’s a time of merriment and feasting and continues, in general, for seven days.
The farmers prepare the fields for cultivation of paddy and there is a feeling of joy around. The women make pitha, larus (traditional food made of rice and coconut) and Jolpan which gives the real essence of the season. The first day of the festival is called goru bihu or cow bihu, where the cows are washed and worshipped, which falls on the last day of the previous year, usually on April 14. This is followed by manuh (human) bihu on April 15, the New Year Day. This is the day of getting cleaned up, wearing new clothes and celebrating and getting ready for the New Year with fresh vigour. The third day is Gosai (Gods) bihu; statues of Gods, worshiped in all households are cleaned and worshiped asking for a smooth new year.
Pohela Boishakh is celebrated in Bengal. The Bengali calendar is tied to the Indian solar calendar, based on the Surya Siddhanta. As with many other variants of the Indian solar calendar, the Bengali calendar commences in mid-April of the Gregorian Year. The first day of the Bengali year therefore coincides with the mid-April New Year in other Asian states including Sri Lanka. The development of the Bengali calendar is often attributed to king of Gour or Gauda, Shashanka as the starting date falls squarely within his reign. King Shoshangko of Gour is credited with starting the Bengali era.
The first day of the New Year of the Indian solar calendar and all derived calendars including the Bengali calendar is the first day of the New Year, and historically the day has been seen across the subcontinent as the day for a new opening and celebrated accordingly. In Bengal, landlords used to allocate sweets among their tenants, and business people commenced a “Halkhata” (new financial records book) and locked their old ones. Vendors used to provoke their consumers to allocate sweets and renew their business relationship with them. There were fairs and festivities all over.
Thingyan from Sanskrit, which means “transit (of the Sun from Pisces to Aries) is the Burmese New Year Water Festival and usually falls around mid-April (the Burmese month of Tagu). It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days, culminating in the New Year.
Formerly, the dates of the Thingyan Festival were calculated according to the Burmese calendar, but they are now fixed to Gregorian calendar April 13 to 16; it often coincides with Easter. The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout Burma and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival. However, in most parts of the country, it does not begin in earnest until the second day.
Thingyan is comparable to other New Year festivities in Theravada Buddhist areas. Bohag Bihu in Assam. Marma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts and Rakhine people also celebrate it in same time by name of Sangrain or Sangren respectively.
Thingyan is originated from the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. The King of Brahmas called Arsi, lost a wager to the King of Devas, Śakra (Thagya Min), who decapitated Arsi as agreed but the head of an elephant was put onto the Brahma’s body who then became Ganesha. The Brahma was so powerful that if the head were thrown into the sea it would dry up immediately. If it were thrown onto land it would be scorched. If it were thrown up into the air the sky would burst into flames. Sakra therefore ordained that the Brahma’s head be carried by one princess devi after another taking turns for a year each. The New Year henceforth has come to signify the changing of hands of the Brahma’s head.
Cambodian New Year or Choul Chnam Thmey in the Khmer language, literally “Enter New Year”, is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrates the New Year. The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13 or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13 through 15. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar New Year in several parts of India, Sri Lanka, Puthandu, Myanmar and Thailand. Cambodians also use Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar. For 2016, it is 2560 BE (Buddhist Era).
Maha Songkran (Thailand). Maha Songkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the New Year celebration in Thailand. It is the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
Lao New Year, called Songkran or Pii Mai is celebrated every year from April 14 to April 16. Lao New Year is a popular English name for a traditional celebration known in Laos as “Pi Mai” (in Lao language). Lao New Year is the most widely celebrated festival in Laos. Lao New Year takes place in April, the hottest time of the year in Laos, which is also the start of the monsoon season.
The official festival lasts for three days from April 14 to April 16 (although celebrations can last more than a week in towns like Luang Prabang). The first day is the last day of the old year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the first day. Perfume, water and flowers are also prepared for the Lao New Year. The second day of the festival is the ‘day of no day’, a day that falls in neither the old year nor the new. The last day of the festival marks the start of the New Year.
Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is also celebrated as Bisu in Mangalore and Udupi District of Karnataka, India. Vishu signifies the Hindu New Year and falls on the month of Medam in the Malayalam calendar, usually in the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar. Vishu is celebrated with much fanfare and vigour in all parts of Kerala, especially by Hindus. It is considered a festival of light and fireworks, and decorating lights and bursting of firecrackers is part of the celebration.
Also in India, Pana Sankranti also known as Mesha Sankranti, is a holiday celebrated as the Odia New Year. This day marks the beginning of the New Year in the traditional Odia calendar. On this day, the sun enters the sidereal Aries or Mesha Rashi. It generally falls on April 14 or 15 during spring when summer approaches. The date is calculated according to sidereal and tropical astrology. Also the day is important to farming and agriculture in these places.
Aluth Avuruda has much significance in the world – a common thread remains that it is a time of joy, hope and new beginnings.