New Year musings…
As I sit down to write this post , it is already night hours of April 16, 2014 . April may be the cruelest month in Eliot’s waste land but in our part of the world it marks the beginning of a new year between the first and second weeks of the month . Celebrated variously as ugadi, gudi padwa, baisakhi , rongali bihu , bikhu, maha vishuva sankranti, pohela boishakh , puthandu, bisu , vishu in different regions , it is April that rings in the new year in India .
In sharp contrast to the January-to-December Gregorian calendar, where the year ends on the last day of December and the new year starts from first day of January , at a time when most of the countries are in the throes of winter under thick blankets of snow , in India and many asian countries the new year heralds the advent of spring . Nature is at her colourful best , adorned by trees in full bloom and teeming with a variety of fruits , offering the lush promise of yet another abundantly yielding agricultural year . The general air is one of merriment , carnival and festivity expressing itself in multiple forms as afore-mentioned .
For Hindus in Kerala , vishu , heralded by the bright yellow flowers in cassia fistula trees that bloom around this time , ushers in the new year . It signifies the Sun’s transit to Aries and falls on the spring equinox . Vishu means ‘equal’ in sanskrit , to mean a day with equal number of daylight and night hours. The year’s agro activities are planned on that day . My most treasured memories of vishu date back to the celebrations in my ancestral village where I would be directed to open my eyes at dawn and look at the assorted fruits and vegetables , rice , betel leaf , gold coins , metal mirror etc overlaid by dazzlingly yellow cassia fistula flowers arranged in a bell metal vessel called ‘uruli’ in the puja room (of the house) alongside lit incense sticks and a lit bell metal lamp called ‘nilavilakku’ . This auspicious sighting at dawn on Vishu day was believed to bring in prosperity for the entire year . It was followed by fireworks and hand-outs from the elders in the family which aggregated to a tidy sum of money by noon and the same would be spent on goodies one wanted to possess .Thereafter all members of the family assembled for the ceremonial banana leaf lunch topped up with local desserts . One cannot help recalling Malayalam bard Vyloppilli’s words on vishu , ” Aethu Dhoosara Sankalpangalil Valarnnalum , Aethu Yanthravalkrutha Lokathil Pularnnalum , Manasilundavatte Gramatthin Vishudhdhiyum Manavum Mamathayum Itthiri Konnapoovum ” (even though fostered in varying belief systems , or any mechanized culture , may you cherish the pristine values of the village , its sweet scent , goodness and cute little cassia fistula flower) . The cassia fistula flower is symbolic of the relative purity and goodness of village life . Seen outside its earlier pastoral setting , the beauty and significance of many of these festivities are getting eroded by increasing urbanization , fast-paced living and a system of education that is far removed from any compulsion to allow space for learning native (in our case Malayalam) language and literature . Wisdom by hindsight may be , but it calls for a course correction to which we all need to be party to , if we are keen on preserving our culture and heritage .
April is also the month of Easter . The very same sense of newness and spiritual resurgence of Vishu is what I have observed in the Christian Lent culminating in Easter across a 40 day period, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry where he endured temptation by the Devil . The New Testament tells us that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. God has given people “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life . Every other religious festival in the calendar, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to , and illuminated by , the full climax of the Resurrection , in which all that has come before reaches fulfillment and fruition . They shine only in the light of the Resurrection . Easter is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ’s ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. So this is wishing every happiness to all my friends and well-wishers , encompassing all animate forms inhabiting this good earth , in the true spirit of Vishu and the promise of Easter – Loka samastha sukhino bavanthu….