Puthandu: Tamil New Year

The Tamil New Year or Varsha Pirappu or more typically Puthandu is celebrated on the first day of Chithirai month of the traditional Tamil calendar which generally falls around the 13th or 14th of April. 1 Chitirai is an auspicious day for the Tamil people in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa. At the origins of this civilization, this period had the function of determining the seasons.

The main aspect of the Tamil new year is the vision of Kanni or to see things those are bearers of luck. People arrange jewelry, gold, silver, mirror, new clothes for the family members, the new calendar, banana, areca nut, betel leaves, uncooked rice, coconuts, fruits and vegetables in season.

After the vision of Kanni, it's time for a ritual bath after which the older woman of the family draw the Kolam or traditional Rangoli on the floor in front of the main gate. The typical Kolam for new year is the one depicting a traditional lamp that is called Vilakku kolam. People then decorate all doors with the mango tree leaves.

After this decorative phase the family gathers for prayers that begin with the lighting of the Kuthu Vilakku, the traditional oil lamp, which is placed, with the Kudam, a bronze pot containing clean water and decorated with mango leaves, to form the niraikudam for Panchanga Pooja in front of the deity effigy of the house that is adorned with chandan or paste of sandalwood powder and water, red kumkum powder and yellow turmeric paste.

During the ritual people read the Panchangam, the predictions of the new year, and eat the Neem pachadi which is basically a mixture of jaggery, chilies, salt, leaves and/or flowers of neem and tamarind. Tamils also prepare traditional dishes such as Maanga Pachadi, based on raw mango accompanied by a sweet sour sauce. People distribute new clothes and wish mutually Puthandu Vazhthugal or Happy new year.

Obviously the elements that characterize this ritual may differ from one region to other and some prefer to hear the reading of the Panchanga at the neighborhood temple or with the family. Some even undertake the Tharpanam, a commemorative ritual towards deceased family members, but in principle the ones listed are the basic steps. The day's menu is based mainly on green bananas, jackfruit and payasam.

Because it is a very ancient event, there are several references to this festivity in Tamil literature, especially in the Nedunalvidaa of Nakkirar, a famous Tamil poet of the third century.