Puthandu, which literally refers to New Year, is one of the very important festivals celebrated by people in Tamilnadu. The day is popularly referred to as Tamil New Year across the globe. Tamilians living across different parts of the world celebrate this day with great festivity.
When is Puthandu celebrated?
Puthandu falls on the day when the Sun moves into the first zodiac house, Aries or Mesha (मेष).
Tamil New Year is celebrated based on the Hindu Solar Calendar. Just like the special Solar and Lunar Calendars followed by different religious groups, people in Tamilnadu follow the Solar Calendar based on the Vedic astrology. In such a solar calendar, the movement of Sun from one zodiac house to another zodiac house marks the beginning of a new month. Based on Vedic astrology, special almanac is prepared by the Pandits, counting the transit of Sun and moon.
Hindu (Tamil) Calendar has a cycle of 60 years and each year has a name. The Tamil New Year beginning on 14th April 2016 is named ‘Dhurmuki!’
The 60 year cycle is important in Tamil calendar just like other traditional calendars of India. The 60 years is classified based on 5 full transits (From Aries to Pisces) of the Planet Jupiter around the Sun. Jupiter takes about 1 year to move from one zodiac sign to another zodiac sign. It takes 12 years to complete one full circle. Completion of 5 circle marks the completion of 60 years.
Just like any calendar year, Tamil calendar has 12 months, which begins at Chithirai. Typically, Tamil Puthandu is also referred as Chithirai Thirunal. It is an auspicious festival in terms of astrological movements and in terms of fresh beginning of a new year. Generally, Tamil New Year falls on 13th or 14 April, every year.
In 2016, Tamil Puthandu falls on 14th April.
The same day is celebrated as Mesha Sankranti in Orissa and many states and religious groups that follow the Solar Calendar as their Hindu New Year. In fact, 14 April is celebrated as New Year in many other states of India such as in West Bengal as Nobo Borsho, in Kerala as Vishu and in Assam as Rongali Bihu. And just a day before, Baisakhi is celebrated in Punjab. Apart from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and many other Asian countries observe the traditional calendars of India, which is based on Vedic astrology.
How is Puthandu celebrated?
Being an important festival, the celebration mood begins a few days before the arrival of Tamil New Year. In addition to the typical celebration of any festival like cleaning home, wearing new dress, there are quite a few specialties to this festival Puthandu. Tamil people greet each other by saying “Puthandu Vazthukal!”
Preparation for Puthandu
Every home is cleaned, made spic and span, days before the New Year celebration. Old and unused items are disposed off. There are many families that prefer painting the homes, giving new color and life to it.
- The entrance of the home is decorated with turmeric, sandal and vermilion.
- On the day before New Year, fresh leaves of mango tree are tied at the entrance, which is very auspicious.
- Although wearing new clothes on Puthandu is not a popular practice, there are some families who wear new clothes on this auspicious day.
- This is one of the special occasions for the newly married couples who celebrate their first Puthandu after marriage.
- Just like any other festival, people draw colorful rangoli at the entrance as well in the Pooja room.
Preparations for Puthandu Pooja and Rituals
After waking up before the sunrise and taking bath, the elderly woman of the family makes arrangement for the pooja. There is no special deity worshipped on Tamil Puthandu. People worship their favorite god.
Pooja room is decorated with mango leave festoons and colorful decorations. A big plate is placed at the floor, on which all the items offered to the God are placed.
Things needed for Puthandu Pooja
- New Almanac (The almanac is decorated with sandalwood, turmeric and vermilion. )
- All fruits (mostly seasonal fruits like banana, mango, sapotilla, guava, pome, apple, etc.) and there is no limitations on number or types of fruits used for pooja.
- Colorful flowers
- Baby neem leaves and neem flowers
- Plantain (vegetable)
- Raw rice and pulses
- Any freshly harvested products
- Betel leaves
- New clothes for the family (kept in a separate plate)
- Gold and silver coins (If afforded / available)
Kani Parthal (Seeing the Fruits)
After drawing the rangoli, the Pooja offering plate is kept over the rangoli. All the items are arranged beautifully on the plate. The rice and pulses are kept in small cups. Gold / silver coins or new jewelry are also placed on the plate.
A big mirror is placed beside the Pooja offering plate. All items placed on the Pooja plate are reflected in the mirror.
Seeing the real Pooja plate and mirror image is considered auspicious. This is termed as ‘Kani Parthal.’ It is believed that those who see both the real pooja plate and its reflection in the mirror, are bestowed and blessed with abundance (the things kept in the plate get doubled by the mirror, which symbolize double happiness and wealth!)
All these arrangements are done on the eve of the New Year Puthandu. Soon after waking up, all family members take a look at the Pooja plate and the mirror image.
- Taking head bath is a ritual on this day.
- After bathing, the elderly woman gifts new dress to the family members.
- The recipes cooked are also placed as a part of the Pooja offering.
- All members assemble at the Pooja room.
- A simple aarti is performed and camphor is lighted in a lamp.
- A teaspoon of neem flower pachadi (an important recipe of Puthandu) is fed soon after completing the Pooja. It is taken before eating anything else.
Special Recipes of Puthandu
Every festival accompanies special recipes depicting the core of the celebration. Tamil New Year is unique in terms of the recipes cooked on this day. The feast of Puthandu is quite lavish and there are special recipes that mark the significance of this new year festival of Tamil people.
People eat a balanced feast on this day, including all six flavors- sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent, astringent.
Eating all six flavors in the major meal of the day not only signifies good health, but also implies that life has ups and downs, sweet and bitterness. We should manage the bitterness of the life and balance it with sweet things.
Neem Flower Pachadi
Neem flower tastes bitter, but is healthy. It is eaten as the first thing on New year day. Neem is a holy tree and has a lot of medicinal and healing power. It can treat the intestinal worms and infection. Besides, there are many other benefits of Neem flowers.
Eating bitter thing first symbolize that we are equipped to manage bitter things effectively. Besides, it also prepares the stomach for eating a lavish feast.
Neem flower pachadi is cooked in many ways.
- Neem flowers are cooked in jaggery water, which gives a bitter-sweet taste, which is the most popularly followed in many Tamil families.
- In a few communities, neem flowers are cooked with jaggery, a bit of chili, salt, tamarind and baby neem leaves, which carry all six flavors.
Tamil New Year marks the end of spring and onset of summer, which is also the season of mangoes. Unripe raw mangoes are used to make pachadi.
Mangoes are cut into small pieces and cooked in jaggery. It gives a different flavor, a combination of sourness and sweetness, symbolizing the mixture of all emotions in life.
To compensate the bitterness, the popular dessert rice kheer is cooked with raw rice or vermicelli or sago. The sweet delicacy forms an inseparable part of the Puthandu feast.
- Raw rice or vermicelli or sago is cooked in milk with cardamom and a bit of nutmeg, until the milk becomes thicker.
- For sweetness, sugar or jaggery is introduced to the kheer after the main ingredient is completely cooked in the milk.
- Lavish sprinkle of nuts (almonds, cashew and raisins) roasted in ghee and a pinch of saffron, garnishes the kheer.
To beat the heat, cucumber raita is prepared. Finely chopped cucumber is added in curd (yogurt) and tempered with mustard seeds. It also helps in digesting the heavy feast.
Other Puthandu Recipes
- Raw plantain is used as part of the feast. It is cooked as raw plantain curry (stir fry vegetable) or chips.
- White pumpkin (ash gourd) is considered a holy vegetable in many communities and used on all auspicious days. It is used to cook Sambhar (lentils cooked in tamarind water).
- Vegetable stew is made with cabbage or plantain stem.
- Potato curry and beans curry (or double beans / cabbage) is cooked.
- Pappad is always there to accompany the lavish feast of Puthandu
- Butter milk spiced with ginger, chili, mint and coriander and tempered with mustard seeds and asafetida is also served with the Puthandu meal.
- Jaggery water is prepared by melting the jaggery in water and flavoring it with cardamom. This makes a very refreshing and energetic drink for summer.
Garlic and onions are not used by many people on this auspicious day of Tamil new year.
Most of the recipes cooked on Puthandu associate with the seasonal changes.
Tamil Puthandu is a public holiday, not only in Tamil Nadu but also in the neighboring country Sri Lanka having a considerable percentage of Tamil population.