Gudi Padwa is considered as an auspicious occasion to buy ornaments, house and other new things. It is regarded as a beginning of New Year by Maharashtrians. Read on to know about its significance.
Ignorance isn't always bliss
"My neighbours are Maharashtrians and every year on Gudi Padwa they bring sweets or some kind of goodies over to our house," says Malini Khanna. "My family has enjoyed this unquestioningly over the years, but last year my seven-year-old son asked me what that thing was hanging out of our neighbour's window and why they gave us sweets every year. I told him something vague about New Year, but sheepishly had to admit that I had no idea what the gudi was."
For both parents and children, Gudi Padwa means a day off from work or school. While they may know that this is the day when the Maharashtrians celebrate their New Year, most of them would be unaware of the rites, rituals and significance of this festival. This is a pity because in India one can learn about so many religions and cultures firsthand because there is such a multiplicity of people living cheek by jowl.
The celebration of springtime and harvest
This is a time of the year when the sun's rays increase in intensity, going from mellow to hot. The crops have been harvested and the fruits of the harvest are making their way to the marketplaces. Mangoes, the king of fruit, ripening to orange under the sun's warmth, are in season once again. The ripe smell of jackfruit fills the air. Shrubs and trees are bursting into flower. Everything is fresh and new. It looks and smells like spring (or the best impersonation of quintessential springtime that the Indian climate can do).
Gudi Padwa, also known as Ugadi, is celebrated on the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra, which according to the Gregorian calendar would fall sometime at the end of March and the beginning of April. This festival is supposed to mark the beginning of 'Vasant' or spring. According to the 'Brahma Purana', this is the day on which Brahma created the world after the deluge and time began to tick from this day forth.
India was, and still is to a certain extent, a predominantly agrarian society. Thus, celebrations and festivals were often linked to the turn of the season and to the sowing and reaping of crops. There is a theory that the word 'padwa' might have its roots in the Sanskrit word for crop, which is 'Pradurbhu.' The word 'padwa' as used contemporarily means 'New Year', but this day also marks the end of one harvest and the beginning of a new one, which for an agricultural community would signify the beginning of a New Year. In the case of Gudi Padwa, it is celebrated at the end of the Rabi season. The term 'padava' or 'padavo' is also associated with Diwali, another New Year celebration that comes at the end of the harvesting season, thus substantiating the agricultural link to the festival.
On the festive day, courtyards in village houses will be swept clean and plastered with fresh cowdung. Even in the city, people take the time out to do some springcleaning. Women and children work on intricate rangoli designs on their doorsteps, the vibrant colours mirroring the burst of colour associated with spring. Everyone dresses up in new clothes and it is a time for family gatherings. Specialities like soonth panak and chana usal are eaten on this day.
Traditionally, families are supposed to begin the festivities by eating the bittersweet leaves of the neem tree. Sometimes, a paste of neem leaves is prepared and mixed with ajwain, gul, tamarind and jaggery. All the members of the family consume this paste, which is believed to purify the blood and strengthen the body's immune system against diseases.
While the 'padwa' part has been explained, you're probably wondering what a 'gudi' is. A 'gudi' is a pole on top of which an upturned brass or silver pot called a kalash is placed. The gudi is covered with a colourful silk cloth and decorated with coconuts, marigolds and mango leaves that symbolize nature's bounty. On Gudi Padwa, you will find gudis hanging out of windows or otherwise prominently displayed in traditional Maharashtrian households.
Some Maharashtrians see the gudis as a symbol of victory associated with the conquests of the Maratha forces lead by the great hero Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Gudis are also displayed as they are expected to ward off evil and invite prosperity and good luck into the house.