Isn’t traveling to a place more fun during a festive time? A time when celebrations are in the air, homes and offices decorated, and people from different places gather together? Called Vishu in Kerala, Bihu in Assam, Shubho Naboborsho in Bengal, Baishakhi in Punjab, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu and Naya Barsha Ko Shuvkamana in Nepal too! This weekend sure promises to be a festive one! So join in as we take you across India to be a part of some amazing celebrations!

Literary meaning ‘the first sight’, Vishu an important festival is considered as the beginning of the New Year by Keralites. Uniquely different from other festivals, it is not linked with any religion but is celebrated with great solemnity as it is commonly believed that the fortunes of the forthcoming year depend on the object first seen by one in the morning of Vishu day. The most significant rite related to Vishu is the Kani Kanal. On the previous night of Vishu, a Kani (an omen) is prepared with all the materials that are considered auspicious. These are the first things looked at immediately on waking up. The kani consists of a round shaped metal bell-vessel known as ‘Urule’ filled with raw rice. A folded new piece of cloth is spread over the vessel. It is then adorned with auspicious items such as a cucumber, betel leaves and nuts, a metallic mirror, beautiful yellow blossoms of Konna tree (cassia fistula), a book of palm leaves known as Grandha and some gold coins. These articles are illuminated by placing two coconut halves containing oil and lighted wicks, a metal bell lamp called nilavilakku is also placed next to the vessel.

Early in the morning the eldest female member wakes up and lights the lamp, after which she awakens other family members to look at the ‘Kani’. It is also carried to the cattle-shed so that the cattle are not deprived of this special sight! Another significant event is the Vishu Kaineettam, which implies gifting of money to children and junior members of the family. The poor people are also remembered and silver coins along with raw rice are distributed to them. Celebrations then move from bursting crackers to enjoying some lip-smacking delicacies! Renowned temples like Guruvayur, Padmanaba Kshetram and Sabarimala are visited by devotees who come to look at the Vishukanis prepared in these temples.

Moving up north to the state of Punjab is one of the most popular festivals, Baisakhi celebrated with great pomp and joy. Also referred to as Vaisakhi, this festival has two prime connotations. The first one propounds the evolution of Order of the Khalsa, while the second one speaks of the harvesting season. The religious history of Baisakhi tells of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Master, who initiated the holy Khalsa faith on 13th April, 1699. For the peasants of Punjab the vaisakh or baisakh month is very auspicious as they bring back the rewards for their crop during this time.

It is said that on this day Guru Gobind Singh after a powerful speech to infuse courage amongst fellowmen asked if anyone willing to sacrifice his life for his faith, to come forward. On his call five brave Sikhs came up to the Guru and were later recognized by Guru Gobind Singh as the first representatives of the Khalsa faith called Panj Piara or ‘Beloved Five’.

After blessing them with a Pahul ceremony, he stirred with a sword called Khanda Sahib, the batasha, that his wife, Mata Sundari Ji had put into water in an iron vessel. The congregation recited verses from scriptures while the Guru performed the sacred ceremony, the water considered the sacred nectar of immortality called amrit was first given to the five volunteers, then drunk by the guru and later distributed amongst the crowd. With this ceremony, all those present, irrespective of caste or creed, became members of the Khalsa Pantha (the Order of the Pure Ones).

Since the crops of the Punjab fields are harvested in the month of Baisakhi, farmers celebrate the event with Bhangra dance and folk music; fairs are also organized with great fanfare and excitement.

Coming to TamilNadu, New Year’s day is celebrated with the arrival of the Tamil Month of Chitthirai, corresponding to the Gregorian calender of mid April. Typically this falls between the 14th and 16th April and is known as ‘Puthandu Vazthukal’ in Tamil. As Pondicherry is largely populated with the Tamil people the festivities are part and parcel of Pondicherry too. While on Pondicherry, greetings are exchanged & temples are visited, the day is dedicated especially to Lord Brahma, the creator of the world. Celebrations take place on a grand scale on the sea front with fireworks, live music, folk performances, road shows and cultural programs that light up the evenings.

Called Bihu in Assam, where the place comes alive and is celebrated by all, it is the most important of all festivals that transcends all barriers bringing people together irrespective of caste, creed, religion.

While not one but three Bihus are observed, Bohag Bihu  or Rongali Bihu is celebrated in April, Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in January and Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu in October/ November. With the festival signifying farming, while Rongali Bihu marks the beginning of sowing of seeds, Kati Bihu marks the completion of sowing and transplantation of the saplings and Magh Bihu marks the advent of the harvest period.

Introduced by the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, the festival of Nabo Barsha is celebrated with great deal of enthusiasm and energy not only by the Bengalis but also by the tribal people in hilly areas. It’s the time to say adieu to the past year and welcome the new. Houses are decorated with fresh flowers and rangolis, and an earthen pot bearing the symbol of Swastika is kept in the middle of rangoli, believed to bring in wealth and prosperity! Bengalis dressed in traditional attire take part in the early morning processions called Prabhat Pheries, and some even go to the nearby river for a holy dip to wash away all the sins. Following this, idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi are worshiped for one’s well-being and longevity, praying to the clouds for water is another popular ritual followed.

North, south or east…enjoy this weekend with family and friends as it promises to be an auspicious one!