Spring: The Season of Festivals in South Asia
Traditional Nowruz setting at the White House
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Spring: The Season of Festivals in South Asia


Ah, spring is finally here!

The end of winter and the start of spring is a sign of renewal, awakening, planting, and life in many cultures across the world. Because of this, the start of spring is a time for several festivals and new year celebrations throughout many South-Central Asian cultures.

The most famous of these is probably Nowruz, which marks the first day of spring in the Persian calendar and the start of the new year. In 2015, Nowruz will occur on Friday, March 20. But Nowruz celebrations are not only limited to Iran — they form an integral part of the culture of all regions influenced by the historical greater Persian culture. Nowruz is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus states, the former Soviet Central Asian states, Kurdistan, Xinjiang, and in many parts of the subcontinent, especially Kashmir. Nowruz is a largely secular festival, though it originated from ancient Zoroastrian rituals.

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In India, several calendars begin around the start of spring, while there are many spring festivals. Most Indians either follow the Gregorian Calendar or local, regional calendars. Nonetheless, there have been attempts at popularizing national, Hindu calendars. The official manifestation of this is the Indian National Calendar, or the Saka Calendar, which was promulgated in 1957 and attempted to harmonize multiple Hindu calendars. Its year zero is 78 C.E. and does not correspond with any widely known or important event. The Saka Calendar is widely neglected in India. A somewhat more popular, related calendar is the Vikram Samvat, a lunar calendar which dates its year zero to 56 B.C.E.. Many historical monuments and inscriptions throughout India are dated in Vikram Samvat years. The Vikram Samvat new year falls on March 21 this year, though it can occur anytime in a March to April period. As Nyepi, it is celebrated in Bali as the new year. Hindu groups in India have urged people to do more to celebrate the Hindu new year.

Many more popular new year or spring festivals occur at the regional level in South Asia. One of the largest of these is the new year festival known as Yugadi or Ugadi in Telugu and Kannada and Gudi Parwa in Marathi. It is celebrated across the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. In 2015, this festival too will be celebrated on March 21. Other new year events will occur in the Rajasthani and Sindhi calendars in late March and early April. However, by far the largest concentration of spring new year events is in mid-April. On April 14, the first day of the Bengali calendar, Pohela Boishakh will occur. The word Boishakh is related to the Punjabi Vaisakhi, a major harvest festival filled with fairs, also considered by many in Punjab to mark the new year. This too, occurs on April 14. The Tamil new year, Puthandu, and most of the Theravada Buddhist new years of Southeast Asia, such as the Thai Songkran and Burmese Thingyan occur either on or near April 13 or 14 in 2015. This may be because most of these festivals derive from the ancient Indian festival known as Sankranti, still widely celebrated across India.

All in all, March and April will witness a dazzling array of spring festivals and new year celebrations throughout southern Asia. Happy Spring!

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