Ugadi is the New Year in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra it is also known as Gudi Padva. This is celebrated on the first day after the New Moon, which occurs closest to the vernal equinox. Since it is based on the moon it marks the New Year in a Chandramana calendar. Chandra is for moon and mana for measure.

Close on heels to this, is the observance of the New Year by the other communities of the land following the Sauramana calendar, the calendar that measures the movement of the sun.

In Kerala it is celebrated as Vishu, where first thing in the morning the family members are taken by the mother, to view VishuKani, an arrangement of flowers, fruits and a mirror – the first set of objects to be viewed on the start of a New Year.

In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Puththandu, New Year or Varuda Pirappu, birthof a new year. In Sri Lanka, the same day is celebrated as the Sinhala New Year, Aluth Avurudda.

In Orissa, it is celebrated as Bisuba, again coming from the root word Bisu or Vishu. In Nepal it is celebrated as Biska. In Bengal it is celebrated as Nabo Barsho.

In Assam it is Bohag, Rangali Bihu.

In Punjab, the New Year is welcomed as Baisakhi.

Vishu, Bisuba, Biska, Bihu, all come from the same root word Vishu which stands for equinoxAn equinox is when the Sun is exactly over the equator and the day and night are equal.

The Indian word for equator is VisvadruttaRekha, meaning that which splits the world into two halves.

The word Vishu thus denotes equal and a sense of balance.

This point of balance of the sun, in its annual transit, served as an ideal point to start a New Year. It was an ideal time to take a reckoning of the skies and balance oneself, one’s accounts, one’s life, one’s relations and one’s goals before embarking on the next year.

Across the land of India and also in most ancient civilizations this period, window of balanced time, came to be celebrated as the start of the new calendar year.

It was the equinox, the sun being on the equator and crossing over to the northern hemisphere.  So this was the right time for the start of a New Year across the world in the Northern Hemisphere.

This New Year celebration was based on the movement of the sun.

It was celebrated not only in different parts of India, but in Persia too, as Nowroz and also in different parts of Europe in the pre-medieval days.

This shows that the people then lived in consonance with nature.

What is interesting to note here is the use of the term Ugadi for this New Year.

Adi is start, beginning. So Yuga Adi or Ugadi, denotes start of a Yuga.

Even though it denotes the start of a New Year it is not called Varsha Adi but is instead called Yuga Adi. How does one come to terms with this term, since Yuga is usually correlated with a large span of time, whereas we are only moving into the next year?

Yuga is just not a long period of time as is generally thought to be.

The word Yuga means alignment, like in Yoga which aligns body, mind and breath. Yuga is an alignment of astral bodies.

There are many such conjunctions, alignments that keep happening in the sky as the earth, moon and planets keep revolving around the sun, day in and day out.

Each of these alignments occur at varying frequencies ranging from 1 year to 5 years to 60 years to 360 years to 26000 years to 4,32,000 years.

Each of these alignments occur periodically and unfailingly.

Each of these alignments serve as a means to track time at different scales.

Each of these alignments is called a Yuga.

Yuga thus is a generic time unit. Depending on the scale, it denotes different alignments and different periods of time.

In the case of the New Year, a conjunction of the earth, sun and moon coming in alignment near the vernal equinox every year – a perfectly balanced point in the earth-sun-moon system, was deemed by our ancient, knowledgeable people as an apt milestone to usher in a New Day, a New Year and new hopes.


Earth, Moon and Sun in alignment near vernal Equinox – Ugadi

This day has come to stay and be celebrated as Yuga Adi or Ugadi.


February – A Lovely Month

February is a short sweet month. It is a time when the cold winters have just receded.  A month which is not yet hot.  A transitory month.  A month of spring in some parts of the world. A month where trees, plants and over all nature bloom forth with life after the cold, when they were in hibernation.

This is the month, when nature begins to bloom. In recent times, this month is much awaited for, for the celebration of Lovers’ Day, Valentine’s Day on February 14th.

Why is this day alone celebrated as Lovers’ Day? And what is its connection with Saint Valentine?

There are at least 3 Saint Valentines in the early part of the first millennium.  These three different Saints were all known by the name Valentine or Valentines.

Emperor Claudius of Rome thought that single men made better soldiers than married men with wives and families.

 Emporer Claudius II

Emperor Claudius

So he outlawed marriages for young men. Saint Valentine defied the decree of Emperor Claudius and got young lovers married, in secret. When this act of Valentine was discovered, he was put to death. This probably could be the reason for linking Saint Valentine to young lovers.

 Saint Valentine

St.Valentine getting a couple married – A painting

In all the old cultures of the world, including India, this transitory month between winter and summer, February and March, was earlier celebrated as the Vasantha Utsav month. The Vasantha season was considered fit not only for humans to fall in love this month and marry, even the divinities thought this month fit to marry in. Thus Rama married Sita, Shiva married Parvathi, and in South India, Kartikeya married Devasena during this period.

It is a season of celestial marriages when nature is more pleasant and conducive for endearing thoughts and deeds. It is in this month that Krishna played with the Gopika.

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Krishna playing Holi with Gopika – a painting

The Vasantha Utsav, the  month long celebration culminates in the Holi festival, festival of colours, festival of joy when people come together, forgive each other, bond with each other, forgetting the mistakes of the past.

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Colours of Holi

In Punjab it is celebrated as Basant Panchami, also has “Hola Mohalla” festival.


Mustard Fields in Spring

In Rajasthan as “Gajh Shingaar”, “Jamboo Holi” and in Bengal as “Nabanna Utsav”. In Goa it is celebrated as “Shigmotsav”.

In down south, in Tamil Nadu, from time immemorial, it has been celebrated as “Indira Vizha” or the festival of Indra, for the whole month.

In Tamil Nadu, one of the descendents of the Maratha King, Chatrapati Shivaji, a king by the name Sarfoji Maharaja of Tanjavur, used to visit the Manmada temple, the temple of Cupid, with his wife everyday of this month and encouraged young lovers to visit the riverside and enjoy the beauty which nature has to offer.

What comes forth to us from this, is that,  much in contrast with a single evening, spent in pubs or night club parties or hotel dinners,  it is not  February 14th alone that is the Lovers’ Day, as celebrated in the limited sense now, but it is a ageless tradition of a whole month of celebration of the beauty that nature has to offer us.

A beauty to be enjoyed in the company of our loved ones, adhering to the norms of a civilised society, in a civilized manner.  It is a time for re-establishing the sense of harmony between loved ones and with nature.

Jaisalmer Desert Festival


Desert Festival of Jaisalmer is celebrated every year in January February. Jaisalmer is a World Heritage Site located in Thar Desert, in Rajasthan.

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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

The city is nicknamed ‘The Golden City of India’, for when the sun light is reflected on the sands of the desert city, it appears Golden.

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Jaisalmer, the Golden City of India

Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh

Jaisalmer City is named after Rajput king, Raja Maharaval Jaisal Singh who established this city in 1146 CE.

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Raja Maharawal Jaisal Singh

The word Jaisal refers to the King and the word Mer, Meru, means ‘Hill’, ‘Pyramidical Hill’. The word Jaisalmer literally means, “Jaisal’s Hill Fort”.

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Jaisalmer fort

A Desert

The dry bed of Sarasvati River flows near Jaisalmer. This whole region became a desert since the drying up of the river 4500 years ago.

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Dry Channel of River Sarasvati near Jaisalmer

The Festival

The Jaisalmer Desert Festival is organized by the Rajasthan Government Tourism Department.

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This festival was started to attract foreigners to the state, who want to experience the culture of the state. This festival is celebrated over three days, when visitors from all over the world attend. The rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan is showcased. The audience is treated to the state music and folk dance.

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Jaisalmer Desert Festival

Camel Race

One of the main features of this festival are the Camel Races.

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Camel Race

Other Contests

Apart from these Camel races, other contests like Turban Tying contest, Best Mustache contest and Mr Desert contest are conducted.

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Mr Longest Mustache

The festival culminates at Sam sand dunes with scintillating performance by folk artists under the Full Moon, reflecting light on sand dunes, making for a wonderful ambiance.

Beating the Retreat

The Republic Day festivities last for four days until the 29th of January, since 30th January marks the day when the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Therefore 30th January is also observed as Martyrs’ Day in India besides being remembered as Gandhi Martyrdom Day.

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Beating the Retreat Ceremony

On 29th January, Beating the Retreat, starts at sun down, from Amar Jawan Jyothi, the memorial for martyrs, who lost their lives during the freedom struggle. It is a march to the tune of mellifluous music, signalling the end of Republic Day festivities, with which the armed forces return back to their respective duties.

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Beating the Retreat Function

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Military Bands Sound Beating the Retreat

Ratha Sapthami

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Ratha Sapthami – the day the Sun turned

The day on which the sun turned northwards to greet Bheeshma so that he could breathe his last, has aptly come down across millennia by the name “Ratha Sapthami”.

Sun in India is expressed as travelling across the skies in a chariot, ratha.

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Sun depicted as a chariot

Uttarayana is the day the Sun turns northward in its journey.

The day this chariot turned northward during Bheeshma’s times, according to Mahabharata text, was on Sapthami i.e., the 7th phase of the moon. Hence, the momentous Uttarayana that was awaited by Bheeshma is also known as “Ratha Sapthami”, the Sapthami of the Sun’s Ratha, chariot.

Ratha Sapthami – The Day Dedicated to a Great Warrior

Another perspective comes from a different angle, that of the character of Bheeshma.

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This 7th day of moon, Sapthami, was the last day in the life of Bheeshma – an elderly, wise, righteous and brave warrior of all times, who stood by his vow of safeguarding his kingdom. To keep the memory of this compelling personage, a Maha Ratha, alive across generations, through the land, this Sapthami probably came to be called Ratha Sapthami, the Sapthami of Bheeshma a great Ratha, hero, warrior.

Bheeshma breathed his last on the day after Ratha Sapthami, which day is commemorated as Bheeshma Ashtami, “Ashtami” meaning the 8th phase of the moon.

More on this in our book, Historical Krishna.

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Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

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Vasanta Panchami or Basant Panchami festival heralds the arrival of spring in India, Vasanta Ritu.

After winter solstice, the sun starts its northward journey from the tropic of Capricorn, Uttarayana. With this, winter slowly ebbs and warmer days begin to arrive.

Vasanta Ritu – A change in Season

Vasanta Ritu is welcomed in the northern parts of India which reel from severe cold in winter. We see a pleasant change in seasons with the arrival of spring.

In the celebrations of Vasanta Ritu, the pinnacle is the festival of Vasanta Panchami.

Sarasvati Brahmotsav

While Vasanta Panchami is celebrated as spring festival, it also was the festival of River Sarasvati. In many parts of India, Sarasvati Brahmotsav, a festival spanning 5 days, starts from Vasanta Panchami.

Vasanta Panchami – A Festival for Sarasvati

One may wonder what is the connection between Vasanta Panchami and the festival for Sarasvati?

With the arrival of spring, the glaciers in the Himalayas, which used to feed the River Sarasvati would melt causing an increase in the flow of River Sarasvati in days gone by.


River Sarasvati

Mother Sarasvati – The very life line

River Sarasvati, the mother of all rivers, nourished the Sindhu Sarasvati civilization which flourished more than 5000 years ago. She was literally the life line of this civilization.

Greek records of 300 BCE, i.e., a little over 2000 years ago speak of over 1500 prosperous cities along the banks between the Sindhu and Sarasvati. This finds mention in Elphinstone’s book, ‘History of India’.


1500 cities along Sarasvati River

For all these people of this civilization, the gush of fresh Himalayan waters augured prosperity. With Sarasvati waters, also came the Himalayan riverine soil which made the lands on either banks very fertile and that led to good harvest in the seasons to come.

Yellow flowers – A sight to behold

During this season, the mustard plants, Sarson, cultivated along the banks of this river, go into full bloom. In days of yore, when this mighty Sarasvati was in full flow, it must have indeed been a breath taking sight to see miles and miles of land along its banks swathed in yellow colour from the mustard flowers.


Yellow Mustard Flowers

This sight is what gave River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati who was embodied by this river, a yellow drape during this time, and since time immemorial people have therefore associated Goddess Sarasvati with the colour yellow during this season.


Goddess Sarasvati draped in yellow

As a tradition, people continue to wear yellow clothes on Vasanta Panchami.

Birthplace of Veda

Along with the fertile lands on the banks of the river, education also gained prominence during the times when Sarasvati was in flow, because, the Rishis of India lived along these banks and composed the Veda, the universal knowledge base, on the banks of this river.


Hence, the River Sarasvati and Goddess Sarasvati embodied by this river came to be associated with education and knowledge.

Vasanta Panchami –The day to Revere knowledge

So, for people across India, Vasanta Panchami is also the day to revere knowledge and education. Children are initiated into education system on this day with the belief that their knowledge will grow in leaps and bounds just as the gushing flow of the mighty River Sarasvati.

Today, instead of the flowing river, we have only dry rivers beds of River Sarasvati here and there along its original path.

This river went dry more than 2000 years ago. But, the mustard flowers continue to bloom in this belt, bathing it yellow even today.

People may have forgotten the River Sarasvati with the flow of time, but, the traditions from those times have continued from generation to generation, and Vasanta Panchami is a living festival even to this day.

Mattu Pongal / Kannu Pidi

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Animal Festivals

Celebrating festivals with Nature is not only for the humans. The people not only realized but also cherished the animals as part of nature. The domesticated animals had their own festivals every year which was celebrated with gusto and gaiety.

Worship of Animals

Different parts of India had their own festivals in which they worshipped the animals and had animal races. The cows, the oxen, the buffaloes are washed, painted, anointed with Turmeric, Kumkum, taken round in processions in festivities.

In Tamil Nadu and Andhra, the cows and oxen festival is celebrated the day after Shankaranti, Pongal as the festival of Mattu Pongal.

Mattu Pongal

Pongal being a harvest festival, the cows and the oxen that help in the harvest are the key components of Mattu Pongal. As part of the festival the oxen are washed, decorated and paraded with tilak on their forehead. The oxen are also offered the fresh food in appreciation of their contribution to the harvest.

Kannu Pidi

This festival Kannu Pidi also known as Mattu Pongal is specially celebrated in Tamil Nadu, one day after Pongal. The varieties of rice dishes prepared from the newly harvested rice is taken by the women of the house to their mother’s or brother’s house and made into ceremonial rice bowls. These are then fed in the courtyard to birds-the crows, house sparrows, squirrels and such other domestic creatures.

Recognizing Animals

This festival has twin perspectives. When you feed the birds and the squirrels, with the remnants of your rice dishes after your major festival Pongal in a ceremonial way, then you recognize your coexistence there with these birds and squirrels that live with you in the same living space.

We then tend to look at them as people who share the space and not as people who compete for the same space. This brings in our heart a sense of live and let live. A sense of compassion for our fellow creatures. If we do it one day of the year in a ceremonial way, then we tend to continue this practice through the year.

Keeping up Bond with family

The Kannu Pidi festival has another important aspect packaged into it. The lady of the house takes these house dishes and visits her mother’s house, maternal house, brother’s house to offer these dishes to the birds. This act keeps up the bond of the married women with her parents and siblings.

Breaking the Ice

In villages and small towns, where families live in close proximity through the year, there could be instances where frictions arise between families. These frictions could drift the families apart. On Kannu Pidi occasion, the married lady visits her estranged mother’s, brother’s house; then it is an opportunity to break the ice and get back to a congenial relationship.

These two nice aspects of oneness with the creatures living in the house area and continuing the relationship on the maternal side is built in beautifully in this one festival Kannu Pidi.