Op-Ed Commentary: Chris Devonshire-Ellis and Teja Yenamandra
Feb. 2 – As we approach Chinese New Year’s Eve this evening, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at other New Year celebrations across Asia. Systems of calculation vary, and some countries don’t even hold their New Year on the same month, let alone the same day. Here we take a look at New Year in other Asian countries:
Bhutan – February 3rd/4th
Known as Losar, the Bhutanese New Year is based on the ancient Tibetan Bon religion calendar, which then subsequently influenced the Chinese New Year. The term Losar is the Tibetan word for “new year.” Lo holds the semantic field “year, age”; sar holds the semantic field “new, fresh.” Losar is the most important holiday in Bhutan and Tibet. Losar is celebrated for 15 days, with main celebrations occurring on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang (a Tibetan cousin of beer). The second day of Losar is known as King’s Losar (gyalpo losar). Losar is traditionally preceded by the five-day practice of Vajrakilaya, and often falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year (occasionally with one day or with one lunar month difference). Losar is also celebrated by the Yolmo and Sherpa tribes, although different regions in the country have their own respective new years.
Cambodia – April 13th/14th
Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer) literally means “Enter the New Year,” and marks the holiday that celebrates the New Year. The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, and the end of the harvesting season. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. The holiday takes the form of three days of festivities; “Maha Songkran,” derived from Sanskrit, is the name of the first day of the New Year celebration—and is the ending of a past year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up, light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines. The members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck, people wash with holy water their face in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before bed. This day is followed by Virak Wanabat, the second day of the New Year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
Tngay Leang Saka is the name of the third day of the New Year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and elders with perfumed water. The bathing of the Buddha images symbolizes that water will be needed for all kinds of plants and lives. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future. 2011 is, incidentally, the Year 2555 in the Buddhist Era calendar.
India – (various dates)
Owing to the vast cultural and ethnic diversity of India, New Year’s Day is celebrated in different times of the year at different places. Generally, the lunar calendar (the Hindu calendar is also based on the movement of the Moon) has been the base of calculations from ancient times. Most of these celebrations are based on the months in the Hindu lunar calendar.
Rongali Bihu (Also called Bohag Bihu) is celebrated in mid-March. March 15, its celebration marks the first day of Hindu Solar calendar. It is a time of festivities as spring arrives and happiness abounds. It also marks the advent of seeding time.
Ugadi is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The name Ugadi is derived from the name “Yuga Adi,” translating to “the beginning of a new age.” It is celebrated on the first day of the Hindu month Chaitra, which marks the onset of spring. It is believed that Lord Brahma began creation on this day. Houses are given a thorough cleaning, people don new clothes and special dishes are prepared well ahead of the festival.
Gudi Padwa is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Maharashtra. It is celebrated on the same day as Ugadi (i.e., the first day of the month Chaitra). Courtyards of rural houses are cleaned and plastered with fresh cow dung. Designs called Rangolis are drawn on doorsteps. People wear new clothes and special dishes are prepared. Lord Brahma is worshipped on this day and the gudi, Brahma’s flag (also called Brahmadhvaj), is hoisted in every house as a symbolic representation of Rama’s victory over Ravana.
Puthandu, also known as Varsha pirappu, is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Chithirai, which falls on the 14th of April. Women draw patterns called kolams. A lamp called a kuttuvilaku is placed on the center of the kolam to eradicate darkness. A ritual called kanni also takes place. Kanni means ‘auspicious sight’. People wash jewelry, fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, rice etc., as it is a belief among Tamil people that such washing brings prosperity. People wear new clothes and special dishes are prepared for the occasion. A car festival is held at Tiruvadamarudur, near Kumbakonam.
Vishu is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Kerala. It is celebrated on the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam. Offerings to the divine called Vishukanni are neatly arranged on the eve of the festival and consist of rice, linen, cucumber, betel leaves, holy texts, coins and yellow flowers called konna (Cassia fistula). A bell metal lamp called nilavilakku is placed alongside the deity’s visage. It is considered auspicious to see the Vishukanni first thing in the morning. On this day, people read the Ramayana and attend temple, the Hindu place of worship. Children burst crackers, people wear new clothes, prepare special dishes and the elders of the house give out money to children, servants and tenants.
Cheiraoba is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Manipur. Sajibu Cheiraoba is an annual religious celebration in which certain rites and rituals are observed with a traditional devotion. The celebration marks the parting of the old year while welcoming the new year. The name ‘Cheiraoba’ is a combination of two words that have two different meanings—’Chahi’ (year) and ‘laoba’ (declaration). So, overall ‘Cheirao-ba’ means the announcement of the coming year. Cheiraoba falls on the same day as Ugadi or Gudi Padwa.
Navreh is the lunar calendar’s new year that is celebrated in Kashmir. This coincides with the first day of the Chaitra (spring) Navratras. This day finds mention in Rajtarangini and Nilamat Purana of Kashmir origin and is regarded as sacred in Kashmir as the Shivratri. The celebrated Arab scholar Alberuni has written that Kashmiris celebrate the second of Navaratras to commemorate victory of their greatest and famous king— Lalitaditya—and do so with great festivity, pomp and gaiety. The first celebration was a festival as the New Year in its own right. Navreh falls on the same day as Ugadi or Cheiraoba or Gudi Padwa.
Mahavishuva Sankranti, is celebrated as the Oriya New Year. On this day, religious people offer delicious pana—a sweet drink made of different types of fruits, water, milk, bela, curd and sugar or jaggery, to the Tulsi Plant, Lord Shiva and Shalagram and their deities in various temples of the state. People also drink pana with great enjoyment. During the festival you will find water pots placed on the roadsides to help the thirsty souls. Water is as also offered to animals and birds with equal enthusiasm. This Sankraniti is also known as Pana Sankranit to Jala Sankranti.
This day is also a celebration of Hanuman Jayanti. Mahabishuda Sankranti is also significant for Jhamu Yatra and this month long festival comes to an end. Patuas (those who observe it) keep fast and wander to various places to preach the religious significance the festival of the Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati and Goddess Mangala. On the concluding day, these Patuas discipline their senses for more penance and walk on fire and thorns to concentrate on spirituality for the dignity and property of life. Mahabishuba Sankranti generally falls on 13th or 14th of April. It is possible that it is celebrated on same day as Puthandu in Tamil Nadu.
Bestu Varas is the New Year’s Day for Gujratis and this falls on the day next to Diwali. Traditional Gujratis follow Vikram Samwat or Bikram Samwat. According to Hindu calendar systems, the Vikrama calendar begins with the month of Baishakh/Chaitra (April), or Kartak (October/November) in Gujarat. Bestu Baras generally falls in the month of October or November. On this day, people greet each other by uttering “ Saal Mubaarakthis,” an Urdu saying, but one that is said commonly by the Gujarati people. As Hindus believe morning starts at 4am, the day begins early with the sounds of with heavy fireworks to welcome the new year. Boys from the local area sell raw salt (collected from a salt evaporation pond), which they call “sabras, ” meaning “all taste,” to make the native’s new year prosperous. Houses are decorated with aaso palav, marigolds (galgota) toran (Door hangings) and rangoli beside front door. Home-made snacks are offered to the guests and neighbors who visit to celebrate the new year.
Cheti Chand is celebrated as New Year’s Day by Sindhis. According to the Hindu calendar, Cheti Chand is celebrated on the second day of the Chaitra month, and known as Chet in Sindhi. Hence it is known as CHET-I-CHAND. It is the second day of month chaitra (a day after Ugadi and Gudi Padwa).
Chaitti and Basoa/Bishu
The festivals of Chaitti and Basoa are celebrated as New Year festivals in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Chaitti is celebrated on the first day of month of Chaitra, which according to the Bikram Samwat, is the first day of year. The first day of this month (Chaitra Sankranti) is considered very important and is celebrated all over the state. Chaitti is cebrated on the same day as Ugadi and Gudi Padwa.
The festival of Basoa, also known as Bishu, is celebrated on the first day of the month of Baisakh. The aboriginal and farming folk celebrate the Basoa festival. Three days before the festival, people make little cakes with Kodra (a coarse grain) flour and wrap them up in leaves. After three days the cakes ferment, then on the morning of the festival day people invite the married daughters and other relatives and break and eat these cakes with honey and sweet water flavoured with jaggery. A ritual song is sung on this occasion.
Pohela Boishakh is the first day of the Bengali calendar, celebrated in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, and in Bengali communities in Assam and Tripura. Pohela Boishakh connects all ethnic Bengalis, irrespective of religious and regional differences. It falls on April 14 or April 15 of the Gregorian calendar, depending on the use of the new amended or the old Bengali calendar. In Bangladesh, it is celebrated on April 14, according to the official amended calendar designed by the Bangla Academy. In Bangladesh, Pohela Boishakh is a national holiday, and in West Bengal and Assam it is a public (state) holiday and is publicly celebrated on April 15 every year.
Baisakhi Festival, also called Vaisakhi, holds great importance for the Sikh community and farmers of Punjab. Baisakhi falls on April 13 or 14, the first day of the year according to the Nanakshahi Calender. Sikhs also celebrate this day in honor of their tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Baisakhi commemorates the day when the Sikh Guru eliminated caste differences and founded Khalsa Panth in1689.
Celebrated in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, New Year’s starts with the 1st day of Chaitra (the beginning of the Hindu New Year).
Laos – April 13th/14th
Lao New Year is called “Bpee Mai” or “Songkan,” and falls on the same dates as the Cambodian system. The official festival lasts for three days, from April 24th to April 29th (although celebrations can last more than a week in rural villages). The first day is the last day of the old year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the first day. Perfume, water and flowers are also prepared for the Lao New Year. The second day of the festival is the “day of no day,” a day that falls in neither the old year or the new year. The last day of the festival marks the start of the new year. Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water each other. The water is perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes. Some people prefer flowers in the water to give a pleasant smell, as well as adding cologne/perfume. The idea of watering came from the legend of King Kabinlaphom, whose seven daughters kept his severed head in a cave. The daughters would visit their father’s head every year and perform a ritual to bring happiness and good weather. Over the years another tradition has developed with Lao New Year: people will smear or throw cream (shaving cream or whipped cream) or white powder on each other during the celebrations. Some Chinese minorities such as the Miao in Yunnan Province still follow this tradition. The Water-Splashing Festival held at this time at Xinshuangbanna is derived from this practice.
Korea – February 3rd / 5thKorean New Year, commonly known as Seolnal, is the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the most important of the traditional Korean holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, which start on New Year’s Day. Koreans also celebrate solar New Year’s Day on January 1 each year, following the Gregorian Calendar. The Korean New Year holidays last three days, and is considered a more important holiday than the solar New Year’s Day. The term “Seolnal” generally refers to Eum-nyeok Seolnal (lunar new year), also known as Gujeong. The Korean New Year generally falls on the day of the second new moon after winter solstice, unless there is a very rare intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year. In such a case, the New Year falls on the day of the third new moon after the solstice (next occurrence will be 2033). Korean New Year is generally the same day as Chinese New Year, Mongolian New Year, Tibetan New Year and Vietnamese New Year. It is typically a family-oriented holiday. The three-day holiday is used by many to return to their home-towns to visit their parents and other relatives where they perform the ancestral ritual known as charye. Many Koreans dress up in colorful hanbok costumes, while Tteokguk (soup with rice cakes) is commonly served. Many Koreans greet the New Year (both Western and lunar) by visiting East coast locations such as Gangneung and Donghae in Gangwon province, where they are most likely to see the first rays of the New Year’s sun.
Mongolia – February 3rd / 5th
Tsagaan Sar, (meaning white moon or white month) is the Mongolian lunisolar New Year festival. It is often celebrated around the same time as the Chinese New Year (sometimes a lunar month later). However, the Mongolian Tsagaan Sar is culturally more related to the Tibetan New Year or Losar than to the Chinese New Year. The White Moon holiday is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice. Tsagaan Sar is one of the most important Mongolian holidays. A typical Mongolian family will meet in the home ger (nomadic tent) dwelling of the eldest in the family. Many people will be dressed in full garment of national Mongolian costumes. When greeting their elders during the White Moon festival, Mongolians grasp them by their elbows to show support for them. The eldest receives greetings from each member of the family except for his/her spouse. During the greeting ceremony, family members hold long pieces of colored cloth called khadag. After the ceremony, the extended family eats rice with curds, dairy products, drink airag (fermented mares milk) and exchange gifts.
Nepal – April 13th/14th
Known as “Navavarsha” in Nepal, the Nepalese official calendar begins from the first day of the first month Baisakh. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year and usually falls in the second week of April. People go for picnics, have get-togethers and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday. Although Navavarsha is actually the true Nepalese New Year, many Nepalis also celebrate Losar.
Thailand – April 13th / 15th
Thailand’s Songkran festival (from Sanskrit saṃkrānit, meaning “astrological passage”) is celebrated as the traditional New Year’s Day in Thailand from 13 to 15 April. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation, but it is now fixed. If these days fall on a weekend, the missed days off are taken on the weekdays immediately following. If they fall in the middle of the week, many Thai take off from the previous Friday until the following Monday. Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season. Until 1888 the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand; thereafter 1 April was used until 1940. 1 January is now the beginning of the year. The traditional Thai New Year has been a national holiday since then. Songkran originally was celebrated only in the north of Thailand, and was probably brought there by the Burmese, who adapted it from an Indian festival. It spread across Thailand in the mid 20th century and is now observed even in the far south. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days and even longer. It has also become a party for foreigners and an additional reason for many to visit Thailand for immersion in another culture.
Tibet – March 5th
The Tibetan New Year, known as Losar, is the most important festival in the Tibetan calendar. The Losar festival is celebrated by Tibetan peoples, and is marked by ancient ceremonies that represent the struggle between good and evil, by chanting, and by the passing of torches through the crowds. A certain amount of levity is provided by events such as the dance of the deer and the amusing battles between the King and his various ministers. The Losar festival is characterized especially by its music, dance, and a general spirit of merrymaking. Losar, the Tibetan word for New Year, is composed to two characters: Lo, which means “year”; and Sar, which means “new”. The celebration of Losar can be traced back to Tibet’s pre-Buddhist period. At that time, Tibetans were followers of the Bon religion, and held a spiritual ceremony every winter. During the Bon celebrations, people would burn large quantities of incense on a certain day of the year (not on the lunar new year, as it was not in vogue in Tibet at that time) in order to appease local spirits, deities and protectors. When Buddhism arrived in Tibet, the older “heathen” ceremony of Bon was simply incorporated into the Buddhist tradition of Tibet, becoming the Buddhist Losar festival. The Buddhist Losar festival originated during the reign of Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet.
Vietnam – February 3rd / 5th
Tết Nguyên Đán, more commonly known by its shortened name Tết, is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar. The name Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the First Morning, derived from the Hán nôm characters 節元旦. Tết is celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year, though exceptions arise due to the one-hour time difference between Hanoi and Beijing. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning the house. There are a lot of customs practiced during Tết, such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestral worshipping, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people and opening a shop. Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. During Tết, Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples, forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year. They consider Tết to be the first day of spring and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).
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