April 14, 2011
As the first rays of the sun drift through the windows, South Indian households come to life to mark the beginning of the new year. Like other festivals, the origin of the term Ugadi literally means start of an era.
Legend has it that Brahma, who the Hindus worship as the creator of the world, chose this auspicious day of the Chaitra month to start life on earth.
Popular belief says that a propitious ushering in of this day ensures a favourable year of health, wealth and well-being.
At the break of dawn, people have a head bath and don new clothes to kick off the festivities. As mango leaves symbolise prosperity and good harvest, garlands made out of these adorn the doors and colourful rangoli is drawn at the doorstep to welcome in the new year.
In rural areas, people smear cow dung before the house as the cow holds supreme significance in the Hindu culture and it is believed that this drives away evil and ensures the diffusion of purity.
Says 65-year-old Kandivli resident Bharati Rao who has been a fervent follower of festivals, “Ugadi is the most significant of all festivals for Kannadigas not only because of its auspiciousness, but also because it spells one occasion that binds the family together. When I was younger, in my native place in Mangalore, Ugadi meant fineries, food, fun and frolicking. People used to keep aside feuds and send good wishes to each other. Now, every festival from Diwali to Dusshera, has the same look.”
As ritual demands, a tray consisting of a coconut, a mango, cucumber, rice, jewellery piece and a small mirror is placed before the family deity.
After bowing down before the deity, one has to look at oneself in the mirror, take the blessings of the elderly in the family and begin the year on this brief but auspicious note.
A mixture of neem and jaggery, called ‘bevu-bella’ is consumed religiously because it signifies the bittersweet nature of life. Any Indian festival is an excuse to cook sumptuous meals. Ugadi is no exception.
The Ugadi delicacies are essentially made out of the coconut, rice and cucumber placed in the tray before the deity. Steamed rice, sambhar and a customary payasam are the basic components of a meal which must be relished by the entire family together.