Annually, the middle of April brings some of the most important festivals for many South Asians. One of these is Tamil New Year. It is known in Tamil as Puthandu, which is a contraction of the Tamil words Puthu meaning ‘New’ and Andu, meaning ‘Year.’ Sometimes it is also called Varusha Pirappu or ‘birth of the new year.’
Tamil New Year is usually observed on April 14 and is considered the beginning of the new Tamil calendar. The day is celebrated by Tamils in India and Sri Lanka, as well as the general Tamil diaspora all over the world, which is estimated to be around 4.5 million people. Tamil New Year is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
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Why is it celebrated?
The Tamil calendar follows a sixty-year cycle in which the new year begins in the month Chittirai. Just like January is the first month of the Gregorian calendar, Chittirai is the first month of the Tamil calendar, and the 14th of April is the first day of this month.
Furthermore, each Tamil new year is given its own name. The Tamil New Year of 2016-2017 was named Dhunmuki and the Tamil New Year that we are embarking on today is called Hevilambi. The current sixty-year cycle started in 1987 and will end in 2047.
Tamil New Year represents the end of the old year, and the leaving behind of all the problems that might have marred the year before, in the hopes that this coming year is your best year yet!
How is it celebrated?
Just like Deepavali, the house is cleaned thoroughly the night before in order to signify the washing away of any negativity of the past year. In the morning, a ritual called kanni, meaning ‘auspicious sight’, takes place, where the first thing that people view this day is a tray of fruit, flowers, jewelry, coins; items that signify abundance and wealth.
Tamils will draw kolams in the front of their homes or doorsteps. Kolams are usually drawn in coarse rice flour. This is meant to invite ants, birds and other small creatures to eat it, thus welcoming other beings into one’s home. It is a sign meant to invite living creatures into your life, in the hopes that Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth, will follow.
In modern times, some kolams are stuck onto the doorstep of houses instead of being drawn, but all of them have a lamp in the centre called the kuthuvillakku. In many South Asian traditions, lamps and light are symbols of knowledge that dispel darkness in the mind and in life.
Tamils usually eat vegetarian food on this day and will pray at home or in temples. Priests will open the new year’s almanac on this day as well, and proceed to forecast the next year’s predictions for the Tamil horoscopes.
Sri Lankan Tamils further observe this day by conducting the first financial dealing of the Tamil year. This is called Kai-vishesham and it is a tradition where elders give money to the younger generation as a mark of blessing.
Tamils all over the world continue to observe these customs in similar ways, tying an age old civilization together with our traditions and histories. For many of us, it is a time to spend with our families, reminiscing on the past, and looking towards the future.
On this Tamil New Year, may you be blessed with happiness and success in the coming year.
Iniye Puthandu Vazhtukkal–Happy Tamil New Year to all!
Sangeetha Thanapal is an anti-racism artist, writer and activist. Her work focuses on race issues in Asia and Australia. She is the originator of the term ‘Chinese Privilege,’ which situates systemic and institutionalized racism amongst people of color in Singapore. She holds a Master of Arts in Social & Political Thought from the University of Sussex and currently resides in Melbourne.