Tomorrow is ugadi, [literally yuga (era) adi (beginning)] the traditional new year’s festival. Ugadi falls on Chaitra Sudhdha Paadyami or the first day Chaitra. All the family members, young and old, are woken up early. Then immediately, a tonne of oil is poured on their head, followed by an elaborate massaging of each strand of hair, often separately. In boiling, scalding water, each body is accorded the privilege of bathing, until the black skin shines red, only to be enveloped by new clothes immediately.
An elaborate meal, whose main highlight is holige or Obattu (for the uninitiated this is a kind of roti, filled with sweet filling) follows. Well, it’s almost time for an afternoon nap, but not on this day. Hell, no. There are more festivities, particulary the ritual of eating neem leaves and jaggery, symbolic of life itself, a mixture of bitterness and sweet.
Towards early evening, it is time for the village priest to open the world famous vontikoppal panchanga (almanac) and advise supplicants, practically all the villagers, to plan their year ahead. Can one build a house or marry off his daugther? What are the educational and employment prospects for some other fellow? One can not be unsure of allignment of stars and Vontikoppal Panchanga has all the answers.
Newspapers were all full of Ugadi related stories today. Deccan Herald was probably the best with three nice features, starting with the festival itself, then on the onset of Spring and the celebration of Ugadi in Kannada poetry. Also see Sepoy’s recent posting on new years festivals in the Asian world.
Speakng of spring, I am reminded of ancient Indian spring festivals, which were liminal moments, when for three days men and women could freely choose partners outside of their marital relationship. Apparently, Chanakya was scared of the freedom inherent in the festival and banned vasantotsava, as soon as Chandragupta Maurya came to power. Poets and playwrights, though, continued to write about it.
In southern Karnataka, we grew up celebrating ugadi (unfortunately no vasantotsava for us) and my favorite Kannada novel on rurual southern Karnataka culture, Doddamane (Big House), begins with a description of ugadi. This afternoon, I picked up the book from Regenstein library and re-read parts of it, after about fifteen years. The novelist, H L Nage Gowda, a major Kannada writer and folklorist, was my mother’s uncle and her only book too is on this novel.
I was thinking about ugadi, especially about the symbolism of bevu-bella (neem and jaggery) today. But the novel also reminded me of the next day’s festivities. Since the big meal on ugadi is a vegetarian meal, the next day ‘varshatodaku’ is celebrated. Many sheep, goat and chicken meet their maker on that day, to the utter satisfaction of the tongue which has already grown sick of sweet holige. To my mother’s lamentation for not being to send me holiges all the way to Chicago, I can only say in response, I don’t have time to either make or enjoy holige but will surely celebrate ‘varshatodaku’.
Happy Ugadi, folks. This is the most authentic of Land of Lime festivals. This morning, I got the best ugadi gift ever, when Krishna Prasad wrote to me about his new blog, Churumuri. Seriously, folks, I don’t know of anyone else who is more suited to blog. Krishna Prasad is witty, acerbic, and has a fresh take on all things interesting. Mysoreans and cricket lovers, you are on notice.
KP, you made my day this morning and look forward to reading you, first thing every day.
ADDENDUM: Look at these gorgeous photos of Holige that Desiknitter has. Land of Lime is coconut land and my folks made a living growing coconuts, which is what in a deferred utopian future I too shall do. Well, I have always been partial towards cocunut filling as opposed to bele (dal) filling, but jaggery, that be a must. No sugar, please. Thanks Desiknitter, that’s a lovely post.