SOURAMAANA (SOLAR) NEW YEAR DAY
(I-DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, APRIL 2012)
New Year Day celebrated on April 13 or 14th as the Sun enters the zodiac sign Aries seems to be most popular in India and many Asiatic Nations. This is known as Souramana Yugadi though associated with the oldest culture of India of Tamils and called some times as Tamil New Year Day.
The duration of time taken by the Sun to pass through one Niraayana Raasi (Zodiacal Constellation) to another Niraayana Raasi is called Souramaana Maasa (Solar Month). The day on which such entry takes place is called Sankraanti. 12 such entries take place in a year and therefore there are 12 Sankraantis in a year. On the day of the entry of Sun to Niraayana Mesha (Aries) Rasi, many parts of India celebrate their Solar New Year. Invariably this falls on 13th or 14th of April as per the Gregorian calendar. This is because The Solar year commences from the time Sun enters the Zodiac sign Niraayana Mesha (Aries) and runs through until the Sun completes thirtieth degree of Meena (Pieces) and is about to enter the sign Mesha again. This is about 365.25 days.
Both Gregorian calendar and Solar calendar (Souramaana) have adopted 365 days per year. Hence the Solar New year always falls on 13th or 14th of April unlike many Hindu festivals which follow Lunar (Chandramaana) calendar fall on different days in different years. It is popularly known as Tamil New Year Day in South India named after one of the oldest cultures of India. Perhaps it is the fore-runner for all New Year Days or Yugadi celebrations. It was a National Holiday in the erstwhile Madras presidency during the British period. People who celebrate this New Year in many parts of India also go by 60-years cycle of Hindu calendar based on five revolutions of Jupiter or 60 years orbit of Nakshatra described in Surya Siddhanta. Surya Siddhanta was taught by Sun God to Maaya and deals with astronomical Measurement of Time, Revolution of Planets etc.
Solar New Year is observed and celebrated as per their traditions in many parts of India. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Tamil New Year Day also called in Tamil "Putthandu" or "Tamizh Varusha Pirappu". Assam celebrates it as Rongali Bihu. Bengal and Tripura call this day Naba Barsha or pohala Boisakh. Kerala celebrates it as Vishu. In Kumaon region of Uttrkahnd it is called Bikhu or Bikhauti. In Orissa this day is celebrated as Mahaa Vishua Sankraanti or Pana Sankraanti. In Punjab this day is celebrated as New Year harvest festival called Baishakhi.
Solar New Year coincides with New Years traditionally celebrated by many other countries like Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand etc. On this day Gautama Buddha attained Nirvaana under the Bodhi tree in Buddha Gaya and therefore it is a great day of religious observance for all Buddhists. The order of Khalsa was founded on this day by Guru Gobind Singh in the year 1699 by initiating five volunteers who came forward to sacrifice their lives for defending the religion against their enemies, affectionately called by the Guru as "Panj Pyaare". It is also celebrated as Martyr's day celebrating the martyrdom of Guru Ram Das in 1567.
Traditions vary in its celebration. In Kerala people wear new clothes after a holy bath and rush to the spot near pooja room to see Vishu Kani as the first thing in the morning. On the previous night an elderly lady in the house arranges a bell metal vessel with flowers, grains, fruits, coins, new cloth, sovereign gold etc., located in a special place in the Pooja room earmarked with Rangoli or Kolam. A lighted bell metal lamp called Nilavilakku is a must to stand by the side of the vessel. Viewing it for the first time approaching it with closed eyes in the morning before seeing anything else is believed to bring in peace and prosperity throughout the year. The whole day is celebrated with fire-works, grand dinner and exchange of greetings. Tamil Nadu also celebrates it with holy bath, wearing new clothes, exchange of greetings, festival dinner and merriment. Since it is an important Sankramana Day a holy dip becomes very essential both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Punjab celebrates this day as their harvest festival with lots of merriment where Bangra dance dominates.
It is a sacred day for a holy bath in some parts of the North also as it is believed that Mother Ganges descended to earth on this day from heaven. In Himachal Pradesh Goddess Jwaalaamukhi is worshiped with great reverence. Bihar dedicates this day to Sun God. Essentially elements of nature are prayed and worshiped on this significant day.
Vishnu is hailed as Naaraayana, Samvatsara (Year), Prajapati, Aaditya (Sun), Vashatkaara (Sacrificial Mantras), Paramaatma (Supreme Principle), Yajna(Sacrifice), Easwara (Brahman manifest), Satya (Truth), Rudra (remover of all miseries), Yugaadikrita (Maker of Eons), Kaala (Time) as glorified and meditated upon in Vishnu Sahasranaama. Vishnu is of the nature of Year—meaning one who is the Lord of the Time; He from whom the very concept of Time arises.
Samvatsara (Year) in Sanskrit is derived as "Samyak vasanti sarvbhootaani asmin iti" meaning all entities exist in this and so this is Samvatsara. Upanishads glorify Aditya (Sun) as Samvatsara. Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad elaborates that one who meditates on Aaditya attains equality with Brahman (supreme Principle) and attains His very world. Brahman is Kaala (time) and Kalavikarana (who is causing divisions of moments like, Kala, Nimisha, Muhoorta, Samvatsara etc.) So this day of the beginning of the Solar year is considered very auspicious and also observed as an auspicious Sankramana day like Makara Sankranti. Samvatsaras make the Yuga and Vishnu is known as Yugapurusha. Taittareeya Braahmana mentions five types of years as Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idaavatsara, Iduvatsara and Idvatsara. All these types make Yugas. Samvatsara is most popular and finds references in many Hindu scriptures. We do not have much information on the others. 60 years make one cycle starting from Prabhava, Vibhava …………. etc. and ending in Akshaya. This year we are celebrating Nandana Samvatsara.
Karunanidhi when he was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu shifted the Tamil New Year Day to Makara Sankraanti which is also the first day of the Tamil month Thai. It is also the harvest festival day of Pongal for Tamils. This did not go without protest for this day conventionally is not only an important day for Tamils but also for many language-regions of India as well as many Asiatic countries of different Faiths. This day is celebrated in many Tamil scriptures and is very ancient. Many in Tamil Nadu celebrated both festivals for some years though Tamil New Year Day lost its recognition as a Public Holiday for some time. Last year in August Jayalalitha, who became the Chief Minister yielded to the popular demand restoring it back to April, the traditional date for ages celebrated in Puranas as a very sacred day. Hindus in India are tradition bound and are influenced by the compartmentalized society and therefore it is very difficult to move them away from their religious practices glued to the Puraanic past.
Hindus believe that Brahma started creation of this world on the day of Yugaadi. Rightly or wrongly only the Hindu New year Day which commences after the first Tithi after the New Moon in Meena (Panguni) month according to Soura Maanam system (Sukla Paksha Prathama Tithi of Chaitra month) is called Yugadi, which was celebrated on 23 March 2012. Since there is marginal time difference between Chandramaana Yugadi and Souramana New Year Day it is more appropriate to believe that Creation started on the day when the powerful planet Sun entered Mesha (Aries). It is also appropriate to call this day as Souramaana Yugadi Day and celebrate it as the day of start of Creation by the Supreme Principle.
In Hindu temple complexes where Hindus belonging to different Sampradays and Mataas meet for mass worship as in USA, it is appropriate celebrate this day as Souramaana Yugadi and dedicate it to Sun God as some Hindus do. It is even more appropriate to dedicate this day to the worship of Vishnu in the light of the various attributes mentioned for him in Vishnu Sahasranaamaavali which says Samvatsara is his another name.
The Council of Hindu Temples of North America brings out every year a Hindu Religious Panchangam called North American Panchangam. This starts with January 1 and ends with December 31 referring to USA timings of New York and formulas to convert them to different time Zones. This has helped Hindu Americans to observe the rituals as per saastric injunctions avoiding inauspicious hours like Rahukaaalm etc. and sticking to auspicious hours during the day. "It rightly calls April 13 this year as Nandana Naama Souramaana Yugaadi." It would be more appropriate to start this Panchangam on Makara (Capricorn) Sankrati day and end with the completion of Dhanus (Sagitarius) Sankramana and call it North Hindu-American Panchangam instead of calling it North American Panchangam catering to the needs of all Hindus drawn from different Sampradayas of Hindus in India. Americans are not interested in this Panchangam, only Hindu-Americans are and not even all Indian--Americans are. This should have general appeal to all Hindus who visit Hindu temple complexes in USA unlike the particular deity oriented temples of India. It is also appropriate to celebrate the New Year on this very auspicious day which is appealing to all Sampradayas. As we all know this is the most sacred Sankramana Day when the Sun starts its Northern Solstice journey glorified as Uttaraayana Punyakala by all Hindus. For Tamils this is the beginning of the famous Tamil month Thai. "There is popular proverb in Tamil: "Thai pirandaal vazhi pirakkum"-- The dawn of the month of Thai is the Gateway to Life. Further Makara Sankranti is significant to all Hindus drawn from various Sampradaayas to worship Supreme Principle as Aaaditya and Samvatsarta. We cannot avoid Gregorian calendar which is a Christian religious calendar which starts with the Birth Year of Jesus Christ and also the notional day of his Birth which got adjusted by a week. It is quite common in Western culture to push the days of significance to the week-end to celebrate the day with more relaxation. Further the exact day of Birth of Jesus is disputed and is only guessed as 25th of December. You are perhaps aware there is a proposal to have a leap week year instead of Leap day year so that the birth of Jesus Christ could fall on a Sunday every year in December. Hindu Americans also can easily adopt Makara Sankranti as Saarvajanik (all people) New Year Day and this New Year starting will run parallel to Gregorian calendar as both have 365.25 days per year. Then this day could be observed and celebrated same way as January 1 by all Hindu Americans instead of rushing on January 1 to temples to make New Year resolution which day has no significance or scriptural sanction for a religiously motivated Hindu.
Here are Vedic hymns that focus on prayers to Brahman, Vishnu and Soorya as Samvatsara (Year):
" Aadityo vai teja ojo balam yasas-chakshuh |
Srotraatmaa manoe manyur-manu-mrityuh satyo |
Mitro vaayuraakaasah praaano lokapaalah kah kim kam |
Tat satyamannam-aayur-amrito jeevo viswah katamah |
Svayambhuh prajaapatih samvatsara iti |
Samvatsaro-asaavaadityo ya esha purush esha |
Bhootaanaam-adhipati brahmanah saayujya(ga)m salokataam- |
Apnot-atyetasam-eva devataanaa(ga)m saaujya(ga)m |
Saarshtrita(ga)m samaana-lokataam-aapnoti ya evam veda ity-upanishat ||
[Sun is verily luster, power of strength, fame, eyes, ears, intellect, mind, anger, mantra, death, riendly air, ether, vital air, the protector of the worlds, who, which, what, the truth, food, life span, immortality, the individual self, the world, the celebrated self (katamah), the self-born, the lord of all people and Samvatsara.]
"Brahmaanaam brahmaaa visvah katamah svayambhuh prajaapatih, Samvatsara iti Samvatsarova –aadityo ya esha aaditye purushah sa parameshthee Brahmaatmaa"
[The wise seers declare Paramaatman signified as Nyaasa is indeed the supreme existent means. He is the inner-self of Brahma who is called by the terms, Brahma, Viswa, Katamah, Svaaymbhu, Prajaapati and Samvatsara. This Aaditya is Samvatsara. That person who is in Aaditya is Parameshthi (The Supreme Reality) and is the Self of Brahma]. [Brahman is often referred as Brahma in Vedic Sanskrit like Aatman and Aatma.]
Om antahscharati bootheshu guhaayaam viswamoortishu | Tvam Yajnastvam Vishnustvam Vashat-kaarastvam Rudrastvam Brahmaa tvam O Prajaapatih ||
[Thou art called by the name Om; you move within the heart of all living beings as their inner controller. Thou art Yajna, Vishnu, Vashatkaara, Rudra, Brahma and Prajaapati.]
--Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad
Suresah Saranah Sarma Visvaretaah Prjaabhavah |
Ahah Samvatsaro Vyaalah Pratyaayah Sarvadarsanah ||
[Vishnu is Suresa (the denizens of the Heaven), Saranam (Refuge for all who are suffering, Sarma (one who is himself the Infinite Bliss, Visvaretaah (the seed from which the tree of life has sprung forth), prajaaabhavah (from whom all living beings spring forth), Ahah (One who is of the nature of Day), Samvatsarah (one who is of the nature of year meaning One who is the Lord of the Time and from whom the concept of Time arises, hence called Samvatsara), Vyaalah (Serpent), Pratyaayah (Supreme Knowledge), Sarvadarsanah (Omni-spective).
- Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, The Divine Life Society, Sivanandanagar, India.
- Dr .Vijaya Gupchup, Festivals in Regions and Seasons of India, Navneet Publications (India) Limited, Mumbai, India.
- Dr N.S. Ananta Rangacharya, Mahanarayana Upanishad, Bangalore, India.
- Swami Chinmayananda, Vishnu Sahasranama, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
- R. Kumar, North American Panchaangam 2012, Council of Hindu Temples of North America, New York.