New beginnings, new bonds

Amrita Prasad
Saturday, 17 March 2018

As we usher in a new year that’s called different names across communities, AMRITA PRASAD speaks to some beautiful souls adopting newer and better ways of life while inspiring inclusive celebrations.

In a country like India where everyday is a festival that binds people together, a new year that’s called different names across the country further celebrates our diversity. While we mostly usher in a collective new year on January every year, almost every region in India follows a traditional new year based on the lunar calendar. Celebrated as Gudhi Padwa in Maharashtra, Ugadi in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, and Cheti Chand among Sindhis and Navroz in the the Parsi community, the new year has a long tradition in every state/community. This year, Gudhi Padwa and Ugadi will be celebrated today March 18, while Cheti Chand will be celebrated on March 19, and Navroz on Mach 20. We speak to these communities to know about their celebrations, the similarities between the festivals and the things they would like to imbibe from other communities.

A NEW BEGINNING
We make New Year resolutions every year and strive to follow them religiously. Some even plan new trips, ventures, etc and even get into new relationships. Unlike January 1 which is synonymous with partying and vacation, the traditional new year in every community is deeply associated with faith, culture and spirituality. Shiraz Irani, a belly dancer, is excited about celebrating Navroz with her little one. Before she talks about ‘the new start’ in her life, Shiraz gives us a peek into how she celebrates Navroz. “On the occasion of Jamshed -e-Navroz, we visit the agiary (fire temple) after the entire house is cleaned. I set a table with an oil lamp, a mirror, a picture frame of Zarathustra ,wheat grass plant, five types of fruits and vegetables, falooda, egg, needle and thread, flowers, batasa, dry fruits, incense sticks and the rose water which we sprinkle on those who visit our homes. Our guests see themselves in the mirror and make a wish. The table looks so beautiful. And the fragrance of the loban! The fire temple is decorated and the aroma of the flowers is just so pure,” adds Irani who resides in Mumbai.

This year being her son’s first Navroz, Irani is all set to bounce back as a belly dance and restart her career after the maternity break. It is difficult for a dancer to stay away from the floor for too long, and it has been no different for the India’s Got Talent season 4 finalist. She is all geared up to rule the dance floor after being away from it for more than a year and half. “Despite being a professional artist for 14 years now, I am super nervous to get back. A new place, new students, a changed body, stretch marks are a new add on to my body officially making me a tigress - everything about my new journey is exciting. I literally went for my first professional meeting with my son in my arms. He is going to be my new audience in the class. However, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to take my son along with me to work. This is going to be a new beginning for both of us,” concludes Irani.

ADOPTING RESPONSIBLE LIFESTYLES

While Irani wants to start dancing again, city-based designer Anjali Wadhwani, owner, Anjali Wadhwani Couture, wants to make Cheti Chand more meaningful by promoting responsible fashion. Festivals are not just about revelry or feasting, says Wadhwani, who attends fairs, family get-togethers, and takes part in processions of Lord Jhulelal. She is determined to care for nature while giving shape to her ideas through her creations and designs this new year.

Typically, the festival starts with a visit to the temple, followed by prayers offered to our deity. Later family and friends gather where traditional Sindhi delicacies are served.

Talking about the new start in her career, Wadhwani, who recently launched her flagship project in the city, says that she wants to focus on increasing her store’s presence, creating a strong brand image and reach out to as many people as possible. She will ring in this new year with a contemporary colour palette together with natural fabrics and dyes. “I truly want to move forward in the area of providing sustainable fashion products consciously to my clients. I have been working on the collection. This Cheti Chand, the idea is to move away from just design and be thoughtful about what is being created. I am working on a few practices like quality design, sourcing material through fair trade and ethical ways, reducing waste and adopting eco-friendly ways of production, promoting recycling or upcycling garments,” explains Wadhwani.

For Harish Iyengar, a Bengaluru-based IT professional, Ugadi which means ‘the beginning of a new age’, is beyond celebration. He believes in setting a new example each year while celebrating the traditional new year. He has been doing something unique every Ugadi since he was 20. “I have done it all. Each year I set a new goal for myself and achieve it - from solo travel to getting into an adventure activity, buying my dream house to marrying the love of my life, I have fulfilled one dream at a time. However, this year I plan to do something new for others. I have realised that the domestic helps at our homes are either uneducated or or have very basic education for them to manage their finances, or buy a health insurance for themselves.

So, this Ugadi, I am starting an informal class for them and the security guards in the basement of my building. Apart from giving them the basic education, making them familiar with basic English words and sentences, I will be focussing on giving them practical knowledge of handling their finances, how to open a bank account, importance of savings and buying life insurance schemes, using mobile wallets etc. We tend to be indifferent to the challenges these people face in their everyday life, but it is important to help them lead a better life. Savings and channelising one’s money is the need of the hour, so why should they be deprived? We always live for ourselves, but it gives me immense joy to say that I will celebrate the festival by bringing a change in someone else’s life,” he smiles.

IMBIBING NEW VALUES
The festivals may be different, celebrated in different ways, but the essence and core values remain the same - the family bond, cheer, merrymaking, gorging on meals - the festivals are a great way to unite. Meenakshi Joshi, city-based beautician, who believes in the idea of growing together as a community in harmony, says that these festivals falling around the same time signifies that we need to forget communal differences and embrace each others’ rituals and make the celebrations more inclusive. “I am a Maharashtrian and have never been exposed to the Parsi way of celebrating Navroz, despite living in close proximity with the community in the city. However, whatever little that I have learnt about the festival, fascinates me - the way they savour Falooda and Batasha and deck up the table for Zarathustra. I believe if different communities come together and incorporate each other’s values and rituals, the joy will multiply and our bond will grow stronger. We have been relishing Puran Poli and Shrikhand, making rangolis outside our homes, going for the holy bath, decorating the gudi and so on, wouldn’t it be great to add elements of other festivals in our Gudi Padwa and make it a bigger celebration?” asks the 65-year-old Joshi who plans to visit a Parsi family on Navroz this year.

Seema Krishnan, a homemaker, has always felt that there is a deep connection between Ugadi and Gudi Padwa and she can’t wait to learn how to set up the Gudi in her courtyard.  “If you google Ugadi, you’ll find that many websites use Ugadi and Gudi Padwa as interchangeable words, even ther holy bath is quite similar to our ceremonial oil bath known as ‘Thailabhyangana Snanam’ and not to mention in both the festivals, rangoli or kolam remains an important part of the celebration. However, I would love to make Shrikand and Puran Poli on Ugadi and the idea of hoisting a Gudi really excites me. Gudi is a symbol of victory of good over evil and is also believed to ward off negative energy, but more than the reason why Gudi is hoisted outside every Maharashtrian family, getting to interact with the community, spending time with them to learn how the structure is set up and understanding how it came into existence is what I am looking forward to. Although this year it is not possible to visit my friends in Maharashtra, I am determined to spend Ugadi with them while learning more about it next year!” exclaims Krishnan who lives in Hyderabad.

So, whether it is Gudi Padaw, Ugadi, Cheti Chand, or Navroz, we Indians tend to seek inspiration from each other while celebrating our festivals and rituals with a new perspective, always open to beginning afresh.

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