All you wanted to know about Tamil New Year Puthandu - calendar, celebrations, festivities and food

Puthāaṇdu vāazhthugal! 

Don’t feel confused if you hear Tamilians greet each other this way on this special day in their lives. They’re just saying ‘Happy New Year!’

Puthandu (Puthu meaning ‘new’ + Andu meaning ‘year’) or Puthuvarusham (Puthu meaning ‘new’ and varusham meaning ‘year’) or Varusha Pirappu (Varusha meaning ‘year’ and pirappu meaning ‘birth’) is celebrated as the birth of a new year in Tamil Nadu. It falls on the first day of the month, Chithirai, as per the Tamil solar calendar. 

Let’s find out 

  • who celebrates this day along with Tamil Nadu
  • how people celebrate and
  • what yummy foods are prepared

Who celebrates New Year’s in India?

This is the day Kerala celebrates Vishu. From Vishu, we get the Bengali & Assam word & festival Bihu, which is also celebrated on the same day. North India also celebrates Vaisakhi or Baisakhi. 

Who celebrates New Year’s around the world?

In Sri Lanka, the same day is celebrated as the Sinhala New Year, Aluth Avurudda. It is a New Year’s day for many in the northern hemisphere - from South East Asia to the Caspian Sea. Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and Azerbaijan are some of the countries that also celebrate their New Year at this time. 

When is Puthandu celebrated? 

Puthandu generally falls on April 14th or 15th every year. In 2020, it falls on April 14th. 

Why is the Tamil New Year, Puthandu, celebrated on a different day from Ugadi?

Tamil Nadu follows a solar calendar – Sauramana calendar. In this type of calendar, the movement of the sun is used as the base for calculations of time of year. Our ancestors used the day the sun is exactly over the equator to determine the start of a new year. The word ‘Vishu’ in fact comes from Vishwadrutta Rekha meaning the equator,  the line that divides the earth into two halves. This day is the equinox.

In ancient times, the equinox used to be around April 14th (today, it is March 21st). This difference is because of the precision of the equinox about which you can read more here. 

After this day, the sun moves northwards - into the northern hemisphere.

Ugadi falls on a different day because it is based on the Chandramana or the lunar calendar.

Did you know?

We follow many different calendars in India. Some are based on the 

  • Sun – Solar calendar or Sauramana calendar - like Puthandu
  • Moon – Lunar calendar or Chandramana calendar– like Ugadi
  • Sun and moon - Luni-solar calendar 
  • Jupiter - Jovian calendar – in this, years are counted in cycles of 60 years. So, the first 60 years have different names and then in the 61st year, the name is the same as the first year’s.

Is there a significance to the sun being midway across the earth? 

For those following the solar calendar, this point when the sun was midway across both hemispheres was an ideal starting point to the New Year. It was a point of balance – balance of accounts, life, relations, goals and your higher Self. Basically, people lived in consonance with nature. More than ever today, with the huge challenge that the world is facing with the Coronavirus, this is the need of the hour. 

Now that we have figured out why we celebrate this time of year as the New year, let’s see what preparations are made to celebrate the special day.

How do Tamilians celebrate Puthandu, the Tamil New Year?

You will find the entrance of houses decorated with colorful kolams (beautiful designs drawn on the ground with rice powder). At the center of the kolam is a kuthuvillaku or lamp that is lit to ward off the darkness in life. With the multicolored flowers, the festive look is complete.

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Actually, the preparations begin a day before Puthandu. People clean their houses and get rid of old and valueless items to declutter – symbolically removing negative effects.

People place mangoes, bananas and jackfruit, raw bananas and other seasonal vegetables on a tray/plate along with rice, betel leaves, areca nuts, money – gold and silver jewelry and coins, flowers and a mirror in front of the pooja room (prayer room).

What is the significance of each of these items kept one day before Tamil New Year’s Day in this unique tray?

This assortment of items placed on a tray or a plate is considered auspicious. This is the first thing you will set your eyes on (called Kanni or auspicious sight), when you wake up on New Year’s day. 

Mangoes and jackfruits are seasonal fruits and represent health, rice represents nourishment, money represents wealth and prosperity, and jewelry represents beauty and adornment. The betel leaves are offered to elders in the house to express gratitude for their blessings and support. The mirror is to reflect all these good things in life and multiply them!

Basically, it is a symbolic offering that pays tribute to the agrarian society that we are and also welcomes all the things that go into a healthy, happy, full and endowed life.

Wait, that isn’t all! There is something more to look forward to! Children even get New Year gifts on this day! Now let’s move on to even more exciting traditions – the scrumptious delicacies!

Is there any special food item that is made as part of New Year celebrations?

The most important food that is made on Puthandu is the Varusha Pirappu mangai pachadi. This pachadi is made with cut/sliced raw mango (sour), pieces of jaggery (sweet), neem leaves (bitter), tamarind (tangy), and red chillies (spicy).

Basically, it is to herald a new year that should hopefully be filled with all the tastes or flavors of life. So, you experience a full and well-rounded life.

Inviting sweet moments on Tamil New Year’s Day is understandable but why would anyone want to invite bitter moments?

Bitter moments make the sweet moments that much sweeter. Without them, you would not appreciate the good moments as much. Plus, it is simply realistic to expect life to be a mix of both the good and bad times.

Okay, fair enough, let’s move on to other items on the menu! 

What about the traditional Tamil New Year lunch?

Ready to smack your lips?! You will find an assortment of mouthwatering dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients in them.

  • Medhu/Ulandhu Vadai (fried savories made of urad dal)
  • Payasam (pal/milk, paruppu /jaggery and channa/Bengal gram dal)
  • Poli (sweet rotis)
  • Mango pachadi (sweet and sour mango side dish)
  • Sakkarai Pongal (sweet pongal)
  • Kosambari (moong dal salad) 
  • Avial (Mixed vegetable stew)
  • Poosanikai Kootu (Pumpkin stew)
  • Vazhakkai curry (Raw banana curry)
  • Cabbage poriyal (sautéed cabbage fry)
  • Vepamboo rasam (Neem flower rasam)
  • Aplam (thin, crisp flatbread)
  • Manga Urgai (Freshly-made mango pickle)
  • Neer mor (spicy buttermilk)
  • Panagam (jaggery water with cardamom powder)
  • Curd

What a great festival! 

Just can’t wait for this day to come to experience this special annual event again! Gather all your family, invite your friends and start your New Year celebrations!

Puthāaṇdu vāazhthugal! 

Wish you all a Happy New Year filled with new hopes, dreams and pursuits! 

Based on inputs from articles written by D K Hari and D K Hema Hari, authors and founders, Bharath Gyan.

For more information on India, you can follow the founders of Bharath Gyan on Twitter @bharathgyan  

Read more on Kerala’s New Year, Vishu, here.

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