Heralding the New Year in several states in India, Ugadi is the time for a new start with some life lessons that come in handy through the year.
The festival name literally means the beginning of a new age, with Yuga meaning ‘age’ in Sanskrit and Adi meaning ‘beginning’ in Sanskrit and Kannada. Also called Chandramana Ugadi, this day is the beginning of the New Year according to the Hindu Lunar calendar, and marks the start of the harvest season. Typically, this festival also signals the change of seasons, with the cold winters making way for the warmer summer.
The importance of Ugadi goes back to the time when the creator, Bhagavan Brahma began constructing the world. This is also why people like to start new ventures on this day as it is believed that a new start on Ugadi will bring in good luck and prosperity.
The festivities usually involve a deep cleaning of homes and decorating home temples with fresh flowers. Mango leaves are usually hung outside the main door as a symbol of prosperity and well-being. In Maharashtra, the worship of Indra Dhwaja is meant to bring in rain and rangolis is commonly drawn. Smearing red soil (kemmanu) outside the main entrance is also a practice in some states.
On the day of Ugadi, traditionally, people wake up early and take a head bath using sesame oil. This is preferred since the sesame oil helps prepare the skin for the upcoming summer being rich in Vitamin K and A. It also helps rejuvenate the skin and clears kapha dosha as per Ayurveda.
Wearing new, traditional clothes is the norm and you can see most families dressed in sparkling clothes. One of the important aspects of Ugadi is the offering of bevu-bella (neem flowers and jaggery). This is usually offered to the deities and then distributed to all at home. The symbolism of bevu-bella is that while neem is very bitter, jaggery is very sweet – just like life – a combination of bitter and sweet experiences.
Another important aspect of Ugadi is the Panchanga or the new Hindu almanac which is read out to the family. This is also meant to bring in good luck and the book itself is worshiped in many households.
In the USA, the large Indian diaspora celebrates Ugadi with the same enthusiasm as they did back home. Chitra Kumari, a Bangalorean who moved to California after her wedding says, “We are lucky to have a large community of Kannada and Telugu speaking neighbors and we get together to celebrate Ugadi. It is an occasion we look forward to and with everything available here, we make sure we follow all the traditions.” It also helps that California has the most number of Hindu temples in the U.S. and Indians do pay obeisance at the temples on this day.
Food is an integral part of the festival, with dishes like Ugadi Pachadi, Badam Halwa, Paramannum (rice pudding), and Atukulu Payassum (beaten rice kheer). Since this is the season of mangoes in India, a raw mango rice preparation, Chitranna is a common fixture in most festive menus. Holige or a sweet chapati is usually a must. Nowadays, these desserts have been given a new twist and are stuffed with carrots, almonds, and even dates.
Interestingly, most of the Ugadi recipes are historically designed to improve immunity as this is a time of seasonal change and food subtly gives the traditional message of the importance of having all elements of life. The dishes served usually include a variety of foods that ensure all taste buds are tickled.
Ugadi is a festival that is all about a new dawn and perhaps, instinctively, you will notice that all trees have new leaves after shedding their old ones around this time.
Ugadi Chitrannam Recipe (courtesy Jyothi Sri Pappu, CEO & Founder of NutreatLife)
A recipe that improves immunity is Ugadi Chitrannam. Most children, especially those under 10 years old, dislike Ugadi Pachadi/Chutney which consists of Neem Flower. Therefore many families in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh had a custom of preparing the Ugadi Chitrannam along with Ugadi Pachadi to feed the kids while narrating the importance of Ugadi. The recipe incorporates all the six tastes usually used in the Ugadi Pachadi recipe, along with a few add-ons.
- Raw Mango grated – 1 cup
- Gongura (sorrel) leaves cooked and ground into a paste – 1 cup (you can skip if not available)
- Jaggery – 1/4th cup
- Chilies – 4 chopped
- Peanuts Roasted – 1 cup
- Cooked rice – 2 ½ cups
- Neem flower – 2 spoons
- Salt as per taste
- For Tempering: Oil, Urad dal, Chana dal, red chili, Mustard seeds – ¼th tsp each
- curry leaves.
- Start with the tempering, add the gongura paste and cook for about two minutes.
- Switch off the stove and add remaining all the ingredients except neem flower.
- Mix well all the ingredients and now add the neem flower.
- Rest for about 45 minutes and then serve.
Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bengaluru. With a key passion for the environment, her interests include bird watching and looking for local and unusual angles in any destination. You can follow her on Instagram @bindugopalrao and her work on www.bindugopalrao.com