Puthandu or Chitthirai Vishu is the Tamil New Year, celebrated on April 13th or 14th. It follows the Hindu solar calendar and is celebrated right after the vernal equinox. In astrological terms, the sun enters the sign of Aries on this day, marking the beginning of Chitthirai, the first month of the Tamil calendar.
The new year’s day is considered to be very sacred by the Tamilians. On the eve of Puthandu, houses are cleaned thoroughly, pots and pans get a deep scrub, damaged equipment is fixed or replaced and old/unused things are discarded. This custom is very similar to the concept of Spring cleaning in the western world.
Early in the morning on the festival day, women adorn the entrance of their house with colorful Kolam or Rangoli patterns. A lamp called Kuthuvillakku is placed in the center of the Kolam. People begin the day by looking at auspicious things like gold and silver jewelry, betel leaves, nuts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw rice and coconuts. It is believed that a good start to the New Year will ensure prosperity and happiness in the coming year. This is followed by a bath, visit to the temple and Panchangam (almanac) reading.
Tamil New year is celebrated with all kinds of festive food. Pachchadi is a very traditional preparation on this day. It is a sweet, sour and bitter dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers to signify different aspects of life. Murukkas, vadais and different types of rice are made for the festivities. Payasam or rice kheer is a typical sweet made in Tamilian homes for this day. People visit friends and family to wish them a happy and prosperous New Year. There is also a custom where children receive small gifts from the elders to mark the occasion.
Many other people in South Asia celebrate this day as the New Year’s day, including people from Punjab, Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The festival is referred to by various names such as Baisakhi, Vishu, Naba Barsha and Rongali Bihu.