The Tamil calendar begins on the same date observed by most traditional calendars in India as in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Mithila, Odisha, Punjab, Tripura, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The sixty-year cycle is ancient and is related to five revolutions of Guru/Jupiter.
This New Year is in the month of Chitterai, the first month of the Tamil solar calendar. In the morning, most homes would have a beautifully arranged tray of mango, banana and jack fruit, betel nuts and arecanut, jewelry, coins, and flowers. In India, it will also be a season for neem trees to blossom and to see the first batch of mangoes.
Everywhere in these countries, it is a time for visits and renewal of family bonds, generally with an exchange of gifts of money especially from older relations to the young. Most Hindu temples and Gurudwaras will hold special religious and cultural events.
It is interesting to note that the legal year used to begin on 26th March, the Lady Day, the traditional name in some English speaking countries of the ‘Feast of the Annunciation.’ In England, Lady (Virgin Mary) Day, was New Year’s Day between 1155 and 1752, until New Year’s Day was declared to be the 1st January as the official start of the year. This could be the remains in the United Kingdom’s tax year, which starts on the 6th April. It is thought it roughly coincided with the Equinox, when the length of day and night is equal.
As we have just exchanged chocolate eggs during Easter, I cannot help but notice the similarity of the egg to the Shiva lingam – an oval iconic image worshiped during Mahashivarathri. It was known among the ancients even then that the Universe was elliptical, and therefore the worship of the egg-shaped life-giving formless-in-form Shiva lingam. As cultures vary and evolve, I find there is also a similarity in the grasp of the sacred.
In our home in Wales we will light lamps in front and rear entrances of our home, as we do on the 1st of January and for Diwali, the festival of lights, during October. In some parts of India, Diwali is also the ‘New Year’ and the celebration of victory of good over evil, when Lord Rama had defeated Ravana, the demon-king.
Interesting that the very next day, on the 15th April is Rama Navami, Lord Rama’s birthday. Usually Rama Navami is observedd on the ninth day of Chitterai/Chaira; however this is calculated astrologically and the date changes accordingly.
Rama is the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, who took human form to destroy the Asura/Demonic King Ravana of Lanka, who abducted Sita and imprisoned her until she consented to be his. She refused, knowing in her heart, that Lord Rama would rescue her.
Devotees will begin the day with prayers and observing fast. The whole city of Ayodhya, where Lord Rama was born will be decorated with garlands of flowers and illuminated with lights. The procession of chariots will be the highlight of the grand celebrations. Stories of Lord Rama with bhajans and kirtans – songs of Lord Rama and prashad/offering and community meals will be distributed freely.
I used to wonder at the popularity of Lord Rama in the South of India. When you hear of some famous names like the nobel prize physicist, Sri C.V. Raman, (1888 – 1970) known for the Raman effect. Srinivasa Ramanujan , (1887- 1920) ‘the man who knew infinity’ and made substantial contributions to the analytical theory of number and the famous Venkatraman Ramakrishnan to win the 2009 chemistry nobel prize, to name a few - all from Tamil Nadu.
I also remember a particularly reckless auto- rickshaw driver on my first adult visit to Chennai in 1996. As he swerved unheeding through many traffic lights and heavy traffic, he said his name was ‘Ram,’ and wondered why anybody wanted to live in the world like the one we were in! I remembered Gandhi-ji’s last breaths were of ‘Ram, Ram!’ and the thought did pass my mind whether it was an omen for me to follow suit?
Quite recently, I discovered that my family’s ancestral village, near Tanjavur/Tanjore in Tamil Nadu is related to the history of the Ramayana. Inscriptions in the temples show Sri Rama visited this village to meet his Guru-Master, Rishi Vasishta while travelling to Lanka to get Sita back. The name ‘Raman’ runs for at least four generations in my family too.
The Ramayana transcends all barriers in time, space caste and religious sects. Lord Rama is said to have been the perfect man, the King of Ayodhya. He ruled in a ‘Golden Age,’ making sure rules were upheld for the happiness of all his subjects, at the cost of his personal life.
According to a Teacher, the Ramayana broadens our outlook and teaches us to perform actions which raises our spirits and bring ourselves closer to the supreme truth.
Yet another Master, expounds that the Atman-soul is Rama, the mind is Sita, and the breath or life-force is Hanuman with the awareness as Laxmana and the ego as Ravana.
When the mind was stolen by Ravana, the ego, then the soul got restless. The atman-soul the essence could not reach the mind on its own, but with the help of the breath – the prana, the mind got reunited with the soul and the ego disappeared.
There is some discovery now that the human species were not the only ones who were evolving; that monkeys and apes were just as advanced, if not more progressed; until there came a time when the homo sapiens species pulled ahead. Could the Ramayana be a record of this?
In a school workshop during Diwali, in October, a student asked me, whether the story of Lord Rama was real? I answered, that NASA had discovered by satellite a naturally built bridge, ‘The Rama Setu/The Adam Bridge’ which is the Masterpiece of 1.7 million year old engineering. It is the oldest ‘man-made’ bridge of our civilisation, a civil engineering marvel of 5076 BCE, corresponding to the time when the foot-bridge was built by Lord Rama and his team as detailed in the Ramayana.
“Puthandu Valthukkal!” and “ Hare Rama!”
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