A resplendent time for nature

In Maharashtra, soon after the festivity of Holi, comes the celebration of a new year called ‘Gudi Padwa.’

Come March and the winter sun amidst the grey howling wind whirling with golden brown crusty leaves, disappears into a gloaming sky,  to usher in a green dawn shimmering on dew dotted flower buds and tiny leaves on squirrels scampering trees.

The period also heralds fertility rites festivities woven in myths, annual constellations and the beginning of a new season called ‘Rtu’ in Indian sub-continent. In Maharashtra, soon after the festivity of Holi, comes the celebration of a new year called ‘Gudi Padwa.’

Unlike Holi which is an occasion where the explosion of colours and consumption of ambrosia reflects the unshackling of socially-structured behavior cutting through social stratifications celebrating life-affirming ‘Spring Fever,’ Gudi Padwa has more deeper connections with agrarian cycle and regeneration of nature.

Gudi Padwa though at present mentioned as the mark of the day of a new calendar year observed by Hindus in central and southern India, the rites has its roots in the primitive psyche of the flux in nature and life.

Anthropologist E O James in his study of genesis of religion stated: “From the cradle to the grave human existence has seemed to be in a state of flux ‘never continuing in one stay, ‘a dying to be born again, exemplified in the decay of regeneration in nature. This has called forth a series of rites de passage at the critical junctions to obtain a fresh outpouring of life and power. (Prehistoric Relgion pp 143.)

And spring season marks the fecundity period of nature when the earth starts blooming. It is the start of the Vasanta Navratra wherein another anthropologist M M Underhill in his study “The Hindu Religious Year,” states that the festival starts after the earth, “rests and refreshes herself.”

Gudi Padwa is the mark of this very refreshing and regeneration of the ‘Mother Earth.’  According to Professor (Dr) Vivek P S of Mumbai University (Department of Sociology), “Gudi Padwa festival no doubt is the advent of the new calendar…but it is erroneous to prescribe its roots on any constellation formations; the sociological roots of the festival, lies in agrarian practices of a region. It is a festival of an agrarian community having or wanting a good Rabi crop harvest.

“The Rabi season ends in March-April and if one looks at the rites and the symbols that are used they all depict and symbolizes a purely agrarian outlook. The colours are bright primarily because there is happiness of a good harvest or the hopes of a good harvest taking place which primarily means a good economy.

And if one closely observes the rites practiced then one finds that they reflect voices from the past. A past that was a transitional period during which nomadic tribes slowly settled down alongside river banks transforming themselves into agricultural community. Of course, over the time the rituals were Brahminsed wherein a calendar dependent on natural seasons for keeping a tab on sowing and reaping, became more and more complicated with the introduction of lunar cycles.”

And it is primarily for this reason that with the passage of time coupled with Brahminicalisation of the festival, several lower caste and class in Maharashtra do not celebrate Gudi Padwa, even though the roots are buried deep in the proto-agricultural community psyche.

Senior journalist D K Joshi on the issue says: ”One of the reasons behind this is that Dalits during the Peshwa period in Maharashtra faced a lot of persecution. They were brutally ostracized from the social milieu. The ruling class and upper caste segregated them to the extent of inflicting punishment on them if they dared to celebrate the ‘Gudi Padwa’ or the ‘New Year,’-a status which it had acquired by then. And then if you look at the contemporary period then with most of Dalits converting to neo-Buddhist, the festival does not hold any meaning for them. However, even as most Dalit communities abstain from celebrating Gudi Padwa, several of them do celebrate as the festival also has a mark of an upward mobile class and caste status.”

Concurring with Joshi, a Dalit rights activist Raj Jagtap, however, points out: “In fact many Dalit families do celebrate but then it’s just not for the sake of climbing the staircase of caste hierarchy or for that matter aping the ruling class and caste. One should also remember that even though majority of them (Dalits) in interiors do not own land, most of them work as landless labourer tilling the land for upper class and upper caste farm owners. And that makes them a part of the agricultural community. Thus a good harvest or even the hopes of a good crop also means that for some time at least the fires will burn in their hearth.

“And the myths that have been put out in recent times…like Gudi symbolizing Brahma just do not stand the test of religio-historical analysis. Maharashtra just does not have any tradition of Brahma worship or for that matter even a temple dedicated to him. These kinds of myths were interpolated by Brahmin class for gaining hegemony. But then shorn of all myths Gudi Padwa like Holi is a celebration of Nature; and Nature in spring season… is a harbinger of hopes and one cannot deny that.”

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