Time for new narratives

Time for new narratives

A fresh Start

As the festive mood spreads ahead of Ugadi, Shraddha N V Sharma explores varied traditions associated with the festival and their significance.

“What’s this for?” a kid in the family might ask as one gives her a sprinkling of bevu bella (neem and jaggery), on the festive day of Ugadi. This is the kind of curiosity that leaves most of us when we leave behind our childhood. Although the symbolic balance of bitter and sweet has remained with us, we seem to have continued with some other
practices ritualistically, without giving much thought about their significance.

Ugadi, the welcoming of a season and a new year, is perhaps one of few Indian
festivals not associated with any one particular deity. Declaring the onset of spring, Ugadi is a celebration of nature, of rejuvenated life, and not just for the well-off but for those living on the margins too.

Ugadi as it is called in Karnataka and Andra Pradesh, or Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, is also a testing time for many farmers. This is the time when they check the quality of their reaped crops.

Flavours of nature

In the humid regions of North Karnataka, the crops that are growing, absorbing fog and moisture, are ready for harvest by Ugadi. A part of the harvest, which consists mostly of pulses and nuts, is roasted and mixed with jaggery, a tasty treat that also manages to gauge the essence of the yield.

On this day, people also eat a mixture of neem flower, tamarind, jaggery, unripened mango and pulses, a combination of different tastes, reflecting the hilosophy of life. It is also a season for raw mangoes and fully-blossomed neem trees. While mangoes spread their ragrance in the air, neem flowers make the atmosphere healthy.

In the early days, the practices were  more aligned with changes in nature. But modern sensibilities may have changed the way we approach a festival such as this. Sanjeev Kulakarni, an environment enthusiast in Dharwad speaks of how the academic calendar that ends with examinations in March may have interfered with the vigour with which Ugadi was originally observed, with the whole family conscious of the changing season. Ugadi cannot be separated from the two festivals that come right at the end of the Chandra Mana or the lunar calendar year (Soura maana ugadi is followed in some parts of the country). Holi and Ranga Panchami come right before Ugadi. With the symbolic burning of Kamadeva in the bonfire, the negativity and frustrations of the past year are left behind and urges tempered. Five days after the festival of Holi, people in parts of North Karnataka arrive at Ranga Panchami, celebrating resurrection with the play of colours. Ugadi then marks a shift in seasons, a shift in agriculture, a shift in production.

For the farming community, Ugadi is that point in the agricultural cycle when they can prepare the land for ploughing again, those with businesses too start afresh. Especially among jewellers, if not during Deepavali, Ugadi is the time for fresh accounts. Ugadi is considered as most auspicious time to start new ventures. Suffice to say that everyone is looking for a good omen on this day.

Different traditions

In and around Hassan district, people believe that spotting the moon on the night of Ugadi can bring good fortune. Legend goes that the two horns of the half moon are used to predict the future. The folk of North Karnataka on the other hand look for good luck in the form of ratna pakshi, the crow pheasant with golden brown wings.

Another interesting phenomenon as noted by farmer, writer Santosh Kaulagi, is Honneeru, the act of community ploughing, practised in Mysuru region. The very first ploughing is always done together by the whole community, before farmers can do the same in their separate fields.

Slightly different is the tradition towards the north of the state, where land is taken on lease by landless farmers in order to worship the earth in their own way on the day of Ugadi. Even the hunters’ community has a custom of going hunting on the festive day and parading around the village with their catch.

The thought that, what we experience on the very next day will be carried throughout the year, has all of us wearing new clothes and uttering all kinds of niceties to one another. The tradition goes that no matter what the economic circumstance at home, at least a new strand of cloth must be worn! Of course this is after the traditional and rather scientifically thought out bath with castor oil and soap nut powder on the day of Ugadi. All
together, a day that provides new beginnings of sorts.

Harbinger of happiness

The festivities are also a good excuse for some cheerful literary activities. Several groups and organisations have taken to holding Kavi Goshti, poetry recitation sessions, after all the bloom of spring has inspired many a poets in Kannada literary as well as folk history. This is vident in the works of eminent writers such as B M Shree who calls spring the king of all seasons or Da Ra Bendre who speaks of the renewal of nature among so many others.

Today though, when oral legends are long forgotten and with a loss of touch with nature, what is the significance of Ugadi? With very significant changes in climate, the usual time for flowers coming much earlier and giving no time for pollinators to help the production cycle with their work, a fall in produce can well be expected. So then, where is there space for ‘celebration’?

This, of all festivals, has the potential to work as a changing approach towards
nature by people of all communities in all regions, across caste, occupation and
classes. Development activist Prakash Bhat feels that it is time we put in concerted effort at making the festivities meaningful. He gives the example of Agi Habba, agi in the local language meaning sapling, where the community comes together to plant saplings in monsoon. Agi Habba has evolved into an earth- friendly, environment conscious festival. In the same way, Ugadi that is the celebration of all that is new, the wakening of a dormant earth, can evolve into a celebration of environment too.

This year, Ugadi coincides with the World Forestry Day and it is perhaps the right time to re-examine priorities and reform ourselves towards a healthy biodiversity. There is an increasing monoculture setting in and this provides the right context to go back to nature as a whole community. A time for new narratives to tell curious little minds.

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