Tamil Puthandu, also known as Tamil New Year, is the first day of the year as per the Tamil calendar. The festival date is set according to the solar cycle of the Hindu calendar, as the first day of the Tamil month of Chithirai. It falls either on or around 14 April every year on the Gregorian calendar. The same day is celebrated by Hindus as the traditional new year. It is known by different names in different regions of the country, like Vishu in Kerala, and Vaisakhi or Baisakhi in central and northern India.
On this day, Tamilians wish each other by saying “Puttāṇṭu vāḻttukkaḷ!” or “Iṉiya puttāṇṭu nalvāḻttukkaḷ!”, which means “Happy new year”. People clean up the house, arrange a tray with fruits, flowers and auspicious items, light up the family Puja shrine and visit their local temples. They wear new clothes and then the entire family sits down to have a vegetarian meal.
Puthandu is also celebrated by Tamil people living outside Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, or in other countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Reunion, Mauritius, etc. The day is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The same day is also celebrated as the traditional new year all over the country and also in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. It is also known as Sinhala new year as the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka also celebrate the same day as their new year.
Sinhala and Tamil new year is celebrated with a lot of vigour and zeal. According to the Tamil tradition, the festive tray decorated with fruits and all ornaments is auspicious as the first sight upon waking on the new year day. Home entrances are decorated elaborately with beautiful designs made by coloured rice powder. These designs are called kolams.
In Madurai, the Chitterai Thiruvizha is celebrated in the Meenakshi Temple on this day. Also, a huge exhibition is held, called Chitterai Porutkaatchi. On the same day, a big Car Festival is held at Tiruvidaimarudur near Kumbakonam. The day is also celebrated with special events at Tiruchirapalli, Kanchipuram and other places.
Sri Lankan Tamils commemorate the traditional new year with the first financial transaction known as the Kai-vishesham. The children go to their elders to pay respect and the elders give their blessings and gift pocket money to the children in return. The event is also celebrated with the ‘arpudu’ or the first ploughing of the land to prepare it for the new agricultural cycle. The game of ‘por-thenkai’ or coconut wars is also played and cart races are also held.
Two styles of mango-based pachadi dish, that combines many bitter-sour-sweet-pungent flavours are prepared on the day and the families enjoy a feast in the evening. The traditional festive dish, that combines different flavours, is a characteristic reminder that one must assume to taste all flavours of experiences in the coming new year. One must remember that no event is wholly sweet or bitter but experiences are temporary, and one should learn the most from them.