With birdsong and spring flowers, mid-April rings in New Year festivities in several regions of India. Today is Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Vaisakhi in Punjab, and Navreh celebrated by Kashmiri Brahmins. On 14 and 15 April, there’s Poila Boisakh in West Bengal, Bohag Bihu in Assam andVishu in Kerala.
Regional new years are harvest festivals at heart. The celebratory rituals involve worshiping the land that grows food and cattle which till the soil. The link between these rituals and the kitchen are established with simple ingredients like rice, jaggery, coconut, curd, milk and fresh produce of the season, such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, and even flowers. Here’s a quick look at the festive platters from all corners of India.
Navreh of the Kashmiri Brahmin community
To mark new beginnings, there is a ritual named Thaal Bharun. A large plate is filled with whole walnuts with shell, sugar, salt, rice, flowers, janthri (calendar), mirror, curd, bread, some herbs, a little bit of cooked rice, pen and ink pot. The thaal (plate) is assembled the night before and the next morning on Navreh the first thing one looks at is it. The bread and cooked rice are later put out for birds to eat.
Vaishakhi of Punjab
Gur ke chawal and gur ki kheer are the sweet somethings of Vaisakhi celebrations. There’s pindi chole and kadhi chawal for the main course. A variation of the gur chawal is a rich mithe chawal, loaded with dry fruits and sweetened with sugar instead of jaggery.
Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra
Puran poli—a channa flour paratha stuffed with jaggery or sugar and topped with melting ghee—is one of the highlights of the new year celebrated in the Marathi community. The festive menu includes a creamy shrikhand (picture above), studded with saffron and dry fruits, served alongside an elaborate lunch of masala bhaat, puris and aloo bhaaji.
Nobo Borsho of Bengal
The creamy payesh, fragrant with bay leaves, upgraded with extra cashews and raisins and sweetened with sugar or jaggery, is a star dish. The Nobo Borsho feast typically comprises luchi, dhokar dalna and kosha mangsho. There’s always a mixed vegetable dish like shukto or a preparation of rice combined with a vegetable like chaal potol (pointed gourd) cooked with aromatic gobindobhog rice for special occasions.
Bohag Bihu in Assam
Ground rice powder, jaggery, sesame and coconut are the main ingredients that go into making the various festive pithas of Assam. The fried ghila pitha is made with kneaded dough of sticky rice powder combined with jaggery. Til pitha is the Amitabh Bachchan of Bihu celebrations. They are made with sticky rice powder and stuffed with a jaggery-sweetened filling of sesame or coconut. Assamese larus, laddoos, made with sesame and coconut, accompany the pithas. Mini meals with flattened rice, parboiled rice or sticky rice are served with curd or cream, with a sprinkling of jaggery.
Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh
Bevu Bella or Ugadi pachadi is a festive-special drink to welcome the Telegu new year. It is not only flavourful, but is infused with spiritual symbolism, and is believed to reflect the various aspects of life by combining six flavours—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and acidic. The main ingredient in this dish is the neem flower which is mixed into a concoction of raw mango, tamarind and jaggery water. In Telegu homes, the New Year begins by tasting the bevu bella.
Just as the neem flower, unripe mangoes are the fresh harvest of the season. A rice preparation with raw mangoes, mavinkayi chitranna, is a must-have. It is often served with a sabzi of taro roots and a sambar-like preparation made with okra.
Vishu in Kerala
Just as the Kashmiri Brahmins assemble a thaal, Malayalis put together a kani. In Malayali homes, fruits, vegetables and rice grains are placed in an uruli, decorated with flowers. It is kept in front of the idol of a family deity. On Vishu, each family member must see the kani before the days starts. It is a cornucopia of fresh harvest, symbolic of welcoming a year filled with abundance. The food menu is not a lavish affair. It comprises nourishing ingredients to fortify the body. There's the Vishu kanji (rice porridge cooked in coconut milk), upperi (fried bitter gourd), puzhukku (steamed raw jackfruit with jackfruit seeds), a vegetable preparation with a seasonal produce such as the mathanga erissery (pumpkin with cowpeas) and payasam made with bengal gram or rice.
With many commonalities in rituals and ingredients, new year foods of regional India are a reminder of the bonds that tie us together and a vibrant celebration of seasonal produce.