April, in a word, is the month of a rebirth, a renaissance, a new beginning in the field of agriculture. In the month of April, the subcontinent celebrates several festivities of joy, many of which are harvest festivals. Festivals in April in India are many; this is also a period when the freshness of spring scatters mist all over the country, and people start to celebrate their native cultural uniqueness through their festivals
Since India is a land of great biodiversity, different states celebrate a large number of harvest festivals. Now that the winter season is drawing to a close, it is time to reap the harvest and so is the time to celebrate. The importance of agriculture to human life is celebrated in agricultural societies through rituals and ceremonial offerings are made to appease the elements of the sun, rain and earth.
Harvest festivals are believed to be the oldest forms of festivals around the world. They are a way of thanking nature for the bounty it offers in the form of new crops. Harvest festivals are not just about celebrating the ripe crops but also an important astronomical change going on in the solar system. They are considered to be auspicious periods and hence are marked with celebrations and prayers. Given the regional differences in climates and crops, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world.
The harvest season falls at different times of the year depending upon region, climate, and crop, but festivals celebrating its arrival are held the world over. Some are first-fruits festivals that recognize the start of the season and the first crops, while other harvest festivals are celebrations to give thanks for the blessing of a bountiful harvest and to mark or ensure the recurrence of the process.
The greenery permeates through the economy to the culture and social fabric of the country. In art, celebrations, decorations or festivals, the presence of farming or agriculture is strongly felt, especially in rural India. And hence it is no wonder that harvesting too finds its place planted in the cultural landscape of the country. Every region in India follows different cultures, so the traditions of the new year’scelebration also vary. Generally, the new year is celebrated in different states of India at the time of harvesting of crops.
Nevertheless, the dates for harvest festivals in India are different in varied regions across the nation because of the diversity in climatic conditions. A harvest festival is one that takes place during the time of the foremost harvest in a certain region.
Harvesting of the crops thus differs depending on the type and season of the crops. Kharif crops are usually harvested in September-October and rabi crops in February – April. The first yield or harvest of any crop brings exceptional happiness and joy to the farmer because it is a direct result of his skill and hard work. The crops grown in the country are divided on various parameters. One such is the Kharif, Ragi and Zaid crops. The Kharif crops are grown between July to October and depend heavily on the southwest monsoons for their success. The rabi cropping, on the other hand, is between October to March. Some of the Kharif crops are maize, rice, millets, bajra, cotton etc. Rabi crops include barley, wheat, oats, mustard, chickpeas etc. Zaid crops are grown from March to June and include vegetables and fruits.
Besides, the food, the harvest festivals also exude a rich heritage and dose of traditional culture and arts. The music and dances, as well as traditional attires all point towards the connection that the festival has to the traditions of the land. The harvest festivals are celebrated with various decorations, such as rangolis, kites, dolls, sugarcane etc. There are fairs, gatherings and showcasing of different cultural skills during the harvest festivals. A number of traditional dishes are cooked and served during the harvest festivals. The range and variety of dishes vary across the country, but each state or region has its own special cuisines lined up for its respective harvest festivals.
Following are some of the best and the most popular harvest festivals celebrated in the different states of India:
- Baisakhi: This harvest festival is mainly celebrated in the Punjab state, but it has historical and religious importance as well. It is observed on April 13th or 14th April on the pious occasion of the Sikh New Year. Vaisakhi is celebrated as the Indian Thanksgiving Day by farmers of Punjab, praying for future prosperity and thanking God for harvest. It also has religious significance for the Sikhs community as the foundation of the Panth Khalsa on this day by the Guru Gobind Singh. Farmers across the nation express their delight and happiness by celebrating this festival related to farming. It is an opportunity for the Hindus to bathe in sacred rivers like Kaveri, Ganges, Jhelum, etc., visit temples and meet family and friends. It is also a celebratory harvest festival for the Sikh community and is celebrated with folk songs and dances by Sikhs all over the world. It is a way to thank god for a good harvest the past winter and hopes to have fruitful crops in the coming season. There are many different kinds of dishes that are savoured in this festival but the most common one is “Peele Chawal” (sweet yellow rice) and is also served as prasad on Baisakhi.
People put on the best of colourful attires, dance to melodious sounds of dhol, and sing the happiest of songs. It is one of the most loved seasonal festivals in the country.
During this time, people celebrate and shout Jatta Aayi Baisakhi, and march towards their farmlands. There are Baisakhi fairs (melas) organised where wrestling, acrobatics, musical performances are displayed at their best.
- Gudi Padwa: Grand harvest festival of Maharashtra, Gudi Padwa marks the beginning of an auspicious new year with celebrating a successful crop. Being a springtime festival, Gudi Padwa is celebrated on the first day of ‘Chaitra’ month, the first day of Hindu new year i.e. mid-March. Marking the onset of the Marathi New Year, this is a popular harvest festival of India. This grand festival is celebrated by making rangoli designs right at the entrance of homes. People also decorate their homes with handmade dolls and flowers. They meet their relatives and friends and exchange good wishes. The women cook different varieties of sweets such as Shrikhand, Sunth Paak, and Puran Poli.
In Maharashtra, neem and jaggery are partaken to mark the beginning of the day, followed by hoisting of the Gudi – a scarf wrapped on a bamboo mast, which is decorated with neem and mango leaves, and topped with an upturned pot. The Gudi is meant to mark the victory of King Shalivahana over the Huns. It also commemorates the victory of Rama over Ravana, and ascendancy to the throne of Ayodhya. In Maharashtra, a dish similar to pachadi, containing all the five flavours is eaten, along with local delicacies like shrikhand and puran poli.
- Pohela Boishakh, also known as the Bengali New Year, is celebrated around April 14 or 15 each year. It marks the first day of the first month (Baishakh) of the lunisolar Bengali calendar. Pohela Boishakh or Bengali New Year marks the first day of the initial month of Baisakh of the Bengali solar calendar. In Bengal, Poila Baisakh is a secular celebration that follows a day after Baisakhi, and is special across all religious groups-Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist.
Bengalis all over the world celebrate New Year on this day which falls on the 14 April this year. To celebrate this festival, Bengalis greet each other by saying “Shubho Nobobarsho” which translates to “prosperous New Year”. A number of fairs are organised across West Bengal and Tripura to celebrate this joyous occasion.
Pohela Boishakh marks the first day of the initial month of Baishakh of the Bengali solar calendar. Bengalis all over the world celebrate New Year on this day which falls on the 15 April this year To celebrate this festival, Bengalis greet each other by saying “Shubho Nobobarsho” which translates to a prosperous New Year. A number of fairs are organized across the states of West Bengal and Tripura to celebrate this joyous occasion Boishakh is the first month of the Bengali calendar, and Poila stands for First. So, Poila Boishakh literally means the first day of the month of Boishakh, thus, marking the beginning of a new year. People greet each other saying, Shubho Noboborsho where Naba means New and Barsho mean Year. Traditional delicacies like puli and pithe mark the occasion, with songs, and dancing all through the day.
Orissa also follows a similar trajectory, with young girls performing the Bihu dance on this day. In Odisha, Pana Sankranti – the Odiya New Year, corresponds to Poila Baisakh and marks the day the Sun is on the Equator (Vishuva). Since the day marks the onset of summer, a small canopy is made on the Tulsi tree in the courtyard, and a pot with water is placed on top of it. This pot has a hole through which water keeps dropping on the Tulsi plant, for an entire month. Pana, a sweet drink made of bel, mango, and grated coconut, is had on this day, as a thirst quencher for summer.
- Ugadi: Ugadi is traditionally referred to as Yugadi. Yug means an era and aid means the beginning.Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, marks the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra, or Chaitra Navratri. The day is of both astrological significance for the farmer (as it marks the beginning of spring-summer), and historical significance since it marks the first day as per the Shalivahana era that was started by Gautamiputra Satkarni. On this day, obeisance is paid to Brahma, who is supposed to have created the universe on this day, following which neem and jaggery partake. Pachadi – a mixture that has all the different flavours, meaning bitter, sweet, hot, sour and salty, is served to all. This signifies the various shades of life that everyone must go through, and hence must be prepared for. The Ugadi delicacies like Ugadi Pachadi, Pulihora and Bobbatlu are prepared with raw mango, jaggery, neem, and tamarind.
- Vishu: In Kerala, Vishu is a day when families begin their day by sighting the Vishukanni – an auspicious decoration arranged around an image of Vishnu and comprising an oil lamp, a mirror, a coconut, lemon, jackfruit, cucumber, betel leaves, areca nut, and seasonal flowers. To mark the occasion, a typical meal called Sadhya, which has all the flavours– bitter, sweet, sour, salty and hot, is served. Vishu kanji, made of freshly harvested rice powder and coconut milk, and Vishu Katta – made of rice, coconut milk and jaggery are special delicacies to mark the occasion. The day is a solemn religious occasion to mark the beginning of the sowing season, but fireworks and merriment are also a part of this harvest festival.
- Puthandu: The Tamil New Year, Puthandu also falls on April 14, and marks the beginning of the sowing season, or the first ploughing by the farmers. The Puthandu tray is an auspicious decoration made up of betel leaves, arecanut, coconut, three types of seasonal fruits, a mirror, gold and silver items, coins, and seasonal flowers, with an oil lamp. A mangai pachadi made using a sour mango base, with sweet jaggery, bitter neem, red chillis, and astringent mustard is served to all, signifying the variegated flavours of life that must be encountered in the coming year. The Puthandu tray is prepared on the eve of the New Year, and is to be viewed by the family members first thing in the morning on Puthandu day. The day is marked by car festivals in many major temples all over Tamil Nadu, as also exhibitions marking the beginning of the Tamil month of Chitterai.
- Bohag Bihu: Assam's spring festival “Bohag Bihu” celebrated in the middle of April as the beginning season of agriculture. Assamese women clad in mekhla chador dance to Assamese folk songs and cuisine of Assam. Bohag Bihu is the biggest festival of Assam. The farmers prepare the fields for cultivation of paddy, while the women make pitha, larus (traditional food made of rice and coconut) and jolpan. During the celebrations, women put on traditional attire and perform Bihu (the dance form from Assam). They are accompanied by the men who keep playing drums. One of the most popular events during this festival is the bullfight. The festival is celebrated for cherishing the efforts of agriculture and reaping the advantages. A community feast called Uruka is organised the day before Bihu.On the day of the chief revelries, pavilions or mejis made of hay and clay are burnt. Also known as Magh Bihu, this is the most lively and interesting name in the harvest festival of India list. Sunga Pitha, birds fight, Laru, and Til Pitha are the key attractions of this festival.
So, the ‘tradition’ of celebrating the season of harvest as a festival has been around for aeons. Ever since mankind began cultivating produce for self-sufficiency and subsequently business, the agriculture culture has been given its due importance. Different cultures around the world have their own distinct ways of celebrating the harvest season at different times of the year, depending on the regions where crops are cultivated and the differences in climates.
Thus, harvesting festivals remind us of how much nature and man work in tandem to create the most basic of necessities for survival. Mutual respect is evident and more so during the harvesting festivals of India. The natural forces required for a good yield, such as the sun is worshipped. Food is offered to God and a general sense of gratitude and respect prevails.
Also, though agriculture is primarily a rural endeavour the harvest festivals are celebrated with a lot of fervour in urban areas too. Though the cultural and social undertones and expressions may vary, the basic philosophy is understood and celebrated well.