Happy Ugadi – A Hindu New Year for a Telugu from Troy

Happy Ugadi – A Hindu New Year for a Telugu from Troy March 28, 2017

While Diwali marks the beginning of the new year for some Hindus, here in my hometown of Troy, most Hindus will celebrate the start of the Vedic New Year on Ugadi. Troy, MI is unique for its diversity, with one in four people born in another country, and our most spoken foreign language being Telugu – which is also my mother tongue. Telugu is the language of people originating from the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and the newest Indian state of Telengana. Telugu people follow the chandramana or lunar calendar, like the Kannada and Marathi speaking Hindu community so we share the same holiday to celebrate new year. While Telugus and Kannadas call the holiday Ugadi or Yugadi, Marathi folks call it Gudi Padwa, and have their own rituals around it. 

Living in America, it is hard to know when the holiday falls since it is based on the cycles of the moon.  In India, where my parents and extended family live, it’s usually a school and government holiday. I rely on the e-newsletter that my local temple sends me, and was confident that this year, I should wash my hair, eat Ugadi pachadi (a special chutney combining six symbolic flavors), and wear something new on Wed. March 29 – the typical customs followed as part of the celebration. Imagine my surprise when a colleague at work – a Marathi woman – told me she is celebrating Gudi Padwa on March 28!

I called my father to ask about this discrepancy and got a lesson in tithi and Telugu lore. First, he laid the foundation: a lunar calendar is based on the moon’s rotation around the Earth. A tithi is the time taken for the longitudinal angle between the moon and the sun to increase by 12°. A lunar month consists of 30 tithis, whose start time and duration vary, and each one has a name. A tithi starts with the sunrise or suryodayam, Tithi dwayam occurs when there are two tithi on one day (and there can also be two days with the same tithi). While there was so much more to learn about the lunar and solar calendars that Hindus in India and around the world follow, I was able to turn the astronomy-cum-astrology class back to the issue at hand…  

This year, the tithi known as padyami – the first day after a new moon, and the tithi of Ugadi in this month – started on the Gregorian calendar on March 28, and ended around 7 am on March 29.  According to an old Telugu saying, “Taddinam ki tagulu, pandaga ki migulu,” where taddinam is an annual [death anniversary] ceremony; tagulu means “to happen”, pandaga means “festival” or “celebration”, and migulu means “to remain.” Loosely translated, the annual event to memorialize a death anniversary should be held on the day that the tithi starts, around noon or midday, whereas a holiday should be celebrated on the date the tithi ends.  And of course, he pointed out that there are exceptions to the rule, where holy days are celebrated the day the tithi starts – such as the holiday Krishnashtami, the birth of Sri Krishna, which occurred at night; or Diwali, which is on a no-moon night or amavasya. Allaying my concern that my temple newsletter had it wrong, my father said there was definitely some confusion this year about when Ugadi is, but in 2001, even the government was confused – and people were given the day off on both dates! But traveling forward in time and place, here in 2017, in Troy, MI,  I get neither day off – but I was able to wish my IT colleagues in India a Happy Ugadi on March 28 and definitely plan to celebrate on March 29, right here in my hometown. Happy Vedic New Year to all, wherever you celebrate, whenever you celebrate!

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