Puthandu: Tamil Celebration of Spring
With the onset of spring, seems like everyone is celebrating as moods are swayed by the enduring sunshine. There’s greenery everywhere, fresh leaves on trees, flowers in bloom and songs of the birds all around. People celebrate different types of New Year all around the world. The Tamil community in Canada, and across the world, celebrates their New Year, also called Puthandu, on 13th or 14th of April according to the Gregorian calendar.
In Sri Lanka both Tamils and Sinhalese celebrate New Year together and it is a national holiday. The customs are very similar with some differences on both sides. In Canada, the Tamil community also celebrates this occasion following, some if not all of the rituals, as they welcome the new season with all the other communities. Some would take the day off work if they could to observe the day according to tradition.
First morning of the new year, sees the women in Tamil households rise early to decorate their home entrance with colorful “Kolams” , hanging garlands and ‘thorans’ made of Mango leaves to eliminate negative energy from outside. However, there is also a scientific reason behind it – Mango leaves have antibacterial effect against gram positive bacteria. Everyone starts the day by taking a shower with holy water called ‘Maruthu neer’ which contains herbal leaves, select flowers, milk and other ingredients, and is made by the priests in temples, available to all the previous day.
Aside from beginning of the year, this is also a day for thanksgiving. Sweets, including sweet rice called ‘Pongal’, are offer to God and the Sun. People visit temples for prayers and blessings. Somewhat similar to other South Asian and East Asian cultures, family elders gift an amount of money to younger members of the family – with beetle leaves, areca nuts and flowers in order to wish them more wealth and good luck for the rest of the year. This ritual is called ‘Kaivisesham’ and is performed at a specific auspicious time during the New Year day, called ‘Punya Kalam’.
Lunch on the Tamil New Year is usually a feast as they prepare meals in six different tastes to remind themselves of the fact that life has ups and downs and mix of emotions in the year ahead cannot be overlooked. In the evenings people would visit relatives and friends and exchange gifts and food.
Many holidays and festivals are not celebrated by most immigrant communities in Canada – including the 0.2 million Tamils – as they used to celebrate them back home. Yet traditions are kept alive by these communities when friends and families come together on special occasions, and such diverse celebrations lend more strength to the evolving Canadian multiculturalism.