Songs, dance, cultural events and above all, food – the colours of new year

When the neem trees flower, it means the Tamil New Year is here. As the streets of Chennai were filled with the heady scent of neem flowers, the city’s residents from various communities — Tamil, Punjabi, Bengali, Assamese, Sindhi, Malayalee, Telugu — celebrated new year in their own ways.

Neem flowers are an essential part of the traditional raw mango pachadi whose ingredients blend to give out five different tastes. With raw mangoes, a dash of jaggery and chillies mixing with neem flowers, it’s an apt metaphor for all that life has to offer.

“Though we do not wear new clothes like for Pongal or Deepavali, we have a nice time watching TV programmes and feasting with the family,” said Deepa Mohan, a resident of Kilpauk. While on Monday, Tamils ushered in ‘Jaya varsham’, Punjabis celebrated Baisakhi and the Assamese, the Bohag Bihu.

Over 7,000 Punjabis in the city visited the Gurudwara on G.N. Chetty Road as part of Baisakhi celebrations. Jaswant Singh, a resident of Mogappair, said that the highlight of the day was their participation in the Guru Ka Langar (community kitchen) and singing of kirtans. “All of us work together to cook and serve food on the occasion,” he said. There are over 2,000 Punjabi families in the city.

The members of the 32-year-old Assam Association in Chennai celebrated Bohag Bihu at the CLRI Campus in Taramani where a colourful cultural programme showcasing traditional Assamese songs and the Bihu dance was held. “Ours is a three-day long celebration. We make traditional till pitha sweet with rice flour, coconut, jaggery and sesame seeds (till),” explained Dwip Kinkor Goswami, a resident of Chennai for over 22 years.

For the Bengalis, Monday was Chaitra Sankaranthi (the last day of the year) and Tuesday their Subho Noboborsho. The Bengal Association, Chennai celebrated Noboborsho with cultural programmes on Sunday itself.

Swarnali Pal, a resident of Thoraipakkam, says, “Apart from cleaning our homes and wearing new clothes, it is also the time to cook and eat our favourite food. On Tuesday, non-vegetarian dishes including fish, mutton and chicken will be cooked. We will also make a special payas with nolin gud, made of date sap. It will turn sour in summer so this is the last time that we can use it,” she said.

Vishu Kani today

On Tuesday morning, over 10 lakh Malayalees in the city will wake up to a new year and see the ‘Vishu Kani’ – where various items such as rice, golden cucumber, betel leaves, konna flowers, a mirror and money are kept in a brass urn called ‘Uruli’ in the pooja room. People look at it immediately after waking up and then receive cash from elders, said P. N. Balamuralikrishnan of Ayanavaram.

M. Nandagovind, president, World Malayalee Council (India region), said that some Malayalees celebrated the festival ahead of Vishu which falls on Tuesday this year. “We decided to celebrate on Monday as it is a government holiday,” said S. Haridasan, a resident of Arumbakkam.

Though the traditional Vishu sadhya (feast) is prepared at home in Kerala, in Chennai, many purchase it from caterers or restaurants. K. Jayakumar, Sona Caterers in Anna Nagar, said he supplies different varieties of ‘payasam’ such as palaada , pazha pradhaman and chakkapradhaman . Robin Varghese, who runs Nandanam Restaurant, said that in the last four years, many non-Malayalees too have started ordering the Vishu sadhya .

(With inputs from Aloysius Xavier Lopez and

Vivek Narayanan)