Oftentimes, the upcoming new year is labelled as being exclusively a Sinhala and Hindu New Year. Headlines often splatter those words as if they are set in gold. However if you’ve been in Assam, Kerala, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand or even Yunnan in China, you’ll soon realize that these red letter days are more than just the heralding of a new year. To understand the relevance of this new year in the South and in Southeast Asia, it is important to understand The traditional New Year in many South and Southeast Asian cultures is based on the sun’s entry into the constellation Aries. In modern times, it is usually reckoned around the
14th of April.
As most countries and cultures of South and Southeast Asia lie within the Indian cultural sphere, the development of their traditional calendars have been strongly influenced by some form of the Hindu calendar. As in many other calendars, the New Year was based on the northern hemisphere vernal equinox (the beginning of spring). However, the Hindu calendar year was based on the sidereal year (i.e. the movement of the sun relative to the stars), while the Western Gregorian calendar is based on the tropical year (the cycle of seasons). The sun’s entry into Aries is known as meṣa saṅkrānti in Sanskrit, and is observed as Mesha Sankranti and Songkran in South and South-east Asian cultures.
In South Asia:
Bohag Bihu in Assam, India
Pahela Baishakh or Bengali New Year in Bangladesh and states of West Bengal and Tripura, India
Pana Sankranti in Odisha, India
Sangken in Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam, India
Bwisagu in Bodoland region of Assam, India
Puthandu or Tamil New Year in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, India and Sri Lanka
Vishu in Kerala, India
Bisu in Tulu Nadu region of Karnataka and Kerala, India
Jur Sital in the Mithila region of Bihar, India and Nepal
Aluth Avurudda or Sinhalese New Year in Sri Lanka
Vaisakhi or Punjabi New Year, in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan
In Southeast Asia:
Thingyan in Burma
Choul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia
Pi Mai in Laos
Songkran in Thailand
In East Asia:
Water-Sprinkling Festival, celebrated by the Dai people in Sipsongpanna in Yunnan, China.
It’s hard to believe the forthcoming new year is such a cultural extravaganza in so many countries. But it is true and in each of these countries, the month of April and particularly the days from 11 to 16 are indeed special. For instance in Assam, Bohag Bihu is a traditional aboriginal ethnic festival, in Odisha its the traditional new year for Odias, in Kerala the days the festival marks the first day of Medam, the ninth month in the solar calendar followed in Kerala. In Vaisakhi the festival marks the first day of the month of Vaisakha, is usually celebrated on 13 or 14 April every year and is a historical and religious festival in Hinduism.
In Burma Thingyan is the celebration of the transition of the sun from pieces to aries while in China it is a traditional festival of the Dai nationality marking the Lunar New Year. The Dai are an ethnic minority of China who primarily live in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in southern Yunnan.