Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Tamil New Year

The Tamil New Year day that till last year fell on April 14th was changed to January 14th through a notification of the Govt of Tamilnadu. Among other things, the press release stated that “in view of the consensus amongst almost all Tamil Scholars that the first day of the Tamil month Thai, the opening month of the Thiruvalluvar year, is the first day of the Tamil year, Government of Tamil Nadu has declared 1st Thai as the Tamil New Year Day and a legislation to this effect was enacted on 1.2.2008."

So, the upshot is that April 14th is not a holiday this year.

I don’t know what the political compulsions were to bring about this change, but the stated reason that “Tamil scholars had opined that the first day of Thai, and not the first day of Chitirai marked the beginning of the Tamil New Year” got me to search for some early records from Google archives, and if there was any reference to the festivals that were celebrated in this part of the country

The Madras Journal of Literature and Science which was published by British scholars residing in Indiam in the early nineteenth century had the following objective:

At the present period when the attention of England is particularly directed towards this, "interesting country, and every communication tending to the development of its resources or to add to the information we already possess in regard to its inhabitants, their manners and customs, is sought with the greatest avidity, it appears the more incumbent that each Presidency should contribute its respective share of information on these points, with the view of distinguishing the great and remarkable difference which exists in the people, their institutions, and usages, in different parts of the British territory in the East.

It was this journal that I accessed via Google Books and sure enough Page 14 had this entry.

An account of the Hindoo Holy days and Festivals, by Venket Row, late Interpreter to the Officer Commanding Vellore, with considerable alterations and additions by the Editor. (Read at a meeting of the M. L.S. & A. R. A. S.held on the 21st Feb. 18M.

Page 20 recorded the following, under “Solar or Tamil Festivals”.

Versharumbum or VurshaporapooThe eleventh of April, the first day of the month Chitry, when the sun enters Aries is the first day of the tamil year. It is kept as a festival by sacrificing to the spirits of deceased ancestors and giving alms to the poor and to the brahmins. A good work performed on this day is considered to be worth a hundred done at any other time.

So, there is evidence that at least from the year 1833, Tamil New Year Day has been celebrated on the first day of Chitirai, that is by mid-April. And, as the journal entry was about long traditions, it probably was the case since the time the British landed in these parts, 150 years earlier.

Of course, Tamil scholars of the DMK variety will have their own unimpeachable sources.


Mambalam Mani said...

True. I am sure unlike Karunanidhi, nobody enacted a law in 16th century or something saying varushaporappu has to be on beginning of thai and not chithirai. Only these jobless people portraying the upholders of the causes of Tamilians do these nonsense. It is actually pathetic that something that is significant to a society as a whole can be changed by a law enacted by a Govt. without consultation of the people.

B Shantanu said...

Great post, Raj

Unknown said...

did you know that true tamizh scholars used to talk through their mouth and shit through their behind instead of the other way around? somehow that has also been changed since the Kazhagams started redefining traditions.

maybe if that got changed, all the other changes would stop?


Anonymous said...

Nice to know this.

I thought it was ridiculous of DMK to "decree" that Tamil New Year was to be celebrated around Pongal.

Planning to hold my celebration (which I really haven't done yet till date) on Chitrai 1. :D

Usha said...

Raj, you are talking about 300 years of history. They are talking about "KaL thonri MaN thonrA KAlam' - Inda Chitirai masam varushaporappo and all is the ariya paarpana sadhi against dravidian culture

Raj said...

Thanks for the comments. I thought that the stated reason for the change was ridiculous.