With the coming of spring, new shoots and myriad blooms fill the world with their colors and fragrance as Earth celebrates her regeneration. In India, the Hindus of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala celebrate spring with the festival of Gudhi Padva, which falls on padva, “first day,” of shukla paksh, “waxing moon,” in the Indian month of Chaitra. Gudhi means “the flag of victory.” Gudhi Padva also marks the beginning of Chaitra Navaratri, the nine-day celebration of Goddess Durga.
In ancient times, according to the Brahma Purana a great pralaya, “deluge,” annihilated the universe and brought time to a halt. In this period, Goddess Durga asked Lord Brahma to recreate the universe. This is why Brahma is worshipped on Gudhi Padva, and the gudhi is also known as the Brahma dhvaj, “Brahma's flag.” Gudhi Padva also marks the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana in Sri Lanka and the Lord’s return to his kingdom in Ayodhya. Like many other festivals, Gudhi Padva, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and serves as a sweet reminder to use our viveka, our “power of discrimination,” to distinguish between good and evil.
I grew up in Delhi, India, and though my family did not celebrate Gudhi Padva, I was surrounded by friends and neighbors from various states of India who celebrated this day as Gudhi Padva, Ugadi, Yugadi, Baisakhi, and Navreh. There were small differences in the way each one celebrated this festival, but there were common themes—spring, regeneration, excitement, anticipation, and exuberant celebrations.
Gudhi Padva also marks the time for harvesting grains and fruits, including the much-awaited mangoes, and then sowing anew—hence, it is a time for new beginnings. This focus on new beginnings took on a special meaning when I started following the Siddha Yoga path in 1989. I now celebrate this day by renewing my commitment to the Guru and to my sadhana, and I make a silent prayer expressing my gratitude for all that I have received and asking blessings for the new year. I always feel this surge of enthusiasm and excitement at this time as Nature unfurls herself and reminds us that she is the supreme Consciousness manifesting in all her glory.
In the days leading up to Gudhi Padva, it is traditional for people to clean and decorate their homes. When I was a child, I would observe my neighbors adorning their homes with colorful rangolis mirroring Mother Nature as she created her own rangoli with new leaves and colorful blooms. It is as though Earth can no longer contain her joy, and so she bursts forth in delight. As a Siddha Yogi, I now have this understanding that this is a time not just for external cleaning, but also for cleaning our own hearts and letting the light of the Self shine forth.
On the morning of Gudhi Padva, our neighbors’ homes would be abuzz with activity. Families would arise before dawn and take an oil bath (an Ayurvedic tradition) and dress in new clothes. In some families, at sunrise all members of the household would enter the puja room with their eyes closed. Before their altars, they would open their eyes, so that their first glimpse of the new year was darshan of the Lord. The rituals and prayers were not complete before everyone, including my family, received prasad made of bitter neem leaves and sweet jaggery. In the homes of some friends from Karnataka, spicy, sour, salty, and astringent ingredients were added to the bitter and sweet. This combination is to remind us of the different flavors of life. The contrast encourages us to always turn within to the Self, which is changeless, and to quiet the restless mind through meditation and contemplation.
In Maharashtra, the most auspicious part of the celebration is preparing and hoisting the gudhi on the eve of Gudhi Padva. This flag is installed outside the house or on the terrace. The inverted pot on the top of the red, green, or yellow flag is believed to absorb divine energies and conduct them to the house. It is also believed that the gudhi wards off evil and brings good luck and prosperity. Since it is a celebration of victory, it impels us to attain victory over our inner enemies and our senses. It teaches us to aspire for the highest, which on the Siddha Yoga path we consider to be the knowledge of our own inner Self.
And, of course, no celebration is complete without a feast. Scrumptious dishes are first offered to God and then eaten as prasad. People get together, form processions with great fanfare, and visit temples. There is much rejoicing as people in Maharashtra wish each other “Gudipadvyachya hardik shubheccha!”—“Heartfelt wishes for Gudhi Padva!”