Happy Indian New Year! The new year is celebrated throughout North India, especially in Gujarat, on the day after the Deepavali festivities. It is the half day of the three-and-a-half most auspicious days of the year according to the panchanga, the traditional Indian calendar. In 2020, Indian New Year occurs on Monday, November 16.
This day is also a celebration of Bali Pratipada, which commemorates the story of the triumph of Lord Vishnu over King Bali. In celebration of this day, Siddha Yogis of Indian descent share their stories and memories of this holiday.
In Maharashtra, businesses begin their fiscal year on Indian New Year. Since my father owned a grocery shop, this day was extremely important to him. My father’s entire shop would be decorated with garlands of sweet-smelling marigolds and mango leaves. He would start the day by offering arati and puja to the altar in the grocery store and also to the store’s moneybox, which he revered as Goddess Lakshmi. Sweets and snacks such as laddu, chakli, and chivda were also offered at the altar. My father would then close his account book from the previous year and start a new book for all business transactions.
Throughout the day, customers were offered prasad of coconut and rock sugar. Many sweets and snacks were shared with friends, family and neighbors.
A Siddha Yogi from Indoli, India
Indian New Year is also known as Bali Pratipada, named after King Bali. On this day, people tell stories about how the holiday got its name. The version my family tells goes like this:
Long ago, King Bali was holding a yajna, a ritual with a sacred fire. During this yajna, he gave many gifts to the Brahmin priests and to the honored guests who were in attendance. One of the guests was Lord Vishnu, who was disguised as a young Brahmin named Vamana and who wished to test King Bali. While King Bali was very generous, he was also prideful in giving gifts.
When it was Vamana’s turn to receive a gift, he asked King Bali for a piece of land the size of three of his own footsteps. Shukracharya, who was King Bali's advisor, recognized that this request was a test, and urged Bali to refuse the young Brahmin’s request. Against his advisor’s wishes, Bali agreed to give Vamana the tract of land.
Once the king had agreed to this gift, Vamana started growing and expanding. His form became so tall that he occupied the entire universe. He placed one foot on earth and another foot on the many galaxies, claiming both as part of his gift from King Bali. He then asked King Bali where he should place his third footstep.
King Bali recognized that Vamana was, in fact, Lord Vishnu himself. The king knelt before Vamana with great reverence and asked Vamana to place the third footstep on his head. The pride that had previously colored the king’s offerings of gifts during the yajna melted away as he stood before this avatar of the Lord.
Pleased by King Bali’s gesture, Lord Vishnu awarded King Bali dominion over a vast underground paradise known as Patal Loka. Vishnu also granted the king the boon that he could return to earth for one day a year, the first day of the lunar month of Kartik, to be with his people and share his newfound wisdom. This annual return of King Bali to earth is celebrated as Bali Pratipada.
A Siddha Yogi from Pune, India
When I was growing up in Ahmedabad, New Year’s Day would begin very early in the morning with the sounds of “sab-rasa” being chanted by men selling salt. This chant is a way of saying, “Just as salt brings out the flavor in food, let us start the new year with the intention of bringing out the best in ourselves and others in our daily lives.”
We would receive blessings from our parents, wishing us a long life and prosperity, and then we would prepare for the day by wearing new clothes and getting into a festive mood. On this day people open their homes to everyone in the neighborhood and visit each other, wishing everyone, “Happy New Year” or “Sal Mubarak” or “Nutan Varshabhinandan.”
In the spirit of starting a new year, everyone gives their best and also asks for forgiveness for any misunderstandings. After a day full of visiting friends, giving and receiving blessings, enjoying the great food, and feeling content, we would finally go to sleep. It was, and is, the most amazing time.
A Siddha Yogi from Ahmedabad, India