Varushapirapu: Celebrating the Tamil New Year

New Year is a meaningful time of celebration for families and friends throughout the world. It is a time for celebrating new and prosperous beginnings. Varusham is the Tamil word for "year", and Pirapu (pronunciation note: really roll your "r" when you pronounce these words) can be translated as the "birth" or "beginning" or "commencement" of an event.

The excitement begins about two weeks before the New Year. Families go shopping for new clothes. The house is thoroughly cleaned and even repainted at times. Mothers and grandmothers make loads of sweet and savory snacks in preparation for the big celebrations when relatives and friends will make their rounds of visits to each home, passing on their wishes for a prosperous and healthy, happy New Year. The schools are closed and the kids look forward to this time off. Children also remember the celebration of the New Year as time when their elders present them with money as a token of prosperity. This blessing of prosperity and well being from our elders is called Kaivialum.

For the Tamil communities of South Asia and in the global Diaspora, the commencement of the New Year is marked in accordance with the Hindu calendar. In contrast to the Roman calendar, where the New Year begins on January 1 of each year, the Hindu calendar year will not consistently fall on the same day of each year. But, like the Roman calendar, the New Year will begin on the first month of the Hindu year.

The first month of the year is Sithirai. This month usually falls around the middle of the Roman calendar month of April. Like the Roman calendar, there are twelve months in a year. But each month may vary in length from twenty nine to thirty two days. Some months consist of thirty or thirty-one days, while others have thirty-two days. For example, there are thirty one days in the first month of Sithirai whereas the second month of Vaikaasi consists of thirty two days and the month of Purrattaathi, the sixth month, has thirty days.

In keeping with the astrological calculations of the earth in relation to the sun and the moon, the New Year will be 'born' at exactly 5:21 PM, Eastern daylight savings time on April 13, 1998. This is considered an auspicious moment in time that marks the beginning of New Year celebrations.

Although based on the Hindu calendar, Tamils of all faiths celebrate it as the Tamil New Year.

Each family will begin their celebrations with the lighting of the Kuthu Villakku (traditional lamp) which is placed next to the Niraikudum (a brass bowl-like container with a short neck, filled to the brim with water and decorated with leaves of the mango tree, which are arranged in a circle around a husked coconut placed on top of the neck of the brass container.) After prayer, elders make their gifts of money to all the members of the family and then the fun and merriment begins.

Puthaandu Vaalthukal!!
New Year Greetings!!

Contributed by Indira Sangarasivam for Sangam Research

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Posted April 13, 2005