Solar Hindu New Year - Puthandu, Vishu, etc

The Solar Hindu New Year is observed in many traditions. Each tradition has a different name for it. Rongali Bihu. Poila Boishakh. Puthandu. Vishu. Baisakhi. Whats the astronomical significance of starting the New Year on this day ?

Mesha Sankranti

Sun enters MeshaMesha Sankranti: Sun enters Mesha. Beginning of the Solar New Year

The New Year begins when the Sun enters Mesha Rashi (Mesha Sankranti). So, what is Rashi? What is Mesha?

Consider the sky we see as a circle (as in above figure). And we divide it into 12 equal parts. And we name each of the 12 parts. Those 12 names as a group is called Rashi.

One of those 12 parts is called Mesha. So, Mesha is a fixed region in the sky identified by a group of stars.

When the Sun enters this region, some Hindu traditions start their New Year. Which traditions ?

Different Names for Solar Hindu New Year

India map with regions that follow Solar Hindu calendarMesha Sankranti as Hindu New Year. In the East - Rongali Bihu (Assamiya), Poila Boishakh (Bangla), Pana Sankranti (Oriya) In the South - Puthandu (Tamil), Vishu (Malayalam). In the North - Baisakhi (Punjabi/Haryanvi)

This beginning of the year is called by different names in the traditions that follow the Solar Hindu Calendar.

  • Rongali Bihu in Assamiya traditions 
  • Poila Boishakh in Bangla traditions 
  • Pana Sankranti in Oriya traditions
  • Puthandu (or Varusha Pirappu) in Tamil traditions
  • Vishu in Malayalam traditions
  • Baisakhi in Punjabi / Haryanvi traditions.

Vishuva, Vishu, Equinox

Vishuva is when the length of day is same as the length of the night. These days (2020) it happens around Mar 20th (Vernal Equinox) and Sep 22nd of each year.

In past, the start of the new year used to coincide with the Vernal Equinox. That is, Sun entering Mesha and Vernal Equinox happened on the same day. The memory of these two astronomical events happening on the same day is reflected in some traditions.

For example, Vishu is the name used for the New Year start in Malayalam traditions. Vishuva probably became Vishu. Similarly, the Assamiya name for this is Bihu. Something very close to Vishu. Vishu -> Bishu -> Bihu ?

These days, Mesha Sankranti is no longer same as Vernal Equinox. This is due to the precession of the equinoxes. So, its about 25 days between the Vernal Equinox and Sun entering Mesha.


VishukaniMy friend's compact Vishukani (Sheena Rajesh)

Malayalam traditions (and some of Tamil traditions) observe Vishukani on this day. The idea is to view positive things as soon as you wake up in the morning on this day. Some of the things are -- a mirror, picture/ vigraha of devata-s, fruits (especially jackfruit), grains (especially paddy in brass vessel -- nelpara), gold. All these are put together in the family shrine the previous night.

Early on Vishu morning, each member wakes up and with eyes shut reaches the family shrine, opens ones eyes to the mirror to first see oneself. Then look at devata-s, and the other stuff.

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