Tamil New Year
A colorful Puthandu welcome to Sinhala and Tamil New Year in Sri Lanka.jpg
Tamil new year decorations for Puthandu
Observed byTamils in India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore[1]
TypeCultural, Social, Religious
SignificanceTamil New Year
CelebrationsFeasting, gift-giving, visiting homes and temples
DateFirst day of Chithirai in the Tamil calendar
2020 dateTuesday, 14 April (India)[2]
Monday, April 13 (Sri Lanka)[3]
Related toVaisakhi, Vishu (Kerala), Burmese New Year, Cambodian New Year, Lao New Year, Malayali New Year, Odia New Year, Sri Lankan New Year, Thai New Year

Puthandu (Tamil: தமிழ்ப்புத்தாண்டு), also known as Puthuvarusham or Tamil New Year, is the first day of year on the Tamil calendar and traditionally celebrated as a festival.[1][4][5] The festival date is set with the solar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, as the first day of the Tamil month Chithirai. It therefore falls on or about 14 April every year on the Gregorian calendar.[1] The same day is observed by Hindus elsewhere as the traditional new year, but is known by other names such as Vishu in Kerala, and Vaisakhi or Baisakhi in central and northern India.[1]

On this day, Tamil people greet each other by saying "Puthāaṇdu vāazhthugal!" (புத்தாண்டு வாழ்த்துக்கள்) or "Iṉiya puthaandu nalvāazhthugal!" (இனிய புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்), which is equivalent to "Happy new year".[6] The day is observed as a family time. Households clean up the house, prepare a tray with fruits, flowers and auspicious items, light up the family Puja altar and visit their local temples. People wear new clothes and children go to elders to pay their respects and seek their blessings, then the family sits down to a vegetarian feast.[7]

Puthandu is also celebrated by Tamil Hindus outside Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, such as in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Reunion, Mauritius and other countries with Tamil diaspora.[1][4]

Origin and significance

A traditional arrangement of festive foods for Puthandu.

The Tamil New Year follows the spring equinox and generally falls on 14 April of the Gregorian year.[1] The day celebrates the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar and is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The same date is observed as the traditional new year by many Hindus in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Tripura, Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan as well as by Hindus in Nepal and Bangladesh. Several Buddhist communities in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka also celebrate the same day as their new year,[8] likely an influence of the shared culture between South and Southeast Asia in the 1st millennium CE.[9]

There are several references in early Tamil literature to the April new year. Nakkirar, Sangam period author of the Neṭunalvāṭai, wrote that the sun travels from Mesha/Chitterai through 11 successive signs of the zodiac.[10][11] Kūdalūr Kizhaar refers to Mesha Raasi/Chitterai as the commencement of the year in the Puṟanāṉūṟu.[12][13][14] The Tolkaapiyam is the oldest surviving Tamil grammar that divides the year into six seasons where Chitterai marks the start of the Ilavenil season or summer.[15] The Silappadikaaram mentions the 12 Raasis or zodiac signs starting with Mesha/Chitterai.[16] The Manimekalai alludes to the Hindu solar calendar as we know it today. Adiyarkunalaar, an early medieval commentator or Urai-asiriyar mentions the twelve months of the Tamil calendar with particular reference to Chitterai. There were subsequent inscriptional references in Pagan, Burma dated to the 11th century CE and in Sukhothai, Thailand dated to the 14th century CE to South Indian, often Vaishnavite, courtiers who were tasked with defining the traditional calendar that began in mid-April.[17]