Omanand Koul

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Sonth and Navreh: Kashmiri Festivals

Steeped in winter and yearning for the spring 

Kashmiris follow a lunisolar calendar; a combination of the lunar and solar calendars. The endings and beginnings of the month are marked by the transit of the sun into various constellations -- the Sankranti. The last of these transits in a year is the Meen Sankranti, marking the festival of Sonth.

Similarly, when the moon enters the constellation Mesha (Aries) usually after Sonth, we celebrate the festival of Navreh. This year Sonth is on March 14th, and Navreh falls on March 16th.

Sonth heralds the beginning of spring and Navreh is New Year’s Day according to the Vikrami calendar that began in western India 57 years before the common civil calendar- what is known as the Gregorian calendar. Interestingly, in the Middle Ages before the Christian calendar was formalized, the New Year’s Day in Europe was also celebrated in March at the vernal equinox. The Vikrami Calendar divides a year into twelve months-- each with two parts: a lunar bright fortnight and dark fortnight. The first month of the year is called Chaitra. Navreh, therefore, falls on the first day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra.

We believe that Navreh also is the New Year’s Day on the Saptarishi Calendar used by Kashmiri Hindus.

Kashmiri Rituals of Sonth and Navreh:

On both these days the Kashmiri tradition calls for an early morning ritual of viewing of a thali full of paraphernalia for good omen.

The thali is prepared on the eve of the festival (Thaal Bharun) and kept covered with a towel overnight, and presented next morning individually to all the family members by a younger female or an elderly lady who is given money in return. In the US we have found it easier to leave the thali on the kitchen table and let individuals do their own viewing. 

The thali contains:

  • Rice (previously used to be unhusked)
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Walnuts/almonds
  • Salt
  • Flowers/Daffodils
  • Pen/pencil and a paper pad 
  • A coin
  • A batch of honey
  • A batch of Ghee
  • A picture of a deity
  • A small mirror

The uncooked rice grains and coins represent our daily bread and wealth, the pen and paper a reminder of the quest for learning, the mirror represents retrospection. These articles represent good omens for the coming year.  For Navreh additional items placed on the thali include a bitter herb (Wye: Sweet Flag, Sweet rush: Acorus calamus), and a new calendar (panchang).

The calendar signals the march of time and deity the reminder of the Universal. While the bitter herb is a reminder of life’s bitter aspects and has been used in Native American cultures as well as by some of the American transcendentalist philosophers, the information from the Food and Agricultural Organization Corporate Document Repository and other sources indicates that calamus contains insecticidal, carcinogenic and hallucinogenic components.  So beware!

After the darshan, each person takes a walnut to be thrown into a river (in the USA we place it under a tree). The rice is cooked to make Tahar (rice with turmeric) and eaten as a prashad.  The bitter herb is eaten with walnuts to make it sweet.

On the day of Sonth, in some villages people would tie together old adobe pots and drag them with a rope to a dumpster.  This is symbolic of the renewal of spring, so you would see many families doing their "spring cleaning" in this manner.   

The Navreh celebration includes wearing of new clothes, and cooking and serving fancy dishes. In Kashmir, people would go for a picnic to view almond blossoms.

On the third day after Navreh,-day of Zanga Triy- women folk would visit their parents' house if close by and return in the evening with a token of salt, bread, and money for travel (attagat.). However, the money would usually end up with the mother-in-law"”a tradition of unnecessary taxation and should be discarded.

My felicitation on the occasion of Sonth and Navareh.  

Omanand Koul, Burlington, Massachusetts

 
  

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