The New Year has always been a time of celebration. Be it the modern day New Year or the traditional New Year festivals in the different parts of the world. In India, Ugadi is the New Year for Goan, Marathi, Telugu, and Kannada communities. The Tamil New Year is called Puthandu. In Kerala the New Year day is celebrated as Vishu. In Assam the New Year day is called Rongali Bihu. Large Chinese speaking communities throughout the world celebrate the New Year as Chūn Jié. The Gaudiya Vaishanvas celebrate the appearance day of Lord Chaitanya called Gaura Purnima as the beginning of the New Year.
Traditional celebrations of the New Year in India involve spring cleaning of the house, oil bath for the family members, decorating the front door and altar with auspicious symbols like a Toran of mango leaves and Rangoli, performance of auspicious ritualistic ceremonies invoking the blessings of the Lord, Sankirtana, spiritual discussion and a special offering of traditional food items for the Deity at home followed by joyous lunch Prasadam feast. It is also a custom to visit a temple and offer prayers for an auspicious year for the family.
For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, Gaura Purnima is a day of fasting and celebration of the appearance of Lord Gauranga. Krishna Himself incarnated in Kali Yuga as Lord Gauranga to inaugurate the Sankirtana movement for delivering the souls of this fallen age. In the festival, Deities of Lord Gauranga and Lord Nityananda (incarnation of Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna) are offered elaborate Abhishekam, Arati is performed along with Sankirtana and devotees hear of the pastimes of Lord Gauranga.
In the traditional celebrations of the New Year, there is a distinct spiritual tone to the festivities and the atmosphere is one of purity and piety. This stems from a strong spiritual conception of life in which, the living entity is identified as the eternal soul inhabiting a temporary body existing in a temporary atmosphere. Of all species, the human body is considered the ideal vehicle for the soul’s liberation from the inevitable sufferings of material existence. This pursuit is characterised by sober qualities like intense tolerance of vicissitudes, patience and determined spiritual practice. Even though the soul has no material needs, having received a body he is forced to cater to the bodily demands like eating and sleeping. The absorption in this work has the effect of making him forget his eternal spiritual nature. Hence, different significant events in life are so conducted as to allow him to reconnect to his spiritual existence in devotional service of God. These are the customs of a spiritual advanced society.
The modern world is bereft of the knowledge of the soul. Nowhere propagated in the august institutions of learning, spiritual understanding is relegated to a personal choice, irrelevant to the mainstream life of a student. Thus the pursuit of bodily sustenance and the flickering worldly pleasures is the prime obsession for neglecting the Absolute Truth results in pursuit of illusion. Under the sway of the unchecked false-ego the human being strives for dominance over material resources and pre-eminence in the social sphere. Without understanding the bondage of matter and the freedom of spirit, when people are driven by the urges of the false-ego, widespread exploitation, conflict and disharmony swamp society.
The modern day New Year celebrations, following the decidedly mundane spirit are organised as entertainment parties with song, wine, women and food. The boundaries of morality are blurred and wanton sensual indulgence is allowed to play out unrestricted. In contrast to the traditional celebrations of New Year that invoke transcendence and godliness, the midnight parties plunge the soul into the depths of bodily misidentification allowing him no opportunity to see beyond his animal propensities.
We all have a choice in whether to use our time and energy for finding endless spiritual bliss by sensual restraint and transcendental austerity or to allow the darkness of ignorance to envelop us by chasing the transitory illusions of Maya. The latter results in only repeated birth and death.
Our genuine well-wishers, the Supreme Lord and the Acharyas, guide us to return to our anxiety-free home in the spiritual sky. Every moment is a precious gift to develop spiritual understanding, an opportunity to gain freedom from the grip of material existence.
If we choose wisely in celebrating the New Year or any other occasion of life by following the spiritual traditions, we are sure to be rewarded with eternal bliss on the other hand by following the fashionable trends of nightlife, we will surely be consumed by the darkness of material suffering for material happiness is an illusory concept.