NAVREH is the lunar new year which is celebrated in Kashmir and many other parts of the country. This coincides with the first day of the Chaitra (spring) Navratras. It is the first day of 5074 of the Sapath Rishi Samvat which falls on March 29, 1998, this year and is the oldest new year. It is this calendar, according to which Hindus generally celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries, festivals and other religious functions. This day finds mention in Rajtarangini and Nilamat Purana of Kashmir and is regarded as sacred in Kashmir as the Shivratri. The celebrated Arab scholar Alberuni has written that Kashmiris celebrate the second of Navaratras to commemorate victory of their greatest and famous king - Lalitaditya - with great festivity, pomp and gaiety. The first was a festival as the New Year in its own right. Srivara, the famous poet- historian of mediaeval Kashmir, has also mentioned this Chaitra festival in his Rajtarangini. Late Pt. Zinda Koul, popularly known as Masterjee, has written a poem on Navreh and the message it brings.
It is observed as the New Year's day in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (as Ogadi), in Maharashtra and Goa as (Gaudi Parva), by Sindhis as Cheti-Chand and in the northern parts of India as Chaitra Shukla Di i.e. the first day of the lunar fortnight of Chaitra. In Delhi and northern parts of India, parohits in temples release before the assembled devotees the new almanac after morning prayers and dwell upon its highlight.
In Kashmir, the day is celebrated with great enthusiasm and sanctity. It is on the eve of Navreh that the Kulguru of a Pandit family gets a new almanac (nachipatra - Sanskrit: Nakshetra-patri) and an illustrated scroll (Kreel Pach) with a sacred picture of Ma Sharika on it and some sacred verses. Formerly the Nachipatri used to be in the form of a tolled scroll but now it has taken the form of a small booklet known as Jantari. Just one day before Navreh, Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar visit a sacred spring Vichar Nag (downtown) and take a holy dip in its waters to cast off the wintery sloth and impurities. After returning home from Vichar Nag round pieces of Wye herb are taken along with homemade rice powder cakes as prasad before breakfast. In olden times, astrologers and astronomers would assemble here to discuss and prepare a new almanac. May be this is the reason why this place is known as Vichar Nag.
Late in the evening, the housewife gets a big Thali (metal-plate) and fills it up with rice or paddy. In villages, mostly paddy is used. After arranging it nicely, the new almanac and Kreel-pach are placed on the rice. Besides dry flowers, a few fresh flowers are also placed on the rice. Wye, a special weed which resembles arabi in shape and which grows in the marshes and is regarded to be very sacred and pure, is also kept on the thali. Among other things placed on the thali are newly sprouted grass, a little curd, walnuts in odd numbers and their kernels, a pen, inkpot and pen-holders and a pot containing a little salt are placed on the thali alongwith silver and gold coin and a lump of cooked rice in a small pot, a wheat cake and a small bread made of rice powder are also placed on this rice. All these things are arranged aesthetically on this small mound of rice. This Thali is then covered with another metal plate for the night. Formerly, the flowers and herb W'ye used to be provided by a florist who was known as Push after Pushap, i.e. the flower, and he used to be a Muslim. He was paid in cash and kind on the ensuing New Year day. Now all these things are procured from the market.
Early morning on the New Year day, a boy or a girl gets up at dawn and, after taking the lid off the thali, takes it to the head of the family and his wife and then to others in such a way that every member of the family gets a glimpse of the things kept in the plate and looks into the mirror as the first thing in the morning. This signifies as prayer for food, wealth and knowledge in the coming year. The bearer of the plate gets a rupee or more from every member of family.
Every member picks
up a few walnuts kept in the thali and drops them in the river, where he
goes to take a bath. This seems to be a thanks giving affair
that the people have come out of the dreary wintry cold and its allied ordeals safe and sound as the Maharashtarians do when they drop coconuts into the sea on Rakshabandhan day which is turbulent during the rainy season. After a bath and donning new clothes and a new sacred thread, Hindus in the city throng temples, especially the Hari Parbat which is Shakti shrine known as Chakreshwari. Later on, the head of the family offers turmeric coloured rice prepared in ghee known as Tahri to Ma Sharika, the principal deity of Chakreshwari which is afterwards distributed as Prasad among all the family members.
From this day, Nav Durga Puja commences in Kashmir. At the end of the Navratra days, big Havans are performed in various temples and especially at Durga Nag at the foot of Shankaracharya hill and at Baramulla in Shailputri Devis Mandir, which are beautiful springs. During these days, thousands of people visit Vaishno Devi and other Devi shrines in Jammu and Kashmir. Ma Durga is worshipped in the Hari Parbat fort in Srinagar and Bahu fort in Jammu. Nine days of spring Navaratras are held very sacred in Kashmir as in the other parts of India. Vasanti Puja is performed in Bengal during these Navratras. Some people keep fast for nine days and sow barley and worship Durga and Dash Mahavidhya. During these days, Puja is offered to goddess Minakshi in Tamil Nadu etc.
On Navreh, sumptuous dishes are prepared and friends and relatives who come to offer greetings are also entertained. Newly weded brides go to their homes donning new clothes, and carry a pot of curd, bread, sweets, etc as these are thought to be auspicious. New brides and youngsters are given some money by their elders.
After meals, the people would visit gardens for picnic with their utensils and tea pot called Samavar etc and prepare Kahwa tea there. Formerly, the urban people used to go the Hari Parbat to enjoy the almond blossoms in the gardens at the foothill. But, alas, these gardens have shrunk almost to obliteration due to development of new colonies. During these days, Lord Rama is also worshipped in the state. The Navmi or 9th day of Navratras is known as Ramnavmi.
Friends, relatives and Muslims come to greet the Hindus on this day with Navreh Mubarak (a happy new year). A few decades earlier, Kashmiri musicians and minstrels also used to come to regale their patrons and get bakshish. Due to dearness and rising costs now, Navreh festivities have lost some of the gaiety and colour but despite this the occasion is still very popular among Kashmiris living in or outside Kashmir.