A Touch of Tradition and Nationalism in the Celebration of a Popular Festival

It was colour and music to celebrate Gudi Padva, the beginning of the new year but also floats with Shivaji, cannons and men dressed as Indian army soldiers

Gudi Padva 3

Women celebrate on the streets. Credit: The Wire Staff

The heralding of the New Year, according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, is celebrated by different communities of India, as Ugadi, Yugadi, Cheti Chand, Navreh and Gudi Padva. On this day, which is the first day of Chaitra, the first month of the new year, families prepare their favourite festive dishes, wear new clothes and commence new tasks. There is a rush to buy new cars or book property on this auspicious day.

In Maharashtra, Gudi Padva is celebrated with gusto, and the festivities in Girgaon – the bastion of south Mumbai’s Marathi-speaking middle-classes – has come to be known for the burst of colour and sound that accompanies the celebrations.

Until twenty or so years ago, Gudi Padva in Girgaon used to be a quiet, family affair, and even as it started expanding into a community affair it was generally a low key event, with a few local associations taking part. Of late, Gudi Padva has assumed a robust and assertive character, with thousands of youngsters, dressed up in all their traditional finery. Political parties, especially the Shiv Sena and the BJP were at the forefront, showing off their clout in a precinct which both covet.

The Sena held its march on a very hot Tuesday morning which was followed by another where the imagery left little doubt about who was behind it. With groups of drummers beating up a storm, traditionally dressed women on motor cycles and carscarrying large portraits of icons ranging from Shivaji to Vivekananda to Ambedkar and K. B. Hegdewar, the message was clear. Actors dressed up as Bajirao and Savarkar also formed part of the cavalcade.

The mile-long procession – replete with saffron flags and floats with cannons and Indian army soldiers – was all about muscular nationalism. A local resident said that in the last two or three years, the processions have become longer and noisier and this year was the biggest of them all. “In all my life I have seen nothing on this scale,” she said.

For locals, another surprise was that neighbourhood restaurants, which are barely full on normal days, had lines snaking out their doors as people waited for tables. An old timer remarker, “looks like its good for business too.”

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