Puthandu 2023: Festive Significance Of Bittersweet Neem Flower
Image Credit: Image Credit: Canva

As the summer season kicks in, people across many regions of India usher in the new year based on the solar cycle of the lunisolar hindu calendar. And with a sense of hope, excitement, and opportunity, Tamil people of India and beyond borders celebrate Puthandu, which is theTamil new year that falls on the April 14 this year. 

It is that time of the year when you reflect on the past, recognise the challenges and plan your goals for the future while gearing up to start afresh on a clean slate with a sense of balance and harmony. The tradition of welcoming the New Year with the 'arusuvai' or the six-taste philosophy based on Ayurveda incorporates sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty, and astringent flavours mandatorily into the festive meal for Puthandu as way to bring balance and harmony to the body and mind.  

While the elaborate feast utilises the seasonal produce like mangoes, raw banana, jackfruit, rice, etc. in their preparations, the bitter neem leaves or its flowers are the unusual ingredient used to make a mandatory dish called pachadi. The bitter neem leaves or its flowers known as vepumpoo is a crucial component of the vepumpoo maanga pachchadi (neemflowers and mango pachadi), which is a must-have dish for Puthandu. It is a condiment made with neem flowers, raw mango, jaggery, tamarind and more. It is served as a prasadam after prayers. the pachadi can be paired with rice or any rice-based dishes to relish fully. 

The significance of bitter neem (Azadirachta indica) and how it makes way to the culinary preparations during Puthandu is intriguing. It is fascinating to see how bitterness is welcomed with reassurance about life during this festival. The pachchadi is more than just a dish. It represents the bittersweet nature of life and is a powerful metaphor for the new year. If your family is from the Tamil communities in India, you might be familiar with this time of the year when elders of the households remind us that life is full of ups and downs, sweet and sour, and often garnished with a touch of bitterness. The bitterness of neem is an essential part of this metaphor, reminding us to embrace the bitterness of life with the same acceptance and gratitude as the sweet moments, right from the start of the year. 

Image credit: Canva