So today is, in the Indian spiritual / lunar calendar, vasant pañcamī – which, most people will tell you, is supposedly the celebration of “the first day of spring.”
Yet its the beginning of February and freezing cold. What’s up with that?
Well, first of all its not exactly a “celebration of the first day of spring,” not at all. Holi (two full moons after vasant pañcamī, right in the heart of spring) is much more literally a “celebration of spring.” Vasant Pañcamī begins the festivities leading up to Holi. It is not a celebration of Spring itself but of the fertility and creativity associated with Spring.
Yes, fertility, as in love-love.
That’s why the ancient way of observing Vasant Pañcamī celebrates Kāmadeva and Rati – the god of lust and the goddess of attraction. The personification of Spring, the god Vasant always attends Kāmadeva and Rati to create a romantic atmosphere of flowers and birds and bees.
Perhaps now we have a new idea where Valentine’s Day really originates? After all, Kamadeva is known in the Mediterranean by the name “Cupid.”
In the ancient way of observing Vasant Pañcamī, young dancing girls would wear special outfits in pink or yellow colors with very fancy golden borders and tiny designs in red. They would dance to romantic songs celebrating the God of lust and Goddess of attraction, Kāmadeva and Rati. Since Krishna’s advent several thousand years ago, the celebrations have been updated since Krishna and Rādhā outclassed Kamadeva and Rati at their own game. So since that time the songs and dances are far more about Krishna and the Gopis than about Kāmadeva and Rati. Another recent development is the focus on Sarasvatī Pūjā, worship of the Goddess of Intellect and Arts.
That’s what Vasant Pañcamī really is, its the original Valentine’s Day, not the first day of spring ironically set in the dead of winter.
But, as far as seasons go. India and most countries in Asia, have 6 distinct seasons, not four. The Indian solar calendar splits the year into 6 seasons of 2 months each, oriented around the solstices, and with the equinoxes dead center in spring and fall. In case your interested, the six indian seasons are: “Spring, Hot, Storm, Autumn, Cool, Cold.” So, Indian spring starts February 21, has the equinox in its heart on March 21st, and ends on April 21st (per our modern way of counting days). So, it does start earlier over there than in much of the world. And if you are ever there in late February, especially in the North part of India where seasons are more drastic, you’ll definitely know spring starts at the end of February!
So, Why not celebrate Vasant Pañcamī on February 21st? Well, first of all because the solar calendar is used for practical purposes, business, agriculture and so on, not for spiritual and religious purposes. The lunar calendar is used for spiritual and religious holidays. OK, then why not celebrate it on a day closer to February 21st? Thats because its not so much a celebration of Spring as a celebration of what Spring represents – Kāmadeva, Krishna, attraction, romance – śṛṅgār-rāsa. You see, each day in the lunar cycle is symbolic of something. The fifth day (“pañcamī”) represents the fifth rasa – śṛṅgāra – romance! The fifth day of the waxing fortnight is more auspicious than the fifth of the waning one, so the holiday celebrating romance and eros is put on the waxing fifth (“sukla pañcamī”) that comes before spring, to commence the anticipation of Spring’s arrival, which culminates in the Holi festival on the full moon very near the equinox.
Those who have been blessed to read and learn deeply about Śrī Krishna’s Vṛndāvana līlā will know how exuberantly and joyously Krishna and the Gopī’s celebrate Vasant Pañcamī and Holi! Those who don’t know these beautiful details, I encourage to read Ānanda Vṛndāvana Campu. You can find it easily by searching on Amazon and so on.
– Vic DiCara