Puthandu, or better known as Tamil New Year, is the celebration of the first day of the Tamil new year traditionally in mid-April (Usally is celebrated on April 13 or 14 every year ) , by people of Tamil origin in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry in India. This year Tamil New Year falls on April 14th . People greet each other on this day by saying இனிய தமிழ் புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் (Iniya Tamizh Puthaandu Nalvazhthukkal). This is in keeping with the Hindu solar calendar. The Tamil Calendar, which has 12 months from Chitthirai (April - May) to Panguni (March - April), has a 60-year cycle. This auspicious day is also popular as Varusha Pirappu. As per the Hindu mthyical legends, Lord Brahma started creation of the universe.
April 14th also happens to be the Bengali New Year Day, Naba Barsha, which begins with the ‘Prabhat Pheries’ (an early morning procession) with songs and dances welcoming the New Year. In Kerala ‘Vishu’ is celebrated by Malayalees commemorating the beginning of the astronomical New Year in the Malayalam Calendar. Sri Lankan Tamils observe the traditional new year in April with the first financial transaction known as the 'Kai-vishesham' where elders gift money to the unmarried young, particularly children as a token of good luck. The event is also observed with the 'arpudu' or the first ploughing of the ground to prepare for the new agricultural cycle. The 'punya-kaalam' or auspicious time when the sun reportedly shifts from Meena raasi to Mesha raasi is considered ideal to commence new activities on a favorable note. Sri Lankan Tamils begin the year with a herbal bath with 'maruthu-neer' with ingredients for good health. The game of 'por-thenkai' or coconut wars between youth is played in villages through the Tamil north of the island while cart races are also held .
There are several references in early Tamil literature to the April new year. Nakkirar, the author of the Nedunalvaadai mentions in the 3rd century that the Sun travels from Mesha/Chitterai through 11 successive Raasis or signs of the Zodiac. Koodaloor Kizhaar in the 3rd century refers to Mesha Raasi/Chitterai as the commencement of the year in the Puranaanooru. The 8th century Silappadikaaram describes the 12 Raasis/zodiac signs starting with Mesha/Chitterai.
In Tamil Nadu, people follow some strict rituals in a belief to ensure well-being and prosperity of their families. The most popular tradition is to view Kanni at dawn with a hope to bring good luck. People start the day by seeing some auspicious items like gold and silver jewelery, betel leaves, nuts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw rice and coconuts. Following the rituals, Tamils take bath, wear new clothes and visit the temples to pray for success in life. After this, Panchangam (almanac) is read. Many people get their houses painted to mark the renewal of life. Ladies adorn their houses with fresh mango leaves and Kolam . Sometimes, a decorated lamp kuthuvillakku is placed in the center of colorful Kolam to bring light to the house. People in the advent of merrymaking and feasting exchange gifts with each other. Children are highly excited at the time of Puthandu as they receive small gifts or cash from their parents and relatives.
Highlights of the Festival :
The main focus is on the food eaten on the day. 'Maanga Pachadi' is the pulse of the festival. It is a dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery, neem flowers which tastes sweet, salt, sour and bitter. This entails different colors of life. It depicts that life has to face everything from success to defeat.
A grand Car Festival is held at Tiruvadamarudur near Kumbakonam every year on April 14th. Also during the month of Chitthirai the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar is celebrated as ‘Chitthirai festival’.
Sources : http://www.newyearfestival.com/tamil-new-year.html