The movements of the moon this year have resulted in the unusual yet fortuitous occurrence of four significant festivals of three different faiths all falling on April 13th.

Vaisakhi or Baisakhi has for many years been observed at a relatively fixed date of either April 13th or 14th. It marks both the beginning of the Hindu Solar New Year and the Sikh New Year. The date is especially significant in the Sikh faith as it is also seen to coincide with the coronation of the 10th and final human Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh and his establishment of the Khalsa community in 1699. On this day Hindus and Sikhs traditionally decorate Mandris and Gurdwaras, participate in charity and the sharing of food, and hold community fairs and processions. 

Additionally, as indicated above 2021 has seen the variable timings of the Lunar New Years of two different Hindu Lunar calendars (originating from different regions of India) fall on the same day as Vaisakhi.

Chaitra Navratri is the Hindu Lunar New Year celebration primarily originating from Northern and Central India. The festival lasts for nine days and ten nights the first of which has fallen on the 13th. It is observed in different ways with different validations throughout India and the Hindu diaspora. However, it typically involves reverence of Devi, the divine feminine, and in particular the Goddess Durga and her nine avatars.

Ugadi is the Hindu Lunar New Year celebration originating from the Southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka. Festival participants will decorate the front of their houses and floors with colourful patterns, and the entrances with mango leaves. The day involves practices of gift giving and receiving, charitable giving, special bathing and oil treatments and the consuming of particular dishes, most notably pachadi which is characteristically made from tamarind paste, bitter neem flowers, brown sugar, raw mango, green chillies and salt. The dish is intended to remind people of the complex, multifaceted and transient nature of life experiences.

Finally, one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar Ramadan, where Muslims practice the 4th of the five pillars of Islam, Sawm (i.e. fasting) also began for Muslim communities around the world on April 13th and/or April 14th.

Obviously this year, the celebrations of these festivals during a lingering global pandemic will be somewhat muted. Vaisakhi will not be able to have the same community fairs and processions. 

Those wanting to meet and exchange gifts for Ugadi and those wanting to participate in Iftar (the communal breaking of Sawm after sunset) in person will have to do so in smaller Covid-secure groups. The Big Iftar that has played such a significant role in building intercommunal relations since 2012 has once again gone virtual.  

Such digital innovations are a great way to keep people and communities connected and protected at the same time. But with Covid restrictions reaching into their second year many people will be missing observing and celebrating their holiest days and traditions in their full fashion. 

However, this coincidence of four festivals across three faiths falling on the same day does highlight the commonality of this experience for people of all faiths, drawing our attention to the paradox whilst we are separate, we are going through this together, and we can offer each other empathy, support and friendship in light of these common experiences.

Written by Stewart Yarlett who completed his Ph.D. in Theology and Religious Studies (Quaker Studies) at the University of Birmingham in 2020. His thesis was entitled The Accommodation of Diversity: Liberal Quakerism and Nontheism. He received his MA from Durham University in Religion and International Relations in 2012, and his BA from Durham in Theology & Religious Studies in 2011. He is an Associate Supervisor at the Woodbrooke Centre for Quaker Studies and an honorary fellow at Lancaster University, where he tutors on the Quakerism, Peace and Justice module. He is campaign lead for Faiths United Youth Network’s ‘Listen Up!’ campaign, which looks at current affairs and human rights issues that are of interest to the interfaith community, and he hosts the Interfaith MaverickPodcast.