Culture Shock FYI

Ugadi Pacchadi

Throughout my life, and more so after becoming a part of Alpha Phi Gamma, I have had the privilege to experience a multitude of cultures. But as a first generation immigrant, moving to America at the age of 10, I often find myself mourning the Indian culture I left behind – especially the traditional holidays I held so close to my heart. One such holiday is Ugadi (or Yugadi), a Hindu holiday which celebrates the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar. Celebrated most commonly in the South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, it represents a new beginning for many. The Hindu Calendar is based on a unique system called the lunisolar calendar, which uses both the sun and moon cycles to calculate time. Based on this lunisolar calendar, Ugadi falls usually during March and April. This year (2024), Ugadi will take place on Tuesday, April 9th. When I think back to my childhood Ugadi celebrations, the first tradition I think of is Ugadi Pacchadi, a dish served first thing in the morning on the day of Ugadi.

Pacchadi, in my mother tongue of Telugu, is a type of fresh pickle, often consisting of crushed or ground ingredients. Usually, I loved pacchadi. But when my mother called me into the kitchen on Ugadi mornings to try the Ugadi Pacchadi she had prepared, I used to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction (I absolutely hated it). Every year, this reaction prompted my parents to explain the significance of eating this dish. They sat me down and showed me all of the ingredients that went into the pacchadi: tamarind, jaggery, raw mango, neem flowers, black pepper, and salt – all crushed together. Now you might be thinking – that’s a strange combination of ingredients! And you’re not wrong. This dish is not meant to necessarily taste good, but to represent the mixture of feelings the new year might bring. The tamarind, which has a sour taste, represents unpleasantness. Jaggery, a type of sugar, represents the sweet moments in life. The raw mango, which has an astringent or tangy taste, represents surprise. The neem flowers (my least favorite) are extremely bitter, symbolizing sadness. Black pepper represents anger, and the salt represents fear. This variety of ingredients ground together creates a paste with a flavor which I can only describe as strange. My parents explained to me every year that the tradition of eating Ugadi Pacchadi symbolizes the various emotions of life, and encourages us to face them with acceptance. 

Over the years, I have grown to love the taste as well as the unique tradition. I take a lot of pride in my culture, and these are the small traditions that connect me to my roots. In the future, I hope to share these traditions with my own family, and show the significance to my own children the same way my parents did to me.