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Asking the Clergy about spring new years

'Happy New Year." Most people think of Jan. 1 as the day for this salutation. But many religions celebrate a different new year as well. April will see these New Year celebrations: Hindu, Thai Buddhist and Sikh. Clergy and a scholar explain the significance of each.

Priest Pipalmani Sigdel, Afghan Hindu Association, Hicksville:

New year is April 11, and is celebrated through April 19. Each day, we will have a special prayer, known as pooja, for peace and happiness. Some years, there are nine days of festivals and some years eight days of festival, depending on the lunar calendar.

We also will have fasting where we eat only calming vegetables. We will exclude meats, breads, salts and seasonings such as garlic and onions, because they are more fiery. The goal is to have a calm, peaceful state.

Thousands will come to the temple for blessings. We also may have weddings and ring ceremonies for those who already are married. It is a very special time when someone marries during the new year. We will also have ceremonies for the blessing of one's home.

Our temple devotees will change the clothing of the gods in the temples. Now, they are wearing blue but will be changed to red for the new year. This is the time when people will clean house to welcome the new year. They also would buy new outfits. We want things to be new, to be sweet, to be calm and peaceful for the new year.

Chinnaphat Khotwong, monk, Vajiradhammapadip Temple, a Thai Buddhist temple, Centereach:

We will be celebrating the Thai new year, which this year is April 14, because we have incorporated Buddhist teaching into Thai culture. With the new year, we focus on changing our behavior. In the Buddhist tradition, we are reminded that life is short, and we have to be aware of all our actions. We are expected to take a look at our behavior of the previous year and see how we can be a better person going forward.

The custom is to cleanse the mind because the mind is the forerunner of the body. You cleanse your mind, and it affects your whole body. Normally, on New Year's Day, people go to the temple. They present food to the monks and listen to the monks talk. We, as monks, talk about how life is important and whether one's actions are beneficial to one's life and the life of others. We explain that one should not be concerned about the past or the future. Each of us is responsible for this moment right here and now. We all should do good, because to do bad is to cause and bring suffering.

Normally, people begin coming to the temple in the early morning. They will chant together, listen to the monks' chants and then make food offerings to the monks. This will happen again at lunch time. People will pour water over the Buddha's statue for a blessing. Then, they will sprinkle water on each other. Water is a symbol of calming the mind. It is very hot in Thailand. Part of the New Year celebration is to sprinkle water on each other to be cool and calming.

Dr.I.J. Singh, an authority on Sikh religion and a medical doctor, Bellmore:

We go by the Indian calendar, which varies a little bit each year, but New Year is usually mid-April, and this year will be April 14. It is a cultural and a spiritual celebration. It starts from the temple and spreads into the community. Services last all day, and congregants come and go as they need.

In the tradition of the Sikhs, there will be a lot of food and food stalls, but the food inside the temple will be vegetarian. We also have a lot of our non-Sikh neighbors drop in. We have some services in Punjabi and some in English. Celebrations are a combination of Sikh services and a picnic in the yard.

At the core, it is a religious service, but it also is a festival. Some congregations even have sports competitions for children and adults.

During services, we will be praying that we are connected to our teachings, praying for happiness and praying for peace for mankind. There is the sense of renewal that is important. The past may have been good, but we pray to let the future be better. Having that hope is the most important thing.

Saffron, a kind of orange, is the traditional color of the new year, so you'll see a sea of saffron turbans on men and scarves for women. It is not essential, but is a tradition.

The Sikhs took their present form in 1699, which is associated with that day. Men and women were initiated into this new order. That is when the last name Singh became part of the name of men and Kaur became part of a woman's name. Kaur means princess, and Singh means lion.

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