Everything’s in bloom! | Daily News
Celebrating the New Year – the Sri Lankan way

Everything’s in bloom!

April brings in the richness of colour, scent and sound. The bright red erabadu flowers in bloom, the rhythmic beats of the raban sessions, the haunting notes of the koel bird echoing through the air and the sweet aromas of the kavum (oil cakes), kokis and other Avurudu sweetmeats wafting from the kitchens are all cues that the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is here again.

Other activities take a backbench as the country prepares to celebrate its most significant and joyous annual celebration. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities are unique to Sri Lanka because they are not celebrated in any other nation as a national festival. This is the time of year when everything is rejuvenated and in bloom.

Known as Aluth Avurudda in Sinhala and Puthandu in Tamil, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is based on the journey of the sun as it moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya). Although the New Year falls on April 14 annually, preparations for the festivities begin several weeks in advance. The event signifies the reaping of the harvest and the social customs of the farming community. Homes are cleaned and whitewashed. New clothes are stitched or bought. Old debts are paid off and grudges are forgotten. This is the time of togetherness and forgiveness as the mind is freed from burdens and open to receiving the blessings of the New Year. Women, especially the elder folk, gather together to make sweetmeats of all sorts from the golden kevum (oil cakes) to the crispy kokis (deep fried delicacy made of rice flour and coconut milk), sweet athirasa (flat handmade oil cakes), diamond shaped mung kevum (a sweetmeat made of mung beans) and white aasmi adorned with colourful syrup. Tamil New Year delicacies include items like laddu, bars of kesari and jangiri.

This is the best time for store keepers as people throng shops and pavements hunting for items to combine with the festivities. Those who have ventured to cities to find employment get an opportunity to visit their village and spend several days in the company of their family and loved ones.

The day before the New Year is called the Old year (Parana Avurudda). People set aside the old and get ready to embrace the new on this particular day. In some areas it is a part of their tradition to bathe in a mixture of herbs like lime and sandalwood. This signifies washing away impurities and is known as Nanumura Mangalyaya.

Nonagathaya aka a time which is neither auspicious nor inauspicious occurs when the sun is in transit between the Aries Pisces and the Aries. People cease to engage in work and take up religious activities.

The Aluth Avurudda happens when the sun’s transit is complete. The Sinhala and Tamil communities welcome this event amid the sound of fire crackers. Temple Bells chime to evoke blessing for the New Year.

The traditional lighting of the stove marks the first New Year tradition. The mother of the house faces the auspicious direction and clad in the auspicious shade of clothes she worships the pot thrice before lighting the stove. Milk is usually boiled to overflow the pot. Then milk rice is prepared. Milk rice is a sign of prosperity and an essential item on the Avurudu table.

The head of the household lights the oil lamp at the table. Then turning towards the auspicious direction the first morsel of food is consumed by him or her. Then he or she feeds the rest of the family. Children worship the elders by handing betel leaves, putting together their hands, bending and touching their feet. The elders in turn bless them and give gifts or money. Portions of food are set aside for the deities before the whole family sits down to enjoy the delicacies.

The oil anointing ceremony takes place either at home or at the temple. It signifies bodily and spiritual well being. People stand upon the recommended leaves, roots and flowers to receive the anointment from wither the temple monk or the most senior member in the household. It is said that the leaves used for the anointment are selected in relation to the day of the week on which the rituals have to be performed: ‘Imbul’ on Sundays, ‘Divul’ on Mondays, ‘Kolong’ on Tuesdays, ‘Kohomba’ on Wednesdays, ‘Bo’ on Thursdays, ‘Karanda’ on Fridays and ‘Nuga’ on Saturdays.

Conducting transactions too take place at an auspicious time. This is done with the belief that all transactions that take place during the following year will be blessed. The tradition is to wrap some money in a betel leaf and hand it to someone who returns money in a similar manner. Today, Banks are open for a short period during this time so that people may make a deposit and receive some token from the Bank in exchange. Similarly a transaction takes place with the water-well in village areas. Here coins, jasmine flowers and a piece of coal are put into the well in exchange for a new pot of water. The Sinhala folk call these transactions ganudenu, while the Tamil name them as kai vishesham.

The first ritual that the Tamil community performs for the New Year is a bath. Water is prepared with a special mixture of herbs and flowers for this purpose. This is believed to cleanse the body of evil and disease. New clothes of the auspicious colour are donned to visit the kovil after which they return home to be blessed by their elders.

A steel vessel filled with water, mango leaves and a coconut is placed upon a banana leaf with paddy, fruit and betel leaves and surrounded by oil lamps to welcome the New Year. Tables are spread with sweet delicacies.

Another unique aspect about the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is in its games. They bring all the communities together. Ancient sports and modern innovative games are part and parcel of Avurudu festivals which are conducted in every village during this period. Indoor games consist of games like ‘pancha’ which can be termed as the Sri Lankan version of ‘Ludo’ played with a board, dice and sea shells and olinda which is played on a wooden board with the red seeds of the liquorice tree. Races, tugs-of-war (Kamba Adeema), kotta pora, (challenging rounds of pillow fighting), breaking the pots (Kanamutti Bindeema), placing the eye on the elephant (Aliyata Asa Thabeema), climbing the greasy pole (Lissana Gaha Nageema) and riding the swing are some of the popular outdoor sports associated with the New Year festivities. One of the highlights of a New Year festival is the beauty contest to choose the Avurudu prince and princess.

Since Avurudu spells family time, relatives and loved ones make it a point to visit their friends and give them gifts. The final ritual of the celebration is returning to work which too is done at an auspicious date and time. This too is linked with the belief that they will enjoy success in their careers throughout the year.


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