Poson, Sri Lankan Buddhists’ ‘New Year’ | Daily News


Poson, Sri Lankan Buddhists’ ‘New Year’

Hindus took in the Buddha's arrival as a challenge since his teachings were mostly at odds terms with Hinduism. Early Buddhist history has it that Brahmins made a considerable effort to infiltrate the Buddha's monk order and disfigure the teachings, in vain. Brahmins, on the other hand, had fair grounds to carry out whatever they thought effective. The Buddha's teachings shattered the status of Brahmins basking in their unsurpassed glory. The Buddha was well familiar with this situation, hence had an extenuating attitude. He never encouraged a swift conversion of another religious stalwart. Hinduism and Buddhism are poles apart mostly in philosophical terms, though both disciples should respect each other as siblings.

The Brahmin attempt seems to be well-grounded in many Sinhala customs and rituals. Buddhists celebrate the Sinhala Hindu New Year, which ironically accommodates Hindu rituals. Tilak Senasinghe deals with this subject in his book Mana Ranjana Mithya Katha. His implication that this festival should be removed from the Sinhala Buddhist calendar has apparently sparked many arguments in www.pothmithuro.com. Too sensitive it seems, for this is a festival that has been in existence for quite a long period. However, Senasinghe takes up many reasons to give the lie to the fact that New Year is Sinhala Buddhist. That takes the cake.

He questions the origin of Sinhala New Year. The New Year is mostly Hindu rather than Sinhala. If you observe the rituals closely, you may feel a twinge of sympathy for being a Buddhist to celebrate a festival of this nature.

The festival gives prominence to ‘Neketh or 'auspicious times', which is out of place in Buddhism. The auspicious time is decided on having consulted the planetary movements. Any moment with a virtuous thought frame is the auspicious time - this is what is exactly said both directly and indirectly in many instances of Buddhism.

“Nakkathan pathimeneththan atthobalan upachchaga Aththo Aththassa nakaththan, kin karissathi Tharaka”

The fool puts off everything waiting for an auspicious time and would not achieve the objective. If you could achieve your objective, that itself is auspicious. What could the stars in the sky do?

Speaking of Neketh, you should have naturally heard this Jataka tale of 'The groom who lost his bride to the stars', retold by Todd Anderson in 'Prince Goodspeaker'. Here goes a condensed version of this engrossing tale:

"A rich family lived in Benares, northern India. Their son was to be married to a virtuous girl from the neighbouring village. The groom's family decided on a date for the wedding. The bride's family agreed to meet them on the wedding day.

The rich family's special astrologer found out about the wedding day. This made him angry because he was not consulted. He wanted to get even.

The astrologer was in his finest attire on the wedding day and called the family together. He looked at his star charts very seriously and said that the stars were too close to the horizon, and that the planet was in the middle of an unlucky constellation and the Moon was in a very dangerous phase for having a wedding. In other words, he said they had picked the worst day without consulting him.

The frightened family forgot all about the wonderful qualities of the intended bride and remained home in Benares.

Meanwhile, the bride's family had arranged everything for the village wedding ceremony. They kept on waiting for the future husband and his family. They took this as an insult: 'Those city people picked the date and time, and now they didn't show up. Why should we wait any longer? Let our daughter marry an honourable and hardworking village man.' So they quickly arranged a new marriage and celebrated the wedding.

The next day, the astrological priest suddenly said that the planets and moon were in perfect positions for a wedding! So the Benares family went to the village. But the village people said, 'You picked the date and time. Then you disgraced us by not showing up!'

The city people brought up what their astrologer advised. The village family said, 'You have no honour. You have made the choice of the day more important than the choice of the bride. It's too late now. Our daughter has married another.' Then onwards the two families were on the warpath.

A wise man happened to come along and attempted to settle them. The city people again brought up what their astrologer said. The wise man said, 'The good fortune was in the bride, not in the stars. You fools have followed the stars and lost the bride. Without your foolishness, those far-off stars can do nothing!'"

This story does not seem to have gone out of fashion. You cannot just count the times this story has unfolded in the so-called modern Buddhist family circles.

Sinhala Hindu New year is initiated as a result of the solar movement. If you can have a Poya every month based on lunar movements, what is wrong with New Year decided on solar movement?

The difference is that every full moon day is made Poya for convenience, but the Buddhist does not worship the Moon. When the New Year comes in, the Buddhist has to undergo all sorts of God-worshipping activities.

The Buddhists should respect other religious rituals and should not look down on them. Nevertheless, this attitude is not a visa to allow other rituals to trespass into Buddhism. The New Year has a period called Nonagathaya before the auspicious time. You should refrain from all kinds of activities such as taking meals.

Suppose the Neketh is set for following noon, hence all activities had to be given up by early morning. A monk should have his meal before noon, and for that matter, many Buddhists would give either money or dry items the day before. Sadly they had given prominence to a Hindu ritual over the requirements of Buddhist priests.

Many kings, including Dutugemunu, had celebrated Vesak with such glamour. With this, we come to the natural question: why can't we have Vesak as our Sinhala New Year?

Vesak bears the highest spiritual emblem in Buddhist history, no doubt about it. However, Poson plays a vital role in the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

No country in the world practices charity the way Buddhists do. They have dansela or alms halls to celebrate on Vesak, Poson, and sometimes Esala. Although we have our arguments about the way the danselas are being held, still the concept beckons other nations to a fresh spiritual path.

However glamorous people may celebrate these poyas, Vesak and Poson do not inspire the use of liquor and animal flesh as in the New Year Festival.

More importantly, Poson signifies a period when we had fresh and rich diplomatic relations with our immediate neighbour. Buddhism was not instilled in Sri Lanka by force. It is, in fact, a result of friendly negotiations.

Shouldn't this itself be a reason that we should make Poson our New Year Festival ?


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