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 Post subject: The Sinhala and Tamil New Year
 Post Posted: Sat Mar 04, 2006 5:00 pm 
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year
Customs and rituals

Compiled by Chamitha Kuruppu
@ JO


The Sinhala and Tamil New Year or as we all call it Avurudu in Sinhala, has become an important national holiday for both Sinhala Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka. It is unique because it is not celebrated in any other country as a national festival.

There is greenery everywhere; fresh leaves on trees, flowers in bloom, vegetables and fruits in plenty and the songs of birds in the air. The aroma of sweetmeat, the sound of raban and the koha's cry, symbolise that the entire country is ready to celebrate this national festival.

According to the Sinhala calendar, Sri Lankans begin celebrating 'Aluth Avurudu' in Sinhala and 'Puththandu' in Tamil, in the month of Bak when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya to the Mesha Rashiya. The name 'Bak' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'bhagya' meaning 'fortunate'. The month of Bak corresponds to April in the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used in Sri Lanka as in other parts of the world.

The Aluth Avurudda signifies the reaping of the harvest and social customs especially of the farming community. After the Maha harvest, the farmers celebrate the occasion giving thanks. And these customs and rituals portray the beliefs and thoughts of these people whose life is centred around agriculture.

Rituals associated with the Aluth Avurudda begin with bathing on the last day of the old year and viewing the moon on the same night. The pealing of the bell accompanied with the beating of drums (hewisi) in the village temple announces the times to perform the different rituals.

The custom of offering betel to parents and elders symbolises the act of paying gratitude. The children in turn receive blessings from parents. The sense of goodwill and friendship among relations and friends is also seen during the festival time.

Something unique about Avurudu is the celebration of the beginning of the new year as well as the conclusion of the old year as specified by astrologers. And unlike in the customary ending and beginning of new year, when it comes to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, there is a period of time in between, which is called the nonagathe (neutral period). During this time, people keep off from all types of work and engage in religious activities. It is for this reason that it is also called the "Punya Kalaya".

Before Avurudu it is customary for every housewife to give a new look to her old house. In villages, the floor, if not cemented, is given a fresh application of cow dung mixed with earth. Preparation of sweetmeats, such as kevum, kokis, atirasa, aggala, aluva and asmi takes place at least three days before the new year.

The customary bathing for the passing year is equally important. A herbal bath gives physical purification. When one takes a herbal bath , anointed with gingelly oil or mustard oil, it provides a soothing effect for the body. Traditionally, the anointing is done by an old person who is healthy.

In most villages, the temple is the venue for applying the 'nanu' before bathing and is usually done by an elderly priest, with blessings for health and longevity. Anointing is considered an exclusive right of the male.

A certain mysterious force is attributed to the leaves used for anointing the head. They are selected in relation to the day of the week on which the rituals have to be performed, e.g. 'Imbul' on Sundays, 'Divul' on Mondays, 'Kolong' on Tuesdays, 'Kohomba' on Wednesdays, 'Bo' on Thursdays, 'Karanda' on Fridays and 'Nuga' on Saturdays.

Another prominent feature of the Avurudu is the respect paid to elders and the strengthening of relationships with neighbours. Usually, visiting relations and friends, exchanging presents and greeting them with a sheaf of betel is the order of the day.

Avurudu involves some interesting games as well. During this period many engage in playing outdoor games. Famous national games are olinda keliya, eluvan keliya, mevara sellama, raban upatha, buhu keliya, muthi gesilla, muthu keliya, onchili varam and mee sellama.

The arrival of the Avurudu Kumaraya attired in princely clothes symbolises the dawn of the New Year. The prince comes in a horse-drawn carriage and his clothes vary in colour from year to year, in keeping with the colour meant for that particular year.

There is also an auspicious time for the women folk to commence work at their respective homes. Facing the specified direction, they light the hearth to prepare the traditional kiribath. Prior to this, milk is boiled in a new earthen pot and allowed to boil over, symbolising prosperity.The hath maluwa with seven different flavours which is considered a delicacy, is a speciality dish prepared during Avurdu. Other festive sweetmeats are generally made in advance to serve visitors and send to neighbours as a sign of goodwill.

Meals too are taken at an auspicious time. Did you know that taking meals at an auspicious time with all family members sitting together is a noble, and healthy custom?

Avurudu, which is rich in culture and tradition could be celebrated by all as a national festival and its unique features made use of to promote friendship among people.

Hindu customs

The Hindus also celebrate the New Year, commonly known as 'Puththandu', by observing the traditions and rituals practised by ancestors over the years. However, they are slightly different to those of the Sinhalese.

Homes are cleaned and made ready prior to the event. On the day of the Avurudu, during the auspicious time, Maruthu Neer - clean water boiled with various herbs, selected flowers and leaves, milk, saffron and other ingredients are made by the priests in temples. The Maruthu Neer is then applied on the heads of all family members prior to bathing. New clothes are recommended according to the colours mentioned in the almanac. A sweet rice is made if possible with new raw red rice, jaggery, cashew nuts, ghee and plums.

The area in front of the house is cleaned and sprinkled with saffron water, and cowdung. A decorative design 'Kolam' is done with raw white rice flour. The hearth is made a little distance away facing the East, and a new pot is used to cook the 'Pongal'. Lamps are lit by the housewife, and the head of the household arranges the Mangala Kumbam.

A pot with five mango leaves and a coconut, lit joss sticks, a tray of flowers, betel leaves, arecanuts, comb of bananas and the sweet rice are offered to the Sun God and Lord Ganesh to complete the pooja. A coconut is broken by the head of the household and incense is burnt.The elders in the family bless the children, who worship them and seek their blessings and good wishes.

A visit to the temple is a must. Customarily alms should be offered to the poor.During the auspicious time, the sweet rice is partaken by the family. Later the head of the family gives money, betel leaves, paddy and flowers - ``Kai Vishesham'' to the family members and wishes them good luck.

The head of the family performs, ``Er Mangalam'' - during this time. Being an agrarian community, ploughing becomes the the traditional act on New Year's day. Likewise, a teacher would start a lesson, a trader starts a new account, a craftsman starts his craft and so on.

Visiting relatives and entertaining relatives and friends are also important features of the New Year celebrations.


Compiled by Chamitha Kuruppu


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 Post subject: New Year as a national event
 Post Posted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 2:48 pm 
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New Year as a national event

Sarath C. JAYAWARDANA
@ CDN / 14APR2006


CELEBRATIONS: April is a month of festivity for the Sri Lankans. It is the month when the farmers relax after reaping the harvest getting ready to enjoy the fruits of their toil.

Nonegathe: The period of fasting (Nonegathe) sometime lasts several hours and is spent playing indoor and outdoor games.

The silos are brim-full with newly harvested grain, and the children make merry playing in the paddy fields laid barren after the harvest. Trees bear fruits and the flowering trees are in full bloom.

Koel, the cuckoo heralds from tree tops the arrival of a new year. April or Bak is of special significance to the Sinhalese and the Tamils (Hindus) as it marks the dawn of a traditional new year.

April is also appropriately called 'Bak' in the lunar calendar meaning 'abundance'. It is the month of plenty.

The zodiac or the imaginary belt marking the path of the Sun among the stars, is divided into twelve sectors and given names according to the dominating constellation in each sector. It begins with Aries (the Ram) and ends with Pisces (the Fishes) with the others in between.

The earth rotating round the Sun completes the cycle in 12 months facing each of the 12 sectors in relation to the position of the Sun.

Earthlings viewing it as the passing of the Sun through these sectors celebrate the passage of the Sun from Pisces to Aries as the beginning of a new year.

This transition has been celebrated for centuries as the birth of a New Year not only by the Sinhalese and Hindus in Sri Lanka but also in India. Indian New Year is called Baisakhi, and is celebrated in April/May.

The practice of celebrating the New Year in April in Sri Lanka has continued through generations and is still followed with lot of gaiety throughout the country.

The new year is called 'Saka Varsha' or the Saka Year as it was started during the reign of King Saka of India and the year 2006 is the Saka year 1928.

The conventional New Year in January is based on the calendar created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Gregorian calendar is also known as the Christian calendar as it uses the birth of Jesus Christ as the commencing date.

Accordingly the years prior to that date are identified as BC or Before Christ and those following his birth as AD (Anno Domini in Latin) meaning In the Year of Our Lord. This practice which has become universal was introduced to Sri Lanka during the period of British domination of the island.

Our ancestors calculated the months according to the phases of the Moon and named them Bak, Vesak, Poson, Esala, Nikini, Binara, Vap, Il, Unduvap, Duruthu, Navam and Medin. Bak was considered the first month of the year as it coincided with the passage of the Sun from Pisces to Aries.

The beginning of New Year celebrations in Sri Lanka is unknown but, there is proof that it had been practised for centuries in this country.

Robert Knox in his book 'An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies' written in 1681 makes the following reference. (quote) "His great Festival is in the Month of March at their New-years Tide." (unquote. 'His' refers to the Buddha).

He is obviously referring to the Bak festival that is celebrated around March/April when he says their New Year Tide. That was more than three centuries ago.

Sri Lanka is not the only country to observe a National New Year. A National New Year is celebrated in many Asian countries. Chinese celebrate their New Year according to the lunar calendar with the new cycle of the moon falling in January or February.

They name the year according to 12 symbolic animals namely, the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and the boar. Japanese New Year is called Ganjitsu and is observed on first January.

Japan's New Year celebrations are called Oshogatsu. They celebrate the new Year for three days decorating their homes, exchanging gifts and sending greeting cards. A special feature is the planting of small pine trees on both sides of the door representing longevity and constancy.

Tibetans celebrate their New Year in April when Buddha images are bathed in scented water. Sand stupas are built on river banks or in temple grounds to be washed away at the New Year symbolizing the cleansing of evil.

Baisakhi is the Indian New Year celebrated in March or April with worshipping at the temple, ritual bathing, and music, dancing, and fireworks.

The passage of the Sun from Pisces to Aries is the time for celebration. The customs and practices or the 'Rites of Passage' that are associated with the New Year are ritualistic in character observed according to auspicious times.

The celebrations take the form of a national event with the entire village coming alive. Preparations begin well in advance with the cleansing and whitewashing of dwellings irrespective of social status.

New garments are sewn for all at home and many varieties of sweetmeats are prepared not only for home consumption but also for distribution among the neighbourhood.

The village astrologer fixes the auspicious times. Time plays an important role in the celebrations spelling out the need for punctuality.

There are auspicious times for lighting the hearth and cooking the first meal of the year, eating the first meal, anointing the head with oil and taking the first bath and for the commencement of the practised vocation.

Not only the time but also the colour of the clothes to be worn is decided. It is a time of family get together as children living away from their parents and their families congregate at the parental residence with their families to celebrate the New Year.

All work stops at the predetermined time when the Sun leaves Pisces. No work is done till the dawn of the New Year and this period of transition is called Nonegathe which means no auspicious times and is devoted to religious activities. Work recommences following the entry of the Sun to Aries.

It also remains a period of fasting as nothing is eaten after commencement of Nonegathe till the appointed hour for partaking the New Year meal. The period of fasting sometime lasts several hours and is spent playing indoor and outdoor games.

New Year activities commence with the lighting of the hearth. This can be correlated with the ancient practice of worshipping the fire. Fire was considered the life giver as well as the destructor and was worshipped with awe by the forebears.

Hindu religious practices still involve the chanting of mantrams seated around a fire. This importance attached to fire is reflected in the lighting of the hearth as the first activity for the New Year.

Mother kindles the fire and cooks kiri bath (milk rice) and the father as the head of the household is the first to taste the New Year meal with his family members. She has to finish the task before the next auspicious time of partaking the first meal. She is helped in her work by the female members of the family.

The table covered with a white table cloth is laid with kiri bath, an assortment of traditional sweetmeats like kevun, mun-kevum, aasmi, aggala, and ripe plantains. A coconut oil lamp is lit and placed on the table.

For some families this can be the only time when all the family members sit together at a meal. It is a joyful occasion.

Paying obeisance to the elders of the family offering a sheaf of betel is an age old custom carried out during the New Year time. All disputes and differences are forgiven when accepting the offered sheaf of betel making the family bonds stronger.

New Year customs end with the anointing of oil on the head. Usually it is done at home. It is also performed as a community function either at the village temple or in a community centre.

A herbal preparation is applied on the head by an elder or if its at the temple by the chief prelate. This is followed by taking the first bath for the new year. It is believed that this ensures good health in the coming year.

Visiting relatives during the New Year is another important custom which strengthens family ties forgetting family misunderstandings. It is also the time for exchanging gifts. It is customary to give gifts to those who visit the house or take a gift when visiting a relative or a friend.

Hindu New Year customs differ. Auspicious times are determined according to Hindu Panchanga. The New Year customs begin with bathing at the auspicious time after anointing the head with holy water brought from the temple.

After performing the ablutions prayers are said followed by the preparation of Pongal, a kind of sweetened milk rice. After consuming the New Year meal the elders give cash gifts to the members of the family. All this take place within the auspicious period.

Sinhala New Year customs on the other hand take a different form with different auspicious times fixed for different activities spanning over a couple of days.

Sri Lankans, at least the majority Sinhalese, follow New Year customs acting in unison once a year symbolizing national harmony. They all light the hearth, cook the first meal, partake the first meal and anoint their heads at the same time.

Bak New Year should be called the National New Year as it is the only major occasion that allows social cohesion.

All Sri Lankans should set aside their ethnic and religious differences and join in celebrating the Bak New Year as a national event. It can then be the best display of ethnic and religious coherence.


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