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THE MEANING OF SINHALESE & TAMIL NEW YEAR

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"Sinhala-Hindu New Year symbolised by the blooming of the blood-red erambadu flowers and the scintillating singing by the Cockoo bird [koel] creates 

…a perfect launching pad for racial and religious harmony."

One of the oldest National festivals of the world, is the Sinhala-Hindu New Year; the customs, traditions and rituals of celebrations bring the two major communities together. It is commonly known as Avurudhu.   New Year signifies the movement of the sun from the Meena Rasi to Mesha Rasi, covering a period of one year.

  This marks the beginning of Saka Era’s New Year.  It is a family occasion for the isolated members to reunite. Time for ushering in peace, happiness and prosperity and for all ethnic and religious groups to experience the brotherhood that comes with it. We are badly in need of a new vision and a new attitude to resolve its irresistible miseries. Let the Sinhala and Hindu New Year deliver us with all the divine sustenance we need to overcome all these crises

  The last day the sun occupies the house of Pisces is known as the Parana Avurudda and the first day that the sun reaches the house of Aries is known as the Aluth Avurudda and the period of transition is called "Sankranthiya" or "Nonagathe" (time of non-activity) or Punyakalaya. A significant feature of the New Year celebration is that every important event is performed at an auspicious time Calculated well ahead of the event and published in the almanac. Arrival of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is symbolised by the blooming of the blood-red Erambadu flowers and the singing by the Cockoo bird.

  Long before the origins of Sinhala race, Hindus in India celebrated this festival. They called it The Puthuvarusam.  The Buddhists perform with enthusiasm all the rights and rituals of the Sinhala New Year. The ancient customs and traditions that are improved and re-enacted island-wide during the New Year, point to a shared national identity that ties all races and castes and religions of this nation. The New Year is a catalyst that helps national unity.  In the earliest days this festival was celebrated by the Buddhists and Hindus only, but now the Christians too partake in this national event restricting it to observance of rituals. 

  The Sinhala New year clearly conserves the character of our farming society and this is an occasion on which everyone can assume new resolutions.

  The following customs are observed during this festival:  Gazing of the moon for the Old Year, Bathing for old year, Commencement of the New Year, Observing Punyakalaya. Cooking the traditional kiribath, Partaking of food, Anointing of oil and new-year bath and finally leaving home for employment.    The Sinhala/Hindu Avurudu festival reach a climax with an anointing ceremony followed by the first bath for the New Year. Oil is mixed with an herbal paste for the family elder to rub on the heads of other members while reciting a particular verse, as they sit with a white cloth under their feet. Some go to the nearest temple or in the villages tothe Loku Hamuduruwo at temple or the elderly Aruvedic doctor respectively, who personally attend on each person.

Anointing of oil and Nanu

  Anointing of oil and Nanu (Herbal mixture) is made before taking the first bath.  The ceremony has a history connected to Kandyan Kingdom, where it was performed as a religious ceremony by the royal Nekath Mohottala, who would directly supervise it.  In accordance with his instructions, the royal physician prepares the oils as well as Nanu. The oil is made of herbs such as,  Gorochana,  beli-mal,  sevendara, sandalwood, iriveriya,  kohomba-kola, kumkumappu,  kalanduru-ala  and  sathsanda,  by extracting the juices from the leaves, flowers,  fruits  and seeds.  ‘Nanu’ is a concoction made using ingredients prescribed by astrological calculations and differ each year; leaves taken usually from Bo, Nuga Divul, Karadana, Kohomba or Kumbuk which ingredients change according to the Almanac every year as herbs associated with planets are used. It is the same medicinal leaves that is held over the head and spread on the ground for the feet, during the ceremony.

Kalu kaputa sudu venaturu—Molgahe dalu enaturu, Hal essa pela venaturu—Ekasiya vissata  desiya vissak  ayu bo weva” –

  Until the black crow turns white--until the rice pounder sprouts buds--  until the rice ‘seeds’ germinates-may your life be as long as two hundred and twenty, instead of the hundred and twenty.

  Sinhalese have celebrated New Year from ancient times. Robert Knox says, in his time, it was a major festival in Sri Lanka and was celebrated in March. The householder feeds his wife and children, turning in the directions given in the Almanac.   Next they exchange money or other valuables, performing traditional Ganu-denu.  This ritual is practiced differently in some parts by inviting a big-wig of the area to partake Avurudu food at the table.    

Cooking and First Meal       

  Lighting of the fireplace was considered one of the most significant neketh, and is exclusively linked with fire, the image of sun. The swing or the onchillava of the avurudhu festival can be taken as an entry once purposely performed in honor of Sun God, optimistic of better yield during the following year. Its motion to and fro in a semi-circular path, is like the movement of sun; more appropriate is the Bambara onchillava, [the wheel swing] which has a similar spherical movement like sun moving about the zodiac signs. There are a few traditional games people engage in throughout the festive period; they start at the end of Parana avuruddha, and continue over the next few days. Pancha keliya, olinda keliya, kalagedi sellama, gon pora, porapol, mallawa pora, kamba addima, and daadu are some traditional items played during festival.     

   Nonagathe time people rest from work, fast and dedicate their time to go for religious observances.  The family eat the first meal also at the auspicious time, all the members sitting together wearing clothes in the prescribed colour. In some parts of the South the milk is boiled in a new earthen pot symbolising success when the boiling milk spills over from the pot. A meal is prepared along with a special curry that has seven different varieties, “hath maluwa”.  Asmee, Kavum ,Kokis , Athirasa, are the traditional sweetmeats specially prepared for the occasion; they, usually, are made in advance . In the deep South the housewife would place on an elevation such as a wall or the fork of a tree, a small tray— usually a plantain leaf cone , full of various eatables and a lighted wick as an offering to the ‘Avurudhu Kumaraya’ , ‘The Prince of the new year’. Hindu households too the housewife plays a foremost role like in the Sinhala customary system She   prepares the Mangala kumbam, a pot containing five mango leaves and a coconut. The first transaction and starting work for the New Year is demonstrated by the householder according to his profession.  Generally if his livelihood is farming he will use a tool like a mammotie to cut a sod of the land.

Suuriya Ponkal - Kiribath Hathmaluwa

  It is obvious from these facts that the Sinhala/Hindu New Year is, in essence and spirit is a solar commemoration fiesta. The Hindu folk from Jaffna are more correct in their attitude in recognition of their New Year celebrations which falls on the same day. A dish of milk rice cooked, ‘The Ponkal’, on this day is known as ‘Suuriya Ponkal’ by them.  In the North another main event is the spotting of the moon on the day that follows oil anointing, the Sinhala- Buddhist though they do not practice, this ritual in modern times, Sanda beleema, was an ancient practice among the Sinhalese as well.

  However, one cannot call it Buddhist festival, for Buddha discouraged practicing nekath or Astrology.  Lord Buddha rejected auspicious times saying:

 

"Nakkanthan pathimeneththan atthobalan upachchaga

 

Aththo atthassa nakkaththan, kin karissatho tharaka"   --The fool who delays what is to be done waiting for a lucky time will not achieve the objective. If you could achieve your objective, that itself is auspicious. What could the stars in the sky do?

  New Year cannot be categorized as a Hindu fiesta either. It is a national festival of Tamils and some others in South India the Andhras, the Kannadigas and Malayalis.   New Year arrives at a time which is perfect for a national festival in our island.  Rains come after a spell of hot weather. Fresh leaves appear, there is greenery all over. Vegetables and fruits are a plenty, Flowers bloom, Harvesting is over and people have the time to spend on celebrations.  It is a festival, where people of all religious and ethnic groups, Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims could and should rejoice as a common country-wide festival to foster national harmony in the island. 

 

 By K K S PERERA                                                                                                                                                                  kksperera1@gmail.com

 

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