A Traditional New Year

Avurudu is a traditional festival celebrated in Sri Lanka by both Buddhists and Hindus. It marks the completion of the solar circuit and depending on astrological projections, the aluth avurudda (new year) occurs between 13 and 15 April.

It’s of great significance to Sri Lankans, heralding the dawn of a ‘new year’ for a majority of them. The new year proper com­mences when the sun moves from Meena Raashiya (House of Pisces) to Mesha Raashiya (House of Aries) in the zodiac.

What’s unique about the dawn of the so-called ‘Sinhalese and Tamil New Year’ is that it doesn’t take place at a specific time every year but varies according to astrological calculations. The duration between the end of an old year and start of a new one can sometimes take 12 hours and more. On an earthly plain, it’s also a celebration of an end to the harvest season – the local ‘spring.’

Avurudu is marked by a cacophony of firecrackers exploding along many streets and household yards, and lighting up the night sky. There’s also that unmistakable call of the koha or cuckoo, which species coincidentally is in its mating season around this time. Its unique call or coo sound complements the joyful expressions exchanged during Avurudu festivities.

Erabadu trees (Erythrina variegata) blossom while everyone’s wish is for hope, peace and prosperity. Customary prep for this festival begins weeks in advance when householders clean and paint their homes, purchase new clothes, and buy gifts for family and friends. A significant acquisition is a new clay pot in which milk will be boiled on ‘new year’s day.’

The traditions associated with the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year are diverse, colourful and meaningful. Auspicious times dominate the celebrations and every phase of the festival is carried out according to an astro­logically predetermined time. The rituals vary marginally between Sinhalese (Buddhist) and Tamil (Hindu) households.

• During the nonagathaya or neutral period for auspices, people refrain from work and engage in religious activities.

• Lipa gini-maelaveema is when the hearth is lit by the lady of the house while facing a designated direction (which varies annually) and the traditional new year dish of kiribath(milk rice) is cooked or a pot of milk is boiled to signify prosperity. Families gather round the fire to watch the milk boil over as it is considered a symbol of good fortune.

• Aahaara anubhavaya is when the family partakes in a customary meal, which includes delicacies like kiribath (milk rice) and traditional homemade sweets such as kavum (small oil cakes), kokis (a crisp crunchy fried biscuit), aluwa (diamond shaped sweets made of rice flour), mung kavum and bananas.

• Ganu-denu (‘give and take’) occurs after the meal; it is when children demonstrate their respect for elders in the family by offering them sheaves of betel leaves. The elders in turn bless and give the young ones money. This is the first financial transaction of the new year.

• Hisa thel-gaema is when a person is anointed with holy oil to purify the mind and body. Families conduct this ceremony at home or at the local temple where the priest anoints the devotees with oil and blesses them, for future peace and prosperity.

• Raekee-rakshaa (‘jobs-work’) is the aus­picious time to go to work wearing the appropriate colour for the season and start being industrious in the new year.

After the rituals have been completed, celebrations spill over onto the streets or local playgrounds where fun filled games and many other exciting activities await.

The rabana, which is a flat wide drum, is a mandatory musical instrument during Avurudu celebrations and is played mainly by women in the village. A good time is had by everyone – young and old.

Compiled by Monita Pesumal

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