|SINHALA AND TAMIL NEW YEAR
|In April (the month of Bak), when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere; Sri Lankans begin celebrating their New Year or Aluth Avurudhu (in Sinhala) and Puththandu (in Tamil). It marks the end of the harvest season and also coincides with one of 2 instances when the sun is directly
above Sri Lanka. On the day of celebrations, the sun is directly above Koggala (where a sun devale can be found). A new year of the Saka era begins with each festival.
However, unlike the Western celebration of the new year at midnight on December 31st, the Sri
Lankan New Year begins at a time determined by astrological signs. Also
unlike western traditions; the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart from one another (this span is determined by
astrology as well) - this period is, aptly enough, referred to as the nona gathe (neutral period). During this time Sri Lankans are, according to
custom, encouraged to refrain from material pursuits, and engage solely
in religious activities and traditional games.
The date upon which the Sri Lankan New Year occurred, while
determined by astrological signs, also tends to coincide with the end
of the harvest season - for this reason, many farming communities
celebrate the new year while gathering fruits that have fallen from
Cultural rituals begin shortly after the beginning of the new year with the cleaning of the house and lighting of an oil lamp. In some communities, women congregate to play upon on the raban (drum) to warn others of the incipient change in the year.
Families indulge in a variety of rituals which are carefully
determined by astrological calculations - from lighting the fire to
making the kiribath, (milk rice) to entering into the first business transaction and eating the first morsels.
Once these are done, the partying really begins as families mingle
in the streets, homes are thrown open and children are let out to play.
The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of kaung (small oil cake) and kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from the Netherlands).
Aurudu has become an important national holiday for both the cultures of the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindu Sri Lankans, and is unique as such, as it is not celebrated in the same manner elsewhere in the world (some countries do celebrate a similar festival on the same date or a near date).
|The mythological conception of a `Aluth Avuruddha' is that the Prince of Peace called Indradeva descends upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness. He comes in a
white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits
high. He first dips, like a returning space capsule plunges, breaking
earth's gravity, into a `kiri' or sea of milk.
The actual history of the New Year goes back to primitive period in
Sri Lankan history. Various beliefs, perhaps those associated with
fertility, gave birth to many rituals, customs and ceremonies connected
with the New Year. The advent of Buddhism in the third century BC led to a re-interpretation of the existing New
Year activities in the Buddhistic light. The majority of the people in
the country were Buddhists, and as such, it is that the Buddhist
outlook was predominant in transforming the New Year rites to what they
on the other hand, existed side by side with Buddhism, in medieval
times. New Year practices interpreted in the Hinduistic way developed
among the Hindus. Buddhism and Hinduism were historically connected
with each other. Their philosophies were running along parallel
dimensions, except for certain ultimate truths concerning the self, the
way to achieve emancipation and the nature of a creative god and
nirvana (which Buddhism denies). There was no serious contradiction in
New Year rituals that are found among the Buddhists and Hindus.
|Rituals - Customs
|Bathing for passing year
The customary bathing for the passing year is equally important
facet. Herbal bath gives physical purification. When one takes a herbal
bath over the entire body, anointed with gingelly oil or mustard oil
that provides a soothing effect for the body. Herbal baths are
prescribed in Vedas too.
For this year, water mixed with the Juice of Bo leves is
recommended. Body massage and herbal bath promotes blood circulation,
and it is considered the best method of maintaining positive health.
Herbal baths are prescribed as a method of treatment in many nervous
disorders and diseases of the muscles and joints.
Promote family bonds
Another salient feature of the New Year is to respect the elders and
to strengthen relationships with neighbours. Usually, visiting
relations and friends and exchanging presents, greeting them with a
sheaf of betel is the order of the day. Betel is considered a sacred herb with many
medicinal values. Chewing of betel along with cloves, cardamoms and
arecanut after a meal is considered the best way to strengthen the
gums. A chew of betel cleans the mouth, and wades off bad breath. The
juice of betel leaves promotes digestion, kills organisms which are
harmful to the body. The value of betel is also appreciated in Buddhist
literature. Building up confidence, love, friendship and hope among
elders, relations and friends plays a great role in achieving mental,
physical and social wellbeing. Arrogance, hatred, sorrow, pangs of
jealousy, cruelty are all considered as mental illnesses. Exchanging
sheaves of betel and paying respect to elders brings about a new
feeling of freshness.
The elders feel that they are accepted, wanted and venerated by
their kith and kin. This warmth helps to a great deal to the elders in
maintaining good health and vitality.
The nonagatha is the transitional period in the planetary movement
and considered to be inauspicious to start any propitious work.
Therefore, this time is set apart for religious observances. Ayurveda
envisages a method of treatment known as Daivavyapasharaya or spiritual therapy. This therapy involves the use of mantras or incantations such as Aushadhi or sacred herbs, Mani or precious gems, Mangala or propitiatory rites, including oblations, bali or offerings and homa or sacrifices, Niyama or vows, prayaschitta or cremonial pevitence, uparasa or fasts swastyayana or prostrations and pranipata - gamana or pilgrimages and so on.
Ayurveda explains that transitional period at different seasonal
variations changes an imbalances in the body humours or forces namely Vata, Pita, Kapa.
Therefore it is advised to have light food or complete fasting
(Langana) during such periods. So that minimal fluctuation in the three
Dosha will take place. Therefore during nonekata it is the custom to be
aloof from all normal activities and to confine only to religious
The food which is taken during Sinhala New Year has many nutritious
values. Sweet meat such as Mung Kevum, Konda Kavum made of brown rice,
flour, Unduvel made of undu are indigenous sweets. All they have many
food and nutritious values. Taking meals at an auspicious time with all
family members sitting together is a noble, and healthy custom. This
happy get together should be adapted at all meals, and not confined to
the New Year table alone. Many indulge in unwanted arguments and talks
while taking meals. The Avurudu custom, gives the signal to avoid such
unhealthy manners. Happy state of mind is very necessary for the proper
digestion of food. Ayurveda makes it clear that wholesome food taken at
proper time in proper quantity will not digest properly if the person
is in bad mental state, such as fear, sorrow or arrogance. Therefore
happy state at meals is ulmost importance in attaining healthy
Complement of New Year
Anointing of the head with Nanu (medicated shampoo) and oil
is described in Ayurveda as a way of promoting health, specially
massaging the scalp with oil and cleaning the head with medicated
decoction known as Nanu. It promotes the growth of hair. It
improves a sound sleep and balances the body humours. These rituals and
New Year custom are healthy. Therefore they should be incorporated in
our daily life for greater progress and prosperity.