2020 Apr 11
The calling of the Koel bird, flowers in full bloom and the peak of tropical heat beckon the season that is the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Popularly known as the celebration of the sun traversing from the house of Pisces (meena rashiya) to the house of Aries (mesha rashiya), the New Year takes deep root in astrology. With time and its interpretations, the festival that was traditionally dissected into four parts was slightly altered for the contemporary. But before any altercations, our predecessors celebrated it like this.
Parana, Sinhalese for “old” is the reason for the festival to be celebrated throughout two days. The first day, often on the 13th of April, is when the old year is commemorated, readying for a prosperous new year ahead. Rituals to welcome the dawn of the brand new year is commenced on this day by bathing for the old year and viewing the moon on the same night.
Unlike the new Georgian calendar, where 31st of December determines the end of the year and the New Year falls on the 1st of January, the traditional Sinhalese and Tamil New Year begins at an auspicious time determined by astrological calculations. The ending of the old year and beginning of the new year takes place a few hours apart; which is also observed as the time during which the sun crosses the astrological boundaries.
The midway point of this crossing is known as a “neutral period” – colloquially known as Nonagathe – that is almost a cleansing period of all materialistic bounds.
During this time religious practices are observed, halting any other tasks such as cooking and cleaning due to the reason that it is believed that there are no auspicious times within this window.
The dawn of the Aluth Avurudda (New Year) yet again received to an auspicious time is a moment of absolute celebration. Welcomed by the earsplitting sound of firecrackers, traditional rituals take place one after the other throughout the day; from the boiling of a fresh milk pot to indulging in festive delectables, meeting friends and family and transforming oneself with positive thoughts, which is the true essence of Avurudu.
Aluth Avurudda brings with it many mystical stories and beliefs too. One such tale is that of the arrival of the Avurudu Kumaraya (New Year Prince) adorned in royal attire that coincides with the assigned colour for the year. His coming means that the New Year is now here.
This bygone aspect of the New Year in modern day has boiled down to a single ritual, that is – Hisa Thel Gaema (applying oil to one’s head). According to historians, many rituals revolved around this aspect of the new year in bygone days; one of it being the application of oil on the crown of Lord Buddha statues.
Thel Avurudda signified wellness and prosperity.
The traditional new year coincided with the harvesting season, thus gave birth to numerous rituals and ceremonies. However, the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC reinterpreted the rituals and ceremonies of the festival in various ways. Hinduism existed side by side with Buddhism and its principles ran parallel with the philosophies of Buddhism, except for certain truths such as the interpretation of Gods, ways of achieving emancipation and the concept of Nirvana. Nonetheless, the Tamil community celebrates the festival indulged in the beauty of mythical stories and colourful traditions. As such, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is considered a celebration of our indigenous past, astrological reliance, mythical beliefs as well as Hindu and Buddhist credence.