May 20, 2014
By Jane Maxwell
SRI LANKA – Sinhala “Aluth Avurudu” and Tamil “Puththandu” New Year Celebrations
April 14-15, 2014 (full moon or ‘Poya’) marked the official Tamil-Sinhalese New Year celebrations in Sri Lanka. The normally busy, bustling capital of Colombo became unusually quiet as people departed for their home towns and villages to celebrate the occasion with family and friends. Galle Road, the main North-South thoroughfare, normally a loud, chaotic, traffic-choked street, was a picture of tranquility. You could actually get downtown, from Dehiwala where I live, in a breezy 15 minutes compared to the usual one hour slog.
I found the concept of a “New Year’s” celebration in the middle of spring intriguing so I decided to do a little research with my Sri Lankan friends.
Both Sinhala and Tamil communities celebrate their traditional New Year at the same time with similar customs and traditions. This is very positive in a country which is struggling to find common ground between the two main ethnic groups. The Sri Lankan New Year also coincides with a one month school break and holidays for many families and businesses. So it’s a holiday most Sri Lankans look forward to.
According to my research, Sri Lanka was an agrarian community from its early history. The Aluth Arvurudu can be traced to the harvest festival of this farming society whose members’ lives revolved around Mother Nature and the movement of the sun. The Avurudu coincided with the ‘Maha’ (spring) harvest when the rice crop was brought home. The month of April was also a time when trees bore fruit, flowers bloomed and people were happy to celebrate being free of work. The Avurudu or New Year thus became an authentic folk celebration with folk games, songs and other fun activities being carried out in farming communities across the country. (“Once it was simple rural fun” – The Sunday Times Plus – April 13, 2014)
Although much of Sri Lanka’s society now lives in large urban centres, New Year is still happily celebrated by most of the citizens, albeit with a distinctive commercial bent. Similar to our own Christmas celebrations, Sri Lankan businesses have cashed in on the Sri Lankan New Year festivities in a big way.
Custom dictates there must be strict adherence to “auspicious” astrological signs when carrying out each New Year activity. After the dawn of the New Year, the first task is to light the hearth, boil milk and prepare milk rice, again according to astrological directions. The New Year’s table is also laden with many sweets. The family breadwinner (normally the father) feeds his wife, then his children. After the meal, gifts and a token amount of money is exchanged between the spouses and with the children. The objective of the Sri Lankan New Year is to manage the year with a good harvest and income, without any financial difficulties.
Religious activities also take place with both communities visiting their temples at the auspicious time to give thanks for one’s blessings.
The Sri Lankan New Year would seem to carry elements of both our Canadian Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. But it also offers activities, customs and foods that are quite unique to Sri Lanka.
Jane Maxwell – PWRDF Volunteer Associate – OfERR Ceylon