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Sinhala Aluth Avurudda: Traditions and customs
By D.B. Kappagoda

Sinhala Aluth Avurudda was celebrated in the Kandyan Kingdom as a national festival under the patronage of the kings. This was done in keeping with the rituals. The astrologers worked out Nekath (auspicious times) to perform the rituals in order to bring about prosperity and happiness to the people and country.

Sinhala Avurudda dawns when the Sun moves from Meena Rashiya to Mesha Rashiya completing a cycle of a twelve-month period. The transition time know as "Sanskranthi" takes place on April 13 or 14. It is during this period that some of the rituals are performed to mark this important event of the year.

The dawn of Aluth Avurudda signifies social customs and good behaviour of the Sinhala people. The majority of the people being farmers, after their major harvest "Maha" of the year is over, celebrate the occasion in the form of giving thanks. The customs and rituals portray the beliefs and thinking of the people whose life is centred around agriculture.

Rituals connected with Aluth Avurudda commence with bathing on the last day of the old year (Parana Avurudda) and viewing the moon on the same night. In the village temple, the pealing of the bell accompanied with the beating of drums (Hewisi) make the people aware of the times to perform different rituals.

The custom of offering betel to parents and elders demonstrate the act of paying gratitude. The children in turn receive blessings from parents moulded according to Buddhist thought. The sense of goodwill and friendship among relations and friends is also seen during the festival time.

Most of the rituals are linked with the village temple. People visit the temple during the time of "Sanskranthi" the transitional period when they believe that there are no auspicious times (Nekath) to engage themselves in different tasks.

This time is called "Nonagathe" during which people devote their time in performing religious practices. It is for this reason it is also called "Punniya Kale" when people stop all their activities, and visit the temple to accrue merit and get their blessings from the monks.

The belief in the arrival of Avurudu Kumaraya attired in princely clothes gives the idea of the dawn of the New Year. The prince comes in a horse-drawn carriage travelling in a fixed direction. The dress he wears varies in colour from year to year in keeping with the colour meant for the particular year.

The time is opportune for the women folk to commence their work at their respective homes. They begin by facing the correct direction and light the hearth to prepare the traditional Kiribath. Prior to this, milk is boiled in a newly earthen pot symbolising prosperity when the milk spills over from all sides of the pot.

Another meal is cooked along with a curry "Hath Maluwa" that has seven different flavours which is considered as a delicacy prepared during New Year time. Other sweetmeats specially prepared for the festive season are made in advance to serve the visitors who drop in.

During the days of the Kandyan Kingdom, the anointing of oils and Nanu (Herbal mixture) was done before taking the ceremonial bath. This was a feature during the new year, showing the patronage of the Kings.

It was their special interest taken by them to look after the health of the people. The anointing ceremony was planned 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 (herbal mixture) for applying on the head before taking a bath in the new year.

The applying of Nanu is done only on Wednesday because it is on that day "Nanumuraya" is performed at Sri Dalada Maligawa and also at four devales in Kandy. Nanumuraya is meant for bathing the deities in the far off devales. This is performed in the form of a symbolic manner to bathe the four guardian deities of Lanka.

The preparation of oils and the herbal mixture are done by extracting the juices from herbal leaves, flowers and fruits (seeds). The oils and juices are poured into 1000 small clay pots and then taken on the day before the New Year to Nath Devale Hewisi Maduwa.

The officials from Sri Dalada Maligawa, three other devales, outstation devales, Raja Maha Viharas, and 65 royal listed places assemble at Natha Devala.

The Kariyakorala of Sri Dalada Maligawa then distributes the oils and Nanu among those gathered who in turn take them in procession to their respective places of worship. These preparations are distributed among the people who use them on the day of the application of oil and Nanu anointing before bathing.

This practice continues to this day. The reason for the selection of Natha Devala was because of the belief that God Natha had curative power and hence Natha Devala was selected as the venue for the distribution of oils and Nanu.

Sinhala Aluth Avurudda cannot be classified as a religious festival. However customs and rituals associated with Aluth Avurudda have been fashioned according to Buddhist beliefs.

New Year could be the national festival of Sri Lanka
By W.T.A. Leslie Fernando
Retired High Court Judge

Sinhala and Tamil New Year is an annual event that stimulates society, enlivens the nation and fosters national consciousness in Sri Lanka. Earlier, this festival was celebrated mainly by the Buddhists and the Hindus. Now Christians too participate in New Year celebrations and it has become almost a nation-wide festival.

Both Easter and New Year come in the same time of the year. The Sinhalese have celebrated New Year from time immemorial. Robert Knox writes that during his time New Year was a major festival of the Sinhalese and it was celebrated in March. It could be that the Nayakka Kings who gave royal patronage to New Year during the latter part of the Kandyan rule shifted the festival to April to fall in line with the Tamil New Year called Pudu Varsham.

Festivals similar to our New Year in this season are found in India, Iran, Mynamar (Burma), Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, China and in some other societies in Asia. In the ancient world, two great civilisations arose from river basins. One was at Babylon, the other was in Egypt. The lands between these two rivers were called Bible Lands as they figured in the stories of the Bible.

The Hebrews or Jews were originally wandering people in this region with their flocks and heards. Abraham himself was a Hebrew chief who knew both the Babylon and Egyptian languages and travelled round the 'fertile crescent' from Cannan in to Egypt and back to Cannan.

The land of Cannan was called Palestine. During the time of Christ it was called Judea. Today it is known as Israel. The people of Palestine were called "Israelists" meaning chosen people.

The people of Palestine, the Jews were slaves of Egypt for over 400 years. At last they freed themselves under Moses and crossed over to Palestine called "The Promised Land". The Jews annually celebrate this event called "The Passover" or the feast of the unleavened bread.

The Passover celebrations had features similar to our New Year observances. In the New Year at Nonagathe people rest from work, fast and go to temple for religious observances. When New Year dawns, they lit the hearth.

They eat the first meal at the auspicious time wearing the lucky colour for the New Year. There are auspicious times fixed for the anointing of oil ceremony, to go for work in the New Year and to watch the new Moon.

At the Passover too they rested and fasted before they lit the fire and sacrifice a lamb. Christ himself assembled with his disciples in a house to eat the Passover on the day he was taken a prisoner. At the feast of the Passover a woman anointed feet of Christ with oil and this reminds of our anointing of oil ceremony.

There were ancient tribes in Asia who worshipped Sun and nature. They believed that when everything awakened with the arrival of spring, a new deity took charge of nature. All the festivals during the New Year season could be traced to this concept.

The worship of Osiris by the Egyptians, the ideal of renewal found in the Passover, Easter and New Year seem to have germinated from the belief that the changes in nature were effected by the passing away of one deity and arrival of another.

As the features of the worship of Sun God and Satutnils festival have been introduced to Christians celebrations by the Romans, features of the worship of. Osiris by the Egyptians have influenced the Passover customs, as Jews have been under Egyptians for over 400 years. There is a belief both in India and in Sri Lanka that at the New Year a new deity called "Avurudu Kumaraya" took charge of nature. In some parts of Sri Lanka, they make an altar with tender coconut palms for this deity.

In other areas specially in the South a lamp is lit for the Avurudu Kumaraya. In some countries worship of the new deity and New Year is associated with harvesting ceremonies. Whatever the origins, New Year is not a Buddhist festival though the Buddhists go to temple at Nonagathe time.

Strictly speaking there is no place for auspicious times in Buddhism. The main Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka are Vesak, Poson and Esala. Besides Buddhist festivals are held on poya days based on lunar observances. New Year is a solar festival commencing with the entry of Sun to zodiac of Aries.

New Year cannot be categorized as a Hindu festival as well. It is a national festival of Tamils and some others in South India. The Andhras, Kannadigas and Malayalis in South India, though Hindus do not observe it.

The Hindus in North India and the Himalayan region have their own dates for the New Year. According to Dr. P. Poolagasingham it is a misnomer to call Tamil New Year is Hindu New Year.

There is now a general consensus in Sri Lanka to treat New Year as a national festival, though it is intermingled with Buddhist and Hindu religious practices.Since New Year is not a religious festival confined exclusively to a particular faith, it could be celebrated by all the religious and ethnic groups in Sri Lanka as a common national festival. Its unique features could be made use of to promote friendship and mutual understanding among people.

It is heartening to see in recent times Christians joining New Year celebrations and taking part in traditional' games and sport.New Year comes at a time ideal for a national festival in our country. Rains come after a period of hot and dry weather.

Fresh leaves appear on trees and there is greenery everywhere. Flowers bloom, vegetables and fruits are in plenty and birds sing on the air. Harvesting is over, bounties are full and people have the time to celebrate. It is during this time of the year that many marriages take place in villages.

New year is a festival where people of all ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka could and should celebrate as a common national festival to foster national unity in Sri Lanka.