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Sinhala and Tamil New Year:

Customs and traditions


Cuckoo or Koel bird

It is the nature that gives the green light to Sinhala and Hindu New Year with the two-note call of the cuckoo, or Koha commonly known among the Sri Lankan community. The New Year is full of traditions and customs with legends, both Sinhala and Tamil, embedded within.

Professor Sunanda Mahendra takes a glimpse on a few legends. The Sinhala and Tamil New year falls in April due to many reasons. The Sinhala term Bak for April is a shortened form of Bhagya which means wealth in English. Sri Lanka has an agricultural background that enables a farmer work almost the whole year.

This New Year period is the time for the farmer to relax and enjoy his harvest. Bak hence denotes the harvest a farmer brings home with happiness cast on his face.

Auspicious times play a major role during the season. Buddhism does not believe in good and bad times, but sociologically speaking, auspicious times stand for punctuality, signifying its applicability to modern time management concept.

The Sinhala New Year is, simply put, working according to a scheduled time-table. Gazing at the old moon and ritual bathing for the passing year initiates punctuality. Observing the new moon for the incoming year signifies the dawn of the New Year. The custom is believed to bring prosperity.


Preparation of meals


A typical Avurudu table


Pancha Keliya

The Sinhala New Year traditions stem from various legends. One fine example is respecting the elders with a sheaf of betel.

The herb is believed to be free from poison and the belief goes as far back to the legend of Sakra, chief of the gods, who had put down the brush after drawing a pious hare?s picture on the moon. The brush dropped on the lap of the king of snakes.

A betel creeper has sprouted out from the place, and a man had it planted in his garden. The herb which is planted in the human soil - bhumiye lat heyin in Sinhala and as born out of earth in English - came to be known as bulat. The betal sheaf has the power of turning your enemies into friends when offered during the New Year period.

Transactions, or Ganu denu, revolve round natural functions like building new friendships with fellow beings and flora and fauna. A young person will give some amount to an elder to be returned with a higher amount.

The housewife drops a coin to well, to maintain her relations with the most helpful companion in the kitchen.

Significant ritual

Both customs of respecting the elders and transactions motivate and remind the young generation of the value of the elder generation. The Sinhala Avurudu turns not only enemies into friends, but it also links the distant parent-children relationships as well.

The next most significant ritual is the ceremony of anointing oil on head hisatel gama mangalyaya.

This is carried out in the villages; the temple?s chief incumbent makes use of the opportunity to meet the villagers and anoint the herbal oil prepared by a village physician with a medicinal plant. Village head master and householder of an ancestral house anoint oil on the well wishers and allow them for a meal with them. This is performed with a fine four line verse which goes as follows:

Kalu kaputa
suduvenaturu
Ehela kanuava
liyalanaturu
Gebmbidtita tana enaturu
Siyayata desiyayak
- ayuboveva ayuboveva!

(Until the black crow becomes white, until the Ehela post sprouts out tendrils and until the baby she-frog grows out a breast,


Anointing oil


Kana Mutti

 may you live so long from hundred to two hundred years span of life)

This blessing verse may sound humorous, but it has its fresh flavour denoting longevity. It is also believed that the New Year is the period of folk games and rituals.

Many indoor and outdoor games are interlinked to the ritual of the Pattini cult. The Pattini ritual is remembered when an attempt is made to test the chastity of the woman called Pattini.

Once her husband was killed by a lecherous king to possess her. But faithful Pattini or Pattini Devi did not succumb to his needs and desires, but performed an act of truth (satya kriyava) instead and the chief of god, Sakra, saw that she is one of the most virtuous woman one could find on earth. Followed by this thought and the test, Sakra the god of gods, gives life to her husband Palanga.

The story is found in the folk verse titled Pattini Hella and Palanga Hella. When people come to know that the good wife and the husband are brought to life they make merriment which is the standpoint in the folk games inherited. The husband and wife lead a better life avoiding the evil eye.

The game Ankeliya is one such example for Pattini inheritance. The two teams: upper team, udu pila, and lower team, yati pila, represent the husband and wife respectively. Whichever wins go round the village hailing the victory; this is known as jalli demima in Sinhala.

Culture

The folk games connected with the New Year are mostly symbolic of the fertility cult where the expectation of a new era is the sole objective. Pattini culture is brought out in meal preparation as well. One of the main dishes for the New Year meal is Hath Maluwa comprised of 7 types of vegetables: Ash plantain, gold melon buds, cashew, elabatu, jack seeds, lone fingers, and water melon.

These types are believed to be brought from 7 directions to wipe off any ill effect on the New Year. This curry essentially contains no animal food.

In this manner the ritual and the cult connected with the Pattini legend has given a spiritual affinity to many ceremonial activities of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year.

 


An assembly of gods in days of yore was in high spirits over the New Year festival. It was yet to be discovered by one divine member that only voices filled the festival spirit, but no instruments! The rest of the divine community slowly felt the need of an instrument. One angel created a small circular instrument, and when the divine members struck on it, it gave a sound! The instrument was small and when it was struck continuously, it grew larger. And thus the Rabana, or Hand Drum came into existence.

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