Posted on April 12th, 2018

The New Year’s celebration is all the more festive because it is observed by both Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. The annual event is marked by religious ceremonies, family activities, traditional foods, colourful decorations and a general feeling of good will toward neighbours and friends. This important national festival, known as Avurudu in Sinhala and Puththandu in Tamil, is not celebrated in any other nation. It is unique to the people of Sri Lanka.

The Sinhala calendar indicates that Avurudu is to be celebrated when the sun, or Bak, reaches a given astronomical alignment. The term Bak is derived from the Sanskrit word bhagya, or fortunate. The word is most appropriate since Aluth Avurudda is primarily a harvest celebration, especially in agricultural communities. The Maha harvest provides an opportunity to give thanks and enjoy the fruit of the land.

There are many customs associated with Aluth Avurudda, including bathing and viewing the moon on the final day of the old year. The joyful sound of drums and bells can be heard coming from the village temple. Parents and elders are honoured with gifts of betel, the leaves of a local evergreen shrub that are traditionally presented as a sign of respect and gratitude. One unusual aspect of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival is a period of time between the old and new year known as the nonagathe. The people attend religious ceremonies and abstain from work during this neutral period of celebration. The neutral period is also known as the Punya Kalaya, meaning prior to Avurudu.

Avurudu is a time to express gratitude for the bounty of the old year and celebrate the dawning of a new year. Housewives spruce up their homes and traditional foods such as sweetmeats, kokis and aggala for example, are prepared in advance. Herbal baths are prepared by a village priest to anoint the males of the village for health and longevity. Another custom is to visit family and friends, honouring them with a sheaf of betel. The celebration is also highlighted by the playing of outdoor games, including olinda keliya and mevara, and celebrating the arrival of the Avurudu Kumarayadressed in princely attire to symbolise the dawning of a new year.

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