Sinhala and Tamil New Year (Avurudu/Puththandu) is a national holiday in Sri Lanka and is celebrated every April.
|2020||13 Apr||Mon||Day prior to Sinhala & Tamil New Year Day|
|14 Apr||Tue||Sinhala & Tamil New Year Day|
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 Kumaraya dressed in princely attire to symbolise the dawning of a new year.
The celebration of Puththandu features the traditional rituals and customs of the Tamil Hindus. The women clean their homes and prepare special foods for the occasion. Temple priests boil special herbs in clean water along with milk, saffron, flowers, leaves and other selected ingredients, known as Maruthu Neer, to anoint the heads of family members in preparation for a traditional ceremonial bath. New clothes and special colours help make the New Year celebration even more meaningful. Sweet rice cooked with jaggery, cashew nuts, ghee and plums, is lovingly prepared.
After cleaning and sprinkling the area in front of the house with saffron water and cow dung, special decorations are prepared. A special concoction called Pongal is prepared in a new pot and lamps are lit to celebrate the arrival of a new year. The head of the household leads the family in a ritual offering of specially selected foods to the Sun God and Lord Ganesh. The ceremonial sacrifice completes what is known as pooja. Incense is burned and the head of the family breaks a coconut as part of the annual ceremony. Finally, the children worship the family elders who then bless the children.
Tamil Hindus always visit the temple as part of the Puththandu festival. Alms are usually offered to the poorest members of the community. Family members receive money, betel leaves, flowers and best wishes for the new year from the head of the household, and ceremonial plowing of the land symbolises the anticipated harvest to come. Similarly, a businessman might open a new account and a teacher begins a new lesson to signify the abundance that the new year will bring.
Much like the Sinhala Buddhists, the Tamil Hindus emphasise the importance of family, friends and community during the New Year’s celebration. The customs and traditions associated with the celebration of Avurudu and Puththandu have been observed by the people of Sri Lanka for countless generations. The celebration promotes family unity and a spirit of gratitude and community in the villages, towns and cities of Sri Lanka.